Author's disclaimer: Standard.
Author's notes: Constructive criticism always welcome!
It was Sunday, the second day of November and Cassandra looked at her watch. One o'clock in the afternoon and she didn't know what to do next. Her whole day had been blown by one sexual 'indiscretion' the night before. It had been the most incredibly intense 'indiscretion', she admitted to herself, but now the familiar routine of a normal Sunday was a totally foreign concept to her. She tried to think about the things that needed to get done and prioritize them, but her brain wouldn't operate in a linear thought pattern. And so she left one task unfinished, only to start another than wouldn't be completed either. She knew she was out of sorts but didn't know what to do about it. Perhaps it would be best to vegetate in front of the television for a while.
She walked into her living room, turned on the TV. and started flipping though channels. "Geez", she thought, "all these channels and not one damn thing on that's decent." She stopped surfing at a kid's program called "Blues Clues." She'd heard of this show but never watched it. Now, she realized that she'd gotten in on the middle of it and wasn't really sure what was going on. There was this guy, Steve, wandering around an animated set having all kinds of adventures and learning experiences. It was strange but she decided to see it through just to see what all the fuss was about.
"Now it's time to sit in our thinking chair." said Steve. And he sat down and reviewed his clues thus figuring out what his animated dog Blue wanted to do. It was a big overstuffed easy chair that he sat in. But it gave Cassandra an idea. Perhaps she needed to retreat to a thinking chair of her own with her dogs.
She went out to the kennel and brought in her two Welsh Corgis. They joined Almak, her Siberian Husky mix in a frenzy of doggy greetings. Almak wasn't usually allowed in the house for long periods of time so he was relishing the time he had to search the floors for any minute traces of food that Cass had dropped. "Now, to find a appropriate thinking chair." she said to the dogs. She surveyed the living room for a brief moment. There was only one real choice, her papasan chair. She curled up in its big dish shaped seat and brought the Corgis up to sit with her. Almak was just too big so after a few more minutes foraging for crumbs, he settled at the base of the chair. She breathed deeply and rhythmically to try to calm her confusion and pondered the past forty eight hours.
Friday night had been an especially magickal time. The moon had been full for the celebration of Halloween. She'd only recently begun to study the craft and teachings of Wicca. But she knew that such a conjunction held great power. As she danced around the circle with her fellow witches, she'd felt a transformation coming over her. She'd felt more powerful, both personally and spiritually than she had in a very long time. That night the high priestess of the coven used her powers of divination for all the members.
Cass snorted to herself and shook her head ruefully. She'd been warned. But at the time, she didn't see it as a warning. She had been so charged with positive energy, that she'd deluded herself into thinking the prediction was, at worst, benign; at best, a happy portent.
She thought back to the masquerade ball. It had been her first truly formal social function, which said quite a bit about her life so far. But, growing up in Indiana, there hadn't been any really formal functions. School dances didn't count. Most people in LaPorte didn't throw fancy dress balls. They asked you to come over and have supper with them. They gathered at the county fair and at small town festivals in the area. Occasionally, someone might invite you to up to the lake with them. No, formality was not the way of life. Then there were her Chicago years. In order to make ends meet, she lived with her brother Christopher in a dump of an apartment in one of Chicago's least fashionable south side neighborhoods. No, for pure reasons of economy, she couldn't have participated in the socially finer things that the Windy City had to offer.
Now, here she was, two thousand miles away, in the desert. Cruel fate and dumb luck had conspired to get her here and keep her. When her brother had died of AIDS, she didn't know what she was going to do. A good portion of the past several years of her life had been devoted to him. After his death, she'd been shocked to learn that he'd put together a very lucrative stock portfolio in their names so she wouldn't have to worry so much about staying on their mini farm. Her volunteer work with the art therapy program at the AIDS Resource Center got her a gallery showing and since then she'd never looked back. But even the gallery opening had been low key, at her insistence.
So she'd been thrust into the world of the elite and social upper-class at this ball, a class she knew she didn't belong in. She had the social skills to fit in almost anywhere but didn't always feel comfortable. She'd planned on joining up with some of her fellow volunteers to pass the time. But once again, fate had a different plan. First, she got a phone call from two of her friends saying they weren't going to be able to attend due to sick children at home. Once at the ball, she'd met Mr. Body.
"Man, that was a train wreck", she told her canine companions.
Her memory drifted back to Saturday's sexual escapades. She shook her head trying to deny it had ever happened but she couldn't. She'd been incredibly aggressive; which was out of character. But even more surprising was how much she'd wanted him. She couldn't remember the last time she'd felt so charged. Last night, she'd attributed it to the lingering effects of the full moon during a Sabbat. Even now, she squirmed in her chair feeling that familiar tingle in her cunt as his voice, rough and deep with passion, echoed through her memory.
"Damn auditory recall", she muttered. Some people had an eidetic memory tied to their visual sense. Hers was tied to her ears. It had been a great help while she was in school But at times like these it was a curse.
In the light of that morning, however, reality had intruded and she'd become painfully aware that she'd made a mistake. When she'd awakened in a strange bed, her initial reaction was to bolt out the door. Sadly, that hadn't been an option. She forced herself to behave normally during breakfast and she'd been exceedingly relieved when he'd had to leave so abruptly. She had no idea how she'd have managed to walk out if he'd still been there. "Thank the goddess for small favors", she thought. "At least I jumped that ship of fools."
But had she? She looked at the framed picture of Christopher and Almak. He'd bought it for her. She was certain she wasn't originally the planned recipient. But it was now hers and she didn't know what to do. She loved the picture. It was a vivid memorial to her brother. However, if she kept it, it would be a tie between her and Mr. Body. And she wanted no ties.
She'd made that clear in the note she had left him. It had been difficult to tell him how much she would treasure the memories of their pas de deuce and yet say that they'd never dance together again. She wasn't 100% certain that she really wanted to say it. But she knew she couldn't leave it any other way. Should she call a local courier service in the morning to come pick up the picture and return it to him directly? Or should she take it back to the center and let them handle it? Either way was likely to piss him off.
A small panic began to creep up her spine. Would he try to find her? She'd known enough men to know that he was honestly taken with her. She didn't understand why. But he'd revealed it to her last night. She breathed deeply again to regain her sense of serenity. She knew it would be difficult for him to find her. She'd made sure of that. She hadn't given him her complete name. And she'd shared precious few other details of her life that might lead him to her. His only connection to her was through the center. And she knew they'd never give out any personal information.
Cass sat for a while lingering in the peaceful solitude she'd wrapped herself in. She felt more centered now and ready to face the remainder of the day. She pondered what things absolutely had to get done and what activities needed daylight to complete them. After a few moments of reflection, she went to her studio/office and planned out her week.
Monday, November 3rd. Ray Vecchio, in the guise of Armando Langostini sighed deeply as his limousine approached his home. The last thirty-six hours had been difficult. He'd just met the most incredible woman. They'd spent the night together in hot and sweaty passion. And then he'd had to bolt out the door on an unexpected business trip. Whoever said life was unfair certainly had him in mind. But, the nasty business was done and he could look forward to seeing this temptress again.
His driver parked the car in front of his home. His butler, Nero, opened the front door to let him in.
"Welcome back sir. Michael phoned me from the airport so your bath is waiting. The cook has prepared a light supper, which is waiting for you in the refrigerator and a bottle of wine is chilling. Will you require anything else?"
"No, thanks. After I eat, I'll be in the study. Oh and did you get..."
"Miss Bartholomew left her phone number on the desk in your bedroom."
"Thanks", he smiled as he walked away. He realized it was the first time he'd smiled since he'd left yesterday.
Armando walked to his private bath. As Nero had promised the water was hot. He turned on the jets before stripping his clothes off his long lean body. He sank into the whirlpool and sighed. Leading a double life was stressful. Making deals for the Iguana family was even more stressful. Put them together and it was a very tense existence. But he knew that twenty minutes in the whirlpool would do a lot to relax him.
His bath finished, he put on a pair of sweats emblazoned with a Phoenix Suns logo. It galled him to wear them but he knew that he'd cut all ties to Chicago when he'd gone under cover. And that included giving up the Bulls. As he walked through his bedroom, he saw the note on the desk, grabbed it and put it in his pocket. He smiled again knowing what it contained.
His supper awaited him in the kitchen just as he'd been promised. He only wished that when this gig was over he'd be able to take the cook with him. She made a pasta fazoul that rivaled his own mother's. And this Caesar salad with chicken was to die for. He knew the cook grew the spinach in her own garden. One thing good about this place was that you could get fresh vegetables nearly year round.
Dinner finished, he took his glass of wine to the study and sat down at his desk there. He pulled the note from his pocket and prepared to dial the seven digits that would reconnect him with the only true joy he'd experienced since leaving Chicago. His fingers trembled slightly as he unfolded the note. He saw words at first so he scanned the paper looking for numbers. But there were no numbers, only words. Moments ago he'd had a very full stomach. Now there was an achingly empty pit. He knew without reading the words that she'd blown him off.
"Nero!", he yelled at the top of his lungs. "Nero!"
"Yes, sir". He heard the butler's voice coming down the hallway. Nero stopped for a moment in the doorway to compose himself. "What can I do for you sir."
"Read this!" Armando thrust the note at his butler.
"Oh sir, I wouldn't dream of reading your private..."
The butler cleared his voice. "Dearest Armando, thank you so much for a lovely evening. Your warmth, kindness and generosity will always reside in my memory. Your smile, the sound of your voice and the scent of your skin will never leave me. These things I take with me as I leave you now. Please know that your gifts are greatly appreciated and I will treasure them, and our evening together, forever. Blessings to you."
Nero paused a moment before looking at his employer.
"Did you read a phone number? Was there a single solitary digit contained in that note?" Armando was white hot with anger. He knew it was not really his servant's fault but he had to lash out at someone.
"No sir, I'm afraid not."
"Did I not specifically instruct you to get her phone number before she left?"
"Yes, sir. You did."
"So why the fuck didn't you get it?"
"Oh dear. Sir, when I told her your instructions, she said she'd write it in the note. I had no idea that she'd be so duplicitous. However, I take full responsibility for my failure to act on your instructions."
Now that his anger had been released, Armando felt bad
"If I may be so bold sir, you do have her name and the security cameras most likely caught her license plate number. With your considerable resources, you should be able to find her."
"But according to her note, she doesn't want to see me again."
"No sir, I didn't read those words. Perhaps she was just overwhelmed. My guess is that in the few days it will take to find her, she'll have her equilibrium back and you'll be able to successfully woo her."
"Nero, you're a real romantic."
"Yes, sir. Now, will there be anything else?"
"No, I think I'm going to check the news on the Web and then call it a night."
"Good night." said the butler as he left the room.
The World Wide Web had become something of an addiction to Armando. It was such a vast source of information. He especially like to read newspapers from all over the world. The Chicago Guardian even had a site.
"I wonder what MacKenzie King is up to these days." he wondered aloud as he found the bookmarked site. Nothing there by her. But here was an interesting piece about a Dr. Who fan convention being held in the Windy City. "Amazing!" he said to himself as he read. "The show's been out of production for years but people keep showing up at these conventions." He continued to read about the events connected with the conventions. There was a sidebar about fan fiction. He clicked on a link to a site and began to sample some of the tales. "Wow! I see the good doctor actually gets to play doctor with his nubile assistant. Gee, I'm glad people don't write those kinds of things about me."
Armando chuckled but left the site fairly quickly. Reading it had made his cock start to stiffen and that was a state he didn't want to be in at that moment. He didn't really look where the cursor was pointing when he clicked the mouse. "Oh look, it's an advice column for the lovelorn. How quaint!" But he couldn't even be sarcastic in his mind. He thought about it for a few moments and then began to type. 'Dear Dan, Night before last I met a wonderful woman at a party. She was intelligent, funny and incredibly sexy. She came home with me and we made mad passionate love together. I didn't force her into anything. I made sure she had ample opportunities to say no. The next day she disappeared without a trace and I'm left sitting here wondering. What went wrong.' He paused for a moment and then hit 'send'.
Exhaustion was soon overcoming him. He shut off the computer and went to bed.
The next morning, he felt worse than if he'd stayed up all night. He supposed it was just the jet lag of flying to New York and back so quickly that was finally catching up with him. So he decided to take a day off. But first he had to make one phone call. He punched in numbers that he'd so recently committed to memory, his attorney's number.
"Tim. It's Armando. I got a job for you.
Ah come on, Tim. You know I was just kidding about that firing stuff.
Look, I need you to get over here right away. I want you to find somebody for me.
Yeah, I know you're not a private detective. But I'm certain you know some. So just come on over and I'll give you all the details."
Tuesday, November 4th the courier arrived at Cass' door at 8:00 in the morning. She had the packages waiting for him. She'd decided to return to casual clothes too. "What was that song? 'I'm gonna wash that man right outa my hair'?", she thought as she'd wrapped everything up. Now she was giving the courier detailed instructions.
"Look, the guy's got a gate at the end of his driveway. You'll have to buzz the intercom to be let in. Just let him know the package is from Sandra Bartholomew at the AIDS Resource Center and there shouldn't be any problems. Do you understand?"
"Yes ma'am. Package from Sandra Bartholomew at the AIDS Resource Center. That's what the paperwork will show."
"Thanks. Oh, and Jeffrey, there's a big tip in it for you if you bring me back the signed receipt today."
"Sure thing Ms. Bartholomew." He winked at her as he walked back to his car.
Cass was relieved knowing the job would be done properly. She often used this courier service and knew Jeffrey was especially reliable. That chore done, she decided to prepare her materials to take with her for the art therapy group at the center. Some of the clients had expressed an interest in learning to spin. She assembled several kinds of fiber from sheep, to llama to dog. Then she found carders and some drop spindles.
There were days she resented spending Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at the center. At times it really crammed an already busy schedule. But she knew how much the clients got out of it so she rarely missed a session. There were some very talented people in that group. There were also a few that weren't so talented but had so much fun doing their projects that they didn't care. And it was always a big social hour. Cass liked that as much as anything.
Christopher had pretty much cut himself off when he'd been diagnosed. He didn't want to be a burden. The only reason he'd let her move in with him in Chicago was that she'd convinced him that *she* would be the burden with her weird schedule of working full time and going to school. She'd already worked four years back in LaPorte saving enough money to pay for her schooling. Now she had to earn her living expenses. They'd been the best of friends while living together. After she finally graduated and had a decent paying job she tried to talk him into moving to a better neighborhood but he'd refused.
She remembered packing up their things in preparation to move to Nevada, saying good-bye to some of their neighbors. It had been a sad time. But they'd hoped that the desert heat would cut down on his bouts with pneumonia. Tears gathered in her eyes and threatened to spill over onto her cheeks. She blinked them away and went on with gathering her art supplies.
When Jeffrey arrived at the Langostini home, another car had just pulled up to the gate. It was a green BMW sedan. The driver, a young man in a dark suit, walked back to Jeffrey's car.
"Can I help you?" he asked.
"Hi. I'm with Central Dispatch courier service. I have two packages for Mr. Langostini."
"I'm his attorney. Would you like me to take them for you?"
"Sure. Please sign the receipt at the red 'x' on the bottom of the form." he said handing the book to the gentleman.
The signature was cramped, bordering on illegible. 'Timothy R. Matthews Esq.' it said.
Jeffrey handed the packages to the attorney and walked back to his car. He pretended to be fumbling with paper work. When he saw the car go in the gate, he grabbed his binoculars and watched the lawyer get out of his car taking the packages in the house with him. Mission accomplished.
Nero let Tim in and told him Mr. Langostini was in his study. Tim knew the way. He, nevertheless, knocked on the frame of the open door.
Armando looked up. "Tim. Get in here. I've got a job for you. I met a woman Saturday at the AIDS benefit. I'd like to see her again but I need you to do the leg work. Her name is Sandra Bartholomew. Here's everything else I know about her. And before you ask, yes, I've checked the phone book. No listing."
"Well sir, this may be easier than you thought. he replied putting the packages on the desk. "I intercepted a courier at the gate. He had these two packages from Ms. Bartholomew. And I have the return address from the receipt."
Armando's heart sank and his shoulders slumped as he looked at the packages. He was certain she'd returned the picture. He could only guess that the clothes were in the other package. "Look, Tim, just find her. Please."
Tim had only worked for Mr. Langostini for a few months. But in that time he'd never seen his client look so defeated. Nor had he ever heard him say 'please'. He knew this could potentially be the most important job he'd do for his client. And if he failed, he knew that the next time he heard the words 'you're fired.' it may be permanent.
"I'll get right on it sir." Tim replied taking the information and leaving.
Armando sat at his desk for a moment before unwrapping the packages. His suspicions were confirmed. And there was no message enclosed. He wasn't sure that was a good sign. Granted, there was nothing telling him to go to hell. But her silence was just as deafening. He sat and brooded for a few minutes then tried to shake off this funk Perhaps Nero was right. Maybe he'd just overwhelmed her. He'd tried to make her feel she'd had some control of the situation. Perhaps it was his lifestyle. Armando realized it had taken *him* some time to get used to it. He was certain that someone from LaPorte, Indiana would not have been exposed to such grandeur. He tried to keep a positive attitude. Maybe Tim would have better luck. The young kid irritated him some times but his charm and moxy were useful in situations like these.
Cass was happy with the information Jeffrey brought back. The lawyer made her a little nervous but she was certain she'd covered her tracks. More likely he was just there on some sort of routine business. She took a deep breath. She was safe.
Wednesday, November 5th. Tim Matthews pulled up at the gate at the Langostini home and announced his present to the intercom. Momentarily the gate opened and he proceeded up the driveway. He wished he had better news but this was the best he could do with twenty four house. As always, Nero welcomed him at the door. Tim followed the well know path to the study and knocked. Armando looked up from his computer.
"Tim, tell me you have good news for me."
"Well sir, only a little bit. In fact, I have more bad news that good. It seems your young lady is a ghost. There's no birth record of a Sandra Bartholomew in LaPorte County, Indiana. And no record of anyone with that name in that age range being born in Indiana, Michigan or Illinois. The Mercedes is registered to C-B-L, Ltd. They're a public benefit non profit corp. The registered agent is a lawyer in Reno who likes to hide behind privilege. But the director of the corporation is listed as Cass Lindsey and he sends all correspondence to her at a post office box here in Las Vegas."
"Tim, when do we get to the good news?"
"Coming right up. The address on the delivery receipt was the AIDS Hospice and Resource Center. So I called there and told them you'd like a tour of the facilities. You have an appointment to visit the art therapy program tomorrow afternoon at three o'clock."
"And Sandra will be there?"
"No, but Cass Lindsey will be there working on a 'spinning project.'
He paused to let the implication sink in.
"I think this lady's given you a fake name. I've got people checking birth records for Cass but they haven't gotten back to me yet. I should have a definite answer for you before your appointment tomorrow."
"Geez, she gives me a fake name, then gives me the slip AND she returns my gifts. I wonder if I should pursue this at all. She seems determined to shut me out."
"Mr. Langostini, you only hired me to advise you on legal matters."
"Tim, it was a rhetorical question."
"Then I'll give you a rhetorical answer. Follow your heart. If she's as special as you say, she'd be worth a little effort in my book. My non-legal advice is to go see if Cass and Sandra are really the same person. And, if so, take her to some neutral place and talk to her. What have you got to lose?"
"Thanks. You know, for a lawyer, you're pretty good at this relationship advice."
"Thank you sir. I guess all these years of reading my wife's magazines have paid off."
"Yeah, they have. Now get outta here. I gotta make plans for tomorrow."
He saw the concern on his attorney's face. "Business plans, Tim. Business plans."
Armando began working on his computer. Tim knew that he'd been dismissed. He left quietly, happy to know he had not been fired.
Thursday, November 6th. Armando had chosen to drive himself to the Las Vegas AIDS Hospice and Resource Center. He really missed the 1971 Riviera he'd driven back in his Chicago days but had to admit that this 1998 model was a nice ride. And it was a little more in keeping with his new life. He arrived at the center five minutes early. Not knowing what else to do, he went inside.
A very young woman sat at the reception desk. He told her he had a three o'clock appointment with the director of volunteer services. She picked up the phone and dialed three digits.
"Mr. Langostini is here to see you."
She hung up the phone and looked at Armando. She'll be here in a few minutes. Would you like to have a seat?"
"Thanks" he replied wondering if he looked as nervous as he felt. He turned to walk into the lobby when his cell phone beeped.
"Yeah" he replied walking further away from the reception desk. "No kidding!" he responded to the voice on the phone.
"Tim," he said after another pause, "you're a genius. Great work. Bye."
He heard someone clearing her throat behind him. He turned as he heard his name spoken.
"Please, call me Armando" he reached out and shook the hand she'd extended.
"Welcome. I understand that you're interested in our art therapy program? Your attorney was a little sparse on the details."
"Yes, well... I met some people at the ball Saturday night who spoke highly of it. But I wanted to see it in action before I actually made a financial commitment to it."
"I see. Well let's walk over there and I'll tell you a little more about it on the way." She turned and walked as she began her description. "The beauty of art therapy is that it's a way of letting the creative juices flow with your emotions. And it's definitely a mixed media experience. I don't know if your attorney mentioned it but Cass Lindsey, a local fibre artist is one of our volunteers. She creates the most amazing works."
"No, I don't recall that he did.", he replied neutrally.
"Well, she's with a group right now teaching them to spin raw fibers into yarn for future projects."
"That certainly sounds different."
They continued walking to the end of the hall. Two large rooms with open doors stood opposite each other. In the first were several people standing or sitting at easels applying pigments to canvas. Some works were very abstract. Others were starkly realistic and a few fell in-between the two extremes. One man sat in a corner sketching a woman who was working at the potter's wheel. Armando wondered how he could sketch a moving subject but didn't want to interrupt the man to ask him.
The director introduced him quietly to the two volunteers in the room. They all spoke for several minutes about the various projects. He was fascinated to learn that they really did utilize every form of artwork imaginable. Shortly though, he excused himself and asked to see the other room.
His heart was pounding as they crossed the hall. The director was mentioning that the spinning was being done in the second room to keep the fibers from getting into the paints and clay. Armando scanned the room briefly. In the far corner, he saw Cass working three men. They appeared to be brushing big hunks of fuzz. Cass was helping an older man who seemed to be having difficulty with the correct motions. She stood behind him, grasping his wrists gently and moving them in the required directions. After a few minutes she let go and watched as he continued. The smile on his face showed how much he was enjoying the activity. He said something to Cass and she laughed in response.
Armando saw the aura shining around her just as it had Saturday. He wished he were sitting in that chair, talking to her, making her laugh. He pulled himself together enough to speak softly to the director.
"I assume that's Ms. Lindsey?"
"Yes, would you like me to introduce you?"
He didn't have a chance to respond before Cass looked up at the sound of the voices to see who was there. She froze, wide eyed like a deer caught in headlights. Then she quickly looked down again at the wool the man was carding.
"You okay, Cass?" he asked softly.
"No, not really."
"Anything you want us to do?"
"No, not really." she repeated. "I just thought I'd never see that man again."
The gentleman continued to move the two paddles rhythmically. "He cause you trouble?"
"No, no" she replied. "We just had a... misunderstanding. Is he coming over here?"
"Nope, he just standin' there lookin' at ya."
"Okay, Otis. Be honest with me here. How bad do I look?"
The man laughed at her. "You look fine, Cass. Don't let him get to ya."
Cass stood up and turned to the director and her guest.
"Cass, this is Armando Langostini. He's interested in contributing to our art therapy program."
"Yeah, I'll just bet he is." she thought sarcastically. But her smile was very pleasant as she shook the gentleman's hand.
"Yes, we met at the masquerade Saturday." he responded. "So sorry I didn't realize who I was dancing with."
"Well, you know how it is at these functions. So many people to meet. It's hard to keep track of everyone."
"It certainly is." he replied turning to the director. "Look I've taken up enough of your valuable time. Would it be okay if I just stayed here and observed for a while? If Ms. Lindsey would show me the way out when she's through."
The director looked perplexed for a moment but then acquiesced. "Well, it's fine with me if it's okay with you, Cass."
She smiled at Armando a little too sweetly. "Yes, I'd be happy to show him out."
Cass and Armando stayed still as statues while the director left.
"You've got some nerve." she hissed quietly.
"Me? Now there's the pot calling the kettle black."
"Look, I didn't want to cause a fuss in front of the director, so if you stay, you stay quiet and don't interfere with anyone or anything. Got it?"
Cass took a deep breath and exhaled slowly as she turned back to her group. "How are we coming, gentleman?"
Cass wasn't sure if she wanted the hour to end quickly or to take forever. On one hand, she dreaded facing the man who had indeed tracked her down. On the other, whatever happened, she wanted to get it over with soon. But four o'clock came in its own time and then she had to gather her things.
"Let me help with that." Armando said.
"No thanks, I can manage just fine without you."
"I'm sure you can. I just thought I'd be polite."
"Yeah, I know. You don't want to get cited by Miss Manners." she taunted.
"Hey, what's your problem?"
"My problem?!?" she started to lose her temper but took a deep breath and fought to regain control of herself. "Look, let me get my stuff put away. And then I'll deal with you."
"Whatever you say."
It took a few minutes before all her supplies were boxed up and ready to go. She stuffed everything in a supply cabinet and locked it securely. Then she turned around and faced Armando.
"Okay, what the fuck do you want?" she exploded.
"What do *I* want? I want a lot of things. I want a good chili dog that doesn't cause indigestion. I want to see the Cubs win the World Series . I want a president who doesn't chase skirts. But most of all, right now I want an explanation."
"Of what happened between us." he shouted. He could tell he was very close to losing his cool.
"Look, my attorney says I should take you to a neutral place so we can talk this out. Now I figure I'm paying the guy four hundred bucks and hour so his advice is probably pretty good. So, can we please go someplace and talk like rational people?"
"So, your attorney advises you on your personal life?"
"Not generally. This was a special case."
"Is this the same attorney you fired Sunday?"
"Yeah, I hired him back Tuesday." he responded sheepishly.
She knew she was falling for those eyes again but she couldn't help herself.
"Look, I know it's not neutral but let's go to my place. I've got animals to feed."
Armando looked shocked.
"Don't worry, 'Mr. Body', I won't make you help. You can sit inside and stay clean."
They walked out of they building together.
"Where's your limo?"
:"It's at home. I felt like driving today."
"You parked in the lot behind the building?"
"Great so am I." They walked around the center to the parking lot. Cass stopped at a blue pick up truck.
"I thought you drove a Mercedes."
She laughed. "Only on business trips. The rest of the time, this beauty is my transport. Stay close and I'll try not to lose you."
She hopped in the truck and fired up the engine. Moments later she saw a black Buick idling in the lane. She pulled out and led the way back to her home. Her thoughts were chaotic as she drove home. What the hell was she going to say to him? Generally, she favored telling the truth but wasn't sure it was appropriate in this situation. But could she lie that convincingly? Would he know that she was lying?
When at last they arrived at her home, the dogs were barking in their kennels. She could hear the sheep in the barn. And she knew that she had about at least a half hour's worth of chores before she would be free to talk.
"Look, I'm gonna be a while." she said unlocking the door to her house. "Make yourself at home. There's beer in the fridge if you're interested."
She knew she was taking a risk letting him have access to her house for so long. But she didn't know what else to do.
"I'll be on my best company behavior." he promised.
She went out to the barn first. Then she headed to the kennel and fed the dogs. Sure that the animals would be okay for the night, she looked at her watch. It was after five 'clock. She wanted to bring the dogs in the house for moral support but knew that probably wouldn't be smart. She'd have to do this alone.
She walked in the house and saw Armando sitting in the kitchen drinking a beer. She walked to her bedroom to shower and change clothes without saying anything. When she came back, she was wearing a pair of leggings and an oversized silk shirt. Her auburn hair was pulled back in a headband. He was nearly certain she wasn't wearing anything under the shirt but he didn't dare comment. He supposed he should be glad she felt comfortable enough around him to go without a bra. She walked to the fridge and got herself a beer too. She didn't consider herself much of a drinker but felt it couldn't hurt. She turned around from the fridge and looked at him.
"So, you hungry?"
"So I can fix you dinner and poison it, you silly fool. Why else?" she mocked.
"Oh well, when you put it that way..."
"Look, before I left for the center this afternoon, I fixed a pot of chili. I'd be happy to share it but you must be forewarned that it's midwestern style. My taste buds haven't adapted to the thermonuclear waste they call chili out here."
"Sure, I'd be happy to share a pot of chili with you."
She tossed silverware and a couple of placemats on the table.
"Whoa! What kind of chili requires a knife?" he asked.
"The kind that you eat with the fresh bread that's in the basket on the table, silly."
She ladled two bowls full of soup from the pot and took them to the table. She placed his in front of him before she sat down with hers. For a moment they just sat there looking at each other. Finally he picked up his bottle of beer and raised it in a toast.
"To midwestern chili." he said.
She raised her beer in return and they started eating. It seemed that neither one of them really wanted to broach the subject they knew was staring them in the face. So instead they made small talk all through dinner. When they had eaten their fill, they sat and stared at each other with an awkward silence.
"Look, why don't we grab some coffee and go outside." she suggested. "We could sit on the deck and let the dogs loose for a while. You could meet Almak."
He agreed so they left the dishes in the sink. Minutes later they were sitting on the back deck looking at the sun set; the Corgis and Almak lying at their feet. There were several minutes of silence between them before she finally took the bull by the horns.
"So," she said "What do you want?"
"I want you. I thought I made that plain four days ago."
"Yeah, and I thought I made it plain that it had to be a one time thing."
"But why? What we had Saturday night..."
"What we had Saturday night was sex. Damn fine sex. A blazingly fantastic fuck to be precise. But nevertheless, that's all it was."
"No, it wasn't. I felt something and I know you did too. I think you're afraid of what you felt so you decided to run off at the first opportunity."
"Afraid? Hah! It would take more than a roll in the hay with you to scare me."
Armando could tell the conversation was getting him no where. He took a swig of his beer, thought for several minutes and then tried a different tack.
"Would you please answer me one question?"
"Why didn't you tell me your real name?"
She thought about that question for a minute and decided that the truth was the only way out now. "For the same reason you didn't tell me yours."
She knew he hadn't been expecting that response. And his reaction virtually confirmed what she thought she knew.
"You heard me. You told me your name is Armando Langostini. Ray Vecchio and Armando Langostini aren't even close."
She had to give him credit. He wasn't even beginning to sweat. She decided to press on.
"Did you really think I wouldn't recognize you? All those times you were at Fraser's place? For heaven's sake, I named my two Corgi's Benny & Ray."
"Who do you think I am?"
"I just told you that. You're Ray Vecchio, detective, Chicago Police Department."
"No, not my name silly. Look at me. Remember Saturday and tell me who you really think I am."
Boy, that wasn't what she expected to hear. She paused to think before she answered. The words came slowly from her mouth. "You are a very wealthy and powerful man. But that wealth and power are fed by a dark force. Almost everything around you reeks of a negative energy. And that's what's so bizarre."
"Yes, because Saturday night something very special happened. There was a long moment, just before you came, when I saw clearly into your soul. And you, your spiritual essence, the real 'you' have no dark or negative energies. That's why I believe you're living a double life. On the inside, you're still Ray Vecchio, the cop, the one who wants to help people by putting the bad guys in jail. But on the outside, you're Armando Langostini. You've become one of the bad guys."
"Okay, I'll admit that my life is a little complicated right now. I've got a lot of business deals going that may not have me adhering to the highest ethical standards..."
"Oh now there's a laugh."
"Please, just listen to me. Outward appearances aren't important. It's what's on the inside that counts. And who I am inside *is* the good guy you saw. Yes, I make deals with some bad people. But that doesn't make me bad."
"Ray, has anyone ever told you the Wiccan Rule of Three?"
"It states that whatever we put out into the universe will come back to us threefold. And it works for positive as well as negative energies."
"And you know this because...?"
"Because I've experienced it. You know, you were kind of right about me. I am afraid. Not of you but of the negativity that surrounds you. And I just don't want to be around when it comes back on you."
"So that would make you a..." he didn't want to say the word.
"A witch, Ray."
"You mean like naked, dancing in a circle around a fire casting spells etc."
She laughed. "Well, I choose not to work skyclad. But the rest of it is pretty much right on."
"Then Saturday night, was that real or was that just some sort of spell manipulation.?"
"Oh, no. It was very real. The Wiccan Rede states 'As it harms none, do what ye will.' I would never violate that. Yes, I did cast a spell before I left here Saturday night. But only to strengthen myself. I knew that my two friends weren't going to be there and I felt I needed the extra courage to go alone. White magick spells respect the free will of all living things. I had no clue there'd be anybody at the ball who'd be attracted to a powerful female. Think about it. Half the guys who were there are gay. And most straight men, in my experience, tuck tail and run at the sight of a strong woman. So there you were. Not only attracted to me but actually coming on to me. Making my body tingle with an electricity I'd never felt before...
I wish now that I'd exerted more self control. When you took off your mask and I thought I recognized you, I didn't know what to do. Friday night I was told that someone from my past was going to re-enter my life. I never dreamed it would be you. I convinced myself it was all an illusion. And when I laid there in your arms telling you about Christopher, and Almak, and the picture, you never even blinked. I was sure that my mind was playing tricks on me. But when I saw you in the full light of day at breakfast, I knew the truth."
"Cass, the *truth* is that I'm crazy about you. And if I had the chance to do it all over again, I'd have been more of a gentleman and not pushed you..."
"You didn't push me."
"Hush" he commanded laying a gentle finger across her lips wanting nothing more than for her to take it in her mouth He wanted her again like he'd wanted her Saturday but he wasn't going to push it this time. "Yes, I did. You're right. I was attracted to you. And in my crazy overblown Italian way felt like I had to have you then and there. I could have backed off and not pursued you after dinner. But I didn't. I pushed for the outcome I wanted and now we've gotten off on the wrong foot.
And the *truth* is that I'm just as attracted to you and aroused by you now as I was on that dance floor four days ago."
"Of course you are. We're at *my* home on *my* land. I'm naturally powerful here. I warned you that this was not a neutral spot."
"So you admit that you *do* want me, at least subconsciously. Otherwise, you wouldn't have brought me here where you'd be powerful and I'd be attracted to you."
"Oh Ray, I never said I didn't want you. I only said I can't have you."
He took both her hands in his and stared directly into her green eyes. "I am Armando Langostini, a real estate developer, and yes, some of my deals aren't always with the best of people. That happens in business, especially in Las Vegas. But that doesn't mean I can't protect the people I love and care for. I've always looked after my friends and family. And I always will. Now will you please give me a second chance?"
He seemed so confident. Cass wasn't sure she should do it. She was certain that he was lying to her about who he really was. So she could only assume that he was indeed here in some sort of undercover capacity. And though she didn't know how long it would last, she decided to try to ride it out.
"Are you serious about wanting a second chance?"
"With all my heart."
"Would you be willing to spend tonight here?"
"Even if I said you'd have to stay in the guest room?"
"Well, I suppose", he hedged.
"And if I said I didn't have any buttermilk for breakfast..."
"Oh, you *are* pushing it lady."
"And what if I said I couldn't reciprocate and send you home in a new outfit tomorrow?"
"Now, that's okay. I always keep a bag packed and with me at all times in case I have to fly out on some sort of business trip."
"Or some dazzling fibre artist asks you to spend the night?"
"Okay," she said very quietly and sat in her chair with her eyes closed praying that she would not regret this decision.
Dusk was gathering quickly when she stood up and held out her hands to him. "Let's put the dogs in the kennel and go inside."
"Just tell me one thing." he said as he stood up and looked at the two sleeping Corgis. "Which one's Ray and which one's Benny?"
"Benny has the brown front legs and feet that look like Mountie boots. Ray has the big nose."
The End (for now)