New to Quest Five?
The stories are best enjoyed when read in order beginning with May 1, 2009.

Welcome To Quest Five
Allison Beaumont is having trouble finding a job after college until one day the wealthy and powerful Joseph Candle offers her a job at his rather unusual corporation, where mistakes can lead to bare bottomed spankings. Adopting the alias of Virginia West, she joins four highly skilled colleagues, racing around the globe in search of mysterious treasures, but wherever she goes, trouble is sure to follow.
Note: Some stories contain scenes of a sexual nature, corporal punishment, non-consensual corporal punishment, and strong language which some reader's may find offensive. If you feel this material might be inappropriate for you please move on to another blog by clicking the next blog link at the top of the page.

July 28, 2009

Measuring Up: Congratulations, I'm Sorry

“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.

July 25, 2009

Measuring Up: Finders & Keepers

If you thought my comments might have changed things or that Mr. Barker might have rethought his way of breaking me into the group, you’d be wrong. Things went much the same way they had been going. From a group breakfast in the courtyard to Kyra and I being left behind to wait for a call that may or may not allow us to contribute to the search. I kept my opinions to myself until after they were gone.

“So what do you say we figure out where this thing actually is?” I said.

We had just sat down in the conference room with Kyra’s machines. She swiveled in her chair to look at me with a sly grin spreading across her face. I was doing my best to look innocent up to that point, but ended up grinning back at her like the devil I was feeling.

“What did you have in mind?” She asked.

“I’m just thinking here, and correct me if I’m wrong, but we’ve got every piece of information Dr. Michaels has right here inside these computers.” I said.

I waited for a moment as she nodded a confirmation to my assertion.

“Then it would follow they should be able to tell us exactly where this thing is likely to be.” I finished.

“They are already working off those search results.” Kyra said.

“Yeah but it seems to me the data is probably skewed by assumptions made by generations of historians and Dr. Michaels. Couldn’t we refine the data a touch?” I suggested.

“I suppose we could. What kind of refinement did you have in mind?”

“Let’s start with his familial affiliations.” I said.

Kyra lifted an eyebrow but having nothing better to do I guess she decided not to argue with me even if she thought I was nuts. I figured we had nothing to lose and everything to gain so I might as well put every thought I was entertaining down on the table and go for broke.

“He never married but he fathered three children with the same woman. His daughters went into service of the church and his son manage to find legitimacy and attempted to follow in his father’s footsteps. Given the information we have it’s unlikely Galileo was the social misfit that history paints him to be.” I said.

“I’m not sure I’m with you here.” Kyra said.

“Well, having children out of wedlock in the 16th century wasn’t exactly for the common man. Factor in that all early evidence in Galileo’s life suggests he was a very pious man, it just doesn’t add up for me.”

“Okay, sounds reasonable enough but I’m not sure how this will change my model.”

“In order to achieve any level of accuracy your model had to include some type of weighting based on the emotional attachments of Galileo. Or am I wrong?”

“No, you’re right. So you want me to skew his attachment in favor of his illegitimate children?” Kyra said.

“Not exactly.”

“Then what?”

“Let’s assume he was married to their mother.” I said.

“That’s crazy. She married someone else.” Kyra said.

“Actually she didn‘t. Recent evidence indicates she died in 1612.” I said.

“Where did you hear that?”

“One of Dr. Michaels’ reports.” I said.

“Okay assuming you are correct about that, what evidence do you have that even suggest they were married?”

“History may not record them as husband and wife but it does clearly record they lived together with their children up until her death. Given the customs of the time and Galileo’s spirituality, it just doesn’t seem likely he would have lived with her, slept with her, raised a family with her, and not married her.” I said.

Kyra was looking at me like I was spinning the greatest yarn every told. Admittedly, it was short on facts and high on assumption, but it did make sense to me.

“Just assume for a moment I’m right and they were married. Galileo first ran into trouble with the Inquisition around 1610 because he began supporting a heliocentric solar system based on his astronomical observations. History says he was merely admonished and told to refrain from publicly supporting those theories. Again, in the time period in question this seems a rather light sentence for a suspected heretic. We are asked to believe this light sentence came about because of his connections within the Church and his readily agreeing to denounce the theories, but what if it didn’t happen that way?” I said.

“Then what do you think happened?” Kyra asked.

“He was convicted as a heretic but because of his connections within the Church it was in certain powerful individuals best interests to sweep the matter under the rug. The Inquisition wouldn’t just dismiss the charges but they might have been convinced to punish Galileo to a lesser degree say by, annulling his marriage and marking his children as illegitimate. Such a move could have saved face for officials in Church who were connected to Galileo and allowed the Inquisition to levy it’s own form of justice.” I explained.

“I thought the children in annulled marriages were considered legit by the Church.” Kyra said.

“That hasn’t always been the case. In fact during Galileo’s lifetime the Church could have bastardized him from his own parents for his supposed heresy. The Church has come a long way since then but in those days, the Inquisition had far reaching power.”

Kyra nodded. Maybe she was starting to believe my farfetched tale.

“What you’re saying is the Church punished him in something like a sealed session in order to avoid a conviction that could have embarrassed certain high ranking members of the Church.” She said.

“Exactly. Galileo was closely aligned with the man who was destined to become the next Pope. Such an embarrassing relationship for the Church would have been very bad indeed and it is possible it would have given more credence to Galileo’s theories rather than discrediting them as the Inquisition preferred.”

“It’s crazy V, but it actually makes sense in a weird sort of way.” Kyra said.

I smiled a little relieved I had managed to make sense out of what had started off as just a wild hair.

“How long will it take to reconfigure your model with the new familial data?” I asked.

“A few minutes.” She replied.

She started typing away while I leaned back in my chair, feeling quite pleased with myself. A few minutes passed us by in silence.

“It re-ranked a few locals but they’ve already been investigated and we came up empty.” Kyra said.

I leaned forward and studied the screen and the re-ranked data. Nothing was standing out to me and I started to feel a touch of depression as it occurred to me that I had nothing really to contribute to the search. It was frustrating to have inadvertently proven Mr. Barker and Dr. Michaels right. The only comforting thought I possessed was that it was at least fortunate neither of them were around to rub my nose in it.

Then a new idea struck.

“It’s all about time.” I thought aloud.

“Huh?” Kyra said with a raised eyebrow.

“The compass, the calculations are about time right?” I asked.

“Um, yeah I think so.”

“Why did he care?” I asked.

“I don’t understand. Why did he care about what?”

“Time. He was a mathematician with a fascination with astrology. Astronomy was a mere side effect of that fascination, but then he fixated on time. Pendulum swings, patterns of appearances in the sky, degrees of rotation.” I said.

Kyra just blinked at me as if I’d lost my marbles. I laughed which did little to reassure her of my sanity.

“Galileo became obsessed with time. When men obsess over time it’s almost always because they want to change something that has already happened.” I explained.

Kyra shook her head at me, indicating without a word that not only did she not understand my thoughts, but she thought I was just plain wrong.

“He wasn’t trying to make a universal clock, he was looking for an arc to intersect the past.” I said.

“That’s one hell of an intuitive leap.” Kyra said.

“It‘s not about Marina at all. When Galileo was charged before the Inquisition in the 1630’s he kept correspondence with his eldest daughter, Virginia also known as Sister Marie Celeste. During his trial she was in near constant communication with him via letters, but whether it was stress, bad timing, or just her time, she died during the course of his trial.” I continued my random thinking aloud.

“So?” Kyra prodded.

I rose from chair and began pacing the floor thinking it all through. It was all coming together, but I couldn’t help but wonder why I was the only one to think of it.

“It’s in the monastery.” I said.

“What monastery?” Kyra asked.

“The one were she lived and died.”

“You aren’t making any sense, V.”

“He wanted to fix what he’d done to her.” I said.

“She was already dead.”

“You aren’t hearing me. His calculations weren’t to measure time, they were to find the arcs between the present and the past. He wanted to change the past, her past.” I said.

“His daughter’s?”

“Yes. It’s got to be there at the monastery. It would have to be there.” I said.

I was certain of it. Computer models and obnoxious archaeologists be damned. Galileo may have been extraordinary, but he was still just a man, just a father.

“Where was that monastery?” I asked.

Kyra looked like she was about to argue with me and then decided against it. She pulled up the historical references on Galileo’s oldest daughter and the name flashed to the screen along with an address and a map.

“San Matteo. It’s just outside of Florence.” She said.

“That’s where we’ll find the compass.” I said.

“My models don’t give it more than a tenth of a percent probability, V. Nobody is going to listen.” Kyra said.

“Not to me, but they’ll listen to you.” I said.

She shook her head.

“Even if I thought you were right, we’ve got nothing here to support this conclusion.” She said.

“Do you think I’m right?” I asked.

She hesitated long enough for me to understand she was less than certain.

“I think it’s worth checking out, but honestly if you’re right, everything we think we know about Galileo is wrong.” She said.

“I can live with that.” I said. “Will you call Mr. Barker or shall I?”

She thought about it. Her eyes flickered between the computer screen and me and I almost lost hope before she focused solely on me.

“Alright. Let’s call him together. I’ll back you up to a point because I think you’ve made a good enough case that it’s worth the look, especially since we’re so close.” Kyra said.

“Thank you.”

Kyra set up the computer to do a speaker call through my phone and I found out very quickly she was right. Nobody was going to listen because it didn’t come from Dr. Michaels. My skills and hunches were of no value to Mr. Barker, despite my impression from Mr. Candle that they were the sole reason I was part of the team.

“Miss West has identified a possible location for the compass that contradicts the computer models we are working off of.” Kyra began.

On the other end, Mr. Barker, Dr. Michaels and Tom Clark were all listening.

“Based on what data?” Dr. Michaels asked.

He made no attempt at all to hide the scorn and skepticism he so obviously felt at the news.

“My theories are based on an alternate interpretation of Galileo’s personality from the generally accepted historical awe.” I said.

“And what facts have led you to this erroneous conclusion?” Dr. Michaels asked.

His audacity to claim my conclusions erroneous without even hearing them out practically had my blood in a boil.

“Mostly it’s based on your current failure in locating the compass.” I said. “If it does indeed exist it would seem that the information you are working off of is at best incomplete and at worst inaccurate.”

“We are searching based on scientific probabilities, Virginia. It is in these places where the compass is most likely to be found and it would be a waste of our time and resources to go chasing after your hunches.” Mr. Barker said.

“If the data is being improperly weighted based on inaccuracies in the historical records then your probabilities are leading you from one wrong location to the next. It’s not even that far out of your way and all I’m asking is you check it out.” I said.

“Where is it you want us to look?” Mr. Barker asked.

“San Matteo.” I replied.

“That’s absolutely ridiculous.” Dr. Michaels said.

“Why?” Mr. Barker asked.

“Because Galileo never returned to San Matteo after his final trial before the Inquisition. He had no reason to; his daughter was dead.” Dr. Michaels lectured.

“Miss West seems to have a theory that would provide an explanation for why he might have gone there.” Kyra said.

“And what is that?” Mr. Barker asked.

Kyra gestured at me to step up and explain, but suddenly what had been sounding so rational and logical before was sounding ludicrous as I struggled for a way to explain myself without causing Dr. Michaels to roar with laughter, not to mention Tom and Mr. Barker.

“I think he might have been trying to find a way to travel back in time to save her life.” I said.

“You are suggesting the great Galileo invented time travel?” Dr. Michaels asked.

His laughter was just below the surface and I felt my face burn with embarrassment.

“No, I’m suggesting he was trying to and failed.” I said.

“So he was an H.G. Wells fan was he?” Dr. Michaels taunted. “Oh wait, dear Mr. Wells wasn’t born for another two and a half centuries. Oh I know he traveled forward in time and H.G. Wells got the whole idea for his fiction from Galileo?”

The hysterical laughter from the three men on the other end of the call had my face blossoming red in humiliation and anger. Even Kyra was giggling. I threw my hands up in the air but the gesture was even more useless with only Kyra able to see.

“Never mind.” I said. “Obviously, you aren’t even going to be kind enough to humor me with a trip to the monastery.”

“Now that’s the first intelligent thing you’ve said on this call.” Dr. Michaels piped in between laughs.

The call disconnected shortly after without so much as a goodbye. I envisioned it as an accidental hang up with Mr. Barker laughing so hard he dropped the phone on the ground. I’m not quite comfortable with making a fool of myself, but with all the practice I’m getting lately, I think I’ll be there soon.

Day wore on into night and I found myself sitting alone in my hotel room. The more I thought about my crazy theory, the more I became convinced I was right. It all made sense if you put yourself in the shoes of the man. The only problem was no one was going to even check it out. Even if everything else failed, my theory was just too far out in left field for anyone to give it a second thought.

That was how I convinced myself I had to find it. Talking Kyra into helping me was a little more difficult, but in the end I understood her well enough to make it as irresistible to her as it was to me.

“You’re as smart as any of them and you know damn well my theory deserves enough attention to be checked out. They aren’t going to do it so it falls to us.” I said.

Kyra sat on the edge of my bed. At first I thought she was staring off into space and trying not to listen to me, but as I followed her vacant stare I realized she was staring at her reflection in the glass of the balcony door. I couldn’t read the thoughts going through her head, but some of them I knew anyway.

“I can deal with being wrong Kyra. What I can’t deal with is never knowing. Can you?” I said.

“This is crazy. If Jack finds out…” She said, her thought trailing off into the night.

We both knew the risks. I was willing to accept all the responsibility, good and bad, but I needed Kyra. Running off alone into the night to rundown a theory would be the really dumb thing to do.

“They haven’t found it. They aren’t likely to find it. You know it and I know it. Maybe I’m just as wrong, but what if I’m right?” I said.

It was all the arm twisting she needed. A slight smile spread across her face. She hid it better, but the truth was plain enough to see; She was as tired at being left out as I was. Sitting around another week with nothing to do but pull up pointless satellite images and correlate various tidbits of irrelevant data, was not something either of us wanted to be doing.

“Alright. Let’s do it.” Kyra said.

“Thank you.” I said.

“If we get caught, I’m telling them you made me help you.” She said.

Fair enough. True enough. We changed into something a little more appropriate for lurking around a monastery, jeans, tees and running shoes. I grabbed the car keys off the dresser top and almost as an after thought I took the gun out of my case and slipped it in the back of my jeans, hidden by my shirt. Better safe than sorry I told myself.

We made it out of the hotel without any of the guys noticing. Kyra navigated while I drove and other than the few necessary words to get us to San Mateo, we traveled in silence. The whine of the engine and the whir of the tires on asphalt were comforting to my pounding heart. I felt like I’d just snuck out on a Friday night after being grounded, only this time it was Jack Barker who’d be waiting for my early morning return. The only real question was whether he’d be as angry as Mom and Dad always were or if we found the compass, would it make all wrongs, right.

The sisterhood to which Marie Celeste had once belonged was long gone from San Matteo. The life she lived within it’s convent walls will never be known to the world and standing before what remains of it, I could only feel it was for the better.

It was in places like this an unwed woman would be confined, doomed even, to live out her days toiling away for little purpose and even less reason. San Matteo was not a wealthy convent in the days of Marie Celeste. It was a place for those of little wealth and less respect. The letters written by Marie and saved by Galileo tell little more than everyday curiosities but within the words a picture starts to form. It was not a place of overt happiness, but there was peace to be found in the simplicity of life outside the confines of the city.

The rich night sky above us helped me to understand why Galileo would have picked such a place to send his daughter. He himself had lived in a small house not far from the walls of the convent and gazing up at the stars I wondered if he had chosen the place for the stars or if the stars had chosen the place for him.

Quietly, Kyra and I made our way inside. As we crossed over the threshold it was like you could feel yourself stepping into history. Our soft soled shoes echoed as we stepped carefully down the aisle. It was a simple place of worship, extravagant in its beauty and art. Looking around I began to doubt my conviction. There was nothing of Galileo or Marie Celeste to be seen or, I feared, to be found.

Kyra was smart enough to have brought a flashlight along and as we looked around through it’s spotlight I found myself wondering if we’d know the compass if we found it. No one really knew what it looked like, because no one really knew if it even existed in the first place. Creeping along in the darkness and shadows, we came to the end of the aisle way. We hadn’t found anything of even the slightest bit of interest.

“Where to now?” Kyra asked.

Her words reverberated against the hallowed walls.

“I don’t know.” I replied.

I looked around and found a corridor leading off to the west. We started walking down it with nowhere else to go. The thrill was leaving us and the excitement was fading as hope struggled to hold on.

And then we saw her.

It was like a ghost watching us walk down the narrow corridor. Her eyes were scolding as if they knew we didn’t belong where we were. Kyra nearly dropped the flashlight and I stopped dead in my tracks. The simple portrait of Sister Marie Celeste had an eerie quality to it in the darkness, but upon closer inspection it was just a trick of shadows and light. I recognized it from the books I had gone through before we left, but I had never expected to lay eyes on it directly.

We continued down the hallway until we were standing right in front of it and there I stopped. I wasn’t sure why, but every instinct told me we had found what we were looking for. Kyra continued to look around but my eyes were locked on Marie Celeste.

Kyra shined the light at the portrait and the flash caused me to blink and step back from it. I held my hand to shield my eyes from the glare for a moment and then turned to look at Kyra.

“What are you doing?” She asked.

“Looking.” I said.

“It’s a portrait not a compass.” She said.

Stating the obvious was definitely her thing, but understanding it was another thing entirely. My gaze returned to the portrait but not Marie Celeste herself, but rather her frame. There was something about it, I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

“Look at the frame.” I told her.

Kyra rolled her eyes at me but did as I asked, shining the light on it again. Both of us shrank back from the sudden glare again, but this time I realized what was happening and why.

“Shine your light on the top right corner.” I said.

“Oh my God!” Kyra said.

I simply smiled and nodded. We had found Galileo’s compass.

The compass was actually two compasses divided into four pieces. One piece of it had been inserted into each corner of her frame, visible only by the gold circles which when connected to their other half allowed the compasses to be adjusted with precision. It was a surprise that there were two but even my cursory examination revealed significant formulaic differences between them.

Kyra carefully wrapped the pieces in cloth and packed them away in her bag before we slipped back outside to the car. As we drove away, the sky was beginning to brighten. Kyra and I were smiling with the confidence it was going to be a good day.

The good feeling lasted right up until we walked into my hotel room. Mr. Barker was sitting on the front edge of my bed. I didn’t need to ask to know he wasn’t happy. Kyra swallowed hard and seemed to shrink back behind me upon seeing him.

Maybe sneaking out to hunt down the compass hadn’t been such a great idea.

July 22, 2009

Measuring Up: Jolted

It was during the second day of our stay, I started to find the situation intolerable. Kyra and I were left to lounge around the hotel while the men, once again, went out running down various leads as to the location of our prize.

“We’ll be in touch if we find anything. Stay out of trouble in the meantime.” Mr. Barker had said as they walked out of the hotel’s courtyard.

I took the comment about staying out of trouble as a personal barb. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but it seemed rather pointed toward me, especially given the ruse Mr. Candle and I had created for Dr. Michaels’ benefit. Kyra sipped at her orange juice and kept eating her breakfast, like nothing was wrong.

“Are they always like this?” I asked her.

“Like what?” She replied

“This.” I gestured at the two of us, “Leaving you behind with nothing to do but to wait on them?”

“Relax V. This mission’s a cakewalk. It’s not always so simple, all that’s going on here is a bunch of running around in circles looking for something that probably doesn’t even exist. So, stop feeling left out and just enjoy being here.” She said. “Personally, I’m glad not to be out running around chasing my own tail.”

I let it go and finished my breakfast. The courtyard wasn’t a bad place to be really. It was beautiful and peaceful, but I couldn’t shut down the part of my brain screaming about all the incredible sights outside of the hotel. How I could tell anyone I’d been to Pisa, Italy and not seen the leaning tower? Maybe that was the honest truth to what was really bothering me. To be halfway around the world and within walking distance of incredible things I had only ever dreamed of seeing and through some sick twist of fate it seemed it would all still be confined to my dreams.

It sounded good. The excuse was enough to get me through breakfast at least.

Most of the day passed without interest. Kyra and I spent the time with her computers in the hotel’s conference room. I changed seats periodically enjoying the coolness they provided in a room otherwise boiling over with stale air and warmth. Kyra seemed immune to the heat and, if appearances were any indicator, thoroughly enjoyed being with her computers. She was constantly making adjustments and fiddling with different things. It was all beyond my comprehension and I wasn’t in the mood to learn.

My phone rang.

“Yeah?” I said to it.

“We’re at one of the probable locations for Galileo’s home and Gene seems to think there is a hidden room here.” Mr. Barker said.

“If it is Galileo’s home, I’m doubtful it would have a secret room, but good luck.” I said.

“Gene’s the expert on this guy.” Mr. Barker said.

As if I needed to be reminded of the fact.

“Have Kyra pull up satellite imagery of location C. If there is a hidden room she should be able to locate it.” He continued.

“Sure. Anything you want.” I said.

Lazily, I made my way over to Kyra. She was doing her best to pretend disinterest in the call, but I could tell otherwise from the expression on her face in the reflection of the monitor. I rested my hand on the top back of her chair and she looked up at me as if she didn’t know why I was there.

“Pull up satellite of location C.” I instructed.

“Coming up. What are we looking for?” She asked.

I knew she knew. She knew, I knew she knew. I shook my head and smiled at her attempt at innocence. It occurred to me then that she was as bored as I was.

“Dr. Michaels seems to think there is a secret room.” I said.

“Want to make a wager on that?” She asked.

“Not being there, no.” I said.

The computer screen transformed from lines of unintelligible gibberish into an overhead view of a neighborhood. Kyra tapped a few keys and the image zoomed in until all we could see was a single structure. Another tap and the roof faded away and we could see the generic layout of the house along with the locations of Mr. Baker, Tom and Dr. Michaels. Although I couldn’t tell who was who.

Kyra grunted and tapped a few more keys. The image rotated on the screen. She tapped a few more and zoomed in on an area at the center of the home. I blinked at it, not seeing whatever it was she was seeing. She tilted her head from side to side and grunted some more. Then she tapped a few more keys. The image inverted itself and it was suddenly like we were looking from the ground up. Kyra nodded her head.

“Yep, there is something there underneath the stairs. It’s small but probably large enough to have been a work area.” Kyra said.

I lifted the phone back up to my ear.

“Mr. Barker?” I said.

“I’m here.”

“Kyra’s found something. A small room, possibly a work area.” I said.

“I guess Gene does know what he’s doing.” He said.

I rolled my eyes but managed to avoid groaning aloud.

“How do we get to it?” He asked.

“Hang on.” I said. “Kyra, how do they get in?”

She shrugged and pointed out it’s location under the stairs.

“We can’t find a natural entrance but it’s beneath the stairs.” I said

“We know that much.” Mr. Barker said.

I leaned in to the computer screen for a closer look at the walls. I noticed the north end seemed thinner, but wondered if it was just a trick of the angles. I pointed at it with my finger causing Kyra to slap my hand away.

“It looks thinner there.” I said.

She nodded.

“Yeah, if there is an entrance it’s probably on that side.” Kyra said.

“Try the north side.” I said.

“Okay.” Mr. Barker replied.

It was a couple minutes of rustling noise followed by a loud snapping and then cracking of wood. I imagined Tom was ripping his way through the wall. I really did want them to find the compass, but my gut told me they were wasting their time. Normally, I would have given voice to my thoughts but with these people it seemed like speaking my mind was the last thing anyone wanted.

“I found it!” Dr. Michaels shouted.

He wasn’t even on the phone but I could hear him clear as day. So, it seemed I was wrong and so was everyone else. Dr. Michaels would be insufferable on the way back to LA. Not only had he been right about the existence of the compass but he had found it in a secret location I had dismissed as probably not existing as well. Why oh why didn’t I keep my mouth shut and just do what I was asked?

I very nearly hung up the call and went for a walk, but I didn’t. If I had to guess what made me stay, I’d say it was the look on Kyra’s face. It was something I hadn’t really expected. She looked as surprised as me about Dr. Michaels discovery. I’m sure she had different reasons than me, but the fact we were both surprised made me wonder if maybe Dr. Michaels was claiming victory a touch prematurely.

I was right or should I say, we were right.

Tom told the story at dinner and it was, to that point, the highlight of the trip.

“I kicked in the wall easily enough. It was just sheetrock without any backing. It looked like there had been a door there a long time ago but someone had walled it over.” Tom began.

Mr. Barker was smiling from the start and Dr. Michaels was scowling. Kyra and I were enraptured.

“As soon as I pulled the busted wall away and you could see inside, Gene went running in. He’s waving his flashlight around, shining it on everything at once. Suddenly he catches a glimmer of gold and shouts out that he’s found it. I’m thinking wow that was easiest find we’ve ever had and then all the sudden the lights dim and flicker and Gene’s screaming his fool head off. Two seconds later he’s flying out of the little room, landing on his ass in the middle of the hallway.” Tom paused to laugh.

Mr. Barker was laughing as well and Kyra and I were smiling. Dr. Michaels was obviously not quite as amused.

“His hair was standing out in every which direction, fingernails smoking and his eyes were like bugging out of his head.” Tom said.

“I swear I heard birds tweeting from around his head.” Mr. Barker added.

“Turns out what good old Gene found was the central circuit for the home electricity. I guess they sealed up the room after using it as a hub to add electricity.” Tom finished.

“I couldn’t quite figure why Galileo would have had a secret room in his house in the first place.” I said.

I couldn’t help but add it in. Dr. Michaels couldn’t just leave it alone though and I guess I should known that from the start.

“The inquisition of the time was quite invasive and many scientist and artist of the period took to hiding parts of their work.” Dr. Michaels said.

His tone was completely defensive.

“Galileo was on good terms with the church for most of his life. He did not live in fear of the inquisition because he generally followed the will of the church.” I said.

“It wouldn’t be the first time history recorded a man’s life with less than stellar accuracy.” Dr. Michaels said.

“I’m sure it wouldn’t be and I’m sure there are inaccuracies in regards to Galileo but the evidence would suggest the church distanced themselves from him after his conviction and therefore the inaccuracies are probably running in the opposite direction so to speak. He was probably closer to the church rather than a challenger of it. His early history even mentions how the clergy was very nearly his choice of a career.” I said.

“Since you obviously know so much more than me, perhaps I should just step aside?” Dr. Michaels said.

The sarcasm in his voice was as irritating as fingernails on a chalkboard.

“There is no need for that Gene, Miss West. We are all on the same team here.” Mr. Barker said.

“Really?” I said. “Cause if we’re on the same team why is it Kyra and I are just sitting around waiting for the rest of you to find this thing?”

I knew I should have swallowed the words whole before they came out of my mouth but the situation was really getting to me. There are times to keep things to yourself and this was definitely one of them, but without a little push nothing ever changes either.

“I guess I could have thrown you into the deep end your first time out but I thought you’d appreciate getting your feet wet and learning just how we do what we do before I demanded you be able to swim with the champions.” Mr. Barker said.

“Yeah, cause I’m really learning a lot sitting around here at the hotel.” I replied.

Mr. Barker stared at me for a quiet moment in which no one else dared to say a word. I guess I was pushing things a bit more than necessary, but I could not just pretend I didn’t feel what I was feeling. If I was a part of the team then I wanted to be a part of the team that was doing something, anything.

“Let’s take a walk.” Mr. Baker suggested.

He wasn’t talking to anyone but me.

“Let’s.” I replied.

It was still a little light out despite the time. I had spent a lot of time thinking about Mr. Barker since meeting him. He embodied a lot of what I like in a man and as we walked together it was hard not to notice how much I liked having him away from everyone else. We were long out of hearing distance from the others before he spoke another word.

“Miss West, I don’t know what Candle has told you about what we do or how we work but you seem to have a lot of misconceptions.” He said.

“Well, you see that’s just it. Nobody has really told me much of anything and I’m starting to get annoyed.” I said.

“And so you are taking it out on everyone around.”

“I’m not trying to be difficult but so far it seems like you’ve been bending over backwards to keep me uninvolved.”

“For not trying you’re doing a great job.” He said.

There was a smile on his lips but I think it was just a courtesy.

“Is it really so much to ask for?” I asked.


As if he’d forgotten what we were talking about.

“For you to include me in something other than babysitting Kyra and her computers.”

“You could learn a thing or two from Kyra and those computers.”

“No doubt, but I think I could be more useful elsewhere.”

“We’ll see about that. For now, I’m asking you to give it a rest. Work with Kyra, try to learn something about what we do and how we do it and maybe next trip out you can be a little more involved.”

It was clear I wasn’t going to get anywhere with Mr. Barker.

“Fine.” I conceded.

“Thank you. I realize you want a larger role but this is my team for now and I’m running it the way I think it should be done. You don’t have to like it, but please understand, I don’t need you stirring up trouble with the others just because you aren’t happy.”

“I’m not stirring up trouble.” I said.

“Oh no? What do you call that stunt with Gene at dinner?”

“He’s an ass.” I said.

“Maybe so, but you aren’t proving anything by being one yourself.” He replied.

Ouch! That stung.

July 19, 2009

Measuring Up: No V In Team

I slept about half the flight and I spent the other half watching Mr. Barker. Seeing him with Tom it was easy to see they had been friends for a long time, probably before either of them came to work for Joseph Candle. It was just an assumption, but my mind started to put the pieces together with the two of them probably serving in the military together, only I would bet Tom was the one in charge back in those days. It’s not that I think Tom would make a better leader, I don’t, it is just that Mr. Barker doesn’t quite seem comfortable with his role around Tom.

With Dr. Michaels it was different. He was mostly ambivalent toward the man and Dr. Michaels was equally so toward Mr. Barker. There was a comfortable roughness to their relationship, as if they had decided they weren’t ever going to be friends but they could still be colleagues anyway. I wished I could get to that same place with Dr. Michaels but for the moment our relationship is based on him annoying me while I pretend not to be annoyed.

Kyra slept the whole flight from take off to landing. I was insanely jealous. Mr. Barker never even gave a glance to her during the flight. On the other hand, Dr. Michaels and Tom both stared at her sleeping form occasionally. I guess they both have a little bit of a thing for her which isn’t hard to see why. She is cute and when she’s sleeping, you don’t have to listen to her smartass comments.

Debarking in Pisa, I was stupidly surprised that it was morning outside. It felt like it should be night, but that’s what happens when you fly half way around the world. We were greeted by a small military escort of sorts. By the looks of them I guessed Air Force or the Italian equivalent. Mr. Barker spent a few minutes speaking with them alone and showing them our passports and some other papers which I gathered had something to do with the purpose of our visit. A few minutes later they left us alone.

“Cars will be here in a couple minutes.” Mr. Barker said, walking over to me.

I nodded not sure what that meant other than we’d be leaving after the cars arrived. Everyone gathered near me for some unknown reason.

“Don’t get too used to the local time zone. With a little luck we won’t be here more than a couple days.” Mr. Barker said.

“We can’t check-in until noon.” Kyra said.

Mr. Barker nodded looking at his watch.

“Unless you are planning on wasting the morning, I’ll need some place to setup until then.” Kyra said.

“I’m sure the hotel will allow you to use their conference room until the rooms are ready.” Dr. Michaels said.

“I wouldn’t assume it.” Kyra said.

“Just mention my name at the front and they’ll set you up.” Dr. Michaels said.

We all turned to watch two cars pull up. They were both a dull silver in color, but that was where the similarities ended. One was much smaller than the other and looked like a cross between an SUV and a hatchback while the other looked like a luxury sedan. Mr. Barker took the keys and signed some paperwork from the drivers and then tossed one set of keys to me. I barely caught them and nearly dropped them after I did.

“I think we should be about set now.” Mr. Barker said. “Miss West, you and Kyra head over to the hotel and get her set up. Get our stuff into our rooms once they’re available. Tom, Gene, you’re with me.”

I’m not really sure what I expected, but being sent off to the hotel with Kyra while the guys went off on their own was certainly not it. To add insult to injury, the three men piled into the sedan, leaving Kyra and I with the miniature half-breed for transportation. Given half a chance I might have complained or at the very least given the guys a dirty look, but they were off and running before Mr. Barker’s instructions had really sank in. I decided to shrug it off, especially since Kyra didn’t seem to think anything of it.

It took the two of us about a half hour to load all the gear into the little fiat. From there it was another hour before we successfully found our hotel. Kyra kept sending me down one way streets that didn’t allow us to turn off where we needed to go. She blamed it on the navigation system, I blamed it on her, silently of course. The one thing I really don’t like about tech people is they seem incapable of thinking without their tech.

The hotel reception was nicely elegant. I was impressed by the usage of marble on the walls, floors, and counters. Not that everything marble looks nice, it doesn’t, but the reception was done with an eye for coordination, using contrasting marble colorings that would never be found together in nature but seeing them together you couldn’t help but think they should have been. The echo of our heels on the floor made it seem larger than it in fact was, but the décor enhanced the effect as well, making it seem like a giant lobby in a five star hotel rather than the common quality it truly was.

We were just beginning to get Kyra’s computer equipment set up in the conference room when Mr. Barker called to check in with us.

“Is Kyra set up yet?” He asked.

“We’re working on that now.” I replied.

“What the hell’s taking so long?”

“Well we might have managed it a little faster if we’d had some help loading up the car.” I replied.

The annoyance I felt definitely crept into my tone, but right then I didn’t really care.

“Fine. How long until she’s set?” He asked.

I covered the microphone and turned to Kyra. She was busy sticking wires in God only knows what places.

“Mr. Barker wants to know how long before you are up.” I said.

She glanced at me and then returned her attention to the wires.

“An hour if everything goes smooth.” She said.

I took my hand away from the phone.

“She says an hour still.” I told him.

“Fine. Have her contact me as soon as she’s ready.” He said.


The call ended as abruptly as it had begun.

I gave up trying to help Kyra. Every time I tried, she either scowled at me or in no uncertain terms told me to keep my hands to myself. So, I went for a walk and left her to her work. It seemed an awful lot of effort for a temporary setup, but I guess I still have a bit to learn about the work I’m involved in. Of course, if my job was to check us into hotels and chauffer Kyra around, that administrative assistant job might not be as far off from the truth as I first thought.

The hotel was built around a central courtyard. I made my way out into it and found a table near the fountain to sit and relax. The sound of the falling water was a near perfect accompaniment to the quiet chirping of birds in the nearby shrubbery. Flowers were in bloom all around me and the air was aromatized with the faint scent of lavender.

A very nice young woman came up to me with a smile on her face and a flower in her hair. At first I wondered if I’d wandered someplace I shouldn’t be but her relaxed demeanor put my mind at ease. I glanced at her and reminded myself to smile.

“English?” She asked.

“Yes, please.” I said.

“Would you like anything?” She asked.

It took me a moment but then I figured out I was sitting in the equivalent of an outdoor café.

“Coffee if you have it.” I said.

From personal experience, it usually rude to sit in such a place and not order anything. She nodded and left me alone with my thoughts. They kept drifting back to self-satisfied expressions Dr. Michaels had been sporting since we boarded the plane in LA. I had agreed to go along with Mr. Candle’s charade in the hopes it would help normalize my relations with Dr. Michaels, but instead it seemed to have had a near opposite effect. By his attitude, he clearly now felt comfortably superior to me and didn’t mind rubbing my face in the evidence of it.

Combine that with Kyra, Tom and Mr. Barker thinking I had been disciplined for my own attitude was also far from helping me become an accepted member of the team. In my view, it had isolated me further and made them take a very negative view of me. Perhaps, I am jaded or maybe my own embarrassment at the situation are fueling the hard feelings dominating my thoughts, but then again I was sitting alone in a courtyard while the rest of them were working.

The young woman returned briefly and laid a small white cup of coffee on the table. It was steaming hot, but I’ve had shots of whiskey with more liquid in them. I picked up the tiny cup, carefully holding it between my forefinger and thumb. I tossed it back in a single swallow and nearly choked on the bitter taste. It might have been no more than a swallow but it tasted like the whole pot.

I was still trying to pop my eyes back in their sockets when my phone rang. Coughing and trying to suppress it, I glanced to see who it was and then answered it.

“Yeah.” I said.

There was a brief pause on the other end followed by some shuffling around.

“Miss West?” Mr. Barker asked.

“Yes.” I replied.

“Are you alright?”


“You didn’t quite sound yourself.”

“You caught me swallowing some coffee or at least the local version of it.” I said.

“I see. Is Kyra setup yet?”

“She was still working on it last I checked.”

“Aren’t you helping her?”

“She didn’t want my help.”


“I’m not very computer savvy.” I explained.

“I didn’t realize.”

“You didn’t ask.”

“I’m going to send you a set of files to your phone.” Mr. Barker said.


“As soon as Kyra has her station set up, she needs to run a comparative analysis between these scans and the corresponding files in Gene’s database. We’re looking for any anomalies.”

“Ok.” I said.

“Did you get all that?” Mr. Barker asked.

I could have taken offense.

“Yes, analyze for discrepancies between the scans and our data files on the same data.” I said.

“Right and then call me back with what you find.”

“Right. Where are these scans from?”

“We’re at the local museum and they have a few of Galileo’s original journals on display. Gene was able to get copies of their digital scans.”

“I see. So the data will need to be translated also.” I said.

“Of course, Kyra will know how to do all that.” Mr. Barker said.

“Silly me.” I replied.

“I realize you are new Miss West and you’ve already had to learn at least one lesson the hard way, but don’t think I won’t teach you a few others the same way if you don’t drop the attitude.” Mr. Barker scolded.

I bit my tongue and accepted the annoying fact that Mr. Barker was not only being fair, but truthful. None of it changed the fact I felt like I was being left out but maybe it really was just my imagination. After all, someone had to help Kyra with all her stuff and Mr. Barker couldn’t really have gone hunting for the compass without Dr. Michaels. I suppose Tom and I could have traded places easily enough, but if there was going to be any trouble it probably wasn’t going to be at the hotel and so it made more sense for Tom to be right where he was.

“Sorry, Mr. Barker. I’m just feeling a little useless here and I’m not really sure what I should be doing to help.” I said.

It was direct, honest, and dangerous, but I was betting Mr. Barker would respond better to that than anything else I could say.

“You’ve got a job now, so get on it and I’ll see if I can’t find a few other chores to keep you out of trouble in the meantime.” Mr. Barker said.

He ended the call before I could respond. I sat there staring at the phone for at least 30 seconds before putting it back in my purse and heading back to Kyra. She probably wouldn’t need my help with the data comparison, but I had a nagging feeling if I left her alone again, I’d be regretting it before bedtime.

July 16, 2009

Measuring Up: Swallowing Pride

It felt a bit like déjà vu when I climbed into the black limousine to find Joseph Candle waiting for me. Only this time, I was dressed as professionally as he. I smiled, not quite surprised to find him. He looked tired, as if he hadn’t slept.

“Good morning.” He said.

“Good morning.”

I attached my seatbelt and regarded him carefully. The lines on his face suggested more than mere exhaustion, it was concern and with that realization came yet another; He was worried about me.

“I trust you slept well?” He asked.

“I did, but I’m quite certain the quality of my sleep is about the farthest thing from your mind.” I said.

He chuckled.

“You remind me of…well someone I knew a long time ago. She was also good at seeing right through me.”

His admission clicked a piece of the puzzle that was him, into place for me. Suddenly, I understood a little more about why he had picked me. I wasn’t just a random face in the crowd to him. Whoever she was, I reminded him just enough of her to make the pain of losing her a little more bearable. It was sad and yet inspiring at the same time.

“You’re worried about our trip.” I said.

“It should be uneventful.”


“Most don’t believe the compass exists.”

“So if we find it there could be trouble.”

“Hopefully not.”

“Then what is it?”

His brow furrowed for a moment before relaxing.

“You.” He said.

It was an accusation mired by admiration and the paradox was written all over his face. If he had been my mother I would have reacted strongly to the accusation and ignored the admiration entirely, but for some reason I was inclined to give him more leeway.

“Is it something I might do or something I might figure out?” I asked.

He smiled

“Perhaps do is the right choice, but I think not in the manner you mean.” He replied.

“Oh? Then how is it meant?”

“I had a lengthy conversation with Dr. Michaels.”

“Does he engage in any other kind?”

Mr. Candle chuckled again.

“No, I suppose he does not. However, this conversation was somewhat specific to you.”

“I see. I have endeavored to treat him with as much delicacy as I’m able, but he can be quite impossible to please.”

“Dr. Michaels is indeed, shall we say difficult?” Mr. Candle said.

I nodded slightly less than emphatically.

“However, his diverse historical knowledge and his years of archeological field work are quite rare.” Mr. Candle continued.

“I have no doubt he is a singular individual.” I said.

“Yes, that being the case I’m sure you can appreciate the need to placate him on certain matters.” Mr. Candle said.

I rather suddenly had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“I’m not certain I follow your thinking.” I said, hoping it was more the truth than the less I feared.

“Allow me to give you some advice.” Mr. Candle offered.

“Of course.”

“When Dr. Michaels gets into a tirade, it’s usually best to let him rant without arguing.”

I bit back the argument forming in my head. It would only serve to impress the point Mr. Candle was making anyway.

“Also, it would be best not to contradict him on matters for which he is an expert.” Mr. Candle said.

“Even if he’s wrong?” I replied.

The question had left my lips before I could think twice. I swallowed an urge to be embarrassed.

“If he is wrong, I suggest you have irrefutable proof of the fact first. He is a reasonable man when evidence is presented, but simply not sharing his opinion does not make you right and him wrong.”

“I never suggested it did.”

“Forgive me. I am trying to avoid ambiguities.”

“So basically you are telling me to walk on eggshells around him.” I said.

“Just until the two of you get to know each other better. I suspect in time you will each find more than enough cause to respect each other.”

“Alright. I can manage I think, but only so far as historical matters are concerned. He obviously has the empathy of a mule and I won’t trust his judgments on the motivations of others.”

“I understand.” Mr. Candle said.

He seemed a little less stressed, but it was hard not to notice there remained a nervousness about him. It was not something I really expected from him.

“Was there something else?” I asked.

Mr. Candle cleared his throat.

“Dr. Michaels felt you should be disciplined for you behavior around him over this past week.”

“What?” I nearly choked on the word.

“As I said, it is sometimes necessary to placate Dr. Michaels.”

“Maybe so, but that is ridiculous. I was merely doing what was asked of me this week. It is not my fault he took offense to the project.” I said.

“I agree, but I do not believe any harm would truly be done by making him believe some discipline had occurred this morning.”

Relief flooded through me and it was only at that moment I realized just how tensed the concept of being spanked by Mr. Candle had made me. It was hardly a question as to whether I would prefer a little pretense to the actual act.

“I see. I think I can manage the appropriate attitude. I’ll apologize when I see him and hopefully that will be the end of it.” I said.

“Just please hold back any annoyance should he perchance begin to gloat.” Mr. Candle said.

I flashed a wry grin at the thought.

“I’ll bite my tongue, but if he goes too far, I’m not responsible if he falls out of the plane at 20,000 feet.” I said.

Mr. Candle chuckled.

The limo pulled right out onto the tarmac and right up to the steps leading to the corporate jet. Kyra was standing at the top of the steps wearing her typical navy skirt and blazer with a dark gray blouse underneath. From a distance I almost mistook her for a flight attendant. As the car came to a stop I bid Mr. Candle farewell and stepped out into the morning.

As I closed the limo door and took my suitcase from the driver, I noticed Dr. Michaels walking up. He looked rather smug and quite full of himself. Inwardly I groaned, but I held up my end of the deal. Gingerly, I rubbed at the seat of my skirt and donned an expression as close to contriteness as I could manage. Dr. Michaels smiled wider, taking notice.

“Good morning, Virginia.” He said.

“Good morning.” I said. “Um, Dr. Michaels?”

He paused in his purposeful stride and turned toward me with an arched eyebrow. I was frankly amazed at how innocent he was playing. I guess he’s one of those dark personalities that avoid direct confrontation but savour the secret maneuvering behind the scenes.

“Did you need something?” He asked.

“Um, well I just wanted to apologize for my rude behavior over the past week.” I said.

It was hard but I managed to get the words out without choking on my tongue.

“Did someone get their tushy paddled?” He asked.

If I hadn’t known he was talking to me I would have assumed he was questioning a toddler. I thought about standing naked in the middle of survival camp and succeeded in bringing on an appropriately pink hue to my face.

“Maybe we could try starting over?” I suggested.

“I believe I asked you a question.” He replied.

I couldn’t believe his nerve. Here I was supposedly with a sore backside, deflated ego, apologetic attitude, all of it because of him, and he wants to make power plays over stating the obvious. I swallowed it all though and did what had to be done.

“Yes.” I said.

“Yes what?”

He was really trying himself and my patience.

“Yes, sir.” I said.

“No.” He replied. “I want you to tell me what happens to young ladies who have the audacity to be as rude as you were to me. I’m sure you can manage to say it or perhaps I should ask Joe to repeat the lesson right here in front of the whole team?”

I wanted to strangle him. I envisioned my hands around his throat and then my imagination betrayed me and instead revealed me bent over the hood of the limousine, skirt laying next to my head, and Mr. Candle raising the signature blue paddle aimed straight at my quivering buttocks. Embarrassing as the image was, none of it compared to the amused looks I imagined on Tom, Jack and Dr. Michael’s faces.

“Yes, I had my tushy paddled for being rude to you sir.” I said.

“It’s really too bad Joe let you put your skirt back on already. I was hoping to see the marks for myself.”

I blushed unsure whether he was trying to tease me or actually being serious and wanting me to walk around without my skirt on. I hoped for the former, seeing as it would be real hard to explain the lack of color on my lower cheeks. Fortunately, he simply turned and climbed the stairs without making any further comments. I paused for a moment wishing he’d accidentally slip and fall down the steps, but of course he didn’t.

With a last glance at the tinted glass concealing Mr. Candle inside the limo, I picked up my bag and climbed the steps after Dr. Michaels. Kyra gave my arm a supportive squeeze as I reached the top. It was only then I realized that the entire Q5 team was aware of my supposed spanking from Mr. Candle. As I pretended to gingerly take my seat, I wondered if it wouldn’t have been better to have actually had the real thing. At least then, I’d have the sting to take my mind off the embarrassment I was feeling.

July 13, 2009

Measuring Up: Balancing Act

It took four more days to finish going through the stack of books and random notes provided by Dr. Michaels. He and Kyra had been growing increasingly impatient over the week as I spent hour after hour sifting through the material and occasionally quizzing them on my interpretations. Contrastingly, Mr. Barker had approved and even seemed impressed by my diligence. I leaned back in my chair and scrolled through the 40 pages of notes I had taken with a feeling of tremendous satisfaction.

“Finished?” Mr. Barker asked, leaning his head in my doorway without stepping inside.

I glanced up at him and flashed a smile. His sporadic visits through the week had kept me from getting too bored. The way he showed up here and there had me wondering if he might be interested in me more than the report, but that’s probably just my wild imagination at work. Still, he was a pleasant interruption.

“Finally.” I said. “Do you want it printed or will a network copy suffice?”

“Just give me it’s location in an email and I’ll be all set.” He replied.

“Coming right up then.”

“Is she done?” Dr. Michaels asked coming up the stairs from the main room. “Really done? Like we can get back to real work done?”

Mr. Barker laughed at him and rather than answering, he walked away back to his own office. Dr. Michaels paused for a moment looking like he was trying to decide whether to follow Mr. Barker or come see me. I was hoping for the first but of course he did the latter. I’ll have to work on being less approachable.

“Yes Dr. Michaels, the report is done.” I said.

“Are you certain you’ve gone over every detail? I’m certain we could take a few more days just to be sure.” He said.

The sarcasm dripping off his tongue was really starting to get on my nerves.

“I understand you are anxious to get back to Italy and resume your search, but having read your report it is pretty obvious you don’t have a clue where to look next.” I said.

“Obviously you failed to read all my notes. I have several clues as to where to look.” He replied.

“Enough to keep us rummaging through half of Europe for the next decade.”

“Better out there looking than in here wasting time trying to figure out if we know what we already know.”

“It wasn’t your call and it wasn’t mine for that matter, but I happen to agree with Mr. Barker, it is better that we take some time to narrow our search rather than running around in circles.”

“I’m sure your exquisite report will lead us straight to it.” Dr. Michaels said.

I couldn’t help it. I rolled my eyes and slapped my open palm down on my desktop in frustration. He was really getting on my nerves.

“Don’t you have something better to do?” I asked.

“Like what? Find the lost Galilean Compass? I thought you already did that?”

“I did what I was asked to do. If you’ve got a problem with that, take it up with someone who cares.”

“I’m sure Joe will be very interested to hear how you don’t care.”

“Then run along and tell him” I said.

Right about then I’d have taken a spanking just to not have to listen to him anymore. I doubted Mr. Candle would have that kind of reaction anyway. In my short time with Q5 I had noticed, no one really listened to Dr. Michaels. Frankly, I was beginning to wonder why he was part of the team in the first place.

“Lucky for you I have better things to do with my time.” Dr. Michaels replied.

He spun around on his heel to leave and nearly trampled Kyra into ground. The two of them glared at each other for a long minute before Dr. Michaels remembered how to be a gentleman and stood aside. Kyra stepped inside with an exaggerated stride passed him which made me giggle slightly. Dr. Michaels frowned.

“I’m putting together final itineraries in the next couple hours so if you have any special travel requirement send them to my terminal ASAP. Mr. Barker wants us in the air by Sunday afternoon.” Kyra said.

“Do we stick with business attire or something else for these trips?” I asked.

Gene looked at the ceiling and shook his head as if I’d asked what color the sky was. Kyra huffed a little as if she expected me to already know.

“If it’s too much trouble for you to answer I’ll just ask Mr. Barker myself.” I said.

“No, no. Standard business attire is expected, but bring some evening and casual attire as well so you’re prepared.” Kyra said.

“Thank you.” I said.

“When will you have an ETD for Sunday?” Dr. Michaels asked.

“Two hours. I’ll message everyone when it’s finalized.” Kyra replied.

Dr. Michaels nodded and left my office without a look back. I watched him walk away wanting to strangle him.

“Gene getting on your nerves?” Kyra asked.

“Like bees in honey.” I said.

“You’ll get used to it. He’s not so bad in the field when we’re working but he gets a little stir crazy around the office.”

“Somehow I don’t think either of us would get away with acting like that around here.”

Kyra laughed.

“Didn’t think so.” I said. “Was there something else?”

“Oh yeah. You need to get certified for travel with firearms. Tom’s waiting for you down on level 24.”

“Is that really necessary?” I asked.

“Just following orders. You’d be smart to do the same.” She said.

I nodded as she left back to her own desk in a hurry. She always seemed like a hub of activity and I had a feeling she liked it that way. I sighed and pushed myself back from my desk to head out.

I should have remember as soon as Kyra had said 24, but it didn’t hit me until the elevator doors opened up to two goons with guns, just where it was I was going. I glanced nervously at the palm scanner and swallowed hard before placing my hand on it. I had only slightly better confidence I would survive the scan than the first time, but just like before the light turned green.

The guns were lowered and the goons looked only slightly disappointed they didn’t get shoot me. I smiled, happy to be alive. Looking around, I realized I didn’t really know where to go to find Tom. I should have asked Kyra for more specific instructions but of course she knew I wouldn’t know and was more than happy to let me head off with only minimal information. What will it take to get the team to respect me?

“Excuse me, I know it’s a little unusual to ask, but could either of you point me in the direction of Mr. Tom Clark?” I asked.

The two goons looked at each other as if trying to decide if it would be a dereliction of their duty to respond to me. I guess it wasn’t or they thought I was worth the risk. Probably the first because I doubt they have much brains for thinking.

“First door on the left.” Goon one said.

I smiled and nodded.


My security card unlocked the door without issue, another relief since the goons were watching. I stepped inside and immediately wanted to walk back out. I hadn’t expected to walk in on anybody except Tom. He was there, but he was not alone.

He paused and looked at me with a serious expression on his face. The blink in his eyes said he was annoyed but the up tick in his posture indicated he was at least somewhat pleased by my presence. The young woman bent over the desk was less pleased.

Her skirt was folded neatly on the table and laying immediately next to her head. There was no way her peripheral vision wasn’t completely aware of it and I’m guessing the fact was contributing to the bright red blush gracing her cheeks. The glistening tears in her eyes probably weren’t helping either though.

Tom was standing behind her with a blue leather paddle identical to the one I’d felt from Mrs. Anderson when I was hired. It wasn’t anything like Dad’s paddle at home but it still did a good job of stinging and combing that with the humiliation of being de-skirted and spanked at work, it was certainly a bad enough experience to merit avoidance.

“Don’t you knock?” Tom asked, staring coldly at me.

“No one mentioned this was a private office or that you were occupied. I apologize for the intrusion.” I said. “I can come back later.”

Tom shook his head.

“Never mind. I’m almost finished here.”

“I can wait outside.” I suggested.

The woman on the table nodded emphatic agreement but didn’t utter a word.

“Don’t be silly. You might as well see first hand what you can expect from time to time, especially if you forget your manners very often.” Tom said with a wink.

I stood off to the side of the door with my back to the wall and waited for Tom to finish up. He laid six hard swats on her backside while I watched. Each one had her whimpering and struggling to stay down on the table. By the last, her tears where glistening on her cheeks rather than in her eyes, but that wasn’t really surprising. What caught my attention was the gentle way Tom helped her up off the table, wiped away her tears and handed her skirt back to her. Once she was composed, she even gave him a rueful smile.

“I’m sorry Mr. Clark, it won’t happen again. I promise.” She said.

He nodded and showed her out the door. When it closed he turned his attention back to me.

“What are you here for?” He asked.

“Kyra said you needed to certify me for traveling with firearms.”

“You’re already certified. You just need to sign some papers and check out your weapon.” He said.

“Is it really necessary?” I asked.

“I can paddle you first and then we can do it, if you prefer.”

“I’m sure you would like that.”

“Don’t ask if you don’t want to know.” He replied.

“Let’s just get this over with.” I said.

“Sure thing, honey.” He said with a wink, “Just take off that skirt and fold it up neatly and then you can bend over the table just like you saw.”

I cocked my head at him and gave him my best woman out of patience look.

“Ha. Ha. Ha.” I said.

“You can’t blame a man for trying.”

“I can and I will.”

“You need to lighten up. You might be the hottest thing around this week but after a couple of months you’ll be just like the rest of us.”

“Better get that gun checked out to me then.” I said.

He raised an eyebrow at me.

“If I start acting anything like you, I’ll need it to shoot myself.” I said.

He shook his head at me. I shook my head at him. He huffed. I sighed. Finally, we sat down to the paperwork at hand and after a few minutes I left with a loaded gun inside my blazer. It was awkward and heavy and I was determined to hate it. Too bad I couldn’t just say no.

When I got back up to the 32nd floor, Kyra had finalized all the trip details and I printed out a copy of my itinerary to have Cathy make the necessary arrangements to keep my parents thinking it was just a typical business trip. Mr. Barker rode in the elevator with me on the way out.

“I hope you didn’t have any plans for the weekend.” He said.

“Only for tonight actually and they could have easily been postponed if needed.”

“That’s the only way to live.”

“I take it you’re single?” I asked.

He frowned at me slightly and I wished I could take the question back.

“I don’t like to mix my personal life with work.” He said.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”

“Forget about it.”

The doors opened and he walked away without another word. I watched him for a moment before talking to Cathy and she watched me watch him. I blushed a little when I noticed but she said nothing about it and so neither did I. She arranged my paperwork for home in less than fifteen minutes and I was finally on my way home. When I got there, I didn’t even have a chance to drop my keys coming in the front door before Mom attacked.

“Aren’t you going out tonight?” She accused.

“Yes, Mom.” I answered.

I know the annoyance I was feeling came through in my voice and I didn’t even care. She already knew the answer to the question before she asked. It was just her way of needling me about coming home late from work. No doubt she thought it was some surreptitious protest of mine about being setup with Mark. The concept that my job might actually require more than an 8 hour commitment was obviously beyond her comprehension.

“Isn’t he going to be here any minute?” She asked.

It should have been rhetorical considering she was standing right next to me when I made the date with Mark. I rolled my eyes toward the grandfather clock and nodded my head in agreement. Mom wasn’t too amused but I was.

“Oh! By the way, I’m leaving for Italy Sunday morning, so I’ll need to pack tomorrow. Do you think you could take care of my laundry tonight?” I said.

“You were just gone for a week! How can they expect you to travel this often?” Mom asked.

“It’s part of the job Mom. I already mentioned I’d be doing a lot of traveling.” I said.

“It’s not appropriate just you and this male boss of yours going off together on these trips. How long will it be this time?”

“It’s not just the two of us. I’m not even the only woman going and I’ll have a private room. It’s not like I’ll be sleeping with my boss Mom.”

“Don’t even say something like that young lady. It’s bad enough you are traveling with him and someone else might think it.”

Is it murder to strangle your own mother? It seems like temporary insanity or even self defense ought to cover it from a legal perspective.

“It’s my job. I realize you don’t approve, but you didn’t approve of unemployment either. You really make me feel like I can do no right sometimes.” I said.

“You should be happy I take an interest in your life. It would be far easier to wash my hands of you.”

I balled my hands into fists, closed my eyes, and breathed out all the tension. Arguing with mom is like trying to move a wall, it isn’t going to happen unless you want to break it. I forced a smile, unclenched my fists, and opened my eyes.

“We’ll talk about it later okay? I need to get ready.” I said.

Mom huffed clearly not happy with me. What would make her happy with me is probably something I will never understand. Fortunately, a knock at the front door prevented the conversation from dragging on any further.

Mark had ditched his tie and unbuttoned his collar by the time he knocked on the door. Dad was there to greet him and I bet it was quite the site from the street. Mark had brought a half dozen red roses and had to quickly retract the offering when he became aware it was Dad and not me on the other side of the door. There was awkward throat clearing before Dad invited him inside.

“I’ll be ready to go in five.” I said on my way up the stairs.

Mom collected the roses. Dad restarted the inquisition.

Three minutes later Mark and I were in his car.

The restaurant was packed. It was the kind of place my parents would never set foot in and that made it perfect. The tables were all covered in red and white checkered cloths and the floor was lightly covered in dry straw mixed with peanut shells. A red plastic basket sat in the middle of each table full of peanuts waiting to be broken free from their shells.

It was something like an indoor picnic, complete with the aroma of simmering woodchips and dripping BBQ sauce. It took me a moment to notice the country music playing in the background because there was so much rhythmic clapping and dancing going on, the music wasn’t really needed.

We were seated right away, apparently Mark has friends in low places. Rather than sitting across from me he decided to park himself right next to me on the bench at our table. It was unusual but I give him high marks for originality. Given the noise in the place it was also probably the only way we were going to understand anything beyond sign language from each other.

“Chicken, beef, or pork?” He shouted at me.

“Chicken.” I replied, leaning in closer than I really needed.

He didn’t seem to mind. His arm slipped around me and it felt nice, comfortable. I have to admit he was shaking my first impression quite well. Then he started swaying with me on the bench and I couldn’t help but relax. It was almost like I had known him for years instead of mere days.

When our waitress arrived, dressed in a long brown skirt, red boots, and a checkered shirt that matched the table cloth, he quickly stood up and whispered our orders into her ear. I was waiting for her to slap him for getting so close but she just smiled and giggled. I was slightly jealous but probably for no reason since he sat right back down next to me and continued our little dance.

It didn’t take long for dinner to arrive. By the looks of it we got the whole chicken minus the neck and head. It was served like royalty on a faux silver platter with a large carving knife neatly planted on the side. Mark did the honors, but not before affixing a disposable bib around my neck and layering my lap with paper napkins. I wondered if a yellow slicker would have looked better.

Mark didn’t seem to care about how ridiculous I looked and oddly enough that made me not care either. I’m not used to being fed at the table, well at least not since I was two, but Mark never gave me chance. He insisted I try every bite right from his hands and by the end of the meal I was glad it was his hands covered in sweet, sticky sauce and not mine.

As we walked outside into the cool evening air, I slipped my hand inside of his. There aren’t many men who could pull off a dinner experience like that without coming off as a complete jackass, but he’d managed to make it romantic and fun. I hated the fact the evening was coming to an end, but dragging it out longer would make me seem like an immature teenager or a desperate hussy. Being neither, I knew it was time to go home.

Mom and Dad were probably watching us while we stood on the doorstep saying goodnight. For the first time in my life, I didn’t care. Mark just had a way about him that made me feel like nothing else mattered when he was close. I know there are supposed to be rules about first dates, but they aren’t for nights like this one. I kissed him warmly, making sure he knew just how much I enjoyed the evening. From inside, I watched him walk back to his car with a kick in his step and a smile on his face.