Chapter: << 01 02 >>




A 'Daria' fan fiction by Brother Grimace




Saturday, September 8, 2001 – About 5:30 p.m.



"You know, I've never seen an ice sculpture that doubled as a national landmark before,' Daria Morgendorffer mused, standing before the fifty-foot-tall ice sculptures of Reese Wyatt and his bride, Amy Barksdale. "Geez... this thing could be deemed a hazard to low-flying planes."


Daria turned to Jane Lane and Karen Myerson, a small smile on her face. "Just think, Lane... this could have been either one of us, if we hadn't broken free of the evil young master Thomas' spell."


"Really, Daria – would you have stood for anything remotely as ostentatious as this?"


Daria turned to see Kay Sloane standing besides her, a thin, yet playful smile on her face as she sipped punch from her glass and looked up at the twin sculptures. "Knowing you – you'd have balked at having a three-tiered wedding cake, and even suggesting that you wear a classic wedding gown..." She turned to face Daria, and the smaller woman's eyes widened slightly as she took in the outfit Kay wore. "Yes. It is a V.L. Riley original and speaking of which - I've seen all the members of your family. They're not difficult to recognize – your family's been splashed all across the society pages for the past eight months."


Sour grapes, Karen thought wryly, noticing the look that passed across Daria's face. You're just mad that your little boy won't have anything as ornate, or with this celebrity guest list...well, maybe not mad, but you'd have loved to have been the grande dame for this shindig...


"So, who did you skewer on a ten-foot pike when they suggested that you wear that gown? By the way, you look fabulous in it; I hope you left the designer alive long enough to accept some praise for an excellent work..."


"One of my aunt's friends runs a bridal boutique in Georgetown – she did the gowns."


Kay's eyes widened. "This is one of Samantha Rudolph's designs-?"


"Well, not one of her originals – the bridesmaid's gowns aren't, but Aunt Amy's wedding gown is... Miss Rudolph wasn't bending on that. The gown cost- uh, anyway, she wouldn't let Aunt Amy pay her for it... apparently, her friends have been trying to marry her off for years, and she wanted to just do something special for her. "


The older woman nearly choked on her drink.


"Aunt Amy paid for the bridesmaid's gowns herself. She picked the design from one of her books, and Miss Rudolph added a few of her own touches-"


"I thought there was something familiar about the look – Samantha always did have a flair for the classic, and that collar-! Definitely the Rudolph touch. They must have decided to make no mistakes this time... I heard about your cousin's wedding, and the gown that some cow who called herself a seamstress scraped together for you."


There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, and then, Kay cleared her throat. "I was not pleased by the response Bromwell gave you when you and Tom applied."


"Elsie mentioned that," Daria said, unable to keep the smile from her face.


"Did she?" Kay let a pleasant smile come across her face. "Daria... I want you to know that I never had any problems with you being involved with Thomas. In fact, truth be told, I think he's the one who came out poorer from the affair."


"Really?" Karen asked, suddenly curious; Kay turned to her with the look of a puma discovering an injured fawn in a hidden glade. "Uh... I mean..."


"Kay Sloane, this is Karen Myerson. She's a very close friend of mine... and one reason that I'm happy for the way things turned out."


"You're Daria's friend...?" Kay studied her for a moment, and then extended her hand. "From what I understand, not many persons have the opportunity to say that. You must be a special young woman."


"Aside from some unusual eating habits, she's a good friend. She's from Georgia."


"Georgia... yes, of course. The accent. South Georgia?"


Karen looked at her with mild surprise. "How did you know...?"


Kay smiled back. "You learn things as you get older... Daria, it was a pleasure to see you again. I heard that you met someone, and that it's serious..."


"You could say that."


"Someone pointed him out for me. Has anyone mentioned just how much the two of you look like your aunt and her new husband?"


"No, they haven't."

"Well, consider it a compliment when they do. By the way – Tom hasn't found anyone remotely as good for him as you were."


"Thank you... I think."


"Which is why none of the tramps he's dragged home recently are anywhere in your class. Well. I'd better find my husband before he pulls a few other reprobates and begins something silly and male-oriented... you know how they are."


"It was nice seeing you, too, Mrs. Sloane."


"I think that you can start calling me 'Kay', now, don't you? Goodbye, Daria... Karen."


After Kay had moved out of earshot, Karen let a huge smile grow across her face. "You're cooking for the next three weekends, or I tell your sister that you were discussing fashion with your ex-boyfriend's mother – and that you recognized a top designer's work."




With a start, Daria suddenly noticed that Jane hadn't said a word about Kay's appearance; she turned to look for her. "Jane...?"

"I don't think she's been listening, Daria," Karen laughed, almost spilling some of her punch as she turned towards Jane and watched the way the raven-haired girl's eyes moved across the sculpture in what could have only been rapt admiration. "If she ever finds out who did this, I think she'll probably want to be his Jedi apprentice."

Daria turned away from the sculpture to glance around the area, and saw a very familiar white-haired man with glasses pass by, a number of men with earpieces moving with him. "Did you see who just went by...?"

"Yeah. I thought he was at that big Naval Hospital for a heart problem right now..."

"From what I've heard, he's always had a heart problem..."


"Look on the bright side. He's only the number two guy."

Daria and Karen moved away from Jane, and looked about the huge banquet room while they sipped at champagne flutes filled with punch. "The folks back home would love to see this," Karen said, smiling softly as a distant memory rolled back through her mind. "You haven't lived until you've heard a Robin Leach impression that sounds like Jeff Foxworthy."

"You're kidding."


 "NOTHING says 'formal wedding' like his-and-hers long guns! For the blushing bride, tradition is the order of the day - with a double-barreled coach gun just like the one that great-great-Grandad used to make sure his baby girl's wedding was legal! For the groom, it's a workhorse pump-action twelve-gauge, with a twenty-two inch barrel, nine-shell capacity, and a rifled barrel for three-inch magnum slugs, ideal for that eighteen-point buck OR that young buck in the black 1980 Trans Am that just won't stay from your sixteen-year-old cheerleader daughter, no many times he's been warned!"


Daria could barely keep from laughing as she watched several people stop to listen, and how they all gave Karen very peculiar stares. "...And until the next time we all here meet, this here's Robbie Leach – the British one, not the one that gets on you if you go swimming in the wrong hole – bringing you cornpone wishes and six-pack dreams!"


"The next time you see Aunt Amy's friend Colonel Trainor – tell her that. She'll love it."


"She must really not like rednecks."


"She has issues – North-South issues. Amy says that she's a rich girl from Rhode Island."


"In that case, she'll feel right at home in here."


"Yeah, this is Ground Zero for the land of the Muffys," Daria agreed, smirking as she saw Rita Barksdale with a sullen frown all but welded onto her face as she sat at a table, draining a glass of sparkling wine before waving one of the army of ever-present waiters over to refill it. "Aunt Rita will never be able to say a single demeaning thing to Aunt Amy regarding men ever again. I heard about her reaction to the engagement ring that Aunt Amy got... Aunt Rita was speechless for over an hour."


"I still remember the first time your grandmother met Mrs. Wyatt, at that bridal brunch. The old, rich women can scrap and snip, can't they?"


"Yeah. Still, you noticed that Aunt Rita never tried to get into that argument, right? She's a little afraid to try, now..."


"Guess we know who won that round of sibling rivalry."


"The way Aunt Amy sees it, my mom's still way out in front."


"Even with the twins she inherited? Yeah, your aunt does think a lot of you, doesn't she?"


"Enough to suspect that I wouldn't go ballistic over wearing a dress that makes me look like an ornament on top of a giant wedding cake, if I was doing it for her." Daria sighed, adjusting the waist of her gown. "Aunt Amy pointed out that since she's wearing a dress that looks like a cross between a giant chandelier and the bride's gown at Casper the Friendly Ghost's royal wedding, we could suffer through a day's worth of fashionable torment."


"At least you didn't have to pay for the privilege of dressing that way."


"Aunt Amy was serious about that, too – she said that 'she's not going to have her family and friends paying a fortune just to do her a favor!"


"How much did those cost, again?"


"Long story short – each one, probably our grocery budget for the past year, with our fees for books thrown in." Daria brushed a tiny feather off her shoulder. "Damned release of doves. Damn dress – the thing's tailored perfectly. Nothing to complain about." Except how Michael's going to burst a blood vessel trying to get me out of this thing. Oh, he's going to love trying to plow through this corset...


"It must be nice wearing a actual dress, instead of this set piece from 'Sense and Sensibility."


Karen glanced at her reflection in a mirrored wall, smiling as she noticed how she looked in her gown from her Senior Prom. "Well, I've only worn this damn thing one. I'm going to get a little more mileage out of it."


"I'd say you're getting lots of mileage out of it now," Daria smirked, watching how a group of four military cadets in dress uniforms made no secret of how much they liked the way Karen looked in her gown. "If you want to trade up on your enlisted man for some future officers... I think the guys like the way you look."


One of the cadets suddenly looked away from Karen and focused his attention on Daria, who immediately blushed down to her toenails as he looked directly into her eyes. "I think that Army cadet thinks the same about you," Karen said, watching how the model-handsome cadet looked at her with incredibly ocean-blue eyes, taking in Daria's full appearance. "Yeah. He's definitely got eyes for you."


"Well, I've only got eyes for someone else, and they've only got eyes for me."


"I can tell." Karen pointed over to the table where Michael Fulton and Derek Adler were sitting amongst a group of other young men who were all staring in her and Daria's direction; as Daria turned to look, they all turned back quickly into conversation... "Something tells me that our tripods are getting major praise for bringing us along. Yes, I know," she replied quickly, "but let them have their moment of honor as alpha wolves within a new pack. They'll do something stupid later, and then we'll bring up how they had the slobbering savages leering at us like slabs of meat."


"You know what they're saying about us, don't you?"


"Oh, yeah."


As Daria and Karen moved away, the three cadets laughed at their companion. "Tell me if I'm wrong, but I don't think she's interested in you! Yes, as incredible as it is to believe – the bridesmaid gets away!"


"Says you."


"Sorry, Davers – but that pretty face gets you nothing this time! For once, the famous Davers good looks have no effect on the ladies! Denied, little boy, denied!"


Cadet Second Class Jefferson Davers (he hated his family's tradition of naming sons after presidents) watched with very interested eyes as Daria started off through the crowd. "For now, chumps."


He chewed slowly at a piece of green pepper, and let the image of the beautiful, auburn-haired young woman lock itself into his memory as his smart-mouthed friend continued. "Before you get any ideas, you should know about her. She's not just a bridesmaid, she's the niece of the bride – and remember, she stepped in for Colonel Trainor as maid-of-honor when she had to take off just before the wedding."




"You really need to read the society pages, or talk to your mother before she sends you to these things," Jefferson's friend said. "Her name's Daria Morgendorffer. VERY smart girl. She's at Raft, and she's a writer. She did those 'Melody Powers' stories-"


"The female spy ones?" Jefferson smiled, he remembered how his Japanese sister-in-law loved reading stories like that, and pointed them out the last time he went to visit his brother Franklin at his new posting, down in Savannah, Georgia... "Yeah, Aki mentioned that name..."


"She's also got a serious boyfriend. The story is that they were almost engaged at the end of their freshman year, buy they decided to wait until they graduate to get married."


"I don't see her with a ring on her finger..."


"Doesn't matter. The tabloids talked about how they nearly broke up and got back together – word is that he's still got the ring that he bought for her, ready to give her as soon as they get their degrees. I suggest that you find another nice-looking girl around here or wherever, because that one is definitely off-the-market!"


Jefferson took another lingering look at the slender, auburn-haired beauty in the bridesmaid's gown; everything else in the room fell away from notice as he let the image of Daria affix itself in his mind. As he watched the way Daria grasped a glass with slender fingers and raise it to her lips, a quote from a film he'd seen when he was younger came to mind:


'If she's under eighteen, she's protected by law. If she's over sixty-five, she's protected by nature. Everything else is fair game!'


Cadet Second Class Andrew Satone went silent for a moment; he'd been friends with Jefferson Davers since they were placed in the same quarters their first week at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He'd already learned about how his friend had his family's trademark attractiveness, as well as an annoying habit of locking in on a single target and going after it. He was actually grateful that he had different tastes in women than his best friend – after all, it was the rare woman who didn't swoon when a Davers man looked in her direction...


"I'm wasting my time even saying anything, aren't I?"


Jefferson watched Daria walk away; he found for a moment that he couldn't speak, and took a sip of chilled citrus nectar.




"I'm going to run into her again. Count on it."





"Somebody's got an admirer..."


"Yes, and he's sitting over there, bragging about bagging a redhead." Daria smiled as she glanced over at Michael. "We'll get even for that later when we sit around with the ladies, talk about them, and they come up to the table. Men hate the look that they get when they approach a group of women."


"That's because most men see a group of women, and they see a pack," a familiar voice from behind spoke, and Daria turned to see Mack Mackenzie in a perfectly-tailored tuxedo, carrying off a look that would have gotten him into any posh club on Earth. "Evening, ladies."


"I see somebody's 'dressed to thrill', Daria said. "So, 'Universal Exports' sent you here on a mission?"


"They thought that the great Melody Powers could use some assistance," Mack said in a mock-bold voice. "So, where's my target for tonight?"


"Probably still staring at the main attraction," Daria replied, motioning towards the ice sculptures. "That aside, what was that comment about pack animals?"


"Bad influences from the guys in my fraternity. Most of them chase after every woman in sight, but freeze up when there's a group of them."


"From what I remember, most guys freeze up if they have to face only one."


"Only if it's the right one-" Mack said, and for the briefest of moments, Karen suddenly felt extraordinarily uncomfortable, as if she'd caught sight of something - as if she something pass between Mack and Daria that wasn't ever really there, but still...


"-But that's what I tell them. 'You see a group of women, and you see a pack - I see a group of women, and I see a herd."


"That's pretty good – can I use that?"


The three young adults all turned at the sound of the VERY familiar voice off to one side, and they blinked as one at the sight of the very tall African-American with the warm, confident smile and the shaven head. "I see you've got a nice start on your own herd with these two – just joking, ladies." He extended his hand out to Mack. "I'm Michael Jordan."


"Hey," Mack said as he shook Michael's hand, and his throat suddenly felt very dry. "I'm – I'm..."


"I live for moments like this," Daria smirked, stepping forward. "Michael Jordan... meet Michael Jordan Mackenzie."


The taller man broke into a huge, million-watt smile. "You're kidding. The dad was a huge fan, hmn?"


"He won a radio contest and got tickets to the '86 NBA Finals," Mack said, the bass coming back into his voice. "He was there for Game 2..." Mack suddenly found that he couldn't speak.


'Actually, the mute one was running a world-class gag on the entire school," Daria said, smirking as Mack glanced over at her. Gotcha. You knew I'd find a way to get you back just a bit for that one, didn't you? "Long story."


"You're a friend of Reese's mother?" Karen asked, slightly awed as she looked up at the sports icon.


"Reese sent me an invitation – we met over in Barcelona back in '92."


Even Daria seemed mildly impressed. "He went over to see you play in the Olympics with the 'Dream Team?"


"No, he was on the shooting team as an alternate. Didn't get to compete, so he came to watch the ball games."


"Hey, look, it's your namesake!"


Any illusions that persons with dark skin not blushing vanished as Jane came up from behind and smacked Mack lightly on the backside. "You're lucky I like you, otherwise I'd trade up for the first edition," she said, kissing him lightly as Daria smirked and Karen smiled broadly. "Nice evening suit, Mr. Bond."


Jane tossed a cocky smile in Michael's direction. "You're really tall, Your Airness. Love the dome."


Michael stroked his head, and smiled at Jane; Mack watched Jane's reaction, and ran a questioning finger across his hairline. "You don't do 'awed by celebrity."


"You lose that when you've got a Rodin in your front yard, and your family travels the world like celebrities in their own right. I really liked that 'I succeeded because I failed' poster of yours. It makes you think about how much you need to work at what you like to do in order to get ahead, and how you won't change the world on your first day."


The smile grew brighter. "Oh, I like this one."


"Good. You can escort me over to the dessert table, so I can get some cake, ice cream and my picture taken while you tell me stories about being a basketball jock. I've heard all of the football jock stories, but we'll let him tag along, too."


"You're not going to wait for the wedding cake?"


"I'm a growing girl. I can handle two pieces of cake."


"I've got the feeling that Mack's never going to forget tonight," Karen mused, watching as Jane hooked her arms around both Michaels and led them away.


"The funny thing is, I think she'll probably outglam Quinn tonight."


"Um, where is your sister, anyway?"


"Look for the biggest clump of cute waiters, and toss the grenade in the middle."


"Good point. There are a lot of them, though."


"I noticed. They must have hired every damn waiter in the county and in D.C. to work this gig."


"Gig?" Karen laughed. "Trying to sound hip?"


"Sorry – watching too much TV."


"I think it's a flashback to when you were a teenager, and having your 'Count Trent and Contessa Daria' fantasies," the taller woman smirked, watching the way her friend blushed – but only slightly. "After all, this does scream 'fairytale wedding', doesn't it?"


"The 21st Century version," Daria said, noticing how Jake Morgendorffer – her well-meaning but slightly clueless father – was having a conversation with a slightly rotund Japanese man in glasses she recognized as a chef from a very popular cable cooking show. She vaguely remembered his name – Morimoto something... "You know that they did the pre-nup thing, right?"


"In this day, who doesn't?"


"The thing was, she wanted to sign it. Said that once she did, the mother-in-law'd better NEVER interfere in her relationship with Uncle Reese..." Daria took a drink. "I can't believe my uncle's a billionaire."


"I can't believe that he still wants to wear the uniform," Karen said. "Besides, she's got him around her finger. He's slightly whipped – the way every good husband should be."


"Don't you forget it, young lady," Helen Morgendorffer said, sliding up from behind and catching the last snatches of the conversation. "If he's not whipped a bit, they you're not doing your job as a wife. Amy'll keep him in line, no doubt."


"So, Daria said that your sister signed a pre-nup?"


"Yes – and in a surprising move on my part, I didn't tell her not to," Helen said, looking a bit tired. "She obviously loves him, and he loves her, and if they get divorced she won't need a lawyer to break the pre-nup..."


Helen took a long drink from the glass of ice water Karen lifted from the tray of a passing waiter. "If she even looks like she's going to dump Reese, I'll kill her on the grounds of being stupid."


"I think I'll take that as another reason why I'd better be a very good husband," came a voice off from the side, and Helen turned as Major Maurice Wyatt, dashing in his U.S. Air Force 'mess dress' uniform, appeared in front of her. "War with the Barksdales. Not something I'd like to think about. Having a good time, Helen?"


"Don't you have a wife to think about?"


"Yeah, but she's trying to escape that 'Val' woman my mother invited to the wedding; I think the woman wants to do a 'fairytale wedding' story for that new magazine she's heading up." Reese turned, and looked directly at Daria with a big smile. "She flipped her lid when she found out that Amy was related to you, and I guess she wants to do the story to show that there's balance in the universe, or something."


"If she doesn't stop hounding Aunt Amy, she's going to get something else flipped."


"You should have seen what happened during dinner. I thought she'd take that turkey leg and use it like a Q-Tip. Helen – if you don't mind my saying so, you look a bit tired."


"It's the day. Lots of moving around, and there's so many name people here..."


"I wonder how many of them my mother's invited up to the Honeymoon Suite for tonight?" Reese said, and Helen coughed as she laughed. "Sorry about that. Anyway, we've got several suites reserved for you and the other Barksdales on the Gold Floor, and-"


"Gold Floor?"


"Top floor of the hotel," Reese said off-handedly, not noticing the look on Karen's face as he answered her question. "We rented the entire top three floors for the week. If you need to take a break-"


"I'm just a little winded from all of the walking," Helen said; Daria caught the look Reese gave someone off to her left, but saw only milling revelers when she turned to look. "You may want to consider having the next wedding and reception in something smaller than Soldier Field for your next big celebration."


"Are you kidding? When it comes time for our kids to get married, Mom will probably want to rent out National Cathedral and the closest enclosed stadium!" He smiled as he sat down next to her. "You should have seen some of the things Amy and I had to put our feet down on for this wedding..."


Daria's mouth opened in surprise. "Like what?"


"For starters, those ice cubes not being twice as big-" He gestured towards the ice sculptures. "-Or asking the Archbishop of Seattle to perform the wedding – he's in Mom's poker circle. Amy almost snapped in half when Mom suggested that we let her network and a couple of the others carry the wedding live. I think she scared Mom straight with her reaction to Mom wanting to bring a full production crew in and do a documentary special on the whole thing – "


"What was that music they played when you and the rest of the bridal party entered the hall-"


"Don't you mean 'arena?" Daria smirked.


"-And what's with the orchestra playing it?"


"That was Wagner's Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla from Das Rhinegold," Reese told them. "As for the orchestra, well, Mom knows people with them-"


"Your mother hired the Seattle Symphony and the Boston Symphony Orchestra - and flew them across the country to play at the reception..."


"She couldn't swing any of the Armed Forces symphonies or marching bands. Believe me, she tried - but it would have meant asking my godfather for help. Never happen..." Reese looked over to where a fit, fifty-something man with graying temples and two very slinky blondes sat, sipping sparkling wine as he carried on a conversation with Ted Kennedy and Jet Li. "Amy said that she'd have them play the title theme to Jesus Christ, Superstar on kazoos when we came in if Mom didn't calm down. After that, she eased back on her and the arrangements. Just a bit."


"Speaking of which, where is your blushing bride?"


"Well, I'm assuming she's escaped from Val by now, so I'd say that she's probably surrounded by the hordes of society women who didn't manage to snare me and now want to stay in my mother's good graces by getting in good with the new lady of the manor – or the celebrity types looking for a new big-name to drop."


"I don't think Aunt Amy realized that part when she accepted that giant glass-cutter from you," Daria said, noticing a man who, while trying to blend in with the crowd, had a look that screamed 'world-class bodyguard'. I wonder how she's going to react when she finds out that she'll have someone trailing her from now on – I wonder if that was Reese's idea, or his mother's..."She's never been one to put up with the 'you have to fit in and act like this' crowd."


"One of the things that Mom both respects and can't stand about her," Reese said, winking as he did. "As for the royal horde - there's already a pool going on how long it'll be before she snaps out on one of them, and who it'll be. I've got a hundred on her pouring a pitcher of punch over Joy Behar's head."


"How'd she get an invitation?" Karen asked, and in unison, she and the other women said, "Your mother" as Reese said, "My mother."


"Can I get in on this pool?"


"Sure," Reese shrugged, pointing, "just talk to Sam. He's holding the money and taking bets."


Daria and Karen's eyes followed in the direction Reese pointed, and they saw-


"No way," they said in unison. "He came to your wedding?"


"Yeah – he's a local. Born and raised in D.C., and he's-"


"A friend of your mother's," the women said in unison.


"Yeah. He's also a big golfer – picked up on it while he was filming over in England earlier this year. Just don't ask him to do dialogue from 'Pulp Fiction', or ask him questions about his purple lightsaber."


At that moment, an elderly African-American gentleman in a uniform similar to Reese's appeared at Karen's side; Reese was about to snap to attention when the man said, "Not on your wedding day, son."


"Yes, sir," Reese said, very respectful as the man adjusted his glasses on his face and moved to face Helen. "Hello – Helen, isn't it?"




"I'm Dr. Satcher – I'm a friend of Alexandria's. You mind if I take a look at you?"


Karen leaned over to Daria. "Excuse me – but is that the Surgeon General of the United States right in front of us, offering to look your mom over?"




"We have to stay friends for the rest of our lives. I'm not giving up contacts this good."





Erin Danielson was feeling a little depressed – well, maybe it was the fourth glass of the exceptionally fine sparkling wine...


She sat alone at a table, quite attractive in her bridesmaid's gown, and picked listlessly at a plate of crab salad and celery sticks as she looked at the happy people all around her. God, I wish I were as happy as they are. Brian...well, at least the new drugs are keeping the herpes in check. Thank God. Now, I don't have to feel as though I'm stuck with him forever.


 I'm never going to be happy again at a wedding, though. I would have asked Aunt Amy if I could have sat this out, but no – Mom has to be in the show, dragging me along, too...


I wonder if I can sneak away...


"Don't even think of wandering off and getting lost for the rest of the day, Erin. They'll have the tossing of the bouquet and the cutting of the wedding cake soon – and I want you to be there for those."


"Mom – I want to go." Really - why would I want to catch the bouquet?


"Not yet, you're not! I'm not letting anyone think that their money can make us feel like we're second-class citizens – hold on..."


Rita's nose perked up like a bird dog scenting prey, and she grasped at Erin's elbow. "Come on. I think –"


"No, Mother," Erin said, a touch of steel in her voice as she pulled free of her mother's grip; she recognized that 'time to be competitive!' tone in her mother's voice. "If you want to do something silly, you'll have to do it alone this time. I'm staying."


Rita drew back as if stung, then turned and stalked away. "Well, she seemed annoyed about something," a man's voice said, and Erin turned to see a slender man plant himself in the chair next to Erin. "Hoping that she's going to catch the bouquet?"


"No – just annoyed that this isn't all for me, so she could lord over my aunts about how 'I landed a big one." She looked over at him. "You look familiar."


"Oh. Sorry." He wiped his hand, and extended it to her. "I'm Keanu."




"Pretty name."


"Yours is unusual."


"I've been told that." he smiled, as she smiled back. "So, what do you do?"


"I fetch coffee and shuffle papers at a firm in Boston – but I've been dabbling around with writing children's books. You?"


"I'm an actor. I do movies."


"Okay. Done any movies that I'd have seen?"




Rita followed the flash of hair color she knew so well through the crowd, out of the banquet hall (earning a venomous look from Diana Ross as she nearly ran the singer over), through the jammed halls and towards one of the public restrooms near the main bank of elevators.


Nice. Sneaking off somewhere – I wonder where she's going... after all, she could have used the bathroom anywhere. Why'd she leave the reception – and why's she out of her wedding gown already? I mean, it's barely six, and they haven't done any of the traditions yet – no first dance, and she hasn't thrown the bouquet...


"Can I help you -?"


Rita jumped, screeching like a cat as the woman – It's NOT Amy! – stepped boldly from behind the corner and faced her directly. "I said, 'can I help you?"


The woman, looking so much like Amy – and Daria, too – my God, look at that scowl! – took another step towards Rita, who reflexively stepped back. "You've been trailing me for the past five minutes – so, what DO you want?"


"I – I think I owe you an apology-"


"You've got that right. What are you – a stalker or someone looking for a date? Sorry, but I like guys."


"No! I mean, no, I thought you were my sister-"


"What – you're spying on your sister? Ew. You are a sickie. Get away from me."


"Not that way, I thought she – she just got married – I was wondering why-"


"Is THAT why people have been constantly coming up to me and hugging me since we stepped into this hotel, congratulating me and telling me how I managed to reel in a big one – not that I didn't..." The woman smiled a tiny, knowing smile, one that Rita recognized.


She must really love her man... he must really be special, to put that smile on her face...


"Look, 'Weena-"


"I'm a woman-!"


"Weena!' It's H. G. Wells! Read a book!" The woman took a deep breath, and Rita paled as the woman unclenched her fist.


 "Why don't you head back in there with your rich friends, have a few more glasses of thousand-dollar champagne, and stop bothering real people who have more important things to deal with?"


The way she scrunched her eyebrows as she stared broke Rita's last resolve, and she mumbled an apology as she headed in the opposite direction.


"Hey, what was that about?"


The woman who looked so much like Amy Barksdale turned and looked up to face her husband, a good eight inches taller than she, and gave him the same scowl. "Okay, what did I do now?"


"Oh, I think you know what I'm going to say!"


"Come on-"


"Richard Lobinske – ever since you started writing those stories and putting them on the Internet, we have been running into the weirdest people!"


"Lou, I think you're exaggerating-"


"Two words. 'Penguin fetish."


"Come on. He just does that as a joke. He's the nicest person-"


"Then, there's your Australian buddy, and that monk from England-!"


"He's not a monk-"


"And let's not forget your new friend from Alabama. I didn't know they HAD a 'Jurassic Park' in the 'heart of Dixie!" She took him by the hand, and pulled him into the elevator. "The next time we come to one of these 'we are the guys who study bugs' conventions, we're checking into 'Motel 6'. Fewer weirdos!"




A red-haired vision in a Prada gown suddenly appeared next to Helen. "Mom...?"


"Quinn, I'm okay... I'm just a little tired..."


Daria was suddenly aware that Quinn was dressed quite differently from her. "Uh, Quinn – why aren't you still in your bridesmaid gown? One of those waiters got lucky?"


"Oh, ha, ha, Daria. We only had to wear those gowns until after the wedding photos are all taken. After that, I went up to our suite and changed – what do you think?"


"One – since they haven't cut the cake yet, had the first dance or tossed the bouquet, I think you let them get lots of photos beforehand so that you could get into something more suitable for diving through the ravaging hordes," Daria said bluntly. "I also think you roped Aunt Amy into blowing some of her new money on you-"


Daria froze as she realized that Reese and Helen were watching. "Um, I mean-"


"Oh, Daria, my new favorite niece – you're going to love the Donna Karan gown that we picked out for you," Reese said, his expression mirthful as Daria paled. "Quinn had mentioned that we should get you something really nice, as a token for your helping out by being in the wedding, so my mother-"


Karen surreptitiously drew her tiny digital camera from her handbag and snapped a photo of Daria's expression – Jane would never forgive me if I let this go by and she didn't get to see it! – as Reese continued.


"-Had photos of you taken for the last couple of weeks, because she KNEW you'd never stand for a fitting by a fashion legend, and they used them – along with the help of a few other people – to make sure that the gown's perfect for you."


Daria looked Reese directly in the eye. "It was you," she said. "This was your idea."


Reese grinned. "Yes."


"To embarrass me?"


"I'm your uncle now, Daria! I have only three purposes in your life; making your aunt happy as 'Dr. Barksdale-Wyatt', buying you nice things, and to embarrass you in public!"


"He's very good at that, too," a young man's voice from behind Quinn spoke, and she turned to see a tall, dark-haired young man in a very nice suit. "The 'embarrassing people in public' part."


Quinn gasped out his name... "Pacey..."


"Uh, it's Joe. I mean, Josh. Joshua Jackson," the young man said, obviously taken by Quinn. "I'm Joshua Jackson. 'Pacey's' who I play on-"


"Dawson's Creek," Quinn said breathlessly. "I love your show..."


"Can anybody else taste the bile?"


"Now, now, let's allow your little sister her moment of fawning over a celebrity. Trust me – it gets old fast," Reese said, watching Dr. Satcher talk to Helen. "Karen, I hope you're having a good time. Daria – thank you. Thanks for stepping in for Paula. It broke Amy's heart that she couldn't be in the wedding, but you stepping in made her very happy."


Daria blushed gently as Reese gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek, and she didn't flinch at all. "I'm glad I could help... Uncle Reese."


Reese smiled, and as he turned and started away, Karen leaned in close. "Wow. Someone gave you a compliment and a peck on the cheek, and he's still able to feed and clothe himself."


"You sound like Jane."




"I think that I should be the one saying 'thank you," Colonel Paula Trainor said, coming up to Daria and Karen. "It was a beautiful ceremony?"


"It was nice," Daria allowed, "very nice. I'm sorry that you couldn't be here."


"A big downside to this uniform," she said, and once again, Daria was struck by the ornate styling of the Air Force 'mess dress' uniforms – as a woman, Paula's had a full skirt that just brushed the floor. "When they call, you have to go, and you end up missing some important things. After Amy comes back from her honeymoon, the gang'll have to get together and watch the wedding video."


"Oh, Daria..."


Daria cringed inwardly as she heard that tone in her sister's voice, and Quinn came up, Joshua dutifully trailing behind, to gently turn her towards the table where Michael was sitting... only now, a tanned, beautiful woman with long, straight blonde hair sat next to him, smiling as he talked to her... and making sure that he was afforded a good look at her long, sculpted legs... "Time for you to do some of that 'evil girlfriend' stuff – you know that there's a lot of girls looking Michael over, especially now that they know you're his girl and that you're related to Aunt Amy..." Quinn was actually relishing the way Daria would get rid of the woman – she'd already bet fifty bucks on 'runs her off with a look from thirty feet away...'


"Quinn, I'm not going to-"


"Hey, Michael!"


Michael looked up at the sound of his name – and flushed crimson as his eyes met Daria's. The tanned beauty beside him followed his gaze; she drew back as she saw the way Daria looked at her, her brown eyes piercing deep into the ocean-blue eyes of the intruder...


Quinn squealed with unabashed joy as the girl suddenly excused herself from Michael's presence with as much speed as dignity would allow, and Michael suddenly realized that his shoelaces were untied, so he decided that he'd take as much time as necessary to make sure that they were tied perfectly...


"That's my sister!"


Quinn turned to leave, and accidentally bumped into a tall man wearing the dress uniform of a firefighter. "Oh! Excuse me..."


The firefighter casually wiped the droplets of spilled punch away, and Quinn was slightly taken by just how handsome the firefighter was. "That's okay, miss. Accidents happen."


"I'm Quinn Morgendorffer. I'm the bride's niece."


"I saw. You looked very nice in your bridesmaid's gown." He extended his hand. "I'm Lieutenant Carter Grayson. I'm with the Mariner Bay Fire Department. That's Mariner Bay, California."


"Really?" Quinn's eyes sparkled. "I go to Pepperhill!"


"Hey, Grayson – why don't you introduce me to your cute little friend?"


They turned as a ruggedly handsome, well-built man in a police officer's dress uniform came up from behind Carter, two glasses of punch in hand. "Hello, miss. I'm Eric Meyers," he continued, handing Quinn a glass before tossing Carter a dismissive glance. "You're relieved, big boy. Go rescue a cat from a tree or something."


"Excuse me, Meyers – but I was talking to the young lady."


Eric laughed; he finished his drink in one swallow and placed the glass on the tray of a passing waiter. "Really...?"


"Hey, guys – I was talking to Quinn when that little accident happened," Joshua said, putting his hand around Quinn's waist and starting to guide her away. "We'll just go somewhere else and-"


He gulped audibly as he saw the device around Carter's left wrist – a very familiar device, with a blue, star-shaped insignia with six blunt points... "Hey, you're... you're with-"


"Lightspeed Rescue. Yes."


Joshua turned to Eric, and saw a similar device on his left wrist as well. "Dude! You're Eric Meyers! You're the Quantum-"


"No wonder you get into so much trouble on that little show of yours. You don't know how to be subtle." Eric brazenly removed Joshua's hand from Quinn as he placed himself between her and the two other men. "Why don't we go and get some music going, so we can dance?"


"Well, I'm sure that she doesn't want to get her toes mashed by a knuckle-dragger like you, so she can come and dance with me!"


"You'll have to wait for all our lives to be over before you cut in front of us, 'Pacey', Eric sneered. "Besides, isn't she a little young for you? I thought your dating pool came out of the Medicare directory!"


"Oh, real funny, Barney Fife. Better be careful, Quinn – go out with one of these guys, and you might end up dodging mutants and demons and aliens – oh, my!"


"No, that's what she'd dodge if she went to one of your cast parties," Carter snarled. "Eric, why don't you give him a free taste of police brutality, while Quinn and I get some punch-"


"You move one step away from here with her and you'll get all the punch you'll ever need," Eric said bluntly.


As the three men began to argue, Quinn actually felt a bit guilty. She moved to stop them, but a thought went through her head and put a tiny, familiar smile on her face...


Well... just once more. For old times' sake.


At least one of their names begins with 'J'...





"Jeez, what is that-?"


"What's wrong, Karen?"


Karen stopped walking and shook her head, brushing purposefully behind her ear; Daria watched as she pulled something from the back of her head. "Rice," she snorted. "God, it gets in everywhere..."


"And you'll keep finding grains of rice for weeks to come. Some traditions... at least they didn't have people blowing bubbles." Paula shook her head, turning, and then stopped as she saw the sculptures. "Well. They're smaller than I'd imagined. The happy couple must have made a fuss."


"Uncle Reese just said something like that."


"Back before they first got together, they'd have killed for that much ice. Well, Amy would have, certainly."


"I don't get it," Daria said, as Paula helped herself to a glass of punch. "What would they need with that much ice?"


"Okay – you know how hot it can get in the D.C. Metro area in the summer?"


The girls nodded, and they followed Paula over to a table, where a waiter immediately appeared at Paula's side. "Could you please bring me about ten of those chicken wing drumettes, a side salad with French dressing, and some of those little meatballs in the sweet barbeque sauce, along with another glass of punch? I'll have some dinner later."


The attractive, slender African-American woman caught twin looks of disbelief. "I've been a size six since I was nineteen. Trust me, I can handle it, and besides, I'm hungry."


"I walked constantly during my last three years of high school wearing Doc Martens every day, and I basically lived on Italian food. Pizza, and what passes for lasagna in the world of institutional foods. Didn't gain weight until I went away to college."


"Walk more and put the boots back on." Paula made a trio of chicken drumettes disappear, and took a long drink. "Anyway, Back to what I was saying about ice. Well, the first few weeks at Tennyson U are almost always uncomfortable – and God help you if your air conditioning goes out..."






One year earlier...






"The worst part about this is the heat."


"The worst part of being around this place is the mosquitoes. Okay, the heat, the annoying humidity, and the mosquitoes. No – the WORST part about being here is not having any air conditioning, and THEN the heat, the humidity and the –"


A raspberry sno-cone struck Angela Nogura directly in the back of her head, and the slightly plump Asian woman turned with fire in her eyes at the room full of sweat-soaked graduate assistants. "Who did that-?"


"The sno-cone fairy!" someone quipped, and the main offices of the Statistical Sociology and Anthropology Laboratory rang with laughter as Cassie Wheeler sheepishly lifted her hand. "I'm really sorry, Doc Angela – my hand slipped!"


"Well, it can just slip again – slip out to the big freezer down the hall, for three or four of those big bags of ice! Make sure it takes the rest of you with it, and get some help, too!"


A gangly, pale-complexioned grad student with straw-colored hair and thin, wire-rimmed glasses, Cassie unglued herself from her chair, and looked longingly at the melting remains of her sno-cone as she and three of the other grad assistants sludged through the doorway – and dodged Amy Barksdale as she barreled through.


"What the hell's going on in here?" she said, already soaked through her blouse as she came through the door – and pointedly ignoring the way a couple of the male students were trying not to stare at her. "Isn't anything on in the building - what happened to the power?"


"Well, if someone would answer her phone instead of sleeping right through her alarms, wake-up calls, and assistants throwing rocks at her window, she'd know that classes got cancelled today because of the heat!" Angela told her, pulling a chunk of ice from a cooler next to her desk and wrapping it in a hand towel before putting it on her forehead. "Of course, the new Dean of our department expects everyone else to buck up and sweat it out, even though the University's power plant is off-line –"


"That's why-"


"Yeah. Why we all look like the off-Broadway cast of some Tennessee Williams play set down in the Deep South!" She took a deep swallow from an ice-cold bottle of water. "Look, we've all been here since seven-thirty-"


Amy felt a twinge of regret.




"Uh, yeah – seven-thirty..."


"I'm going to let them go. It's getting to be murder up in here with all these warm, STINKY bodies and no AC besides the occasional breeze."


"...That's a good idea – You guys can all take off, and find someplace to stay cool. What's the temperature now, anyway?"


"Ninety-six degrees..." Cassie growled, lugging a twenty-two bag of ice through the door and dumping it without fanfare into an opened cooler. "The generator for the big freezer has more than enough gas to keep it running. I... want...a... beer!"


"Then go get one over at 'On The Island', Amy said, watching the three other students arrive with their ice. "That should be more than enough to keep Angela and me cool while we finish -"


"Excuse me-?"




As Assistant Dean of the Curtis E. LeMay College of Military Sciences at Tennyson University, Paula Trainor rated her own office in the Military Technologies Annex – a large, four-story facility located at the far north side of the Tennyson campus.


As a person who liked to plan for every eventuality, she sat in her office – rather plush and comfortable, with more than ample space – and flipped through the pages of the personnel file sitting before her as cool air flowed from the vents in the ceiling. Those three auxiliary generators had General Eggemeyer so annoyed when I requisitioned them and had them installed - but times like this, he's glad that I got them. If he were actually here, that is.


Paula shook her head with slight disgust as she thought of her Commanding Officer, General Denton Eggemeyer, and how he routinely 'called in sick' or 'needed to just take the day off'... Thank God he's retiring at the end of the year. She sipped her iced lemon tea, and continued to look through the file before her.


Maurice Alexander Wyatt. Born 31 October 1964, Edwards Air Force Base, California. His mother was a reporter, refused to quit working during her pregnancy and took an assignment to interview test pilots. Got into an argument, went into premature labor and had the baby in the base hospital. Talk about destiny...


Mother – Alexandra Marina Kyle-Wyatt; currently senior executive vice president of operations for the GSN cable news network. Father – Gerald Harrison Wyatt; television writer-producer. Born into serious wealth; mother's family has old money, while his father made his own in television, with several novels off to the side. Creator of many major hits for television over the years...he's producing that teen tripe 'Kitten's Run' nighttime soap that's polluting the airwaves right now, as well as that 'Johari Four' show on that cable sci-fi channe... he did 'Agents of D.E.L.T.A.?' God, we used to love watching that show, back when I was an Agency liaison officer...


Got into the Academy with impressive recommendations – Senator Gantt of Colorado, who's also his godfather, not to mention that he's almost as rich as God in his Old Testament days- which is really saying something, considering the wealth that the Wyatts have... wasn't lying about his time at the Academy or in flight school... offered several prestige spots - was offered a slot for astronaut training... they actually wanted him to fly the shuttle, and he turned it down. The only prestige spot he ever accepted was on the Air Force marksmanship team; he was the number-two pistol shooter on the squad. Perennial attendee at many inter-service shooting competitions - won high honors six times for his pistol skills. Went to the Olympics; chosen as first alternate for the US team for the 1992 Games and won a silver medal down in Atlanta, during the '96 Games.  He didn't even try out for the Sydney Games this year ...


Did more than a bit of traveling during his time in uniform – I guess he's not too straight-arrow about using family pull for getting assignments. Kosovo, Desert Storm – Picked up the Air Force Cross in the desert for some serious air-to ground action that saved a bunch of British troops, and then joined in on the party at the Euphrates River without being invited – killed five or six tanks before the Warthog drivers shooed him out of the area for horning in on their turf. Followed that up with shooting the hell out of SAM sites and light armor in Bosnia after another flier went down, chopped the hell out of some irregulars on the ground and bought enough time for the rescue units to extract the downed pilot. After getting yelled at by his CO, he got the DFC and the Air Medal for that stunt, and nearly transferred into Warthogs 'because you seem to like shooting up armor so much!' Three confirmed kills – a Mig-29 and a Mirage in the Gulf, and another Mig-29 over Kosovo. How the hell did he manage a year in Antarctica – oh.  Meteorology major at the academy with language skills, volunteered to act as a liaison with the Japanese science team that was invited to work at McMurdo Station during the' long night'. Busy boy... and apparently, he doesn't mind asking his godfather to pull strings for assignments. Sometimes.


Married five years, two children. Jerica and Jocelyn – twin daughters. Widowed. Married to Dawn Reynolds; died 20 December 1998 at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. Died one week after giving birth to stillborn son – massive cerebral hemorrhage. Moved to Maryland and transferred to Air National Guard two months later. That's interesting... must've been listening to his buddy Wallister – they've been thick as thieves since the Academy, and wanted to be near someone close to him afterward. Cute kids...


Paula wondered, as she had for the past week, why the pilot kept coming to mind. No, not interested in him that way – he's not bad, although he's not a male model like Wallister, but there's something about him...why did I even request his file?


A broad grin appeared. Yes, I do know why. Maybe – just maybe – the Force is strong with this one. Of course, he will need to be reminded about PDA. At least he's not in uniform when he makes an ass of himself in public with Newlin like a frat bum at a kegger...


She touched the intercom button on her phone. "Master Sergeant Tran Noc?"


A perfectly cultured Southern accent responded from the speaker. "Yes, Colonel?"


"I want you to get in touch with a Lieutenant Colonel Wyatt – he's-"


"Lt. Colonel Maurice Wyatt, ma'am?"


"You know – oh, of course. You would know him." Paula remembered that her chief NCO – non-commissioned officer – also competed regularly in the inter-service shooting competitions, had served for years as an instructor for the Air Force Commando program, and was considered one of the best shooters in the Air Force.


Because of his shooting skills, he was also thoroughly loathed by the U.S. Secret Service for absolutely humiliating their three best shooters in a totally unofficial - and totally one-sided - competition on their home range two years earlier. Paula remembered that match well; she'd cleared about seven thousand dollars in bets – and had to politely ask him not to accept a re-match. The American Royal Guard was just so touchy, although they probably wouldn't have taken it so personally if he'd been an Army shooter, or a Marine, and traditionally lived with weapon in hand... "Yes. Contact him and arrange a time for him to come in."


"Looking for a new firearms instructor, ma'am?"


"I'm considering a recommendation for General Eggermeyer to bring another into the program." She paused a moment. "No offense meant, Master Sergeant."


"None taken, ma'am."


Paula thought for a moment. "Step inside, Master Sergeant."


Four seconds later, the door to her office opened to admit Senior Master Sergeant Paxton Tran Noc – a walking recruiting poster of a man, and the largest person of Vietnamese descent Paula had ever met before – who snapped to attention as soon as he'd cleared the threshold. "Reporting as ordered, ma'am."

"At ease. What do you know about Colonel Wyatt?"

The tone of her voice didn't escape the massive NCO. "On or off-the-record, ma'am?"


"Speak your mind."


"Good man. Wants to earn his way. Excellent political connections – if he'd wanted it, he'd have had stars long ago; his godfather's the senior Senator from Colorado, and word is he'll be asked to become Sec-Treas if Bush wins in November. He's had opportunities to move up, but he'd rather be with the people he likes and respects. Hell of a shot – if he went down somewhere and doesn't get banged up in the crash, he'll keep himself alive until he's pulled out. Absolutely loves the .22 Long Rifle round and the nine-millimeter– he's never been in ground combat, so he doesn't know better. The only reason he didn't make the Olympic team in '92 was because he had to use an unfamiliar gun – the slide on his weapon cracked. One-in-a-million occurrence, had to use a brand-new weapon, and he still made first alternate."


"And his silver medal?"


"There's always someone better, ma'am."


Paula caught the tone of satisfaction in his voice; the Master Sergeant hadn't lost a marksmanship competition in the last four years. The boys in the Australian SAS probably still feel obligated to pay his bar bills anytime he sets foot 'down under'... and the NRA gave him a lifetime membership after that match with the Secret Service. I'll never ask him why he's never tried out for the Olympics himself, though...


"I also understand he's an outstanding pilot – good enough to be offered some of the real flying slots."


Paula smiled. The Master Sergeant was the type to find out everything about a potential competitor, and had proven to be an invaluable source of information not listed in files. "Any idea why he left active duty and went Guard?"


"Personal stuff. He's a rich kid, and scuttlebutt is that he doesn't want his mother to have that much influence over his babies. His wife died about two years ago, and if he stayed on active duty, he'd need to let his family raise them, mostly."


"There's a problem with his family?"


"The mother. She likes to make decisions for others. She's probably still annoyed that he went to the Academy and put on the uniform instead of following the family tradition of going to the school his mother attended. She doesn't want the military life for her granddaughters – she's not anti-military, she just wants her son to act more like the blueblood he is. The family's filthy rich; the business school at some college in upstate Illinois is named for the mother's great-grandfather, and Colonel Wyatt's father put together a major endowment for his alma mater in New England... well, theirs – they met in college. He was flying for NOAA until recently – wants to stay closer to his kids, and he moved to the D.C. area because his best friend's here, as well as Secretary – I mean, Senator Gantt. Word is that his mother stays well clear of D.C. because Gantt's got more cash and pull here than she does. Still, she's set up a meteorologist's spot at the GSN bureau here for him, if he wants it... and she was lining up women to parade in front of him so the twins can have a mother. Her idea of what a mother should be."




"Seems that she's happy about the Lieutenant Colonel meeting up with Professor Newlin, from the Radio-TV department here. Apparently, one of the women his friend Wallister works with on the local GSN affiliate is also very interested in him as well – and as she's a former Miss America and has some actual worth beyond that, the mother's said to be pleased with either choice."


"That was only a couple of days ago... Master Sergeant - how do you find out these things?"


"I have my sources, ma'am."


"Carry on, Master Sergeant – wait. Contact the Lieutenant Colonel, and inform him that he'll be having lunch here tomorrow, in the dining hall. Make sure he understands that it's not a request."


"Yes, ma'am."


"Master Sergeant? While you're at it, ask him if he's up for a few rounds of small-arms practice."


"Very good, ma'am." He saluted, a knowing smile on his face, and after Paula returned the salute, spun smartly and exited the room.





Amy hung her soaked blouse out to dry, and exited the bathroom wearing a plain white t-shirt.


"Oh, that won't draw anyone's attention," Angela chuckled as she handed another bottle of cold water over the desk to Amy, being careful not to drip on the papers scattered across the desk. "So - are you going to tell me where you were this morning... and last night?"


Amy drew the bottle away from her lips. "Pardon?"


"I called you last night, about eleven – and I went around to your place before I got here, sometime before six... and that little red bullet you drive was nowhere to be seen. Couldn't find a good parking spot anywhere near the homestead?"


"Shouldn't you be in bed at eleven, anyway?"


Angela power-chugged her own bottle, making it crackle and twist as she drained it dry. "Ahhhhh. That was good. If you don't want to tell me where you were, then don't."




So, were you helping the South rise again – and again, and again?"


Amy didn't even look up from the file before her. "Don't you and that husband of yours have enough sex to keep you from being concerned about anyone else's bed?'


"Hey, if you're getting a little Southern comfort, then good on you, I say. God knows he's probably great – doing all of that auto body work, oh, he's gotta have some excellent strength and a lot of endurance..."


"Let's drop it, please?"


"Okay, okay, you weren't off with him. Okay."


"Thank you. Now, did you get the questionnaires for the Nogura family yet? I talked to Mr. Nogura last week, and we need to input all of that before we-"


"So, then, were you off 'being all you could be?"




"I mean, nobody cares, really, but, you know, if you weren't off with Bo Duke, was it because, like - did you and Paula, well, finally, I don't know, like, practice for the Mile High Club?"


"But, Angela – I thought you were happy with your tripod," Amy said, flashing her a grin that, nevertheless, held just a tough of annoyance within.


"Don't get offended. It's just that, well, Sammi's a bit jealous by all the time that you two spend together – I know that you two are really good friends – but the less-evolved, and more gossip-oriented types do wonder..."


"First – Paula and I were friends before Sammi was a thought. Friends. Second, the other women should be quiet before I come and take their men – that's what they're really worried about," Amy pointed out as she opened a desk drawer. "I'll wrap my legs around one of those guys if I wanted, and he'd never want me to let - Excuse me. Where are my 'Suzy Q's'?"


"Trying to get off the subject?"


"We're talking snack cakes now – sex rumors take a back seat to that. Right now, I just wanted something to put into my mouth –" She threw a searing glance at Angela as the Asian woman cackled. "-And I had a box of 'Suzy Q's in this drawer. Who ate them?"


"Well, the grad assistants came in early. They were a bit hungry, and they were working hard-"


"You let them eat my cakes. Not only are you gossiping about me sleeping with my best friend – which didn't happen – but you let the 'unwashed villagers' eat my cakes."


'Amy, they really hate it when you call them that," Angela said flatly. "I know you only slip and do it when you're mad, but still... also, I'm not saying that about you."


Well, then... okay," Amy said, easing back into her chair. "About my cakes-"


"Oh, sure, she might slip up and hop into bed with you if something really bad happened to her, or if she was trying to win a huge bet, but just because she was into you personally – nah, that's not happening."


Amy's eyes were so wide, they seemed to take up all of the space behind her glasses. "What... did you just say?"


"I mean, you screw up the relationships you have with normal guys – no way you'd have a thing going with a woman who's going to be in the history books someday..." Angela reached into the cooler, and tossed Amy a cold slice of sweet potato pie. "She's not the type to advertise, but have you seen some of the types she's pulled in? I don't go that way, but I'd jump at some of them for the connections alone! Then, there's the fact that she's here teaching full-time only because she didn't want to work in the Clinton White House, and God, some of the places she's been..."


Angela unwrapped a slice of pie for herself, and dug in as Amy watched her with her mouth hanging open. "I mean, it's like Paula's right out of some 'Indiana Jones' movie, and you – you're like... the sidekick. Granted, Zena and Gabrielle got together, but still, usually, the hero never gets together with the sidekick – unless the sidekick was evil but saw the error of his or her ways, came over to the good guys' side but still got flak from people for the bad stuff he or she did... they'd do a special episode where the sidekick gets beat down badly, but saves the world by themselves and that's when the hero realizes that there's something more there..."


"You watch entirely too much TV."


"I know. That's why the ball-and-chain bought me an exercise bike – he said that if I'm going to watch TV so much, I might as well do something constructive while I'm at it. I rode six miles last night while I watched this week's 'Voyager-"


"If you must watch science fiction on television, at least you could watch the good stuff, like that 'Babylon 5'," Amy said, thoroughly miffed by now. "Sidekick..."


"Hey, you've got a doctorate, and Paula's a military action-type – as the sidekick, you'd be expected to be smarter."


Oh, if only this weren't a one hundred-percent research position... to have you TA all of the lab sessions on your own for a week or two, right about now...


"On to bigger and more annoying – what about the pilot?"


Amy turned slowly in her chair; Angela stayed seated only because she KNEW she could outrun Amy. "What pilot...?"


"So, spill! Jeannie - you know, Professor Newlin's TA with the big nose - she said that the guy who does news for Channel Nineteen was over this way last Wednesday along with this tall, good-looking red-haired guy looking for Paula. The story is that he found you first, and the two of you had words."


"You know I don't like gossip."


A twinkle in her eye, Angela lifted the bullhorn into view and put it to her lips. "Yes, I know."


She couldn't help but chuckle at the way Amy turned a bright red. "I guess that means the rest of the story's true..."


Her face burning, Amy refused to ask Angela what she meant by that, even though it meant that the next half-hour was punctuated with constant jabs and prods about the tall pilot - was he at least cute? Did he really call you 'pint-size'? Back to the cute part - did you know that he and Professor Newlin aren't dating - it seems that they're just being friendly and hanging out a lot? Yeah, I know – they're just getting comfortable with each other before they start bumping uglies, because a man that cute is not going to go without, especially since Professor Newlin doesn't like going without, either... I heard that he's rich - really rich - and he's so very single... he lost his wife about just a couple of years ago, and apparently he's being pushed back out into the dating pool by his friends - maybe he's got a strange way of meeting women, or he just makes a horrible first impression that you have to get past-


"Amy, what are you about to do with that piece of sweet potato pie - oh, come on, my friend Danielle made that last night, and that's the last piece-"




"Oh, very mature, Doctor Barksdale."






"So, how are things with the lovely Professor Newlin?"


"Hey, regardless of the warp-speed rumor mill in this town, nothing happened with Cheryl. We've gone to a couple of places-"


"You can't even call it 'a date', can you?"  Lyle Wallister shook his head, and turned back to his desk as Maurice Wyatt leaned against the door of Lyle's office. "I've got something actually important to deal with, so if you're going to have some fun with Cheryl, get to it!"


"What's wrong, Lyle?"


Lyle lifted up his head, his eyes narrowing. "Every now and then, you sound just like your mother. Surprisingly, this is not one of the times I think of that as a bad thing."


Reese moved over to the desk, and looked at the files that Lyle was flipping through. "My cousin's about to get reamed by some of the other members of the family. He's been taking care of my great-aunt and –uncle; when she passed away, the ones who never helped to care for them – they're both elderly and disabled, my great-uncle's a double-amputee – started trying to push him to the side and saying how he's just been using them. They're even starting to set up to take the house, my great-uncle's car and all of their assets away from him, even though everyone knows he's disabled himself and has been taking care of them for free for the past seven years."


"Never asked for anything?"


"You should see his clothes," Lyle sighed. "Ever read 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban?"


"The kids' book that came out last year, English lady that wrote it? Jeez, people were making a fuss about it. What's it about?"


"Don't worry. You've got twin girls who're learning to read, so you'll learn soon enough. Anyway, my cousin dresses like Professor Lupin. Too proud to ask my aunt for money for new clothes, and the uncle's an ass, anyway. Rolls around in a powered wheelchair, dresses like he's going to the 'Players' Ball', and he can't spare the money to help the person who helps keep his petty old butt out of a nursing home."


"I suppose you'd like me to recommend a lawyer-"


"No. I want you to ask your mother to recommend one of her lawyer friends. I want my cousin to get a break, and the rest of them to feel what it's like when someone breaks their legal foot off in their-"


"Oh, hello," a soft, dainty voice exuded from the other side of the door, and both men looked up to see a spectacularly beautiful woman standing there. "Lyle, I wanted to ask you if you wanted to join us for the morning news gaggle at the ..."


Gail Timmes seemed to float across the floor, and both men had to remember to breathe as the young woman with the billowing masses of strawberry-blonde hair moved across the room to stop inches away from Reese. "I'm Gail – I work with Lyle. He's mentioned you several times, and I've really wanted to meet you..."


"Uh, yes, I, well, it's nice to meet you, too," Reese managed to speak, taking the offered hand from the woman a full foot shorter. "He's mentioned, ah, you, too."


"Well, don't worry – I don't grow fangs and drain people of their blood until after the ten o'clock broadcast finishes up," she said, not letting go of his hand as she looked up with huge, sparkling eyes of jade. "You fly planes like he does, don't you?"


"Yes, we just got back from Europe a few days ago."


"Maybe you could tell me about it sometimes... I usually get every other Thursday off, and my weekends are free... do you like to swim?"


An image of the shapely, petite redhead in a swimsuit filled his mind, and he nodded.  "I can do a few laps-"


"I've got a membership at the Valley Country Club; they have an Olympic-sized pool, and I go there four times a week to swim for an hour or two. It's great exercise, and I don't have to hear the constant clanging of barbells and other exercise equipment." Her hand exerted just the slightest bit of pressure on Reese's hand. "I can invite a friend to come along..."


Lyle shook his head in annoyance and dropped his eyes back to his files, missing the way Reese gave Gail an overt once-over, and the way her skin flushed warmly as she fixed her eyes upon his. "I'll be there later today, about four – I'm taking half a personal day today, anyway..."


"Then please take yourself and your hair out of my office and go boost the ratings by smiling on camera somewhere."


The two redheads looked over at Lyle, and then realized they were holding hands. "Well, I do need to get back to work-"


"Well, give my friend his paws back and tell them I'm on my way out. He can run his eyes all over you later."


Gail blushed fiercely at the sharp comment, and let her hands slip from Reese's before she darted towards the door and safety. "Want to tell me what that was all about?"


Lyle looked up at Reese's scowl without flinching. "Yes. It's about her earning her spot at this station through talent and hard work, not because she's a pretty girl with great tits, a tiara and enough hair for four women. I've dealt with enough women who got ahead because they're pretty girls and someone said, 'We need women here doing this.' What happened to 'We need the best people available doing this, and if we get the best, it doesn't matter who or what they are?"


"Spoken like a true former Thunderbird."


"Oh, shut up. If you'd applied for a slot, you'd probably have gotten mine." Lyle shuffled the loose papers on his desk into a manila folder. "I can't believe that – I'd have told you to 'get a room', but with your sick sense of humor, you'd have bought a hotel!"


"Okay, she – Gail – I mean, yes, she's attractive –"


"MAN-WHORE." Lyle laughed. 'My God, almost every time you meet a woman, she all but falls drooling over you, and if you even show a remote interest, they're walking on clouds and their clothes start peeling away on their own – Remember that AP photographer from St. Louis – Kathy? Man-whore."


"First, I noticed that your mouth was hanging open when she walked in the room-"


"She caught me off-guard – the way she looks, she'd make the Pope pop a chubbie if he just ran up on her unexpectedly!"


"Second - You, lecturing me about the way I comport myself when it comes to women? Please!"


"First Lieutenant Jamie Sands. Jet-black hair in a pixie cut, slinky, bright blue eyes, your height, her breaking down in the cafeteria and coming over to cry on your shoulder even though there were God knows how many other people there. Want me to keep going?"


Reese visibly deflated, and Lyle laughed in victory. "See? Hell, the only woman that hasn't just drooled at your entry into her field of vision is that little auburn-haired fireball who was about to put you in check when Colonel Trainor-" Reese turned, startled, at the name of the officer who had dressed them down. "What – you forgot her name? See, this is what being the heir to the freaking U.S. Mint's Northwest office does to you – you don't even worry about a superior officer who can turn you into a putty stain, let alone what she can do to your career! Anyway, the hot little professor was about to put you in detention, boy! You should thank Colonel Trainor for saving your life!"


Lyle saw his friend's face scrunch up in a very familiar way. "What are you trying to remember?"


"What you said... the professor I insulted-"


"Love what you did with the bullhorn. I might get one for the nest staff meeting I have to sit in with the Red Menace."


"- What was her name?"


"Gail – you were just about to jump her right in front of me."


"No... the one I was rude to."


"Oh, no. We are not about to get into that can of worms again."


"You just reminded me – I really need to-"


"Let it go." The smaller man, straightened his tie, and sat back in his chair. "Every time you get it in your head that you've done something wrong, off we go on another Holy Crusade to that you can do penance for your supposed infraction – and don't even bother telling me that I don't have to get involved or help, because I've actually saved your life how many times?"


"Three times."


"FIVE. You always forget that Bestard-Ribas guy from Catalonia and his sister – and don't make me have you tell the mirror story again..."


"I didn't make any comments when you slipped off with Dawn's sister and that warrant officer from Kiefer's ground crew at the reception... the three of you ruined that hotel room."


"No, we broke it in right. That's the trouble with you. Too damn straight-laced – most of the time – to appreciate the benefits of a good threesome."


Lyle stood up; Reese shook his head, knowing what was coming... "Tell you what I'm gonna do. If you want, I'll set it up so that Gail sticks around after the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon this weekend. The station always has a big, crazy party at the Valley Country Club afterward, and trust me - you'll have plenty of opportunity to escort her over to one of the executive cottages during. Now, since you'll have the chance to invite Cheryl – who is a very agreeable lady with a penchant for experimentation, I should inform you – things could get interesting. Very interesting."




"Gail wants to spend time with you, and she'll be willing to go along with anything you suggest..."


"Must you be a pig?"


"Oink, oink, brother. Oink, oink."


He smiled. Great. Hit the 'grand pervert' button, and he stops thinking about going off on a quest to make amends for insulting Dr. Amy Barksdale. That'll take a few months out of his life, annoying everyone – including her – as he tries to say 'I'm sorry for telling you the truth about yourself.'  At least he'll have fun with one of these ladies...


That Barksdale woman would skin him alive, and mail his pelt to his mother. Then, the great Alexandra Kyle-Wyatt would have D.C. nuked in retaliation, and strap me to the bomb because I didn't stop her precious cub from going to see the woman.


One more thing. If this doesn't keep him from slipping back into 'gallant knight mode', nothing will...


"While you're thinking about it – here's a shot of Gail from earlier this summer, during a big water fight in the cafeteria here. Notice how – or what she doesn't wear, judging from the way her blouse clings to her after taking a direct hit with a large glass of ice water... Spectacular definition, wouldn't you agree?"


"Why do you have this photo?"


"Morale booster. God, I love the expensive French lingerie. You will be here this Saturday, so you can – ah, why spoil the surprise?"


"What do you have planned?"


"Nothing bad, illegal, immoral, embarrassing – and I can actually tell you that you'll be helping out a lot with getting people to donate money for MD research!"


"I'd tell you 'no' on general principle, but that would make it worse for me at the end of your scam, wouldn't it?"


"I've never run a 'scam' in my entire life. I simply find unusual opportunities for personal gain," Lyle said. "Now that you've promised, and you have that wonderful thing about keeping your word, well – do you still have the evening suit with the white jacket?"


Reese drew back and was about to comment, but the trilling of the desk phone replaced his first word.


"Wallister." He listened for a few moments, and then handed the receiver to Reese as if it was a cobra and he was an evil snake charmer. "It's your mommy."


"Tell her I'm not here."


"Okay. Mrs. Wyatt – Kyle told me to tell you he's not here."


Reese's head dropped in surrender, and he held out his hand for the phone. "I'll let you have some privacy for the weekly emasculation of your masculinity," Lyle said, reaching for a pair of yellow legal pads. "I'll be back in a half-hour. I'll bring a mop and bucket."


Cackling, Lyle all but skipped out of his office, and Reese put the receiver to his ear and dropped into a chair. "Hello, Mom."


"I'll save the angry comments for later, Maurice," the clipped, cool tone of Alexandra Kyle-Wyatt came from the phone. "Have you had your interview for the meteorologist's position yet?"


"No, Mom – that's later today. I'm just waiting in Lyle's office..."


"I understand that you're seeing a professor from Tennyson University now."


"You know, Mom, you could let me tell you that I'm dating or not dating, or just enjoying someone's company..."


"Maurice – you need someone in your life, and your girls need a mother."


Reese let a hint of a smile appear. "Mom... are you saying that you don't want the lab rats to stay with you?"


"I really wish you would stop using that term to describe my granddaughters. You know that I love having Jerica and Jocelyn here for the summer. They just love Mrs. Tarigama, and Jocelyn constantly tries to mimic her and Mr. Tarigama when they do their morning exercises..."


"She's three, Mom. She tries to imitate everything she sees."


"Not like this. I think she's actually interested in the martial arts. Jerica loves her puppies, and dressing up – you know that when the girls come back to Georgetown with Mrs. Tarigama, they'll probably bring a little friend with them."


"Mom, you know that I don't want the girls to have a pet until they're a bit older – at least eight or nine..."


"Well, Jerica's constantly asking if her daddy will let her bring one home..."


"Well, her Nana's going to tell her that she can play with them all she wants when she comes to visit for Christmas holiday, Mom. It wouldn't be fair for Mrs. Tarigama to clean up after a puppy and help me with the rats."


"Well, if things go well with your new friend, you'll have help with wrapping the girls' presents. I understand Cheryl's a professor of communications, and she's very active in the community... you know, she used to date Lyle, but they're still friends. That means she's able to get past little things and see the big picture..."


"Are you keeping track of me again, Mom?"


"Honey, we've had this conversation before. I'm concerned for you. You didn't take what happened with Dawn well; I want you to be happy again." A touch of solid concern came through the phone. "Maurice, you haven't really been happy since you lost her. I know that you still miss her –that's why you haven't really tried to have a relationship of any kind with anyone since Dawn died."


Reese took a cool glance towards the wall, to where a framed WRAM News Team poster hung, and his eyes narrowed as he looked at a smiling Lyle. "I think someone talks way too much."


"Someone there cares about what happens to you. Maurice, you don't even try to get close to any woman, and it's not good for you to be alone. Do you want your babies to know just how lonely you are?"


That comment stuck Reese a bit deeper than he allowed his voice to show. "I am not lonely."


"You need someone in your life, Maurice. It's not something that you should feel ashamed of. You should go out and find a woman, but I want you to meet the right woman – someone who won't try to take advantage of you, but who'll also be strong enough to deal with what's coming later in your life. Your father won't be around forever-"


"-And you'll only be able to reach out to us through the Force every once in a while, after you shuffle off the mortal coil."


"Maurice." A moment's pause. "You know what's waiting for you and the girls once your father and I are gone. You'll have the Tarigamas, Lyle will always be in your corner, and your... godfather... will be there for you, but you need a wife. Someone that you can confide in, someone who'll be there to support you and stand with you, the way your father and I have all these years. Despite what you've been trying to do in terms of keeping a proper life for the girls any yourself, that uniform you wear isn't going to be a substitute for a wife, or a replacement for the one you've lost."


A continent away, Alexandra sat at a simple table outdoors, and stopped typing at her laptop computer. The fifty-something woman, quite attractive and fit for a woman of her age, stopped typing and looked at the speakerphone. "Now, if you ever tell your father I said this, I'll deny it and give your island to one of your cousins – but if it wasn't for your father, I'd never have gotten anywhere nearly as far in the industry as I have. He's put up with so much that no man should have to, especially with my side of the family... I'm actually surprised that he stayed with me on occasion, and didn't try to take you with him. He loves me, Maurice; I want you to have someone who loves you just as much."


She looked over her shoulder, and saw a tall, bald, heavily bearded man about her age look up from a kitchen table on the other side of a set of glass doors; he smiled at her as he dangled a slice of kiwi fruit over a bouncing, golden-haired tot in a chair, not noticing as her identical twin climbed across the table and swiped the kiwi. "I want you to be able to know that you can love her as much as I love your father. I don't want you to ever doubt that she'll be there for you, and it's because she wants you. Nothing else."


On the other side of the country, Maurice listened silently. His mother was definitely not an emotional person, certainly not demonstrative, so when she was, it was all the more special.


"Don't worry, Mom – if nothing else, Lyle will keep the gold diggers away."


"Along those lines – if you happened to go out with that Gail girl and found that you two were... somewhat compatible, it wouldn't exactly break my heart, either. Despite Lyle's professional distaste for her, she's a good young woman... and since she's in her early twenties, the two of you'll be able to give your girls plenty of brothers and sisters."


"Mom, you just want more grandchildren to spoil rotten," he commented, keeping surprise out of his voice. How the hell did she know about that?


"She's also smarter than she lets on... and don't tell me that you don't find her attractive. You always did have a fondness for the tiny, demure, overly feminine redheads - well, demure once it comes to-"


"MOM! I am NOT having this conversation with you!"


"Maurice. Do you really think that women don't talk, and things get back to me anyway?"


"I am not hearing this. I'm going to be thirty-six come Halloween, and conversations like this can still scar me deeply. Do you not understand that, Mother?"


A sigh. "Maurice. It's not as if we didn't have this conversation with you when you were a teenager-"


"I remember. The morning of my seventeenth birthday. Breakfast has never been the same since. Blueberry pancakes, orange juice, potatoes O'Brien, the keys to a station wagon, an economy-size box of condoms... and 'the lecture.' I was so shaky afterwards that I couldn't drive myself to school – Mrs. Tarigama drove me."


"I know. I asked her to."


A ripple of shock suddenly ran through Maurice, as he remembered what almost happened later that afternoon, after he returned home and went to retrieve his car keys...


"Wait a minute. You knew... you knew-"


"Don't be silly, honey, and don't be a prude. Most boys have no idea whatsoever of what they're doing when their first time comes around, and the embarrassment stays with them for a long while. I decided that I didn't want that for you. Besides, if a woman is patient and understanding with you and helps you through your first time, she demystifies sex. It really isn't such a big thing, after all... pun certainly intended... and besides, this is a good thing for the young man, and all of the following women that he'll become intimate with."


Silence. "Besides, I also know what happened two weeks later, when your father was down with the flu and I was stuck in that freak snowstorm in New England."


Reese sat back, stunned. "I was birthed by the HAL 9000."


"That would be the SAL 9000, Maurice. I've had to sit through both of those films with your father, too. Honey, she's been with us since you were ten. It wasn't as if someone forced her, or even paid her; she understood that this was an experience that you needed to have – and really, isn't it more special when it was someone you cared about, and who cared about you?"


"Mom – sometimes you scare me more than flying through a Class Five hurricane."


"I should. I can do far more damage, and affect far more people. You are not to treat Mrs. Tarigama any differently now, Maurice. In many ways, she's been like a wife to you all along."


"I'm surprised that you didn't try to marry me off to her, Mom."


"Don't be silly, son. You're not her type. Have a nice day, and give my best to Lyle."


"Oh, yeah, that reminds me – Lyle wanted me to ask you if you could recommend a lawyer for him. A cousin of his is getting screwed over by his other relatives, and he needs some help from someone who knows their way around a will. He also asked for someone who'd leave an impression on the other relatives."


"He actually asked you to ask me? That's so charming... Tell him I'll have a friend of mine give him a call. The problems should be dealt with within the week."


"Thank you, Mom."


"Anything I can do to help, Maurice. I'll be taking the girls to the orchard today, so they'll have plenty to tell you about when you call for them tonight."


"Tell my rats I love them. 'Bye, Mom."


Reese placed the phone in its cradle, and let his head fall forward on the desk. "I so need a lot of drink..."


The sound of his cell phone going off brought Reese's head up. "Okay, new number," he thought aloud as he hit the talk button. "Hello...?"


"Lieutenant Colonel Wyatt?"


Reese immediately focused his attention on the familiar voice. "Master Sergeant Tran Noc...?"


"Good morning, sir. I'm contacting you on behalf of Colonel Paula Trainor. She's the Assistant Dean at the College of Military Sciences at Tennyson University."


The testicle-retracting sensation that a pilot usually feels when his plane's 'missile warning' alert goes off started to coil inside Reese's midsection. Oh, hell – there goes my career... never mind what Lyle thinks, I want to wear the uniform... all this for a little princess with a rude mouth...


"Is there something I can help you with?"


The Master Sergeant's voice held no clues as he spoke. "The colonel has asked for you to report to her office in the Military Technologies Annex at Tennyson University tomorrow morning. She'll expect you at eleven-thirty, and you'll be having lunch in the dining hall immediately afterward."


"Thank you very much, Master Sergeant."


"I have also been instructed to extend to you an invitation to our marksmanship range."


Reese suddenly sat VERY straight in his chair. Getting the chance to shoot against the Master Sergeant was an honor that most Olympic-level and world-class shooters would literally wait their entire careers for, and most in vain. Everyone in the world of shooting sports had heard of the Master Sergeant and his match against the Secret Service shooters, and for the opportunity to shoot against him to just fall out of the sky at his feet...


"I am at your disposal, Master Sergeant."


"Very good, sir. Tennyson University. Oh-eight hundred tomorrow at the MTA, if you please." The Master Sergeant had learned through experience how to give directions to officers.


The connection broke, and Reese suddenly felt a world better about himself.




"You know, if you'd just listen to me, your world would become a whole lot easier," Paula said, struggling not to laugh as she ran her finger around the top of her glass of iced tea. "You should just decide that your assistant needs some relief from the heat, send her home, and because you'll need help with your work, shut down the office until the power and air conditioners are back up and running over there. At the very least, you should get a couple of generators and a small air conditioner, set up the generators down the hall, and cool off your office."


"Unlike someone who has access to the government's purse, we don't have that much money."


"Hey, I can let you guys borrow one of the small generator trucks, and a couple of cute cadets who know how to hook things up and get them running."


"No, thanks."


"Hey, it counts as 'community service' – we get to write it off. Speaking of 'community service', what are you doing for Labor Day?"


"Hadn't thought of it."


"Well, being the wonderful person I am, I am inviting you over to my tiny abode, along with the other members of our coven, for the traditional Labor Day barbeque! We'll grill, drink girly-girl beverages, make Angela's husband feel uncomfortable, see if Sharon likes older or younger men more, and generally act silly for the day."


Over in her office, Amy peeled herself away from her chair and grimaced at the sound. "Oh, gross. I'm almost tempted to take you up on your offer. I had to unstick myself from this chair, and I'm sweating so much that it looks like someone poured water all over me! Ugh... this stupid t-shirt is all clingy..."


A devilish smile crossed Paula's face before she spoke. "Go on..."


Amy scowled at the phone. "Oh, very funny, Paula. It's almost a hundred degrees outside, and you want to make jokes."


"When you come over on Saturday, remember to wear that shirt."


"Is this going to be another one of your transparent attempts to set me up on a blind date?"


"Define 'transparent..."




"Oh, shut up. You're coming, and you'll have a good time. I promise that I won't set you up on a blind date."


"Well... okay, then."


"We'll have fun watching that waiter and the Ambassador's bodyguard snarl at each other over which one' going to get to spend time around Sharon. You remember that sophomore who did our table - the night of your encounter with the pilot?"                          


"I remember."


"Well, she was certainly interested in all of the services he could provide, and I talked to Ethan Harris – you know, Sharon's friend from the British Embassy? Well, he's actually more interested in her than in meeting you. Apparently, he's got a thing for 'Bond girl'- type blondes, and Sharon's very high on the list of things he wants to do in this lifetime. The fact that she shoots well also raises her stock with him. Of course, if he meets you, the fact that you're a hot, yet neurotic little redhead who likes sports cars will catch his attention. Hey... you're intelligent, into fast cars, and pretty mouthy – you'd make a good 'Bond girl', too!"


"You know, it's really hard to accept the existence of a higher power when certain people aren't struck by lightning bolts from a clear blue sky..."


"In the meanwhile, just get out of there and let the work wait a day! Go get a cold drink somewhere, and relax a bit in someone's AC."


Amy looked around, and grimaced at the way Angela's head was nodding comedically; she had heard every word of the conversation. "Well... it's not a bad idea."


"Good. I'd invite you over here, but some of us get to work in a comfortable area. You know what, though – you should get one of those ice statues and a fan, and let it blow through the office. That should cool everyone off."


"If I had one of those ice statues, I can think of what shape it would be in, and you know where I'd stick it..."


"Don't talk about your fantasies over the phone. Write them down and send them to Cinemax, so they can make dirty shows about it. Ta!"


Amy barely removed her hand from the phone before she found herself being dragged out of the office by Angela. "First round's on me!"





Ten minutes later, Amy and Angela were sitting in a booth just below an air vent, their hair blowing slightly from the artificial breeze as they sipped from cold mugs of Czechvar beer. "Yeah, now... that's good..."


"You know, that beer's not going anywhere," Amy mused as she watched half of the contents of Angela's mug disappear without an audible gulp. "Keg Queen back in school, hmn?"


"Here's the deal – you don't bring up my past of being a wanton woman in college, and I don't go through your 'Melrose Place' type of dating."


"I don't-"


"Sarcasm," Angela said, and finished off her beer as Amy flushed crimson. "You couldn't be on 'Melrose Place' even in your dreams. Say, are we still going to get to fly out to interview Mr. Nogura and his family next month?"


"Depends on how soon they release the fall appropriations... should have been given the go for those funds a month ago."


"Can we get new laptop computers once the money comes in?"


"We can get one. ONE. Do you know how much a good laptop costs?"


"Are you going to tell me where you were last night and this morning?"


"Order another beer."


"Oh, you were out catting around, hmn? Little Amy's getting all wild..."


"If you really have to know..."


"I do – I do!"


"I just went driving around. Nothing special, no illicit encounters, no fantasies brought to life in the dark of a theatre balcony or a cab's backseat. Okay?"


"Only because I know you're not the type to just go off and do something wild, no matter how you present yourself to your nieces." Angela sniffled as she grasped the handle of the fresh mug of beer set before her. "I was thinking that if we have the grad assistants handle all of the..."


Amy was already lost in thought as she sipped her beer, and watched the couple off to one side of the bar as they talked to their friends in a large booth; the woman lay her head against her man's shoulder, looking all too comfortable as he looked at her, and they shared a soft glance meant for them alone...


I remember when Anton and I would go places, and it felt so good just to feel his body pressing against my own... to feel someone else warm against me, to have him look at me and smile at me...


"Earth to Amy... hey, Amy...?"


"Tell me about how you and your husband met," she blurted out suddenly.


"That again?"


"I need a good laugh."


"You must," Angela agreed. "So here I am, back in college - senior year, and Halloween's coming. My housemate and I go out as the pimp and prostitute from 'Full Metal Jacket' – I dress up as the pimp, and he goes as the hooker. We get to the party and we're a hit, when here comes

my soon-to-be, dressed up in full 'Nam-era combat gear, including the helmet with 'Born To Kill' on it and a peace sign on his lapel. He comes up, and we're doing the 'Too beaucoup!' scene from the movie – and he actually whips it out to show his 'fine example of Alabama blacksnake'!"


Amy smiled as she watched the look on her associate's face. "They're all so scandalized, they throw all three of us out of the sorority house! He offers us a ride back to our house, several good hot cups of hard apple cider and cinnamon sticks help us pass the time as we talk for the next six hours, and I'm married to him a month after I graduate. He takes a six-figure job here in D.C. as a lobbyist in the firm he's been interning and doing summer work since his freshman year, which gives me the freedom to work in your office towards my doctorate without having to worry about money."


Angela took a sip of beer. "What's so funny about that, anyway?"


"Oh, that you managed to make it work... that it all came together for you..."


Recognizing the look coming across Amy's face, Angela blurted out, "Hey, Amy!  'Why seals can't do the Macarena!" She held up her hands, fingers pressed together. "Flippers."


Bouncing in her seat, with several other bar patrons watching out of curiosity, Angela hummed the 'Macarena' as she put one hand out in front of her, palm down, and then the other; the first hand reversed, going palm up, followed by the other – and then, her head dropped on the table in front of her with a loud THUNCK!


Amy laughed in spite of herself, and the others laughed as Angela lifted her head up and rubbed her forehead slightly. "Thank you – the next show will be after I get medication! Ah... you're already here!"


She put the mug of beer against her head, and Amy kept laughing. "Now, you buy the next round."





Reese winced as a heavy mass of bird droppings splattered across his left shoulder and chest. "Oh... damn..."


Lyle laughed as Reese took his jacket off, and then started to unbutton his shirt. "What the hell's so funny?"


"Aren't you glad elephants don't fly?"


In spite of himself, Reese smiled, and then looked at his suit jacket. "I really liked his one."


"Buy yourself a new one." He looked up as the sun dimmed, and saw a single large, puffy cloud pass overhead. "Shame that's the only one in the sky. We could use some rain."


"No rain for another three or four days – there's a slow-moving storm front out over the Plains that should hit the D.C. area late Friday, early Saturday," Reese said, folding his jacket up. "People aren't going to be happy if their Labor Day picnics get rained out – we're looking at some serious thunderstorms and a lot of rain... a lot."


"Really? You can get rained in at the station with Rapunzel Newsgirl Barbie, and make some pocket change as a guest weatherman for the station."


"Don't you have a weather team at the station already?"


"Not with anybody who actually knows the job and a billion-dollar inheritance," Lyle smiled. "Hell, you're practically royalty – come on. Give the kids a show. Let them see a blueblood that's actually worth knowing."


Reese stopped, and smiled at his friend. "That was actually a compliment."


"Yeah? Well, you can actually buy me a drink, since I'm taking the day off as comp time for having to work the first half of the Labor Day telethon this weekend. I'll drink, you can play designated driver, and I'll also laugh at you being the target of a successful bombing run."


"You know I'm very effective as anti-air."


"Yeah, I know that you could shoot a hummingbird out of the sky – but it's not your way. You're such a sensitive guy..."


Reese's response made a passing woman glance away, her face stretched in disapproval. "Good. You're in a mood to be a jerk. Good. We'll call a cab instead. This is the place. You can also call someone to come and get your flak jacket and that shirt... got some streaks of bird doo on that, too..."




"At least it's an authentic cheap island-motif bar," Reese said, gnawing on a large chunk of grilled pineapple from his kabob. "The food's good, too."


"I see you're providing additional entertainment for the masses," Lyle said as he finished off a large steak fry. He watched two women and a man wearing a neon purple silk shirt that was entirely too loud give Reese – wearing his slacks and just his t-shirt – glances that said all one needed to know. "I've been coming here since I started at WRAM; the lunch specials rock, and it's more of a local bar, so you get a nice mix of folks without getting too trendy or cliquish."


He took a long pull from his mug. "Besides – fifty-cent beer during happy hour? Can't beat that!"


"You could if you had taste."


"Beer snob."


"I am not."


"One bad experience with 'the Beast' at the Academy, and you swear off the lesser beers altogether."


"Can I have those fries?"


"Order some more. Get me some, too, and a couple of those kabobs."


Reese snorted, and went over to the bar. "Could I get two more orders of steak fries, two orders of the mini-kabobs, and another Samuel Adams?"


As the bartender made change, Reese turned and glanced around the bar, taking a moment to look over the people... his eyes passed over a cute Asian woman... nice rack – could stand to lose a few pounds, but we've all been there, right? – A wedding ring, so that's a no-fly zone... cute friend...


The cur in him rising up, Reese took a nice, long look at the Asian woman's friend... auburn hair – okay, Mom, I do like redheads – nice form... really nice little form, and those are great legs... hmmn, very nice...


Over in the booth, Angela caught the way Reese was giving Amy the once over – hard to miss, actually. "I don't want you to react the way you usually do, so promise me you'll act like a researcher when I tell you something," she said, glancing again at Reese. "Dispassionate. You've got an admirer at the bar. A very cute admirer – and for some reason, he's only wearing his pants and a t-shirt. I have no objections."


"Not interested. It's too damned hot to be playing those games today."


"Okay, but if I wasn't married – I would so do things to that man..." Angela nudged Amy. "Just take a look at him..."


Reese turned to get his beer just as Amy looked his way, and a tiny smile crossed her face as she took his appearance in. "Well, he is... fit," she said, tossing a shameless grin back to Angela. "Nice watch, too – someone's got a bit of money to spend... and look, they spent some of it on their clothes." Amy shrugged. "He's gay."


"Are you familiar with the phrase 'not in this lifetime?' From the way he looked you over - if he's gay, he is seriously fighting it!"


"Straight men don't dress that well."


"Reality check. This is D.C. – men dress like models and actors here, so they can impress everyone with how good they look!"


"Didn't he come in with some guy?"


"Yeah, Black guy – oh, that's the news anchor from Channel Nineteen that he came in with! Now I know he's not gay – that guy's KNOWN for chasing women! They're probably friends – why don't you go on up to the bar and ask him?"




"Go get me another beer, and ask him about his friend!"


"You go!"


"Why are you acting like we're both fourteen years old and looking at the cute new boy in school, trying to figure out how to go talk to him? Go!"


Amy rubbed the side of her rump where Angela's foot had helped to move her out of her side of the booth, and stared tiny but sharp blades at her friend before starting up to the bar. "Another Czechvar, please," she said to the bartender, turning slowly to face the man in the T-shirt and slacks... the view does get better as you get closer... and go higher... it's a really nice-



Oh. Look who it is.



Christmas came early this year.



Over in his booth, Lyle raised his glass to his lips and froze in mid-drink as he saw his friend unaware of the hellspawn besides him, blissfully ignorant of the dark look flowing across Amy's face. "Oh, hell, somebody upstairs has a sense of humor," he said, setting his glass down as he started out of his booth – but forgot to stand up, tripped over the table base and fell face-first to the floor!


"Lyle? What the hell's the-" He focus immediately shifted from his friend peeling himself off the floor to the auburn-haired volcanic event right before him... and he recognized all the signs of an imminent eruption.


"Bartender... a shot of Glenmorangie – right now."


The fifty in his hand disappeared immediately, replaced by a shot of liquor, and he downed it quickly before he turned back to face an image of primal anger.


"I suppose that there's not a single thing that I can say or do that'll in any way make up for what I said to you before, is there?"


"I believe the odds of that would be calculated in the 'infinite' range."


Reese shrugged, and Amy's soul seemed to catch fire as she realized that he was openly ogling her. You son-of-a-bitch. You've got a lot of nerve looking at me like that – don't you realize that I'll remove your need to use urinals... and that's just to start...


"Okay... then I might as well die happy." He let his breath out in a whistle. "Lean forward and close your eyes."


Amy was suddenly confused. "What?"


"Lean forward, and close your eyes."




"Last request."


Out of morbid curiosity, Amy leaned forward, closed her eyes, and Reese dropped his head and kissed her.


The kiss totally caught Amy off-guard. Without realizing it, she suddenly found herself kissing Reese back, who also found himself putting much more into that kiss than he had ever meant to, easily as much as Amy was...


How the hell did this happen? Why is this happening-?


Oh, God, it's that Barksdale thing again, a thought swam from the far reaches of Amy's mind as she pulled Reese in hard against herself, feeling his hands running over her, the way he had her pressed against the bar as their embrace grew more intense...


Stop it... stop it... STOP IT!


She somehow managed to pull herself away from Reese, totally flushed and more than a little aroused from their kiss. I really, really hate being a Barksdale woman sometimes...


Watching the sudden spectacle, Angela's eyes were shining with mirth; finally rising from the floor, Lyle's mouth was wide in disbelief as he saw the two move apart, and a short, profoundly profane curse slipped from his mouth, shocking the waitress who had stopped directly behind him.


"Ah... okay... I was just- Okay. You can kill me now."


Amy's mind raced as she tried to come up with something to say, but all she could think of was...


"No... I, I guess... it wasn't as if I pulled away right off... I could have..."


Reese knew he was signing his death warrant when the words left his mouth: "Yeah. I liked it, too."


Amy grabbed her purse up from the table, and grabbed at Angela's hand. "Come on, Angela. We're leaving."


"No, we're not! I still have a beer to finish!"


"Come on, Angela...!"


"Look, it's not as if you haven't been kissed before!"




"And it's not as if you haven't just started making out with some guy that you've never met before..." She noticed the way both Reese and Amy reacted as that came out, and a light suddenly went off in her head. "Hey. Hey! Red hair, tall, and as soon as you saw his face, you were about to go off on him as if he'd ...oh, my God! It's the guy!"


"Angela, please don't-"


Reese actually drew back and Amy's head dropped in shame as Angela jumped up and pointed at him. "You're the pilot from the other night!"


It was harder to say whose face was redder... Reese's, or Amy's. "I guess he's not as bad as you said he was, huh? Maybe if you'd have kissed him like that instead of doing all of the yelling-"


Amy disappeared in a flash, and Reese felt his skin curdle as Angela turned her eyes upon him, a smile like sunrise on her face.


"So... you're him."


Something told Reese that Angela meant a great more by that comment than she let on...




Amy just kept walking, unaware of the sweat that flowed in streams down her back and her face, blind to the stares of annoyance and naked admiration due to the way her soaked t-shirt molded itself to her body, deaf to the angry blaring of horns as she crossed against the light at a number of intersections.


I just need to keep moving... what the hell was I doing... what the hell is wrong with me?


A noise kept nipping into her reverie; she paid it no attention as she kept moving, no destination in mind. One stupid kiss – I should have punched a hole through him for that – why the hell didn't I? I am NOT that hard-up – I could get any man I want, if I just want to get laid... I could sleep with any one of my male grad assistants... funny thing is that I know a couple of the girls go both ways, and they'd ALL love to live out the 'teacher's pet' fantasy – no, Paula's actually your friend, and besides, if she were to have made a move, she'd have done it years ago!


Daniel... ooooh, I sure could use a quick trip to the auto shop right about now, but he's out of town now, getting another piece of junk... I could really go for him running his hands all over me right now...


I should have knocked that jackass out right where he stood. I should have. I could have hit him in the balls, and then coldcocked the lippy bastard – I don't know which pisses me off more! Was it calling me an 'elitist bitch', or 'pint-sized'? Defending that clock-cleaning TV bitch Newlin – like he didn't go off with her after they left and start screwing like they were putting Christmas toys together! Son of a bitch – he kissed me with the same mouth he kissed that whore with! Probably gave me something that'll make my left tit rot and fall off if I don't get myself checked out soon...


Okay, okay – he really got to you with that kiss... but why him? I've never had anyone get me, get me so, God, so damned ready to go – not Joel, not even Daniel, what the hell's so special – why did I throw myself on him like all that mattered was getting him somewhere and just-


"Miss – please STOP!"


Amy suddenly found a very serious-looking pair of men in business suits with tiny earphones running into their jackets standing in front of her; she chanced a quick look to her rear and saw a number of similarly-dressed men, followed by several uniformed men and women, moving towards her from every direction.


She blinked, and suddenly became aware of a very large, very familiar building before her, and a large American flag flying high above the building. "Miss – would you please explain just what you were trying to do, and you wouldn't stop when first requested to?"


Oh, God... I am in so much trouble...


"You guys aren't going to believe me when I say that I was just out walking, and I just lost track of where I was, are you?"


In unison, the Special Agents of the United States Secret Service gave Amy a look that spoke worlds. "You're going to have to come with us, ma'am."


"Uh, can I have a phone call now? I promise I can clear this all up..."


"You can have your call at the command post, ma'am."


Amy sighed as one of the agents led her away from the front entrance of the White House. Oh, they're never going to let me live this one down...







Paula turned from her computer to the speakerphone. "Yes, Master Sergeant?"


"There was a disturbance at the White House five minutes ago. I thought you should be aware of it."


"Go on."





"Well... at least she seems to have other plans for your privates besides slicing them off and making a bolo," Lyle observed, finishing the last of his Sprite as Angela disappeared in the direction of the bathroom. "The redhead. Amy, that is. Cute name. Girl-next-door name. Name of a super heroine, like Buffy. 'Amy, the Vampire Slayer'. Cute little thing, hot little body, can kick some butt. Hey, you could be her Riley!"


"Who's Riley?"


"Not important. Thing is, you are off the hook. You don't have to worry about trying to apologize or make penance for snapping off on her – after that little performance, I'd say that she owes you money. Well, at least breakfast, and maybe a morning quickie."


Reese sat back and ran his finger around the rim of his empty beer mug. "What did you think of her friend?"

"I don't mess with married women. Some things are just wrong."


"I didn't mean that. I meant, what do you think of the way she just inserted herself-"


"She's checking out the potential boyfriend material. You're not so far out of it that you don't remember what the friends are like."


"I'm not interested in the woman-"


"Somewhere, a B.S. monitor just exploded. Look at you. You're calm, collected, thinking rationally, and looking at the big picture. You've got your situational awareness on and locked. Right now, your head is in the same place it is when you fly."


"Your point."


"You just found a target to kill."


"What the hell does that mean?"


"Think a couple of hours ago – the way you were around with Gail. Remember when you met Cheryl, a few days back? You acted like you were back in junior high, stumbling for the right thing to say... with this one – you were on a mission. Focused, confident, a bit arrogant – after all, you will win and get what you want, because you're the best that ever was and no one should have ever stepped up against you."


"Ever hear of 'projection?"


"I'm just as bad when I'm flying, but when it comes to women, I'm like a house cat. I'm cute, I'm friendly, but I do what I want, come and go when I want, and listen when I want; women just can't help but want to cuddle up with me. You - you're like a freaking mountain lion. You usually don't know how to deal with women, so you usually try to get away or hide – that's where that goofy persona comes in. However, when you're hunting... it's all business, and you really don't care who sees you, because you have that 'nobody's taking this from me' attitude." He crunched a piece of ice. "When you actually go after women, it's one of the few times people can see your mother in you. Flying combat, when you really want something – that's when you're definitely your mother's son."


A second ice cube crunched between flawless, pearly-white teeth. "So, when are you going to try to actually go and see her – as in, 'we've gotten past the stupid stuff, so now it's time for you to know me as a person?"


"You need help."


"True. When are you going?"


"Can we get a round of beer here?"


"You don't want to do that. Her friend's still here, she's coming back to get more info about you, and being buzzed when the lady's friend quizzes you isn't a good idea. Better to lie until she likes you for who you really are."


"Do you know how warped that comment is?"


"As if women don't know everything they need to know about you in the first few minutes after you first meet. She decided that you were 'sponge-worthy' before you set that bullhorn down; now, it's just a matter of working out the details leading towards the actual act."


Reese slipped a twenty to the waitress as she placed a pair of beers and a Sprite on the table, followed by an order of steak fries. "Five miles on the exercise bicycle every day – shut up," Lyle said. "I'm also doing the Baltimore Little 400 in November, so shut it again. The station finally decided to get some extra publicity and sponsor me this year, so that means I'll be wearing a News Team 19 jersey and bike shorts. Gotta keep the female viewership up for November sweeps."


"Oh, yeah – my mom said that she'll get back to you with that lawyer you wanted."


"Good." Lyle already had a mouthful of fries.


"I also got a call after I finished talking to my mom."


"Okay, who?"


"Good news or bad first?"


"You know how I do it."


"Bad news – I've got a meeting with Colonel Trainor tomorrow morning."


"Well, at least you can say that her friend isn't as mad at you as she acted."


"Cute. Good news. I got an invitation to shoot against the man himself."


Lyle's teeth stopped just as they came into contact with the skin of a steak fry; it fell, forgotten, back into the basket as he looked up into Reese's face. "You're lying."


The way Reese shook his head made his eyes go even wider. "You've gotta be lying. He doesn't compete. He doesn't even shoot in regular competitions anymore! They said that last year was his final year going to Camp Perry for the – You're going to shoot against the Master Sergeant?"




"Master Sergeant Tran Noc. He's here, in D.C., and he wants to have a match against you."


"Apparently. I've shot against him twice before."


"No, you were in the same competitions. You haven't gone against him personally. The last guys that did that were those Secret Service guys a few years back, and they got their clocks cleaned. He shoots like he belongs in the 'X-Men' movie with that Australian guy with the claws."


"Pretty much."


"He won't try out for the Olympics, and he won't shoot against world leaders who've made personal requests to compete against him. He's the best shooter in the entire Air Force-" Lyle ignored the look Reese gave him. "-Yes, he is. Still, he'll call you – in person – and ask you to strap on your shooting iron for a match."


"The only thing that would bug you more about this is if I went there to compete dressed in my evening suit."


"No, what bugs me is that you can't be marginally incorrect and call it a 'tuxedo' like everyone else – and if you did that, I'd give you props for taking the extra step to throw your opponent off a bit! Now, explain to me how you managed to have an opportunity fall into your lap that straight guys like me would go down on someone for?"


"He must be part of Colonel Trainor's staff. I guess this is my last request before she tries to shoot down my career in the blue suit," Reese shrugged, and took a sip of beer. "Doesn't matter. I get to shoot against a damned legend."


"When's the match?"


"Tomorrow morning at eight–"


"That's your last beer." Lyle had immediately sobered up. "You can deal with the vicious little redhead and her friend some other time, too. Let's go. Time for you to go over all of your equipment."


Seconds after Lyle's door cleared the exit, Angela emerged from the ladies' bathroom. She looked around the bar, and then sat down at the table.


"Well, at least they ordered a fresh beer for me..."






"Helen, before I say anything, you've got to promise me that you will never, ever, EVER say anything about this to Mom or Rita, okay?"


Helen Morgendorffer immediately stopped pacing about the desk in her office, and the look that appeared on her face sent Marianne Fokker, her assistant, scurrying out the door. "Amy?"


"Helen, promise?"


"Amy, what kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into?"


"Helen – I'm not one of your girls. Deal with me as an adult and your sister."


"Of course, Amy – now, what's wrong?"


"Remember the way you were just after you met that stunt driver for the first time?"


"Oh, my." Helen gulped audibly, and actually blushed at the memory. "Did you drive into something and cause an accident?"


"No – that would have been something that probably wouldn't make the news. I – hold on, Helen."


Amy, sitting next to a desk where a female Secret Service agent with a perpetual scowl stared at her unblinkingly, winced as she saw Paula stop at the end of the hallway and show her ID to a trio of agents, who pointed her towards the door. Leaning back in her chair and enduring the narrowed scowl of her guard, Amy focused her attention back to the phone.


"Helen, I'll call you back later on. I'll tell you everything then, all right?"


"AMY BARKSDALE! You CANNOT just call out of the blue, scare the living daylights out of me the way you just did by insinuating that you're in some extremely serious legal troubles and then just tell me that you're going to call me back and explain what the hell is going on! I DEMAND that you tell me right now what you've gotten yourself into, and-"


The connection broke; Amy looked up to see Paula's finger on the phone, and permafrost for an expression.


"Yes. I know her. Take those handcuffs off her and give her back her personal belongings."


The scowling agent rose from her chair. "Colonel, this woman is-"


Paula held her ID card up so that the female agent could see it clearly; Amy noticed that the woman went pale as she read it. "No longer your concern. This was not 'an incident', and your superiors have been informed of that. She will be leaving with me."


The agent seemed hesitant, but another agent – Amy recognized him as one of the trio Paula spoke to in the hall – entered the room and pulled the agent aside. She flushed crimson as the other agent whispered something only she could hear, and hurriedly went over to unfasten Amy's handcuffs before pocketing them and rushing out of the room. "Thank you, Agent Callanfort. Could you have-"


"Agent Huffman will be back with Miss Barksdale's-"


"Doctor Barksdale," Paula said, her tone cooling the room down to arctic levels.


"Of course – Dr. Barksdale's effects. She'll return in a few minutes."


"Thank you very much, Agent Callanfort. Oh, by the way... the Master Sergeant sends his regards."


Agent Samuel Callanfort – a very senior agent with thirty-two years of service to his credit – glanced away from Paula with a look of sudden dismay. He excused himself from the room, and Paula looked around the room as Amy rubbed her wrists.


"Thank you."


"First things first. The Sheridan thing you've been milking for years. Now, we are even. You don't ever get to bring that up again, even if I start plowing my way through a sorority full of Sheridan Menzies clones."




"Second. Why the hell didn't you call me? What the hell were you doing walking onto the White House grounds like a damned zombie, ignoring every single order to stop until those agents actually got close enough to touch you? Don't you know that if things were a bit different, and you weren't dressed like you were about to go play 'hide the cigar' with the Commander-In-Chief, somebody might have taken a shot at you!" She paused, and frowned as she looked at Amy, who glared back at her. "What's with the 'back-to-the-beach' look, anyway – and you still haven't answered my zombie question!"


"Well, 'Mother', I wasn't doing anything stupid-" It took an actual effort for Amy not to throw something at her friend after Paula snorted in supreme disbelief. "Piss off. I just needed to take a walk, and I got a little lost in thought..."


The last redhead who got lost the way you do needed a pair of ruby slippers to find her way home," Paula said bluntly. "What really sets me off is that you did something stupid, I'm your best friend, this is something I could get you out of with a few words – oh, look, I already did! – But instead of calling me for help or just calling me beforehand and saying, 'Hello, Paula, this is your insane best friend Amy; I'm having a bad day – could you listen to me bitch for a few hours?' – I hear from the little bird I have flying around all over this town that my friend got snagged by the American Royal Guard walking towards 1600 with glassy eyes and a wet t-shirt!"


"Please tell me that nobody took pictures of me..."


"It's your lucky day. There happened to be a bank robbery in Georgetown a couple of hours ago, about the time you took your little jaunt across town and reality. For some reason, the media's more interested in a gun battle than sweaty, insane women in t-shirts with their headlights on. Unless, of course, they can get both rolled up into one."


Amy groaned, and her head dropped. "There are pictures."


"Oh, don't worry. There was only one kid, and the Secret Service confiscated his videotape. They kind of feel stupid for letting you get so close. I understand that someone gave the kid a fifty for his tape and his family got the good White House tour. He'll probably grow up to have a thing for women who look like you, though." Paula couldn't help but grin at the way Amy looked over at her.


The female agent reappeared, and wordlessly handed Amy an evidence bag with her things, along with a windbreaker before disappearing. "Come on – let's go, crazy lady. I guess someone gave you that so you wouldn't distract all the strapping young men from their sworn duty with your many feminine charms..." She adroitly dodged an evidence bag swung in her direction. "They will arrest you for that in here, so you should behave yourself."


"Paula, look at this," Amy said, turning the windbreaker around so Paula could see a very familiar seal on the front... "Oh, my..."


"Well, well, well – I guess the Commander-In-Chief did see you," Paula said, and Amy blushed all the way down to her toes. "That's a collector's item – you can't buy or sell anything with the Presidential Seal on it. Better make sure that the First Lady doesn't see you wearing that, though. Things could happen to you – after all, she never did get to make Lewinsky disappear..."


"I hate you."


"You know, if you'd like, I could arrange for you to meet the C-I-C... he's actually a very personable man, and he does have a certain magnetism about him. Hey – that's why you were drawn to his house... you never could resist a Southern gentleman!"




"You could take some chocolate, he could bring a few fine rum-soaked Cuban cigars, and the fireplace in the main housing at Camp David is really nice..." Paula smiled at a memory, and Amy scowled at her.  "The stewards and guards do know how to make themselves scarce when necessary."


"Make you disappear into the D.C. swampland."


"You could tell me what it's like to swap... political positions."


"Stake you down beneath the cherry blossoms."


"You know, they say that he IS 'the most powerful man in the world."


"Bury you in the Rose Garden."


"You would look absolutely adorable in a beret."


"For that – I get one more mention of Sheridan."


Paula considered, and then nodded. "Agreed."





The sun was low in the sky as Paula's black Lexus slid into the parking lot next to Amy's red Triumph, and Paula turned the car off. "So, you want to tell me what set you off on your 'bogus journey?' I'm going to find out sooner or later..."


"I'm glad you gave me a ride and kept me from having to deal with the cops and stuff, but I just want to go home and take a long, long bath without hearing anyone talk for an equally long time."


"You know how gossip is in this town – I'll know by the end of breakfast tomorrow."

"All right!" Amy let her head fall back against the headrest, and finally looked over to Paula. "It's your fault, anyway."


"My fault?" Paula looked at her in amused disbelief. "Okay, this one I've got to hear."


"I took your advice this afternoon-"


"Act like a crazy woman and storm the President's house?' Okay; pretty certain that those words didn't escape my lips today. I do recall saying something about wearing that shirt, but I think I meant to the barbeque on Saturday, not to the White House today."


"In the meanwhile, just get out of there and let the work wait a day! Go get a cold drink somewhere, and relax a bit in someone's AC."


"I really hate it when you do imitations of me."


"Sorry. Took your advice, went to a little bar across from campus, and ran into... I ran into that pilot from a few nights ago. Both of them. The ones who brought the chocolate."


Paula's ears and attitude perked up. "Wyatt and Wallister?"


Amy nodded, her face growing redder; the fact that she couldn't look Paula in the eye made the Black woman want to smile, but she knew that would kill Amy's willingness to spill the rest of the beans. "So... what happened?"


"I kissed him."


That was something Paula didn't expect to hear. "What?"


"I kissed the pilot. Well, actually, he kissed me first-"


"Excuse me. The word 'first' implies multiple kisses."


"Then, I kissed him. I really kissed him. He kissed me back. He really kissed me back, and if there had been fewer people there, or people I didn't know... oh, my God..."


In her mind, Paula was doing somersaults that would have made Olga Korbut soil herself. "So," she said, picking her words carefully. "So... there was a spark there...?"


"Yeah," Amy replied, suddenly feeling ashamed. "I can't believe that I acted like that in public..."


"It happens to everyone. Don't worry about it."


"Have you ever let your hormones override your common sense, and started making out with something in the middle of a bar?"


"God, no! What the hell do you think the back of a limousine is for?"


Amy's pointed look should have spread Paula across her side of the car. "Like I said – don't worry about it. Oh, and his name is Maurice. I understand his friends call him 'Reese'. You probably should, too. After this afternoon, I think you may qualify – at least on a temporary basis."


"You're very funny."


"Well, until three minutes ago, I thought your plans for your next encounter with him would involve excellent urologists and massive blood replenishment. Imagine my surprise when it may involve earplugs for everyone on your block instead." Paula turned and looked at her with a straight face. "You're quite loud."


"At least I don't sound like Darth Vader when I come."


"Get out of my car. No, really. Get out."


Amy stepped out and over to her own vehicle as Paula started her car and drove away, a huge smile on her face.


Well, well... this may end up being a bit easier than I ever imagined.








Paula parked her car in her assigned space in front of the MTA Main Building, and stepped out into the warm sunlight that still held a trace of orange within. She noticed that there seemed to be many more cadets milling around on the grounds than usual for this time of the day...


Hmn. Someone's probably got some stupid prank in the offing...


Her curiosity was further piqued as she noticed several people with cameras, and a small camera crew – those are some of Newlin's students, I recognize a few of them – what's going on?


Hello, hello, hello. If it isn't the lovely Colonel Trainor!"


Paula rolled her eyes and kept walking as Daniel St. John, wearing a Tennyson jogging suit and a goofy smile, tossed a sloppy, two-fingered salute of farewell to a bunch of giggling coeds staring in his direction, and trotted after her. "My, don't we even deserve a tiny bit of a civilized greeting, Colonel? I mean, I'm not expecting a 'welcome home, sailor' kiss that'll steam-clean even the clothes in my duffel bag, but at least a smile would be something."


"Good day, Mr. St. John." She looked up at the blistering afternoon sun. "I'd ask why you're out and about in this weather, but I guess that your people had lots of practice while moving about the plantations and abusing the slaves... Not that I'm blaming you for that." She sighed. "I guess Nat Turner's just didn't go far enough with his plans."


"Now, come on, Paula – I want you to be honest. Do you really like me?"


"Being honest – Daniel – I'd like to see you fired." She turned slightly, and gave him a brilliant smile. "Preferably while tied to a stake and surrounded by kindling, with a crowd of unwashed, pitchfork-wielding villagers in attendance."


Daniel laughed. "Our kids are going to be the best of both worlds. Attractive and intelligent like me, and witty and charming like you."


An exasperated sign escaped Paula's lips. "Why are you bothering me...?"


"Well, besides the view-" Daniel countered the vicious Doberman glare Paula tossed his way with a puppy-dog gaze field-tested to melt the hardest female hearts. "I wanted to touch bases with you. Hadn't seen you this semester, and I just needed to know if you still despise me as much as you did in May."


"You, your accent, the auto industry in general because of you... you know, I always expected so much more from carbon monoxide..."


The two looked up as an elegant, walnut-brown Bentley convertible zipped into the monstrously large parking lot between the ATA and MTA buildings, drawing attention as Reese, wearing his uniform, raised the roof back into place before stepping out. "Well, look who decided to be an early bird," Paula mused, watching as Reese brought a hard-shell case out of his trunk. "Pardon me."


She stepped up behind Reese. "A pleasure to see you again, Lieutenant Colonel Wyatt."


The voice from several recent nightmares brought Reese about and immediately to attention, with a perfect salute. "At ease. Someone spent time on your posture."


Reese looked down at Paula, feeling very much like a cat chased up a tree. "I see you brought your toy. You spoke with the Sergeant Major?"


"Yes, ma'am – he said I was to report to you at eleven-thirty. He also asked if I wanted to have a little match this morning-"


Everything suddenly clicked into place for Paula. "Then don't keep him waiting." She returned his salute. "Oh, yes. Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Wyatt – Doctor Daniel St. John. He's a Professor in the Engineering Department here at Tennyson – Automotive Technologies."


"Nice to meet you, Doctor."


"Likewise – and it's just 'Dan'," Daniel said, shaking the offered hand; as Reese started towards the MTA building, he leaned in close to Paula. "He seems like a nice enough guy. Why's he around you?"


Paula also watched the receding figure, and then turned to Daniel with an expression Medusa would have envied.


"Say goodbye to Amy, Daniel."






To be continued...





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