Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction based on the characters established and defined in the movie and book titled Gladiator It is strictly for entertainment purposes. Please do not copy, publish or alter this work in any way without the written permission of the author.
Sabrina, home from WIT for the holidays, was picking up Taylor and taking her to Ilene’s for a couple of days. Having received the General Counsel’s blessing (following her promise to check her e-mail twice daily), Sophy left for the Point at lunchtime.
The resort was quiet when she arrived. Most of the visiting guests wouldn’t be there for several more hours. This seemed odd to Sophy given the number of European women connected to the Point — their time zones were hours ahead of the Eastern Standard on the wall clocks at Agency headquarters. But then, this was the Point — a magical place, where Alaskan snowdrifts stayed cold, powdery and fresh alongside sunny Aussie pastures. The resort’s unnamed ocean, containing carved rock formations very like the Twelve Apostles, jutted up against an undulating Umbrian landscape. If I want to this afternoon, mused Sophy, I could hit golf balls at Jeffrey’s Louisville driving range or take in the beauty of the Royal Botanical Gardens. Or just sit and have an espresso at Steve’s City café.
All very enjoyable locales. Then there was that tile-surfaced room Sophy remembered from a biography she’d read last spring. It was an isolation room in a state mental institution. Shuddering, Sophy wondered if Nash would bring that place with him when he arrived later this month. Any place was possible, including the main mall of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, stretching up to the domed building at the heart of the urban campus. She’d prefer that, having taken a third of her psych courses there. Poor fellow — she vowed to re-read her clinical psych texts before he arrived.
“May I help you with your suitcase and — are you working here this weekend?” Johnny gestured at her laptop briefcase.
“With what’s going on in the world, it’s always possible,” admitted Sophy, handing him what she carried. How embarrassing. Johnny’d probably been standing there for some time, watching her talking to herself. He didn’t bother to look for her car — maybe he’d seen her arrive on her carpet? She rolled up the ornately woven wool rectangle — he raised an arm for her to place it under.
Johnny looked at the rug suspiciously. “This won’t suddenly take off, will it?”
Uh-oh. He had seen her come in. Next time I swear I’ll try to drive here, by car, she promised herself.
“No; it will just lie quietly on the floor unless you start it up.”
“How do you do that?” the young man wondered, as they walked into the hotel.
Sophy looked around. After the trouble she’d had with Sid and her wand, the last thing she wanted was trouble with Sid and her carpet. She could just picture him strafing the Point’s attendees, laughing maniacally as he swooped up and down from the hotel’s turrets. She didn’t see him, but she wanted a nice, quiet weekend at the Point. She didn’t think Terry had enjoyed being a panther — best not to put him in a similar position again. For a while, at least.
“Professional secret,” she smiled in reply.
Colin was at the desk. “Chelle’s still under the weather,” he said sadly.
Well, maybe a little magic wouldn’t hurt. “Tyúk leves,” she said softly.
“Be careful when you carry that up to her; it’s very hot,” warned Sophy. She needn’t have bothered — Colin looked at the steaming bowl as if it were a bomb.
“What is that?” He remained crouched down below the reception desk.
“Chicken soup — an old family recipe,” answered the lawyer.
The Aussie rose slowly, sniffing suspiciously. He wasn’t going to give his fiancée something that might turn her into a swan, or worse. For once, he wished Sid was here, to be the guinea pig and taste the stuff.
“Would it help if I had a spoonful and you saw that nothing happened to me?” Sophy offered, careful to make the spoon appear behind her back. Colin nodded stiffly.
She took a slurp. Hmm. Needed a touch of pepper. Well, Chelle could add that if she wanted. If she made the spice appear, Colin looked like he might faint.
“Where’s Terry?” Best to change the subject and take O’Brien’s and Ryan’s minds off her enchanting little display.
“Out running, with Maximus and Hando.”
“This late in the day?” The sun was overhead, and quite warm to her in her wool pantsuit.
“They were doing some cleaning up earlier. Sid had tried to set fire to the –”
“Oh, no,” Sophy interrupted, looking around anxiously, as if the mention of the name would conjure him forth.
“He’s back to his version of sanity.” Colin’s blue-green eyes were so reassuring. Sophy permitted herself a moment of goofy admiration, then, so as not to leave Johnny feeling left out of the conversation (what a lame excuse, she told herself), smiled into his equally turquoise irises.
Ah, the most magical feature of the Point.
There was a pound she’d gained from eating the baklava one of the Agency operatives picked up in Turkey on his way back from Afghanistan and it was threatening to take up permanent residence around her navel. A visit to the Point’s gym would be a good idea. Sophy set about looking for another woman to join her. Her co-workers always laughed when she protested that she was shy, but she was. She needed an excuse, a cover to start a conversation. Her previous two weekends at the Point hadn’t provided good opportunities for starting friendships — just try making conversation with a human when you’re a pussycat — and the Stewart/Biebe wedding, though a heck of a lot of fun, had been in another universe, who knew who would remember her from that?
Sophy knocked on Tina’s and John’s door first. Was someone in there? She looked around — no one was in the hall. She returned to feline form — her hearing was so much better this way. Oops. She could hear them now. Of course, he purred, newlyweds. No, Tina was getting her exercise the fun way.
How about Steph? Sophy rang up Anthony. No, he replied. She’s got to review and catalog discovery documents this weekend. Sophy groaned — she knew how unpleasant that could be from her days as an associate in private practice.
Roberta? Aurore? Illaria? Evelyne? Nope, not yet, said Andy, over at the bar. Boy, what a difference a few more hours would make.
A hike up to East’s cabin revealed that he and Kath were out riding; so were Mannie and NJ. What about Lisa? Lachlan, wearing coveralls as he tinkered with his plane, said she’d be in around 7. Sophy looked in the direction of Sid’s yacht but stayed well away. She didn’t even dare call Tonya’s room; he might be there, and answer.
Annabella? In, but busy supervising the creation of what looked to be a lavish dessert. The aroma of the Valrona chocolate was overwhelming. I know I’ll want some of that, Sophy admitted to herself. I’d better spend the rest of the afternoon in the gym.
She changed quickly into her aerobics gear — blue spandex shorts with a yellow decorative thong and a matching sports bra, and jogged over to the gym.
The place was empty. Sophy stretched and worked with some of the lighter free weights for bicep curls, tricep kickbacks, and the like. Boring. She needed music to keep going. Poking around in a closet, she found a boom box and a collection of cds. Selecting the disco — not because it was a favorite, but because it was so good to move to, she loaded a number of cds, and began to move around the wooden floor.
This was so much fun. With music, she could party all night. She spun across the floor, focusing on the metal rack holding the free weights so she wouldn’t become dizzy.
That rack — the vertical metal poles reminded her of the summer she spent in Washington, D.C. just before starting law school…
“Mate, I’m not gonna be able to move!” Terry groaned as Maximus opened the men’s locker entrance to the gym.
“We did your bloody gladius work, both hands; isn’t that enough for one day?” Hando agreed with his Aussie brother. “I’ll be so weak, Stef will be able to knock me over with her hair!”
“Modern weaklings,” replied the General, calmly. “You wouldn’t have lasted two days in the Roman Army. Come. The ladies will all appreciate your hard work — Evelyne certainly does, for me.”
He greeted the fourth brother, who was changing his street clothes for workout gear. “Wendell. Perhaps one day I can persuade you to join our exercise? It is good to lift weights, but a soldier — and, I presume, a policeman, in your era — need to be able to run long distances without weariness.”
“Yeah, mate, join us,” agreed Hando, “you can be a suffering bastard too.”
“You do your marathon, or whatever the fuck it is that you run,” grinned Bud. “I’ll concentrate on my bench-pressing; hey, I’m up to 280.”
Refilling his water bottle, Terry saw Hando scowl at White’s statement. There was a bit of sibling rivalry between the skinhead and his LAPD brother. He turned to Maximus, who’d seen Hando’s expression too. Hando was hotheaded enough to use weights he hadn’t worked up to — they didn’t want him hurt.
“Let’s all start out easy — at 220,” suggested the Roman, quietly. “Be sure our muscles are warmed up before-”
“After that bloody run, mate, I’m already there,” replied Hando, yanking open the door to the gym.
He closed it just as quickly. Not bothering to wipe the smirk off his face, he turned to Terry.
“Thorne, yer sheila’s having a good time in there; and it’s not with you.”
“What?” Aw, shit, thought Terry. First Alice, then Steph, now Sophy? He lunged for the door — Maximus barred him from opening it.
“Calm. Remember, a soldier is-”
“Shut the bloody fuck up,” replied Terry heatedly. “Easy for you to say; you had a wife, she was loyal to you, you’ve got bloody sheilas hanging all over you –” he raised his voice to a falsetto “-Oooh, I just love him in with his shirt off in the slave bazaar! Oooh, if I had him chained to the wall, I’d do more than talk!” Terry lowered his voice again. “And then there’s that gossip columnist –what does he call you, ‘the Thighmaster’?”
Before he could try to edge past Maximus again, Bud hammerlocked his left arm.
“Can’t let you go, man, until you promise that no matter what you see, you won’t hurt her.”
“Shit!” said Hando. “It’s nothing like that; there’s no man in there-”
“WHAT?” the other three brothers stared at him.
“She’s just dancing, that’s all,” replied Hando, exasperated with his brothers’ imaginations. “Open the bloody door, Max, let Terry have a look.”
Facing away from them, Sophy writhed against a pole of the weight rack, pressing her butt against the bar and sliding down. She spun around on her back, legs splayed up in the air. In one smooth motion, she rose again, only to bump and grind against the metal. She stuck her thumbs under the waist of the thong; playing with it, she eased it down her legs, then back up. Then another spin around the bar, this time, holding onto it with only one hand as she circled.
“Isn’t that what the naked young lady did at John’s bachelor party?” asked Maximus.
“Yeah,” agreed Bud, studying the woman as she straddled the bar and began to thrust her crotch against it. He punched Terry in the shoulder, grinning. “Does she do all those moves on you?”
Terry glowered, and tried to shut the door. Three other pairs of hands prevented him.
“If it was your sheila,” he hissed, “would you want the rest of us to watch?”
Three pair of aquamarine eyes blinked in contrition. Maximus lent his strength to Terry’s; abashedly, the other two followed suit.
“Maybe she saw it in a movie,” suggested Hando, though he didn’t believe his own weak explanation.
This time, White gave Thorne a reassuring pat on the back. “You know, in my movie, Lynn Bracken did what she did, to earn a living, but she had a heart of gold.”
“I think we’ll lift weights another day.” Maximus’s voice was almost a whisper. Looking pointedly at Bud and Hando, he gestured at the exit door.
The three left Terry alone with his thoughts in the locker room.
He opened the door to the gym again. God, she was good; not athletic, capable of lifting her body weight on the pole, but she made it look like the pole was her lover.
She said she was a lawyer; worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. But she could say anything about what she did outside the Point; how in the hell would he know? Damn — if only there was a way to get in touch with Dino — Dino would find out for him.
Gosh, but Terry had been quiet. And distant. Standing in the womens bathroom of the tavern, Sophy took a longer time than she needed to wash her hands, so she could think. She was sure she’d arrived at ‘her’ universe. The comments of the others about her wand –specifically, they all hoped she wasn’t carrying it – made it clear the residents of the Point and their women knew who she was. Johnny had teased her about it upon her arrival, as he helped her alight from her carpet.
The Point’s residents’ comments also made it clear they thought she had a connection with Terry. She did too — until she’d walked up to him, glowing, standing on tiptoe to give him a kiss, reaching for his hand.
She might as well have been reaching for a mannequin; that’s how unresponsive he’d been. Every conversation she started, he let die. Good grief, it had been easier to interrogate the suspected double agent working in the Science and Technology Directorate; at least he said ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ All she’d gotten from Terry tonight were grunts and indigestion — if she’d eaten anything. No, she’d lost her appetite when he sat next to Arthur at their table, and declined Arthur’s offer to switch seats. Savannah had given her a look of pure pity. She’d considered turning herself into a puddle and evaporating, right then and there.
For this, she wondered, I’m away from Taylor for three days of her Christmas holiday? Now guilt mingled with puzzlement, frustration, and humiliation.
It wouldn’t be the first time a guy dumped me after he found out my family background, she figured, miserably. What else could it be?
One thing for sure. They couldn’t really be connected.
Johnny was in the parking lot, watching to make sure the women who’d visited the Tavern just for the evening headed home safely. He gently pulled several of them aside to suggest they should sleep off their Cosmopolitans or Shiners at the hotel rather than end up in hospital or with a driving while intoxicated ticket.
Sophy walked up as the last of these was hanging around Johnny’s neck. The inebriate had taken Johnny’s advice as a come-on, and was trying to drag him back to the hotel.
Johnny’s ‘Help me!’ came through in those blue-green eyes, loud and clear. The drunk’s hand was starting to crawl under his belt, and down his jeans. Very impressive, marveled Sophy. Those jeans are tight — however is she managing to wriggle her way in?
“Oh, Johnny, dearest-” Sophy approached in the direction of the other woman’s eyes “-I think you took both copies of my room key- you did. I’ll run the bath water when you return. Or would you rather have the shiatsu massage first?”
“Who — who?” said Johnny’s captor, staring at Sophy.
“Wait — could I help?”
Sophy gave the earnest young man a little smile. “I don’t think so, but I appreciate your sympathy. Good-bye.”
“No!” He reached for her hand just as the carpet started to rise. Quickly, Sophy, shaking, lowered it so that Johnny’s feet again touched the ground.
“For heaven’s sake, Johnny, be careful,” she gasped. “Do you know how high and how fast these things go — especially with a crazy driver like me? No, of course you don’t.”
Johnny was glad to see her smile widen, even if he was partly the cause of it.
“It’s just — your brother — well, I thought — but I don’t think he even likes me…”
She might use a wand, she might drive into the Point on a carpet instead of in a Camaro, but she was a beautiful woman and she was crying. Johnny sat down on the carpet beside her and held her to his chest.
“Don’t go, don’t go,” he whispered, nuzzling her hair.
Sophy turned her tear-streaked face up to Johnny, surprised by his actions. She was even more surprised when he next kissed her — hard, on the lips, seeking to burrow his tongue into her mouth. Lonely and confused, she responded in kind. His hand, slipping under her T-shirt to touch her breasts, startled her.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered. “It was the drink.” He cursed himself — what a bloody ocker she must think me.
“No need to apologize,” she replied, taking his hands in hers. “You’re so sweet; I appreciate the flattery.” Why did this seem so familiar?
“It’s not flattery,” he replied, miserably. I watched you, at Tina’s and John’s wedding, and the reception. I wished I had the nerve to ask you to dance.” He continued, his eyes growing wet. “Why is it all right for Dr. Wigand to be with Wendy, and not for me to be with you? There’s less difference between our ages — a lot less. I want to be more to you than ‘sweet.’ You like all the older brothers. I saw you, looking at Terry, and Maximus, and Bud, and John.” He sighed. “It’s hopeless for me — I’ll never be older.”
“Oh, Johnny.” His counterpart in another universe had uttered those very same words at a masked ball. Sophy was at a loss for what next to say. She recalled what she’d done with Ryan in the other universe — it was most enjoyable. But this universe had Terry in it. Her Terry. No, that wasn’t true.
He wasn’t her Terry.
She gasped as, in one movement, Johnny slid off the carpet and scooped her up into his arms. I should have seen that coming, she realized, as he started to carry her to his truck. He did, after all, do that before.
Johnny Ryan knew what she was, and he didn’t care, in this universe any more than his counterpart had in the other. Terry Thorne, on the other hand, had treated her like something he wouldn’t want to touch when he scraped it off the bottom of his shoe.
She sighed and leaned her head back on Johnny’s shoulder, abandoning herself to another lovely kiss. What do I want to do now?
“Odd time of day to be seeing him.” Colin gestured at the retreating Terry. “Usually he’s out running with Max and Hando.”
“That’s what I just said to him,” replied Chelle, kissing her fiancé warmly; after all, they hadn’t seen each other for ten minutes. Colin had walked outside to retrieve the morning papers for those guests who wanted their daily updates about the murder, mayhem, and madness of the Real World.
“Terry asked me to contact Dino,” Chelle informed Colin when they could speak again. “He wants him to come visit.”
Colin scratched at his sideburns, one of the few physical features, other than his tattoo, distinguishing from his hostage negotiator sibling. He grinned. Terry’s partner was in for a big surprise, much as Steph’s ex had been. A buddy of Thorne’s, however, could be counted on to keep his mouth shut about the Point.
“Sophy — are you leaving?” It was rather disconcerting to see the lawyer’s suitcase slowly descending over the balcony down to the lobby as Sophy walked down the stairs.
“Yes,” Sophy replied.
“Look, I know my brother acted like a twit last night, but he’ll be his old self today, I’m sure.”
“Perhaps he’s his old self now,” Sophy retorted curtly.
Chelle gestured to Colin to be quiet — she’d seen Sophy’s moods; to argue with her now would set her position in stone. “Back next weekend?” she asked brightly.
Sophy looked more miserable than ever. “Please tell Johnny, when you see him; it’s not his fault.”
The two of them collided on the walkway over to the gym. Johnny’s sleeveless top was sweat-stained; it was a far healthier way to pass the time until he saw her again than to drain a bottle of whiskey under the war memorial. He hoped his exhaustion would numb him to her absence.
“You bastard,” he hissed pugnaciously at Thorne.
“Whoa,” said Terry, surprised at the angry display from his erstwhile admirer. Even with his extra stone of muscle, he barely held Ryan at bay. “What-”
Johnny was quick to tell him. “You made her cry. I sat up half the night with her as she cried. Are you done with her then? Because she’ll only let me give her the love she deserves if you say you are. She’s concerned for your feelings, even if you don’t give a bloody piss for hers.”
Terry’s mouth twitched. The little slut — just like Cynthia, who fucked everything in pants she could whenever he went out on maneuvers. “It’s a free country, mate. She’ll be free with you and anyone else who wants her — I wouldn’t be surprised if Sophy hasn’t made her way back to Sid.”
The blow to his gut caught Terry off –guard, but he recovered sufficiently to fend off a second, and an attempted head butt. Using Ryan’s momentum, the former SAS commando swung his brother down to the ground and pinned him there.
“No, don’t try to bite me,” he warned, catching his breath. He yanked Johnny’s head away by his hair, grateful that it wasn’t his skinhead brother he was fighting. “I’ve been in far more pub fights than you, and I’ve the scars to prove it.”
“And then, I told the two of them to break it up.” Sid explained the morning’s events to Tawny as she massaged his back. “Ah, there, cherie; you always do that so well.” Tawny kneaded the spot, then kissed it. “Do you know how satisfying it was, for me –me? who they always call the troublemaker, to keep the peace? Tawny smiled; she suspected Sid’s satisfaction came from the fact that one of the protagonists was Terry.
“Then he went off the deep end. You know, Thorne’s problem is he mixes up sex and love. I don’t do that, of course,” he simpered. Tawny sighed; in a nutshell, that was what was good and bad about Sid. She moved her hands lower down his vertebrae, to the point where the small of his back began to curve upward.
“I just don’t understand why Terry’s so upset about Sophy being an exotic dancer. He’s never struck me as the prudish type,” Tawny wondered out loud, immediately thinking to herself about Arthur — how would he react?
“Ah, Thorne’s so easy to understand,” Sid smirked, rolling over. Tawny stayed astride him. “He can’t satisfy a woman, and he knows it. I overheard him once- he must have had too much beer- whining to my pompous Roman general of a brother. Apparently his movie wife, Cynthia, slept around.” He giggled. “He won’t admit it, but that’s probably why he had so little to do with the boy — Henry? Probably not his.”
Tawny hated when Sid slithered into harangues like this. A few hours later, he’d gaily be proclaiming it in public, and the evening would end with Bud, Max, John, and often Terry teaching their cyberbrother a lesson in manners. Then there would be all that sticky nanogoo all over the place, until another mirror or windowpane was sacrificed in the name of Sidly first aid.
Unless she could distract him for a few hours. Well, she grinned, taking off her T-shirt, she could do that.
Dino gave a low whistle as the hotel came into view. Man, how had Thorne landed in digs as posh as this? When their movie was completed, he’d found himself in a ratty little apartment in Philly.
He checked out the help at the front desk — a very attractive brunette, with honey-colored skin, being kissed by none other than ol’ Lucky Boy himself. And, by the looks of him from the back, Thorne was taking his retirement very seriously. The natty jacket and tie, or polo shirt he typically wore had been replaced by jeans and a faded plaid flannel shirt. No more military haircut on him either — his hair waved almost to his shoulders. And he’d sprouted a beard!
“Do you get all this because you’re a loyal subject of the Queen?'” In mock complaint, he punched Thorne on the shoulder. Thorne turned around-
Except it wasn’t Thorne.
“He never told me he had family,” Dino commented in some surprise. John chuckled.
“John Biebe, how d’ya do? My wife, Tina.”
Dino pulled a red forelock from his thinning hair in response. “Dino Borgarelli, Ma’am. Didn’t mean to interrupt — carry on, you’re going a great job. You got any unmarried sisters, Mrs. B?”
Tina laughed, but before she could answer, Arthur bounded in.
“I found the discrepancy — the bank was eighteen cents off. Rang them up to correct it.” He felt the visitor’s eyes sizing him up. “Oh, pardon me. Arthur Baskin, g’day. And you are-?”
“He must be a younger cousin, right?” Dino questioned John. “Amazing family resemblance you three have.”
“Actually,” proclaimed Arthur, always honest, “we’re brothers. Even with that one-” he pointed to the skinhead sliding down the bannister for a lark.
Hando smirked his way up to the visitor. “You’re too late, mate; our poofta brother already has a sweetie.” Just for effect, and to further aggravate Arthur, he pulled out a switchblade and began cutting his nails.
“This is Hando-” Arthur felt obligated to be polite because his brother had been so rude. “Jeff, our brother to whom he referred,” Arthur lowered his voice “-he lives an alternate lifestyle, but we love him anyway. And God does too.”
Shit, thought Dino, trying not to laugh. Most people only have a skeleton or two in their closets. Thorne has enough characters to be kidded about for years.
“So who’re ya here for, mate?” Hando tried to stare Dino down. What a punk! Just like the kids in my old neighborhood, mused the former soldier; but with a bit more decoration on his body.
“Terry. We were both hostage negotiators. Met each other during Desert Storm, planting underwater mines. He was SAS and I was a SEAL. That’s a helluva tattoo you got on your left arm, buddy.”
“Like it?” Hando grinned. “Check this out.” He opened his shirt.
“Ah, Dino,” Tina was growing worried about what the skinhead would disclose next. “I think Terry’s in the library-”
“Yeah, probably is,” interrupted Hando, eager to be outrageous for as long as possible. “I’ll take ya there.”
“A brilliant commander, Rommel. Required to commit suicide by the corrupt, evil leaders of his government.” Maximus closed the World War II biography and returned it to the bookshelf. “I was fortunate – Commodus sent an inept lot to murder me.”
“If you had been ordered to take your own life, would you?” It would be interesting to hear the General’s response.
“A Roman soldier always obeys the orders of his superior officers,” responded Maximus, obliquely, with a smile. “Hando, you are late for our discussion of strategy and tactics. Think about that during your swim to the third Apostle.”
“Sir?” Jack, who had been sitting quietly listening to Meridias and Thorne’s discussion, pointed to the far wall, where Dino was idly spinning a globe. Terry’s face lit up at the sight of his friend. The sight of Dino surfaced a flood of memories, and he embraced him.
“Shit, man, let me go — I can be had, but not without a drink first.”
“You must be a soldier, to make jokes like that,” Maximus remarked. He caught himself giving a Roman salute and extended his hand. “Maximus Decimus Meridias, at your service. This shy young fellow over here-” he waved the lieutenant over “-is Jack Corbett, lately a lieutenant in the Australian Army.”
“Tell me this is it,” replied Dino, teasing his former partner. “Or that your father gave your mum a cruise and a huge diamond. Are they all as rotten as you?”
“One of us is worse,” responded Maximus dryly. “With luck, his lady will have him tied up.”
“Literally,” added Jack, softly.
Dino raised an eyebrow at the quantity of information just sent his way. He limited his response to one observation.
“You got more than two women around here, right?”
“Yes, indeed.” Maximus smiled “My Evelyne is with Aurore, Chelle and Steph. I believe they are giving each other manicures.”
“I left Stef sleeping,” smiled a satisfied Hando.
“Annabella’s making magic in the kitchen, Wendy’s on the golf course with Dr. Wigand, and NJ and Kath are out riding with Mannie and East,” added Jack. “There are easily a dozen more regulars, plus the ones who show up just for Saturday night.”
“Shit, man!” cried Borgarelli, feigning outrage, “What in the hell did you do to deserve this? You bastard, I bet you got one for each day of the week.” He turned to the other three brothers.
“I know you’ve gotta have a bar around here this is a great story for a beer– Thorne could always find those, and the babes, wherever we went. Let me tell you about the time we were in Kuwait. There was this hot sergeant from Mississippi, a real looker, with b-”
“They don’t need to hear that, Dino,” Terry cut him off, ignoring Jack’s and Hando’s whoops. Maximus feigned indifference, figuring he could make Thorne do pushups at a later date until he talked. “Actually, I asked you here because I’m having a bit of trouble with a sheila.” He winced as Dino rolled his eyes.
“Can’t be what that little blue pill is for,” responded Dino, becoming serious in response to Terry’s cue.
“No, mate, I wish it were that easy.”
“C’mon soldier-” he slapped his buddy on the back. “- buy me that drink and tell me what Red can do for ya.” Nodding to the others, Dino started for the door, Terry following.
“How was your poussin?”
“Delicious; Nora always prepares it so beautifully.”
Sophy had invited Professor Trelawney to the Washington area for a day of relaxation. They’d spent the morning at the East Wing of the National Gallery admiring the traveling exhibition of Italian Renaissance portraits of women, stopped briefly in the West Wing to view their favorite oil — Vermeer’s Woman Weighing Pearls, and eaten a late lunch. Now, suitably fortified, they were preparing to deal with the shopping crowds at Tyson’s Corner. Sophy was convinced that buying a dress at Bloomingdales would go a long way towards cheering her up. Miriam Trelawney simply wanted to find out how her niece was faring, and perhaps pick up another St. Johns knit suit.
As they walked to the parking garage on Mass Avenue where Sophy had parked her car, the Professor removed a compact from her pocketbook and dusted her nose. Sophy was amused — in all the years she’d known her aunt, she’d never detected even this trace of vanity.
“Do you know a red-haired man, about five foot nine, wiry build?” Trelawney asked quietly.
Sophy shook her head.
“He’s been following us since we left your house this morning.”
“I’m supposed to be trained to detect a tail; how come I didn’t and you did?” the younger woman wondered.
“Because you persist in using ordinary methodology, while I use divination. Really, child, I can never understand your stubborn insistence on playing by ordinary mortals’ rules. I do not see a prima ballerina attempting a grand jete with a lead weight on her leg.”
Sophy sighed and muttered an incantation under her breath. She pulled her aunt into a stationery store. “Yes, I see his eyes looking in our direction.” She fingered a box of luxurious ivory notecards, pretending to admire their gold engraved crest of a sun. She overheard the man asking directions to Georgetown.
Tapping her aunt lightly on the arm, she sauntered out of the shop. Moments later, so did he.
“Nukkua,” she greeted him upon his exit. His eyes glazed over.
“I hope he hasn’t parked a car — he’ll owe a fortune on it by the time he returns to it,” she remarked dryly to her aunt, as the three of them proceeded to Sophy’s vehicle.
Sophy pondered carefully what questions she would ask the stalker as she took the I66 exit for Northern Virginia. If her queries pointed to his purpose too directly, he would awaken, and then he might escape.
“So, buddy, what’s your name?”
“Borgarelli, Dino. Serial number 143842.”
Oh good grief — obviously former military, and obviously given deep hypnosis to foil interrogation techniques. Wait — Dino…
The Professor saw Sophy’s glow of recognition. “Ah, so you know him.”
“Yes, and who sent him — my favorite panther at the Point. But I don’t know why.”
The gray-haired woman’s eyes sparkled with curiosity. “Wake him and find out — we’re moving too quickly for him to jump out. For that matter, isn’t the speed limit 55?”
Sophy grinned and eased back on the pedal. “After we shop. In his current state, he’ll be very helpful.”
“I’m sure he knows his friend’s preferences in women’s clothing; this could be entertaining.”
“But he has that glazed expression.”
“So?” Sophy was unperturbed. “Most men dragged to shopping malls by wives and girlfriends wear glazed expressions; he’ll fit right in. I’ll buy him a double espresso at Starbucks; that will rouse him for sure.”
It was a startled and caffeine-high Dino who found himself seated at a café table between the two women he’d been following. Irked at his capture, he balked at answering questions, instead posing his own.
Yes, she worked for Central Intelligence; to reveal her identification card, however, would be a security breach. How about a business card?
So Terry’s motive had nothing to do with her family background. Instead, he seemed be doubting her employment.
“Where do you think I work, then?”
“Terry thinks you’re an exotic dancer.”
Sophy rolled her eyes in astonishment. “And that upsets him? C’mon, I bet the two of you have been in your share of gentlemen’s clubs.” She winked at her aunt, who nodded, taking Dino’s hand in her own. “Like this one.”
Dino found himself staring at a very pretty, and very scantily attired receptionist and a bouncer the size of the Washington Monument.
“Would you please ask Joe to come to our table? Tell him Strelka is here.” To Dino’s dismay the receptionist disappeared. He would have preferred to continue looking at her rather than the security guard.
A few minutes later, they were approached by a dark-eyed man all in black, except for the thick gold necklace revealed by his mostly unbuttoned shirt.
“Sophy!” He gave the younger woman a hearty embrace and a noisy kiss. “Need to hire some girls to entertain our nation’s finest out in the ‘Stan’ countries?” He appraised her critically. “Or maybe you’d like to moonlight? I know the government doesn’t pay what private industry does.”
The petite lawyer grinned. “So you’ve got clientele now who like thirty-something year old butts with cellulite? I do my best at the gym, Joe, but… This is my aunt, Miriam Trelawney-”
The club owner bowed and planted a kiss on her extended hand. He turned to Dino.
“I’ve seen you here before. I never forget a face.”
Sophy smiled as Dino gave his name. She wondered-
“Ever seen this fellow here?” She held out a photo of Terry.
Joe smiled. “I make it a rule never to tell ladies if I’ve seen a particular man here. Could get him in trouble. But, for you, I’ll make an exception. Yes. Two years ago. Very popular with Babette and Lorelei; instead of dollar bills, he stuffed twenties down their–”
Sophy whooped as Dino turned bright red for his pal.
“Are they working tonight?” Her eyes glittered with a plan.
“Just finished. Follow me to the dressing room; I’ll introduce you.”
The dressing room was as cramped and brightly lit as ever. Bits of feather and lingerie were strewn about, along with the occasional leather whip or G-string. A mousy blonde, naked except for a red and blue thong and star-shaped pasties, was brushing out a gorgeous, wavy wig. Next to her, a short-haired brunette was touching up her red nails.
“Babs, Lori, this lady used to work here — how many years ago now, Sophy?”
Sophy responded with a grimace. “When I was in law school.”
“Youse remember this guy?” He plucked the photo from Sophy’s hands. The women giggled.
“Oooh, that lovely accent; he said ‘ai’ instead of ‘a’…” – “Real flirt during the lap dances.”
Sophy’s face shifted into a victory expression. “Would you all mind posing for a photo with me? I’ll pay you, of course.” She produced two fifties and Professor Trelawney a camera — to Dino’s eye, out of thin air. A flash, and it was done. The three checked the image in the digital camera. Perfect.
“Are you a friend of his?” asked the brunette, snuggling up to Dino. Ordinarily, the K & R negotiator would’ve taken full advantage of this opportunity. Ordinarily, however, he wouldn’t have been backstage watched by a woman old enough to be his mother. He patted the dancer’s hand.
“Later,” was all he managed to choke out.
“Look, I brought you this.” It was Joe again, with a photo of his own, which he showed to the dancers and visitors. A younger, longer-haired Sophy smiled provocatively, wearing a filmy belly dancer’s skirt, a dozen bangles, and not much else.
“You were very popular with the Russians. We don’t get so many of them in here anymore.”
“So the CIA hired you while you were an exotic dancer?” This was weird, but Dino had heard stranger stories emanating from Langley.
“Yes.” Sophy was treating Dino to upscale southern cuisine at Vidalia; compensation for the headache he’d garnered from her spell — the Finnish hex did that to some people. “I needed money for my law school tuition. My parents thought I’d attended enough non-enchanter schools, and refused to pay. Believe me, with master’s degree in psychology as my only qualifications, I couldn’t find another job as lucrative. The Agency noticed that the Russians, bless ’em, showed up when I danced. When I passed the bar, the Agency hired me as a lawyer.”
Dino smiled, thinking of Sophy’s curriculum vitae. “Weren’t you embarrassed?” He took another forkful of shrimp and grits.
“Yeah, some,” she admitted. “But back then I was as nearsighted as hell. I couldn’t see the faces of the guys. So it was easy for me to act like they weren’t there, except for one.”
“Oh?” Must’ve been some loudmouthed drunk, pushy and obnoxious, he reasoned.
“I knew he was Navy, by the color of his uniform. I agreed to meet him after my set — something I never did for anyone else. He looked a little like a young Robert Redford.”
Miriam smiled. “Daniel?” she asked the younger woman, who nodded as she swallowed a bite of her corn custard.
“The only fellow I ever lap danced for,” replied Sophy. The smile on her face transformed into a smirk. “Now, speaking of lap dances — I want you to give Terry this photo of the dancers and me. And you can tell him I said he’s a fucking hypocrite.”
“He’ll agree with you that he screwed up,” Dino admitted, trying to make amends for his buddy. “He hasn’t had the best track record with women. When he was married, he was gone all the time, trying to prove himself worthy of being a general’s son-in law. Cynthia was used to having men make over her, and Terry wasn’t around to do that, so she found other men who would. In the end, they had nothing in common but Henry.”
“Why did he marry her then?”
“Why does he go for any of the women that he does? Terry chases after the ones he can’t have — the married ones or the ones whose lives or schedules can’t mesh with his. He says he’s a master of unrequited love, but the truth is he’s scared to death of commitment.”
“Well, he can work his neuroses out with someone else,” responded Sophy bitterly. “I’m looking forward to using my psych training to help Chelle out with Nash when he arrives later this month, but Thorne can foist his miserable neuroses on someone else. I thought — wrongly- we were connected.”
“You are connected to some young man at the Point; whether it is Terry, I do not know.” The Professor, who’d been quiet throughout dinner, now spoke.
Dino turned to the elegant older woman. “What makes you so sure?”
Her glance focussed on an immeasurable distance for a moment. Then, withdrawing a packet from her pocketbook, she held it to her chest.
“It was 1968 — the Cold War was at its height. I was a graduate student at — well, never mind. I worked at the US Embassy in Berlin as a secretary for the CIA employees posted there.
He was chain-smoking at the Berlin Wall. You needn’t know his name; he was a KGB agent, posing as a press attaché to the Russian Embassy. Of course, his cover fooled no one; there were as many press attachés assigned to the Russian Embassies around the world as there were stars in the sky.
He saw me, I saw him; we became lovers. That simply, that fast. If either side had learned of our relationship, we would have been disgraced.
He defected one sunny afternoon in May. The KGB turned one of our drivers, who drove him back to the Russians. Our Marines captured another attaché rifling through our embassy’s garbage one night. We sought to exchange this captive for him.
I watched from a window overlooking the street, as the Russians allowed him to walk halfway across Checkpoint Charlie. They fired one steel-tipped bullet into his back. He was looking up at me, in the window, when he died.”
Miriam withdrew a photograph from the packet.
With a shave and a haircut, the resemblance would be unmistakeable.
“So will I see you again?” Dino turned to the pair of women before sliding into his car.
“Who can say?” replied the Professor, evasively. She had performed some extraordinarily risky magic to bring him to the Point at Chelle’s telephonic request. What a resourceful and lovely child the Canadian was; Miriam was impressed that the young woman had located her). She did not want to hurt the young man’s feelings by saying ‘no,’ but frankly, she doubted she could accomplish the feat a second time.
Bringing him to the Real World had taken considerable effort and skill, but that could be accomplished again, if needed. She doubted, however, that their paths would cross a second time. The truth of the matter was she did not believe Sophy’s connection was with Terry and therefore, there was no reason to hold a Real World reunion of the two K & R negotiators and her favorite niece. But Sophy had never responded well to unsolicited advice.
Sitting on the edge of his bed, Terry’s gaze flitted from the photos Dino had left him – of the Russian agent, to that of the three women, to that of the young Sophy. Dino had refused to comment concerning Sophy’s reaction to the disclosure of his lap dances. He knew Dino. It had to be bad news. He bent his head in his hands. A couple more days, and it would be Friday. If only she’d return. He didn’t know what he’d say beyond “I’m sorry,” but he bloody had to set things right.
He saw her in the dining room, seated with Steph and Anthony. He overheard the two women talking shop, sharing war stories about document discovery disasters.
Terry reached for the fourth, empty chair at the table.
“I’m sorry, these seat is taken,” Sophy responded coolly. Her dinner companion’s surprise at her reaction to the hostage negotiator changed to shock as a second Sophy appeared in the chair. Anthony quickly crossed himself, and Stephanie did too, just in case.
Sophy B turned her back on Terry. “Stop me if you’ve heard this dreadful lawyer joke,” she said to the others. “Did you hear about the new sushi bar that caters exclusively to lawyers?”
“No,” said Anthony, taking the bait.
“It’s called Sosumi.” Both Sophies giggled.
Sophy wasn’t any friendlier in the Tavern. She and Johnny headed off to their own table and gave anyone who looked like they might join them a ‘please don’t’ look. Terry took little comfort from the fact that Johnny wasn’t looking too happy either. Sophy must have turned down his advances too. At least she was smiling at Ryan, though. And at the evening’s end, Ryan was smiling too.
He finally caught her at Cort’s Sunday service. She couldn’t avoid him when they passed the peace. She looked him directly in the eye, then dodged his mouth kiss for a cheek to cheek brush.
He thought he saw tears in her eyes. Certainly her voice didn’t ring out during the next hymn.
After the service, she let him catch up to her as she walked slowly back to the hotel.
“Please, don’t,” she whispered, when he tried to put an arm around her. He tucked the offending limb behind his back, military style.
There were tears in her eyes. Even if nothing else could ever happen between them again, he longed to brush them away.
“You hurt me,” Sophy declared. “After the hell you went through, before I found my way here, after the hell we both went through with Sid, after the wonderful part that I thought, I thought…; it meant a lot to me…” Sophy fought back her grimace and wiped her cheeks. “You didn’t trust me. Heaven knows I’m not perfect, but I can be trusted; I’m as loyal as they come.”
“I’m sorry. Sorrier than I’ve ever been, in my whole fucked-up life.” Terry had a momentary daydream that Sophy reached for him and joined her lips to his in an accepting kiss. But he knew he’d hurt her far too badly for that.
The pair stood in dismal silence on the pathway. The other residents of the Point took note of the long faces, and found other routes. Chelle felt a massive headache coming on. The cost of being Keeper meant she endured far more of the Boyz pain than anyone but Colin realized. She didn’t know if Sophy would come visit her later seeking female solace and extra tissues. Sophy was more like an injured cat, more likely to lick her wounds in private.
Finally, Sophy broke the silence. “One day, we’ll be friends.” She cut Thorne off before he could interrupt. “But you have to give me some time.”
Terry gave himself a mental thrashing. Before he’d pummeled his ego to the ground, Sophy offered him a melancholy smile. “You won’t be alone, Terry. There’s someone else for you. She’s much stronger than I; you give her any lip, she’ll cut you into pieces, literally.”
And with that, Sophy turned into her brown tabby self and bounded away.
Maximus could tell Sophy had been in the gym even before he saw her. The weights that he’d set at 210, 250, and 265 pounds were at 30, 45, and 90.
Sophy was in the corner talking to someone; Terry, he hoped. No, it was Chelle, Tina, and Steph. The other three women squealed.
“You can’t watch!” “Get out!” “I’m sorry, I’m too embarrassed to do this.”
“No you’re not,” Sophy replied, smiling. “Max, could you go toss a caber instead of weightlifting this morning? I would so appreciate it.” Sophy was in a pair of black spandex shorts, a bright red thong, and a matching sports bra. And red stilettos. The other women were also wearing heels, though their exercise clothing was a bit less revealing.
“How will you know if you are dancing properly unless you have an audience?” He looked up from under his long, dark lashes.
“Max. Out, or I’m telling Evelyne. You can watch our show later tonight, at the Tavern.”
He left, so preoccupied with this intelligence he ran into Hando.
“If you value your life,” the general tried to look stern, “do not enter that gym.”
Laughing, he wrestled the skinhead to the ground and whispered in his ear.
By noon, it was all over the Point. Be at the Tavern at midnight, even if you have to return from a rendezvous. Andy, in charge of the music for the evening, had more details, but he wasn’t talking, even to Colin or John. Anthony said a few extra Hail Marys; what kind of hijinks had Sophy talked his Steph into?
At the stroke of midnight, the tolling of an unseen clock drowned out the sound of the dance music on the floor of the Tavern. A red velvet curtain, that certainly hadn’t been over by the bar before, opened. No one was behind it.
Sid began to bang an Allen Edmonds shoe on his table. Sophy grabbed it, leaning down from the broom she’d just flown in on through the back door of the tavern. Tina, Chelle, and Steph, astride behind her, waved gaily to their respective mates. The four alighted to the song “Lady Marmalade:”
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir
Voulez vous coucher avec moi
Sophy, throwing her red Santa hat to Jeff, ripped off the camouflage jacket she was wearing to display a red satin Brazilian bikini bottom, ever so slightly larger than a thong, and two equally small triangles pretending to be a top.
Chelle, leering in Colin’s direction, playfully undid the blue car-parts jacket she was wearing to reveal a daring one-piece ensemble in black leather, complete with whip. Wagging her hips, she stepped forward in her spike-heeled boots and snapped the weapon in time to the music.
We independent women, some mistakes us for whores
I’m sayin’ why spend mine when I can spend yours
Disagree? Well that’s you and I’m sorry
Now Tina, clad in one of John’s parkas turned her back to the crowd and began to shimmy out of the heavy clothing. The white lace merry widow trimmed in peach-colored ribbon emphasized her voluptuous figure.
Sid began pounding his remaining shoe on his table, catcalling to the women, daring one of them to take it from him.
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir
Voulez vous coucher avec moi
To Anthony’s horror, Steph jumped up on table, spun the stethoscope off her neck, and threw the white physician’s jacket she’d been wearing over Sid’s head. After flaunting her outfit of gold lamé strips of fabric (Anthony hoped they were glued on), she kicked the shoe out of Sid’s hand.
Four bad ass chicks from the Moulin Rouge
She wagged her ass at him, daring him to come get her.
Lady grabbed the collar of Sid’s jacket. She’d seen that the shoe had been changed into a small brown rabbit and had hopped away. She recalled Sophy once joked about turning Sid into a frog. She knew Sophy wouldn’t do anything permanent to him, but kissing a toad, even once, wasn’t what she planned to do with Sid once they returned to his yacht tonight.
Immediately, the four launched into another dance, bumping and grinding in provocative unison to Donna Summer:
Lookin’ for a lover who needs another
don’t want another night on my own
wanna share my love with a warm blooded lover
wanna bring a wild man back home
Maximus slapped John on the back, grinning. “I take it marriage is all that you anticipated?” John nodded dreamily, not taking his eyes off Tina, who was giving it her all, with moves that could boil ice straight to steam.
Gotta have some hot love baby this evenin’
I need some hot stuff baby tonight
Arthur buried his face in Savannah’s shoulder, but when she looked over, she could tell he was peeking. Wow — She watched Chelle, who, like the other women, had her legs in the air. And what was that move they were doing with their pelvises? She took mental notes; this would come in very handy one day.
I want some hot stuff baby this evenin’
gotta have some lovin’
got to have a love tonight
Now the four began to circle their respective poles, rubbing seductively up against them, spreadlegged, to the sweet tune of Roberta Flack’s Feel Like Makin’ Love:
Strollin’ in the park, watchin’ winter turn to spring
Walkin’ in the park, seein’ lovers do their thing
That’s the time, I feel like makin’ love to you
That’s the time, I feel like makin’ dreams come true
Looking directly at Terry, Sophy began sucking her index finger as she undulated towards him. His crotch began to throb. Sophy knelt in front of Thorne, letting her hair cascade onto the mound on his lap.
When you talk to me, when you’re moanin’ sweet and low,
When you’re touchin’ me, and my feelin’s start to show,
Bud, who’d had a sympathetic drink with his Aussie brother the evening before, breathed a sigh of relief. “I think she’s forgiven him,” he murmured to Aurore, who nodded, her eyes round as Sophy stood up and stepped over Terry’s lap, straddling it. Not touching him, but so, so close…
That’s the time, I feel like makin’ love to you
That’s the time, I feel like makin’ dreams come true
Sophy tilted her face towards Terry’s, her eyes tenderly locked onto his. He could almost feel her eyelashes, the breath from her soft mouth. Breathing hard, reaching for her, he parted his lips, begging for a kiss.
He was so tempting. Another moment and they would have been joined together in a position that would have been considered outrageous at her old dance club.
From the wings, Jeff watched, wondering whether to change the chosen music.
But then Sophy launched herself away, flinging Terry’s arms back.
The love ballad was replaced by Gloria Gaynor’s rant:
At first I was afraid I was petrified
Kept thinkin’ I could never live without you by my side;
But then I spent so many nights
Thinkin’ how you did me wrong
And I grew strong
And I learned how to get along
She returned to crouch alluringly on Terry’s table, singing along with the music, blinking back her tears.
And so you’re back from outer space
I just walked in to find you here with that sad look upon your face
Just as quickly, she rolled off to join the others, in a line. Borrowing Chelle’s whip, Sophy began to snap it as Chelle had done.
Go on now, go walk out the door
Just turn around now
(’cause) you’re not welcome anymore
Weren’t you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye
Did I crumble
Did you think I’d lay down and die?
Oh no, not I.
Now Chelle, Tina, and Steph joined their partners. But Sophy kept on dancing, making her meaning very clear.
It took all the strength I had not to fall apart
Kept trying’ hard to mend the pieces of my broken heart,
And I spent oh so many nights
Just feeling sorry for myself. I used to cry
But now I hold my head up high
And you see me somebody new
I’m not that chained up little person still in love with you,
And so you feel like droppin’ in
And just expect me to be free,
Now I’m savin’ all my lovin’ for someone who’s lovin’ me
Summoning her broom, she sat on it, sidesaddle, legs crossed, and sang the final refrain:
I will survive
Oh as long as I know how to love I know I’ll stay alive;
I’ve got all my life to live,
I’ve got all my love to give and I’ll survive,
I will survive.
And with that, before the crowd realized the show was over and began to applaud, she flew out.
“So will you be back next week?” Chelle, still in stage makeup, with Colin keeping her warm, was on the phone to Sophy. Tina and Steph, similarly protected from the pre-Christmas chill, leaned over. Chelle flipped the phone to speaker mode.
“Funny, Max asked me that same question. Sort of a subtle way of interceding on behalf of…” Sophy stopped before the name. “I told him I’d crossed the Rubicon. No, I won’t be back until after Christmas, maybe New Year’s, and then only to help with Nash’s arrival.” She emphasized the word ‘only’ determinedly. Her voice dropped, as if she was talking to herself. “”I’ve always had a thing for soldiers, so no wonder he swept me off my feet…”
Chelle waited patiently as Sophy made noisy use of a tissue.
“Take care,” she murmured, giving the other woman an oral hug. “Whatever else, you still have your daughter.”
“Yes,” Sophy replied, choking back her emotion as she rang off. “Thank God I do.”