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.

October 13, 2009

Thawing Out: The Prism Effect

Rested, rejuvenated, re-energized, I left for Quondam Innovations earlier than I needed, stopping along the way for an extra large iced mocha and indulging in a cinnamon raisin bagel with extra cream cheese. I was more than an hour early so when I walked through the doors to Q5 I was surprised to find I was the last one to arrive for our first day back. On retrospect I should have expected Dr. Michaels at the very least, he was distressed enough to have to wait through a two week vacation before getting a chance to analyze the crystal we had brought back. The rest of them are just as interested I think but better at hiding it. Where the rest of them were curious about the crystal and what could be learned from it, I was far more interested in getting some answers and the crystal seemed the least likely place to find any of them.

"Nice of you to join us, sleepyhead." Tom said, as I walked toward my office.

"I didn't realize we were starting before the sun came up." I said.

Outside the tinted windows of Quondam Tower, the sun was just beginning to sparkle its light throughout the city. Tom followed my glance outside and smiled with a short laugh to let me know he was teasing. I had suspected as much but sometimes it is hard to tell with Tom Clark and his rigid shoulders. I paused long enough to shake my head at him before settling in behind my own desk, but Tom followed.

"Assuming nothing else comes up, let's have lunch later." Tom said.

I almost said yes without any thought at all due to his unassuming nature, but then I stopped myself. Should I really be having private lunches with another man when I'm involved with Mark? What did Tom expect from me during this lunch? Was it business or pleasure or something else entirely? I decided I was worrying too much.

"Sure." I said.

"Great. I know a perfect little Mexican place around the corner. You like Mexican don't you?" Tom said.

"Yeah." I said.

I was concerned he was going to spend the rest of the morning hanging out in my office, but he left without another word or look. It occurred to me that I was possibly flirting with disaster but something told me Tom's interest was anything except romantic. From what I had seen in the Philippines I had the impression he was infatuated with Kyra in any regard. I could be wrong but there was definitely some emotion there although I think Kyra is completely oblivious to it.

I turned my attention back to work and pulled up the lab monitor on my computer. It was blank, which was not what I expected at all. I glanced up and saw Dr. Michaels leaning over Kyra in the main room. Jack was in his office on the phone and Tom had disappeared as he often does, probably off to check on one or more of Quondam's military projects. Curiosity pushed me up from my desk to find out what Kyra and Dr. Michaels were up to and why the lab had no results from analysis of the crystal.

"So it's definitely manufactured?" Dr. Michaels asked, as I approached the two of them.

"Absolutely. The crystalline structure is too perfect for nature. It can't be anywhere near as old as we were led to believe." Kyra replied.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"We're beginning the study on the crystal you secured." Dr. Michaels said.

"I didn't see any results from the lab." I said.

"No, we are heeding your warning about exposure to light for the time being. Kyra is building a computer model of the crystal from a series of photographs and x-rays." Dr. Michaels explained.

"Sounds good, but I would point out that exposing the crystal to x-rays might have been as dangerous as direct sunlight itself. My guess was that visible light wasn't enough by itself to create the reaction I was warned about and the sun produces a wide variety of rays, including x-rays." I said.

"I am well aware of the sun's spectrum, Miss West. There was indeed some risk involved however without the x-rays we would be unable to build an accurate model to study." Dr. Michaels said.

"Right. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply you were being careless. Obviously there is an amount of risk in anything we do with the crystal and of course we have no actual proof that it is dangerous at all." I said.

"I should have a functional model in about an hour. The crystal is a complex construct but it is a repeating pattern except for some minor glitches here and there." Kyra said.

"I know that's supposed to explain why it will take an hour but I don't have a clue what any of that meant." I said.

"It means the computer doesn't have as much work to do in rendering a model as it could but the structure is still complex and I'll have to add in the glitches, I think they are scratches on the inner surfaces of the crystal, to the model after the basic structure is rendered. Essentially I'm just saying it's going well and I'll have something for us to study in an hour." Kyra said.

"I'll leave you to it then." I said.

Jack was hanging up as I turned away from Kyra and Dr. Michaels. He waved me over to him with a smile. His desk was already cluttered with a dozen reports sitting on top of two thick books that would have put any dictionary to shame. I took it all in as I sat down across from him wondering what new project he was working on and if it meant we would soon be boarding a plane.

"How was your vacation?" Jack asked.

"Good. How about yours?" I replied.

"Far too short, but that's how they always seem." He said.

"New project?" I asked, nodding at the mess between us.

"Not exactly." He said. "You remember that reporter friend of yours?"

"Gina? Yes, of course." I replied.

"She's running a story on that little adventure you guys had in the Philippines."

"I wish I could say I was surprised but I'm not."

"Joe's given her complete approval on the story actually."

"Now I'm surprised. I'm guessing the focus isn't Q5 then?"

"Alexander Kemp and his political connections shielding him from the reach of international law."

"No wonder Mr. Candle approved." I said.

"Personally I think it's a mistake, but the story started hitting shelves around midnight last night." Jack said.

"You're expecting this will come around to bite us?" I asked.

"It could force Kemp to keep a lower profile which could make it harder for us to keep track of him. I don't trust the man at all and I'll be cheering the day he gets locked up behind bars where he belongs but until that day, I like to know exactly where he is and what he is doing." Jack explained.

"So you are trying to figure out where he's going to hide out until things cool off for him?" I asked.

"Exactly. He has ties around the world but with Gina's story he'll be cut off from public support with at least some of them. I'm guessing he'll head toward Africa or South America. Either place, U.S. influence is limited and international law is viewed with more contempt than favor. I'm generalizing of course but he'll steer clear of countries with extradition treaties with the U.S. or United Nations." Jack said.

"That makes sense to me. What do you need me to do?" I asked.

"Nothing with this, I've got it covered, but I'd like you to oversee the analysis of that crystal. Dr. Michaels and Kyra have already started, but I'd like you to keep an eye on the results. You seem to know a bit more about the thing than anyone else and you might see something that we'd otherwise miss." He said.

"No problem. Kyra tells me it will be about an hour before we can start running tests on her model." I said.

"Do you think the model will give us all we need or will we have to study the actual crystal itself?"

"I'll have a better idea when I see what she's developed, but in theory it sounds good. There may be properties to the physical crystal however that can't be duplicated by an electronic rendering." I said.

"Understood. I want to know before we do any testing on the actual crystal." Jack said.

"Got it. Is there anything else?" I asked.

"That's all."

"Do you think I might be able to have a word with Mr. Candle today?" I asked.

"He's expecting my report here in the next few minutes. If you want to run it down to him I imagine he could spare a few minutes for you. I take it this is nothing I need to be concerned about?" Jack said.

"No, it's a private matter actually. I'll take the report down whenever you are done." I said.

"It's ready to go now."

I took the report from his hands and stood up. He was clearly curious about my self proclaimed private matter but respectful enough not to pursue the matter with an endless barrage of questions. I was not particularly concerned about him knowing what I intended to discuss with Mr. Candle but I had the distinct impression, Mr. Candle would prefer the matter remained private. I headed straight for the elevator keeping my thoughts to myself.


"I think it's time for some truth between us." I said.

The words sounded familiar to my ears, but this was different. Mark and I had resolved our issues, perhaps in an unconventional manner, but resolved they were and in the resolving I learned a few things. Most importantly, I learned it was better to get everything out in the open than wade through the shadows and intrigues making guesses at things about which I had too little information and too many questions.

Joseph Candle stood a few feet away from me with a perfectly projected expression of confusion exposed on his face. What wheels were turning on the inside, I will never know, but in the morning sunlight illuminating the spaces between us on the 30th floor, his expression was revealed for what it was; Theatrics.

"I assure you I have no idea what you are talking about, Miss West." Mr. Candle replied.

"I'm talking about all of it. You picked me for a reason and I'm starting to get a picture of those reasons but I don't have the whole thing. Then there is the matter of Q5's missions. These aren't mere curiosities to you. They are carefully selected with a purpose to attain a particular end. I think you and I both know what that end is but I want to hear it from you." I said.

Silence followed my words while Mr. Candle considered how to proceed. The confusion drifted away from his face, replaced by sadness and apprehension. He turned his back to me and stared outside at the city beyond us and the world beyond. I think in that moment his mind walked back in time to the place where his life had ended and a quest was born. As the images of what had been passed before his mind's eye he picked the details to share and the secrets to keep. I knew it wouldn't be simple to get it all from him, but even fragments of the truth would be better than the contradictions in the lies and half truths he had told me so far.

"I never really wanted to involve you in any of this. I tried every other way, but I should have known, there was never really any choice." Mr. Candle said, still not facing me.

"Why me? How am I connected to her?" I asked.

He turned around, the look of confusion returning to his face. He stepped closer to me through the light as if proximity would clarify the words or the meaning behind them. Frustration threatened to push my temper to the breaking point knowing he was still playing games with me. There was a time when I would have turned and walked away and if it were only Joseph Candle, I might have, but there was someone else, a little girl and whatever I thought of her father, I could not turn my back on her. It was for her I stood my ground and pushed onward.

"Who are you talking about?" Mr. Candle asked, pretending he did not know.

"Your daughter. I've seen her, talked to her, and she's still waiting for you to rescue her. If you want to pretend to the rest of the world she doesn't exist, that this, all of this, isn't about her, go ahead, but not with me, not between the two of us, not when I already know the truth." I said.

"My daughter..." Mr. Candle said, hope springing to his face and making me wonder if I had misinterpreted everything about him. "You've seen her?"

"A few times." I acknowledged.

"Then she's alive. I was never truly certain." Mr. Candle said, turning back to the window again. "You talked to her?"

"Yes. She's waiting, but I think she's running out of time." I said.

"I suspected as much. It all happened such a long time ago. " Mr. Candle said.

"Why don't you tell me the whole story?" I suggested.

"It's true I've alway had a fascination with the past. Long before Quondam Innovations was even a twinkle in my brain, I was hopping continents searching for pieces to the puzzle. Most of my expeditions were failures, but I always found just enough of a trail to keep me going and if that failed there was her. She never shared my fascination, but she had her own addictions to the adventure." He said. "You know, you remind me so much of her. If I allow myself, I can almost pretend she's back when I'm with you."

"I'm not your daughter." I said.

"No, of course not." He said.

"What happened to her?" I asked.

"It was my fault. I was careless. We were in South America, tracking down an interesting legend about the caves in the region. The locals had long believed the caves were a path to another world, a place were souls go after the body dies. Deeper in the legends was a myth that the first man and woman had walked out of one of these caves from the other side. There were offshoots of the myth in many cultures springing from the region and spreading all the way into Central America and possibly as far north as Mesa Verde, in Colorado. The myth changed and twisted through generations but at their core all them pointed back to these caves as some sort of a portal between life and death." He said.

"I've read about this in Mayan and Aztec cultures. They even buried their dead in some of these caves to speed the journey to the afterlife." I said.

"Yes. We found mummified remains inside the caves. They were in as good of condition or better than similar finds in Egyptian pyramids however, it was not from similar advancements in science but rather the natural environment inside of the caves. In fact our early discoveries led us to believe the remains were actually some sort of a primitive sacrifice meant to appease a god. It was only later we came to understand the full scope of the legend and that some of the bodies we discovered, in particular those of young men and women were more likely to have been adventurers or even mourners of a sort, searching for the portal to take them to their lost loved ones. The scientific community still argues these cultural points with neither side being able to conclusively prove their theories." He said.

"You're stalling." I said.

Mr. Candle turned toward me with a new purpose in his eyes. The things he'd shared were nothing of the secrets residing inside his thoughts and memories but they had touched close enough to the source, to the pain. The determination in his features was a welcome replacement to the foolish disguise of confusion. He stepped closer to me until the space separating us was negligible and irrelevant.

"You're right. I'm searching for her. She's been gone for so long but I've never lost my faith or my commitment to bringing her home and you are the best hope she's ever had." He said.

"Why me?" I asked.

It was the only question to which I truly needed an answer. All the rest, the stories of how and where and what were nothing compared to fundamental of why me. I knew there was a connection between myself and his girl, but what it could be baffled me. There were others who could see her, not just me, and none of that made any sense because the things we shared were the same things everyone alive shared. There was something more and I had to know it.

"She was unique as you are as well. You share an ability to see passed the surface and into the workings of the human soul." He said.

"That's not an answer. I don't see people for anything more than they are. " I said.

"But you see her and no one else does." He said.

"Not quite no one else." I said.

"What do you mean?" He asked.

"One of the men who held us, saw her as well and my nephew also." I said.

His eyebrows shot up like rockets. I had not expected genuine surprise from him on anything I would reveal to him. It was disturbing to realize there were things he truly did not know about his daughter and her plight. I began to consider the possibility I had made assumptions that were not quite fair or justified.

"That is unexpected. Who was this man?" He asked.

"I never caught his name but he was their leader. It's possible he died inside the tunnels but he might have made it out someway as well." I said.

"Your nephew is not entirely surprising, no doubt he shares your genetic predisposition." He said.

"If there are three of us seeing her, there are undoubtedly others as well. What about my parents or my brother?" I said.

"They were tested. All negative. You were the only one but I admit we didn't test your nephew. He is too young in any regard." He said.

"Okay. I'm confused. You seemed surprised I had seen her, but now, if I'm understanding you correctly, you are saying you picked me because you knew I would be able to see her." I said.

"I expected you to be able to perceive her presence, actually seeing and hearing her was beyond my wildest hopes. Beyond that I expected she was still trapped in the caves where I lost her. I had never considered she might be able to roam the world without restriction." He said.

"No more secrets please. I can understand why you wouldn't want everyone to know exactly what you are doing but between us, I need to know the truth if I'm going to help." I said.

"There are things you aren't ready to know, but when the time comes I promise you will know everything." He said.

I considered arguing with him. If I threatened to walk away and leave him on his own with his quest he would probably call my bluff and show me the door. I might be willing to walk out on him but not the girl who actually needed my help and we both knew he knew that fact. Maybe the secrets left were better kept than shared and maybe there were things I didn't really want to know anyway.

"Alright, but if I ask you about something, I expect an honest answer." I said.

"Fair enough, Miss West." Mr. Candle said.

I came back up to Q5 to find Dr. Michaels and Kyra in an excited state of exploration. No, they weren't having sex but by the gleam in their eyes and the glow on their faces you couldn't have blamed anyone for thinking they might have just finished. Whatever they had discovered has them so consumed they barely even noticed me come to stand over them.

"Obviously you've found something." I said.

"You remember those glitches in the crystal I was telling you about?" Kyra asked.

"Yes." I said.

"With light projected through the crystal onto them they seem to be projecting some sort of writing and in one area it appears we've found a map." Kyra said.

"A map of what?" I asked.

"That's among the questions we still have to answer." Dr. Michaels said. "The writing is complex and not of any language I recognize. The computer is still comparing it to all known writings but I suspect it will come up empty."

Kyra tapped a few keys to project the map and the writing on the holographic monitor above the table. The map was obvious enough although what it was a map of was beyond me. The writing however was familiar in a deja vu kind of way. I couldn't place it but I was certain I had seen it or something like it before, which worried me slightly as I realized the expert standing next to me hadn't.

"This looks familiar." I said aloud before thinking it might have been better to keep that to myself.

"You've seen this before?" Dr. Michaels asked, while Kyra just looked at me with open skepticism.

"I don't know. Maybe. Was there something like this in those documents we saw?" I asked.

"Not that I saw but you spent a bit of time going through them without me." Dr. Michaels said.

I stared at the floating symbols as if the answer would come if I looked hard enough. Dr. Michaels and Kyra were looking at me with almost as much wonder as they had for the crystal. The whole thing was making me uncomfortable until the pattern suddenly made sense and I made a connection that shouldn't have been possible at all.

"It's not writing." I said.

"What?" Kyra asked.

"Look at the organization and the repetition of symbols. It's math. A series of equations." I said.

Kyra and Dr. Michaels both stared at me like I'd pulled a rabbit out of a hat and called it a bird. I shrugged and then returned my attention to the part that was eerily familiar and quite possibly proof that the crystal was nowhere near as old as our Chinese captors had insisted.

"This section here," I said, point out the equation that had caught my eye to start with. "This is the same or very similar to one of the equations on those compasses we found."

"How do you know that? All data on the compasses was lost." Dr. Michaels said.

"Well not all. I had my station monitoring the lab and all the information was saved to it locally." I said.

"Why wasn't I told about this before now?" Dr. Michaels demanded.

I sighed.

"There was some concerns after the theft. It was deemed best to keep it a secret at the time." I said.

"By whom?" Dr. Michaels asked.

"Jack and Mr. Candle." I said. "For what it's worth I agreed with them. There were just too many unanswered questions."

"In other words you thought one of us was leaking info." Kyra said.

"Inside information is getting out. There is no doubt about it after what happened in the Philippines, but it seems clear enough now that none of us was the source." I said.

"That's a relief. We've been cleared of espionage and didn't even know we were suspects." Dr. Michaels said with more than a little sarcasm.

"You might not like it but you have to admit the team's track record for holding onto artifacts is a little less than stellar." I said.

"And your arrival hasn't done much to change that, now has it?" Kyra said.

"Agreed and to me that means the problem isn't with us but someone on the outside is somehow managing to get information from the inside. There are a lot of possibilities and ruling out the five of us was something of a priority in narrowing down the search." I said.

I could tell Kyra had more she wanted to say, but whatever had happened between her Jack on our last trip must have made her think twice because her eyes flickered to Jack's office and then her half open mouth closed itself. Dr. Michaels nodded a grudging acceptance of my explanation and reasoning. I can't say I've really grown to like him but as surprising as it seems I have learned to respect him and it appears to be mutual.

"Can I review the data from compasses? I would like to verify your hypothesis." Dr. Michaels said.

"Certainly. I can transfer it to your station if you like." I said.

"Thank you. That will do nicely." Dr. Michaels said and headed off to his own office.

A few minutes later I had transferred all the data my computer had stored from the analysis of Galileo's Compasses. Kyra transferred the markings and the map from the crystal to my station so I could review it further. On a hunch I asked her to begin checking the symbols and map for any variations that might occur from using different wavelengths of light. My understanding of the mathematics behind Galileo's equations was rudimentary at best, but what I did know was it had to do specifically with the bending of light to see around a curve and from what I had seen of the crystal, it did a fairly good job of bending light. The coincidence seemed anything but one to me, however I was trying my best to refrain from jumping to conclusions.

It took me a few minutes but I figured out how to configure my computer to compare the map to various perspectives and magnifications of the world as we know it today and how it was known in maps throughout history. I'm far from a geography expert but the map seemed to identify an island somewhere but there weren't enough indicators for me to even know where to begin looking. My only guess was somewhere in the chain of islands making up the Philippines but there was absolutely no resemblance to any of them. It was definitely a puzzle but the mystery that was really on my mind was just when and where the crystal had been made.

According to Kyra's notes, the crystal was grown in a lab someplace. The cuts on the edges appeared perfect because they weren't cuts at all but rather specific specifications of the construct. The imperfections were clearly intentional and they were so small as to be invisible to the naked eye. Everything about it screamed modern technology, but if it was, what was the purpose of the creation and why put it inside a tomb to try to make it appear thousands of years old? Things just weren't adding up and it wasn't just the complex equations.

"Ready to go?" Tom asked, leaning inside my doorway.

I glanced up shaken out of my thoughts by his voice. The morning had turned into afternoon sometime while I had been trying to make sense of connections that shouldn't exist but did. The compasses, the crystal, Candle's daughter, myself, and ancient myths about the beginning of life and somehow we were all connected, pieces of a puzzle so large I couldn't even fathom the edges. It probably should have disturbed me but whatever part of me is supposed to worry about such things was shut down in favor of the curious portion of my brain that found it all more than a little fascinating.

"Lunchtime already?" I asked, glancing at the clock on my computer and answering my own question at the same time.

Tom just nodded. I saved my screens and then logged off, hopefully securing what little data I had collected. Glancing around I noticed we were the only ones leaving for lunch. Jack was perched on the corner of his own desk, crunching on a green apple while holding a conversation with his desktop, well probably someone on the other end of a speaker call but it did look like he was talking to the desk. Kyra had apparently already finished her lunch and moved on to dessert or maybe her idea of lunch is chocolate pudding. Dr. Michaels was eating a sandwich of some sort, tuna I would guess by the odor in the air as Tom and I made our way to the elevator.

"You know we could start some illicit rumors, what with the two of us leaving together like this." I said.

"This place could use an illicit rumor or two." Tom said with a chuckle.

Tom hadn't be exaggerating when he said the place was around the corner. We walked to it in less than five minutes and I would never have found the place without him. El Taqueria was a small single level building tucked in between the towers of downtown. The sign was a neon aqua that sounded like a bug zapper on the shores of the Mississippi River and flickered almost as much. The peach colored stucco walls were full of gray patch and and the tile roof was black on all the edges with enough cracked tiles to suggest it probably should have been replaced 15 to 20 years ago. A handful of fiberglass picnic tables were scattered around a coral tree with roots crawling in every direction and breaking up all the surrounding sidewalks. The tables ranged in color from a faint pink to a bright yellow and not a one of them was anything close to level on account of the tree roots. Despite shipwreck appearance, the place was crowded with suits from all over the downtown area yakking away on handsfree cellphones which struck me as amusing because if you didn't look closely you might have assumed they were all loonies fresh out of the asylum, talking to the phantom voices in their heads.

A line was formed in the grass in front of the building where there were two windows, the first clearly was for placing orders and the second was for distributing food. There weren't any trays, just brown paper bags and aluminum foil covered food. The windows were on the left side of the building and immediately to their right was an easel with a chalkboard resting on it. Written in pink and blue chalk was the menu and prices for the day. Beyond the chalkboard an open doorway allowed entry to the interior where Tom led me.

The inside made it clear the building was a renovated home although I had guessed as much from the outside. Such places aren't common in the city but they aren't exactly unheard of either as zoning laws had come into play long after the city streets had originally be occupied. Most structures like this one had been torn down, homeowners relocated and all that, but a few had fought the redistricting with innovative legal arguments and managed to pull of unlikely victories in courtrooms. This was obviously among those lucky few, but with the streets packed with towers like Quondam Innovations, it's hard to call them lucky but then the owners of this property had clearly found a way to turn what once had been a pleasant home into a thriving family business.

"Are you a picky eater or are you willing to be adventurous?" Tom asked, as we stepped up to the inside counter.

"I can be adventurous." I said, against my better judgment.

Tom proceeded to order in fluent Spanish leaving me to guess at what was for lunch. I shrugged it off and decided not to worry. The place was busy enough to imply quality in the food and Tom didn't seem the type to take me to the best kept secret in all of Los Angeles and then feed me the worst crap on the menu. Besides he insisted on paying and if it turned out bad I always had the meatball sandwich I brought with me back at the office.

We sat down in a small booth that looked like it had been thrown out by a diner from 50's but at least the table was level. I tried to ignore the ripped red cushions and the peeling chrome edges but Tom caught me staring anyway and we both shared a laugh, breaking what could have been an uncomfortable silence.

"Just in case you're wondering, this isn't my way of testing the waters to see if you want to sleep with me." Tom said.

"I'm pretty sure you already know I'm all for that." I said.

"In that case we might as well skip lunch and go straight for dessert. Your place or mine?" Tom replied.

"You don't think Kyra will mind?" I asked.

"Kyra? What does she have to do with anything?" Tom asked.

"I've seen the way you look at her." I said.

Tom swallowed air and blushed the color of our booth. Maybe not quite that red but definitely a color that would have made a bushel of apples jealous. I tried to smile it away but Tom shifted uncomfortably in his seat. I guess he thought his attraction to our computer expert had gone unnoticed by all.

"There is nothing between us." Tom asserted.

"I can see that but it doesn't mean you don't want there to be something." I said.

"That's a topic for another time and different company." Tom said.

"Meaning you had something else in mind for today?" I asked.

"Yes. You." Tom answered.


"Well actually your friend Mark but I don't want to come off as sticking my nose into things that are none of my business."

"At the risk of me slapping your exposed nose, what about Mark?"

I knew the two men definitely had issues with each other. The barely contained growls, warning posturing and flaring nostrils were a clear sign if the clipped tones and icy words hadn't given away when they had been in forced close proximity to each other. Part of me felt annoyed that Tom would presume to have the right to speak to me about anything in my personal life, but the rest of me thought it was actually kind of respectful of him to take me out to lunch and offer some sort of an explanation outside the ears of the rest of our colleagues. The real fear was what if he told me something that made me regret the blossoming relationship I had dived into since the fateful day I learned how to make meatballs and enjoy a glowing backside, not that I was about to share any of that information with Tom.

"It's none of my business what you do in your personal life and I'm not trying to insert myself, but I've had dealings with Mark before and I'd have to really dislike you not to say anything at all." Tom said.

"Let's hear it." I said.

"He's a liar, a cheat, and a coward. You can't trust him." Tom said.

"And your supporting arguments are?"

"I know you are aware of our inability to hold on to most of the interesting artifacts we manage to acquire and I have reason to believe he's been involved in planning the thefts on at least a half dozen occasions." Tom said.

"What reason?"

"Affiliation with Alex Kemp, traces back to Kemp's computers in hacking attempts."

"How do you know it was Mark and not someone else Kemp has employed? Mark has worked for him but only on a contract by contract basis." I said.

"I know you want to believe the best in him. It's only natural, but I'm telling you the guy is bad news." Tom said.

"I'll take it under advisement." I said.

My emotions were boiling over on the inside but they were confused. I was angry at Tom for sure but whether it was because he was telling me something I already suspected or because I didn't believe him at all I wasn't sure. There was of course fear of betrayal too, with Mark and I having both started our relationship with lies and half truths I'd be a complete fool not to realize there was a possibility he was still playing me. I understood Tom was only trying to be a friend and a good guy but I also couldn't rule out any hidden agenda on his own part, perhaps even prompted by Mr. Candle himself in order to distract me from other things he wasn't yet ready to share with me. If I allowed it, the entire situation was going to give me a headache and put me in a foul mood to boot. I decided a little flexibility was called for and the best way to move ahead was to change directions and see what colors reveal themselves in the bend.

"Thank you Tom. I appreciate your concern and I promise I'll be careful. If Mark is what you think he is though, it might be better for me to keep him close for now." I said.
"You're welcome." Tom said with a calm voice, but I could tell he wasn't entirely comfortable with how the conversation had turned out.


  1. While it would be sad for Allison and Mark to split up after working so hard to get together, I think it would be really interesting if Mark had an ulterior motive for pursuing her. Allison has shown a lot of faith in him so far, but if something suspicious happens will she give him the benefit of the doubt again?

  2. Ashley, I'm watching with interest, a number of subplots adding spice to the story.
    Warm hugs,

  3. Ash,

    Good story... like the title.Allison is some what Leary of mark hopefully its not something she has to worry to much about...glad to see Tom is looking out for her