“What are you doing in here?” I asked.
Mr. Barker wasn’t going to be distracted though.
“Where have you two been? We’ve been looking all over for you since breakfast.” Mr. Barker said.
“We went for a drive.” I said.
Kyra coughed. If I had eyes on her, I would have kicked her. Instead I huffed a little and tried to ignore her.
“Where?” Mr. Barker asked.
“San Matteo.” I said.
“What the hell were you thinking?” He asked.
“Let’s see here.” I said, pacing a little further into my room. “Was it because you weren’t listening to me or was it more because I knew I was right? Hmmm. I’m just not sure, why don’t you pick one for me.”
“How about you aren’t listening to me. I don’t know what kind of places you’ve worked before Miss West but here, you will follow my instructions whether you agree with them or not because simply put, I’m your boss.” Mr. Barker replied.
“She found the compass, Jack.” Kyra said.
“I don’t give a damn what you…Wait you found it? Where?” Mr. Barker said.
“Where you were never going to look.” I said.
Mr. Barker’s face was lost in a contortion somewhere awkwardly between stern anger and boyish excitement. I was tempted to laugh but I had a hunch that might just push him in the wrong direction. Kyra carefully pulled the pieces out of her bag and placed them on the bed where Mr. Barker could see them. Slowly he unwrapped them, his eyes darting from the prizes on the bed, back over to me. I tried not to look smug, but I have a feeling I wasn’t succeeding.
He shook his head as if he couldn’t believe what he was looking at and then he pulled out his phone and called Tom.
“I found them.” Mr. Barker said. “Yeah, grab Gene and meet us in Miss West’s room.”
There was a pause and I could hear Tom’s voice but the words were impossible to discern. Mr. Barker listened impatiently patient.
“Just get him and meet me okay?” Mr. Barker said.
He ended the call and shoved his phone back in his pocket.
“How the hell did you talk her into this?” He asked me.
“Who says she talked me into anything?” Kyra said.
She had finally decided to stop hiding and by the look on her face, she was feeling more than a little insulted at his insinuation that she was incapable of deciding to do something on her own.
“I do. You’ve never done anything even close to this stupid before and frankly, I don’t like seeing this side of you. I know she doesn’t have a clue how lucky the two of you got, but you know better.” He said.
“There’s always risk Jack, but we found it. You should have listened to her.” Kyra said.
“I did listen.” He said.
My eyes popped of my head searching for any sign that he knew he was lying through his teeth.
“Excuse me? Don’t you mean you laughed at me?” I said.
“That’s not quite fair. You didn’t exactly sound confident yourself. Hell if it’d been Gene’s theory I think you’d have been laughing your ass off right next to me.”
“Maybe it sounded crazy but would it have killed you to have checked it out?” I said.
Tom and Dr. Michaels came through the door before Mr. Barker had a chance to answer me. I figured it was probably for the best, given the less than amused look on his face. Kyra’s eyes were telling me to shut up and so was my own common sense, but for whatever reasons, I wasn’t listening to either.
Mr. Barker turned his attention away from me. Dr. Michaels wasted no time in picking up the compasses. Tom leaned up against the closed door with a smirk on his face after a glance at Kyra, who simply smiled and shrugged. I felt like I was missing something.
“She found it.” Mr. Barker said.
“At the monastery?” Dr. Michaels asked.
Mr. Barker nodded.
“Lucky guess.” Dr. Michaels muttered more to himself than anyone.
I took it personal.
“It wasn’t a guess.” I said.
Four sets of eyes turned on me. None of them approved.
“I wasn’t guessing. I put the pieces together and crazy as they sounded, they also made sense.” I said.
“You threw a Hail Mary and got lucky.” Tom said.
Three heads nodded in agreement and none of them were mine.
“If that’s how you want to justify ignoring me.” I said.
“Oh no, it’s much simpler than that Virginia. I ignored you because you didn’t know the first thing about what you were talking about. You re-wrote history without any regard for facts and that alone is justification for not listening to your ramblings.” Dr. Michaels said.
“Just because I came to different conclusions than you doesn’t make them baseless.” I said.
“You didn’t just disagree with my findings, you disagreed with every expert in the last four hundred years.” Dr. Michaels said.
“It’s not my fault they were all wrong.” I said.
Tom chuckled. Mr. Barker just shook his head at me.
“They weren’t wrong. You made conclusions that cannot be substantiated by facts.” Dr. Michaels said.
“And yet I found the compasses.” I said.
It was boastful and I said it with boast. He couldn’t admit to being wrong and so I was determined to rub it in his face until he screamed for mercy or at the very least apologized for not listening. I should have known it would never happen that way.
“As Tom so colorfully stated, you got lucky. Your so called conclusions are not the only nor mostly likely reason for the compasses being located where you found them.” Dr. Michaels said.
“This I have to hear. Why then, were they located in the monastery if not because of his love for his daughter?” I asked.
“Galileo was first and foremost a mathematician. I would have thought you’d have grasped that after a week’s worth of reading on the man, but I suppose I expect too much.” Dr. Michaels said.
I fumed at his condescending tone.
“And what does his being a math guy have anything to do with the location of the compasses?” I asked.
“Obviously, he intended to hide them from the Church so they would not be destroyed for foolish reasons. Undoubtedly, he calculated the odds and chose a location where the odds of someone finding them based on knowledge of him would be small. Kyra’s computer model should have accounted for this possibility based on the personality information we have on Galileo, but apparently it failed to do so.” Dr. Michaels explained.
Kyra bit at her lip and stared at the floor. I could hardly believe she would feel his failure to locate the compasses was in anyway her fault, but the look on her face clearly stated she did.
“I think I’m starting to figure you out, Doctor. Your mistakes and failures are best laid at someone else’s feet. God forbid you should ever take responsibility for your own mistakes.” I said.
“I think that’s enough, Miss West.” Mr. Barker said.
“Is it? When does anyone ever tell him to shut up?” I asked.
“Jack, I will not be talked to in this manner.” Dr. Michaels said. “If you don’t do something about it, I will certainly see to it that Joe does.”
“Maybe we could all just take a moment and calm down. We have the compasses. We should be celebrating.” Tom said.
“I could go for that.” Kyra said.
“I want an apology.” Dr. Michaels said.
“I’m sorry.” I said. “Maybe next time you’ll pull your head out of your ass long enough to listen to someone other than yourself.”
“I think that’s a little uncalled for, Miss West. I’m trying very hard to over look a gross violation in protocol by yourself and Kyra, but unless you drop the attitude right now, you’ll be leaving me no choice.” Mr. Barker said.
“What about him?” I asked.
Was it unwise to continue? Probably. Was it satisfying to see Dr. Michaels bristle at my accusation? Absolutely.
“V! Shut the fuck up.” Kyra said.
She knew better than I the kind of trouble I was heading us toward and deep down, I knew she was right. There are times to argue and times to keep your thoughts to yourself. This was one of the latter. Unfortunately, I was too annoyed to notice until it was too late for anything more than regrets.
“I really don’t get it. We found the compasses exactly where I predicted they’d be. We brought them back and now it feels a lot like everyone wishes we hadn’t even found them. What’s going on here? Is it only good to find the crap we are looking for when Dr. Michaels determines its location?” I ranted.
“We have procedures. People get hurt or killed when we don’t follow procedures. You got lucky and sadly you don’t even realize just how lucky.” Mr. Barker said. “Now I don’t want to hear another word out of you about this. Understood?”
“Not in the slightest.” I replied.
I don’t know why I said it like that. Maybe I wanted to see just how far I could push him or maybe being angry was making me just plain stupid. Either way the sentence was out of my mouth and there was no taking it back.
“Fine. Have it your way.” Mr. Barker said.
He stormed out of the room, slamming the door closed behind him. Everyone left looked at me as if it were all my fault. I suppose in some sense it was but really would it have hurt anyone that much to have given Kyra and I a little praise for a job well done? Apparently it was too much to ask.
“You know just when I thought you might prove me wrong, you go and prove me right.” Tom said.
He was shaking his head at me like he was disappointed.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“It means you have just successfully proved you are far too immature to be out here with us. Whatever it is Joe sees in you, he’s obviously missing this.” Dr. Michaels said.
His words felt like bait. I almost fell for it, but rational thinking had returned just enough to make me understand that by responding to his charge I was more likely to prove him right, even to myself, than to contradict him. I took some old advice and kept my not so nice thoughts to myself.
“You really pissed Jack off and take it from me, that’s not easy to do. I hope you’re proud of yourself.” Tom added.
“There is one thing I think we can agree on,” I said. “I don’t belong here.”
I barely got the words out when the door swung back open just long enough for Mr. Barker to walk back inside. His jaw was set and his hand held the proof of what he was set on doing. It was probably the wrong response but I laughed at him and his blue leather paddle.
“Everybody out.” Mr. Barker ordered.
I can’t say I was sorry to see any of them go, but standing alone with Mr. Barker and his paddle was equally undesirable. His mind was hardened to his task. It was evident in his shoulders, his stance, and his sad eyes. I sighed and sat down on the bed. It was mostly a futile delay tactic although I admit a part of me thought I had a chance of talking Mr. Barker out of using the blue leather implement in his hand.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I asked.
“Something it seems I should have done the day we met.” Mr. Barker replied.
“I found your stupid compass for God’s sake.”
“You put yourself and Kyra at risk in the process. If that’s not enough then let’s consider your attitude problem.”
“That’s not fair. You weren’t even going to look just because Dr. Asshole doesn’t like me. If anyone has an attitude problem it’s that jerk.”
“That “jerk” has been on every continent studying artifacts and the people who created them since before you were in grade school. He might not have all the answers but he’s also smart enough to know that your just another kid guessing at things you don’t understand. You got lucky here and the really sad thing is you don’t even realize it.”
“Call it whatever makes you happy, but it doesn’t change the fact I was right and he was wrong.”
Mr. Barker scoffed at me while shaking his head in disbelief.
“You may have figured out the location, but your reasoning was as flawed as our search. Why can’t you see that? Or do you really believe Galileo was trying to invent time travel?” Mr. Barker said.
He was talking rather than swinging and that was a positive sign. Unfortunately, his talking reminds me all too much of conversations with my parents as they struggled to make me understand why they were going to spank me. I’ve never quite understood the debate when in their minds the end result was always inevitable. I never did learn to just give up and accept the inevitable.
“The calculations on those compasses are all the proof I need. I’m not a mathematician, but from what I can tell those compasses are designed as counterparts to each other. They might be riddled with flaws and inaccuracies, but they are clearly about measuring time from two different perspectives. If that doesn’t approach a semblance of time travel calculations, I don’t know what does.”
“You’re right. You don’t know what does. Those calculations could easily be all about building an astronomical clock, just like every expert who has searched for them believes. Whether or not they are right or you are right is not even the question between us though.” Mr. Barker said.
“Then what is?” I asked.
“What is it going to take for you to give the people on my team the respect they deserve?”
My response was immediately on my lips. I held it back for a moment to stare at Mr. Barker and gauge whether it was the right thing to say or not. In the end, I decided it didn’t matter whether he wanted to hear it or not, he need to hear it and that was that.
“When they prove to me they deserve it.” I said.
He just shook his head at me.
“I guess I’ll start then. I won’t put up with this antagonistic attitude you have so you’ve got a choice. You can either stand up, drop your jeans and bend over that bed or you can tell me to go to hell and when we get back, you can go back to whatever it is you used to do because you are sure as hell won’t be working on my team anymore.” Mr. Barker said.
I hated him in that moment. It was one thing to accept an unavoidable punishment. It was quite another to ask for it in order to keep a job I wasn’t even sure I wanted. The alternative wasn’t much of one if he could really force me out. Part of me wanted to test that theory because I suspect Mr. Candle would be unwilling to let me go without something of a fight but knowing him as I’ve come to so far, he would insist I took what was coming to me in order to stay anyway.
“What’s it going to be?” Mr. Barker asked.
I took another moment to think it through. If it were my father I would have simply complied without hesitation. In this moment, I was angry. I was angry at Mr. Barker for making me choose. I was angry at myself for antagonizing the situation until Mr. Barker no longer felt he had a choice. I was angry at Dr. Michaels for being arrogant to the point of clinging to his flawed theories even when they were proven completely wrong. I was angry at Tom for finding it all amusing. I was angry at Kyra for not being brave enough to stand up for what she knew was right. Mostly though, I was angry at being in a situation where I had a choice that was truly not a choice at all.
I stood up and walked to the door. My hand reach out to it. I fought the urge to throw the door open and runaway. My fingers engaged the privacy lock, ensuring we would not be disturbed. I slipped the gun from the back of my jeans and laid it rest on the dresser after expelling the cartridge. Mr. Barker watched me with cold eyes that knew he’d won the fight.
I stepped to the foot of the bed and turned my back to Mr. Barker. My fingers were surprisingly steady as they undid the buttons and zipper holding my jeans in placed. I tugged them down my legs feeling slightly foolish as the cool morning air kissed my then bare legs. With them down passed my knees, I leaned over and placed my hands on the bed. I told myself I had no choice in the matter as my head lowered and I could see Mr. Barker standing there behind me, waiting.
“Do what you think you’ve got to do.” I said. “It won’t change anything.”
Antagonistic, challenging words spoken not out of bravery or belief, but the silly thought that I could somehow win the debate if I could make him think his spanking didn’t effect me.
Mr. Barker stepped up behind me and raised the leather high in the air. I tensed waiting for the first strike to fall. The seconds ticked between us with only the sound of my breath and the creaking of the bed springs as my weight pushed against them. Just when I thought he wasn’t going to go through with it, I unclenched my buttocks, and then the paddle whooshed through the air. The slap connected with the wobbly flesh of my left buttock and sweltered it with a prickly sting. I tried to blink back my surprise, but heard myself gasp and cry out despite my efforts. The second slap fell on my right buttock with similar effect only an instant later With no time to recover, I whimpered and shifted my weight from foot to foot in a desperate attempt to shake the sting out.
The leather reverberated against my left cheek for the second time and I leapt up, grabbing at my sore backside. Mr. Barker’s expression stopped me mid-jump. There was no hint of enjoyment on his features, only a quiet sadness steadied by a determination of which I was only just becoming aware. I bit at my lower lip and blushed for the stream of tears leaking from my eyes from a mere three swats. He could have been cruel and gave me orders to submit to what I had chosen to accept, but he remained silent, allowing me the slight bit of dignity to return to my position without comment.
As soon as my head was once again lowered and my butt raised, the paddle swished through the space between us once more. I knotted my hands into fists and clenched my wet eyes closed, determined not to appear any weaker than I already had. The building heat behind me stung with a ferocity I had not imagined possible with such a light implement. It was impossible not to admire Mr. Barker’s skill and had I a voice left to command I would have complimented him on it. Instead, I acknowledged his prowess with tears and pleas as the paddle struck repeatedly until the total count equaled ten.
My tears were cathartic as I wept. I should have been ashamed, embarrassed even, but it was Mr. Barker’s presence that made it the exact opposite. He laid the blue leather down on the bed beside my hands and then lifted me up into his arms. I rested my head against his shoulders as sobs racked my body. His gentle fingers brushed through my hair, providing unexpected comfort and his hold, unexpected security. Before it had began, I expected to hate him for what he was about to do. In the end, I was stunned to find I admired him for it.
“I’m sorry.” I said when I finally found my voice again.
“I’m not.” He replied.
From his shoulder, I glanced up at his face and found a gentle smile looking back at me. I longed for him to lean down and kiss me and I think he felt the same. It was not to be though. A knock on the door informed us it was time to leave. Mr. Barker pulled away leaving me feeling foolish with my jeans still around my ankles. I pulled them up quickly and turned away to escape the awkward aftermath of a tender moment that should never have happened. He was, after all, my boss.