Monday, October 31, 2016

SEGMENT SIX: Length of Days-The Age of Silence (Copyright 2011 Doris Gaines Rapp)

Thackery and the Blue Guard

11:30 a.m.
Inside the Demitasse, I found a seat near the back where I could wait for Jason. Rather than facing the wall as I always did, I looked out over the people as they came and went and sipped their drinks. What looked to be a dad and his son were sitting at a table across from me. Even though their emotions were stilted, they were obviously enjoying each other’s company. The boy, about ten years old, reached over and grabbed the last potato strip from his father’s plate, then laughed. Dad rumpled the boy’s hair and smiled. A couple in the corner were experiencing the beginning of an attraction neither seemed to understand nor felt comfortable with. He kept averting her eyes and stared into his cup with a hidden grin. I had to smile. Being part of the world was an amazing, new experience. Maybe I had been aloof in the past, just as Jason had teased.
Then, a man entered the café and looked directly at me without glancing away as most people did. He not only kept his eyes fixed on me, he continued to approach me from yards away. I squirmed a little in my seat as the bold, strange man continued toward me. In the present era, men simply do not openly watch a Legacy woman. When he got to my table, he leaned on it heavily with the knuckles of both his hands and whispered.
“Hi, Gorgeous, I haven’t seen that beautiful, shiny hair around town before.”
I was both irritated and afraid. Men not only didn’t talk to Legacy women, they did not flirt—with anyone. The truth was, in our current age, men simply didn’t have the emotional capacity or adequate hormonal level to flirt.
How was I going to respond to him? He frightened me in a way that made me want to run and hide. I thought of my grandmother and the kind words she had for everyone while maintaining a razor back dignity. Looking at the man with Grand-mère’s royal authority, I spoke with all the confidence I could muster. “Young man, who are you and what do you want?”
He grinned arrogantly at my response. “Well done, My Lady.” Then he leaned in even further. “I wonder if you have noticed how bright the lights are today. The reds and greens are great.”
“Yes, but ―”
“Thomas thinks the blues are casting dark shadows though.”
“Who are you?” I demanded. A cold chill shot across my back and his mentioning Thomas’s name offered no comfort. Maybe it was because my world had never been intruded on before and it was now being bombarded with stimuli from every angle. I sipped on the water the waitress had placed on the table, hoping to calm the sickening feeling that refused to be controlled.
“I’m Thackery, Ma’am. A friend of Sean’s.” Then he winked.
His brashness amazed me. “You also have a friend at the medical center don’t you,” I said. It was a statement, not a question.
He smiled mischievously. “You mean . . . well never mind. You may be talking about someone or something else.”
“There are others?” I whispered.
“There are many of us, Christiana.” Again he smiled and then suddenly became serious. “Are you with us or against us?”
“I’m just learning who us may be, Thackery.” My discomfort had changed to interest but a measure of fear remained. I didn’t know what to think about the man or of all the new people in my life. “I have one singular goal at this time. Nothing else can get in my way, Thackery. I can tell you that.”
“I know My Lady,” He whispered.
“What do you know?” I questioned indignantly. I didn’t like his smugness. He seemed to know my mind before I knew it myself.
Thackery boldly slipped onto the chair next to me. “I know you have dear ones who will be celebrating their birthdays very soon.”
“I don’t think I like your knowing all about me and I know nothing about you.” The feeling of being spied on crept in again.
“You and all the Elites, Christiana. We may not be able to print your pictures in magazines that were banned a long time ago, like the celebrities in ages past, but we still know. The underground newspaper announces your every move, each and every event in your life. You are our stars today, My Lady. It’s just against the law for us to intrude on your privacy. You must not see us watching.”
I suddenly had a need to rub the chill from my arms. “Being watched is just creepy,” I said.
“Maybe. I wouldn’t know. I’m not the focus of all that adoration.”
“Adoration? Thackery, is it admiration? I thought it would be disdain, not respect.” My thoughts wandered to the many times I knew I was being observed and my experience was not Thackery’s experience.
“You don’t have to be afraid of us, Christiana.  But, have you noticed the increase in Blue Shirts on the streets? There had been fewer last evening, but now just before the holiday, there is definitely a stronger presence.”
“Until the last few days, I don’t think I noticed anything going on around me.”
“I have. I don’t know what it’s all about, but you’d better be careful. No smiling in public, no laughter, no display of affection or emotion of any kind.”
“That’s hard to do.” I thought of Jason.
“I know. When you have someone in your life like the Doc, it’s hard not to smile all the time. Dahlia gives me the flutters.”
“Dahlia?” I tried to show no surprise then stopped. What had he just said before referring to Dahlia? “Wait! Have you seen Jason and me together?”
“Many of us have, Ma’am.” He lowered his voice to a whisper and looked around the room. “Do you still hear the music?”
My heart stopped its beating and my breath caught in my throat. “You know about the music?” I could not resist rambling on. “Isn’t it the most miraculous sound you have ever heard?” Then I stopped.
“What is it?” Thackery asked without turning around. He slowly sat back in his chair, apparently not wanting to give away any urgency in our conversation.
“Some high ranking Blue Shirt has just come in,” I whispered, then unobtrusively dropped a detox table into the water the waitress had previously placed in front of me. I held the glass to my lips, hoping I could block any expression of curiosity or fear. “I’ve seen him around town several times this morning, and I think last evening as well.”
“A lot of people have.” Thackery responded nonchalantly as if he were talking about the price of peaches in the winter season. He smoothed imaginary wrinkles from the table cloth. “Is he sitting down?”
“No, he’s coming this way.” I stopped and replaced my glass on the table.
The Blue Shirt touched his hat but didn’t remove it. “Ma’am.” He looked at me then at Thackery. “Is this man bothering you?”
I had to think fast. Was he asking me about my association with this man I had just met? I didn’t know who Thackery’s friends were. If I responded in the affirmative, I may have admitted to an association with those engaged in seditious actions or words. If I said I didn’t know him, it might place Thackery in jeopardy.
“We have a mutual acquaintance,” I said. “He was asking for a suggestion on a possible Gift Day present for her.”
Stoner’s facial expression never changed. With his steely eyes fixed on me, he demanded in a frighteningly friendly manner, “And who might it be, Miss Applewait, that you both know?”
“Dahlia Zoobamba lives in my building.” I responded confidently, then added. “She is also my physician’s nurse.”
“Yes, I know. Dr. O’Reilly.”
“You know when I’ve gone to the doctor?” I blurted out. I should have let the comment pass. I was close to revealing an emotion I dare not display. Novels described it as anger.
“No Ma’am. I happen to know that Dahlia Zoobamba is Dr. O’Reilly’s nurse.” He stared intently at me and then asked? “What have you suggested?”
“About what?” I stammered.
“She thought Dahlia might like a brightly colored silk scarf to wrap around her head in this cold weather.” Thackery interjected.
“I wasn’t asking you,” Stoner glared. Then he turned to me again. “That sounds fine, Ma’am. Just where might one find such a scarf.”
“I was just in the boutique down the street. They have a whole display of beautiful, brightly colored scarfs in floral and geometric patterns.” Luckily I had just admired the scarfs as I was leaving the shop.
“Yes, Ma’am. I’ll check on that.” He looked at me again and stated flatly as if he were reading from a formal report. “You have had a busy schedule this morning, My Lady.”
“Yes, thank you for keeping your eye out for me. I’m finishing my shopping for Gift-giving Day.”
“Oh you are?” he stated doubtfully. “And what have you bought this morning?”
I felt uncomfortable. It was as though the hunted had turned and faced the hunter. A chill came over me that threatened to freeze out my fledgling confidence. Again, I could hear the faint sound of angel voices singing their calming songs. Peace warmed my spine and recharged the boldness battery I had inherited from Grand-mère. “I bought a lovely caftog just a little while ago at that same boutique. I’ll enjoy wearing it at my family’s dinner on Gift-giving Day.” Then I added, because I rarely bought anything and had some sudden need to justify my purchase, “I haven’t bought anything new in quite a while. Would you like to see it?” I reached for the shopping bag I had stashed under the table. I froze. The book, would the Inspector see it if I opened the package?
“That’s not necessary, Ma’am,” Stoner replied flatly. He turned and walked away.
I finally exhaled and sat back.
“That was interesting,” Thackery whispered.
“What was interesting?” Jason came up to the table while I was still trying to shake the jitters I had just acquired from the inspector’s prying comments.
“Jason,” I gasped in relief.
“Calmly,” Thackery warned.
“I can be calm,” I assured him. “Did you see him, Jason? The Blue Guard officer that was at the apartment building last night. He was just in here. He was asking questions and trying to trip us up.”
Jason stood for a second and then started to take a seat. “Are you all right?” Then he looked at Thackery. “Who is this man, Christy?”
Thackery jumped to his feet. “Here, Dr. O’Reilly, take my seat. I was just leaving and you two will probably want to be alone.”
“How did you ―?”
“Dahlia called me last night. I had hoped to get over to see her during the evening but I was helping Sean. I’ll see Dahlia later.” Then he bowed slightly. “I’m Thackery Swift.”
Jason seemed to be shuffling through recent memories in his mind. “Oh,” he restrained a smile, “Swifty. Dahlia has mentioned you, one or two or twenty times.”
“Yes, Sir,” he admitted.
Swifty’s cheeks turned red and I remembered the warmth of my own cheeks the day before. So that’s what we look like when we blush.
Thackery pulled the chair out for the doctor and leaned forward a little as he moved. “Dahlia will be at home on her piano bench again this evening if you want to join us.”
“I would love to,” I agreed with enthusiasm. “The music was so soul strengthening I long to hear and sing more.”
“See you tonight,” Thackery waved as he headed toward the door.
Jason frowned as I told him how the Blue Guardsman had almost threatened me. “I see him lurking around wherever I go, Jason.”
“We must be careful not to give him anything to be suspicious about,” Jason said. “But as Legacy Citizens, we should be free to move about the city, to take a walk, to have an uninterrupted cup of coffee. Are you ready to go?”

Story Checking

Ward Stoner had accomplished little at the Demitasse. As he stepped out of the coffee shop, he looked out on the street and shook his head. No one had stood up to him in so many years he had forgotten how it felt. Chalky Boone always stood her own ground, but, she didn’t count. That was her job. Besides, her keen investigative mind and her resistance to intimidation were two of the reasons he had kept her around. Now, there was a new person in his life who didn’t flinch in his game of political poker.
Well now, we’ll just see about you, Missy. He jerked open the door of the store his new opponent had mentioned. There had better be scarfs near the entrance.
“May I help you, Sir?” Valley asked as the inspector entered the store.
“I was told about these scarfs you have on display here,” he began in his skilled way.
“Yes, Sir,” she smiled and picked up one of the colorful pieces of silk.
“Perhaps you waited on her . . . Lady Applewait?”
“Yes, she was in here.”
“Well, what did she buy?” Stoner had lost his patience years ago and raced through life on raw adrenaline charged by anger, excitement, danger, or any other experience in his day.
“Sir, I’m not supposed to gossip about our patrons and certainly not if they are Legacy Citizens.” Valley smiled slightly and pursed her lips tightly.
“She just told me she had bought a caftog,” he tried to mask his agitation and managed only a fair imitation of a real person. “That sounded like a good gift for my mother. She’s young at heart and would enjoy wearing one just like Lady Applewait’s.”
“Yes, Sir,” Valley perked up with the thought of another generous commission for the day. “They are right here. Lady Applewait chose this gorgeous green. I’m sure it will be lovely with her hair.”
“Those things seem to be important to some people . . . not my mother.” He ran his fingers over the fabric. It was exquisite, with hand embroidered details on the hem. “I’ll take it. Wrap it up,” he ordered.
“Yes, Sir!” she smiled. Valley didn’t mask her surprise or joy. With that additional sale, she had earned more in one hour than she had all that day.
Stoner grabbed the package and started for the door where he passed the scarfs again. You may have won the first hand, but I will win the game, he snickered. You don’t even realize you’re in a high stakes game with your own life in the pot. The challenge of each hand he was dealt invigorated him. No one was clever enough to trump him. He would not lose for any reason. By the time he had reached that hand in the game, he would have marched into hell to win the match.

A Dance in the Snow

12:30 p.m.

As we left the café, I shivered as I looked around to see if the Blue Guard might be waiting outside. I was still upset over the contact with the Guardsman.
“Are you cold?” Jason asked as he put his arm around my shoulder.
“No, it was something Thackery said.”
“According to Dahlia, Swifty has quite an imagination.”
Looking up ahead in the square, I saw a car pull to the side of the street. Two more men from the Blue Guard got out and stormed the area, running in cadence toward the hospital. I tried not to think about them or the cause of their increased activity. I wanted to enjoy my time with Jason.
Focusing on the season rather than the sinister, I turned back to what Thackery had said about Gift Day mentality. “They think the lights cause the little moths to cluster around so they can spend their hard earned money until they get burned on the bulbs.” I snuggled closer to Jason as we walked along in the crisp air of the winter day.
“I guess they think if you have nothing in your life that brings you joy except spending money, you’ll spend until you bury yourself in debt you can never repay, just to get a small reprieve from the numbness of your existence.” Jason looked to the changing sky and the world around him. “Those who drink the water can’t find happiness in even the smallest things around them.”
“I understand now what you’re saying,” I agreed in amazement. “It’s like I’ve never seen clouds before, and I want to take in every glorious image I possibly can, in case the beauty is taken back again. Do you have time for us to walk a while? I want to absorb all the color I see around me.”
“I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.” He patted my hand as it rested on his arm. It fit there like we were made for walking together.
“How much time do you have?” I could have walked all day if I were walking with him.
He checked the clock on the courthouse tower. “About twenty minutes. I have to make two phone calls and do some paper work this afternoon and then I’m going to leave the office for the rest of the day.”
“You’ll come to the apartment so we can talk and then join the group for singing later this evening won’t you?” I whispered.
“I wouldn’t miss it for anything.” He patted my hand again.
“If you come about three, I’ll have a special concoction for you to try. Then, we could go down to the lobby ―” I saw the inspector coming out of the boutique and didn’t finish what I was saying. He eyed us suspiciously as we walked arm in arm, but I thought if I pulled away, it might raise more questions. I pretended not to see him. He walked on past us. Is he checking up on me? That thought made my skin prickle with fear.
Jason and I said no more for a few minutes until we got to the town square where the old octagonal, shake roofed structure stood in the center. Twinkling lights were artfully wound in and out of the white railing that surrounded it. The afternoon sky was overcast with fluffy gray snow clouds that dropped a linen-like film of shimmer over the day.
“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I never knew,” I improvised.
Jason took my hand and led me up the steps and onto the stage-like platform of the octagon. He pulled me near him and took me in his arms, like dancers I had read about in the books of old. He hummed the melody that streamed under the words, in my ear, “Where the tree tops glisten and children listen . . .”
“We’d better stop, Jason.” I knew dancing would be just as forbidden as the music and the joy that the holidays had inspired.
“I don’t know if I can stop anymore now, Christy. I know I’m moving fast, but I have waited so long for you to come along. Attraction is a powerful thing and without additives, it is like it was in the days of old. They called it love at first sight.
“I’ve heard of such an emotion, and for the first time, I understand what that means.” Being with Jason this short time had awakened me to the new emotions that had the power to make me understand risky behavior. “What will happen if someone sees us dancing, Jason?”
He stepped back and looked into my eyes. “Yes, I know it is best not to draw attention. It’s best no one sees us. If our outward behavior gives away our inner emotions, people may notice. That could be dangerous.”

Warmth from a Distance is No Warmth at All

It was too late. Someone had already seen the doctor and his Lady in an embrace. Inspector Stoner sat in his strata-car at a nearby curb. The frosty air was fogging up his windshield so he cleaned it with a small scrapper. It made him even angrier. Every small inconvenience was interpreted as a personal affront to his worthiness, his intelligence. The gods were against him. Why does it always . . . ? Then he would fill in any complaint to complete his protests against life.
Well, well, well, he mumbled to himself as he watched the happy couple dancing in the park. I may have caught a really big fish. This little mermaid does anything she wants to do. He sneered into the emptiness around him. Why do they always think they can get by with breaking the law? And why are they so sickeningly happy?
He had watched them with irritated interest from the time they left the café. He saw the couple laugh and twirl together in each other’s arms. As he watched, he could feel his stomach tie up in its usual knot as he tried to process his loneliness without acknowledging his wife’s death. Stoner had no one to smile with. No ear to whisper into. No love to hold next to his heart. His heart had ceased aching. He felt nothing anymore.
Stoner had seen enough. He pulled his car back into the street and headed in the direction of his headquarters. Still, he couldn’t resist the need to watch the couple through the rear-view mirror until they disappeared when he turned the corner. He had to acknowledge the reality of his burnt out feelings but couldn’t figure out why the romance between the Lady and the doctor fascinated him. Romance had died in the sleep chamber with Miriam. He preferred feeling nothing. It was easier. His heart beat only by habit. It had become like his name, a stone.

Eyes in the Apartment

1:30 p.m.

It was still early when Jason and I left the town square with the promise that he would come to my place later. In the evening, we would join the singing group again. The city had turned the holiday lights on earlier than other days. Now, it was the afternoon of Gift-giving Eve and the colorful lights seemed to encourage the shoppers to spend more money. Society liked to pretend that it was a time to honor one another with gifts and an opportunity to bring families closer together in celebration. But, there was little joy or meaning in any of it anymore, not like the old books had described. It was no secret that Gift-giving was a vital part of our economy and provided the financial support to keep stores and businesses open the entire year, based on the proceeds from gift purchases. So, the cities were brightly decorated to stimulate what fragile emotions remained, to prompt more and more purchases. At least that was my theory. I looked for the blue lights among the precious gold, and I shuddered a little.

2:00 p.m.

I had ridden the P-T back to my building. I hurried into my apartment and threw the curtains open to let in as much of the afternoon light as possible. It was nearly 2:00 p.m. so the long shadows of trees and buildings stretched out across the city. The holiday lights twinkled even brighter than I had previously noticed. I stood at the large wall of windows and looked out on the city I loved. With few private cars and the tremendous cost of air fare and high speed train tickets, very few people traveled beyond the boundaries of the city, since that was as far as the Public Transit system ran. And, it was forbidden to travel to the other zones. Mass communication offered a sterile education about other places but that was different from actually walking in their green woods.
I turned on the large wall mounted communications screen and curled up on the couch. Society reserved one channel that looped a video throughout the day. The scene was of softly pounding waves on a pristine beach.

2:30 p.m.

Suddenly, the doorbell rang. As I turned to respond, I noticed something strange near the bookcase. Was it something that was there that hadn’t been there before? Or, something that wasn’t there, that had been there before. But . . . what was it? What was missing? What had been moved? What had been added? No one could have been in my apartment. It was forbidden to enter the home of a Legacy Citizen unless treason, sedition, or other acts against society were suspected.
The doorbell rang again and interrupted my thoughts. I hurried to answer it, hoping it was he.
“Good afternoon Christy,” Jason’s speech was carefully measured there in the public hallway, but his eyes spoke bushels more.
I hung his coat in the closet with mine and then grabbed Jason’s hand and almost dragged him into the room. He pretended to be surprised and stumbled in, then regained his balance once the door was closed. He whisked me nearly off my feet and hugged me long, with all the emotion his words could not express.
“It is so good to see you and I was just with you a few hours ago,” I laughed softly. I found myself whispering in my own apartment. “Come out to the kitchen, I have made something special.”
I led him into the food preparation area and ladled a full cup of cold creamy liquid into two cups. I handed it to him and waited for his reaction.
“Looks good. What is it?”
“Eggnog, Jason. I read about it in one of the books. It’s made with eggs, cream, milk and nutmeg. It’s a holiday drink they used to serve at Christmas parties. What do you think?” I was too excited to sip mine until I got Jason’s reaction. When Jason smiled over the rim of his cup, as he savored the sweetness of the drink, I tasted a sip of my own.
“This is wonderful, Christy!” He closed his eyes. “I want to enjoy the entire flavor of the drink with no other distractions—just taste.” He tipped up his cup and emptied the contents.
“Would you like more?”
“You know I would,” he admitted as he placed his cup on the counter and dipped out another ladle full.
We took our drinks into the living room and sat them on the table in front of the windows. It was beautiful there. The late afternoon lights were even more magical than they had appeared earlier.
“This looks wonderful, Christy.” Jason waited for me to be seated.
We talked and laughed and enjoyed each other, as red and green and gold lights danced across the scene beyond the building.
The events of the last day and a half raced through my mind like a collage of snippets and glimpses into a whole new world of emotions and color. Practicality was no longer the word that would define my life. But, I had few feeling-words in my verbal vocabulary to express my experience. I had read them but never expressed them. I was just a mass of sensitivity, and the raw nerves hurt at times.
I finished my eggnog as we sat in the quiet for a while. Later, I smiled at life, love and the cozy shadows that had settled into the apartment as I looked around the dimly lit room.
“Something wrong?” Jason asked as he followed my gaze into the corners of my space.
“I don’t know.” I looked at the bookcase again. “Just as you rang the doorbell, I noticed that something has been moved or added. I can’t put my finger on what it would be.”
We both looked around but couldn’t see anything out of place. “I must have imagined it,” I said. “Or, the kitten may have moved something.”
“I am so sorry you’ve been frightened so many times lately. I wish I could take it all away.” Then, Jason paused. “I know we forgot to finish something.” He stood up and took my hand, guiding me from the table. “Our little dance was interrupted,” he said as he gathered me in his arms in an old-fashioned waltz position. I remembered a well-written chapter in a book that described the dance and the music and the romance of it all.
We moved in a simple step in the silent room, but music soared within me. “The whole world is missing out on so much.  I wonder why they banned the music.”
“Emotions ride through the air and lodge in the heart on the strings of musical notes. If we weren’t permitted to feel anything anymore, they had to ban that which stirs the emotions.” Jason twirled me around. Then, like a grand ballroom move in an old book, he bent me back in a low dip.
“Jason!” I whispered a muffled gasp from my upside down position. It’s funny how we see things differently when we view them from another angle.
“What?” he hurriedly pulled me up. “Are you all right?”
“Oh . . . yes, but I saw something.” Again, I looked toward the book shelves.
Jason followed my gaze, looking for some clue, though neither of us knew what we were looking for.
I walked over to the books and searched up and down the shelves, pretending I was looking for a particular volume. The intruding object was there just as I suspected. I turned slowly and quietly, as if nothing were out of the ordinary. With my back to the bookcase, I winked solemnly at Jason.
“Well, now I’m ready for that ice cream you promised me this afternoon.” I was glad I hadn’t identified a time when we supposedly talked about ice cream. I had seen Jason during the early afternoon hours but I was so shaken, I didn’t remember when. A misspoken time frame would have alerted whoever was watching us that a story was being fabricated. Would he take hold of the subtle thread I had tossed out? I could only hope that he had pulled together all the hints I had dropped.
He never missed a beat. “Ice cream it is,” he agreed with a smile. I grabbed my hat and our coats from the closet and walked out the door. Jason looked at me seriously, quizzically.
“If we hurry, we can get to the ice cream shop while they’re still open. I imagine they’ll close early today, since it’s Gift-giving Eve,” I added to the impromptu conversation.
We hurried to the elevator, hopped in and said nothing. We rode to the first floor in nervous silence. My limbs were shaking from the anxiety I was feeling. We slipped through the front door and took long strides to Jason’s automobile.
When we were safely inside, I began shaking totally out of control. I buried my face in my hands and screamed.
“Christy?” Jason’s voice was full of bewilderment and concern as he rocked me in his arms. “What did you see on that book shelf? What was it?”
“Someone has been in my apartment, Jason.” I searched my bag for something to blot my eyes. I couldn’t believe I was crying again. Jason took a handkerchief from his pocket and tried to blot my covered eyes.
“What? Someone is watching you inside your apartment?” he gasped as he pulled me even closer.
“Drive, Jason, drive, move. I don’t know who may be watching us.” I was yelling through clinched teeth. I knew I dared not make any noise or draw attention to us but my restraint had dissolved with my tears.
He started the engine and pulled out into the street. “Christy . . . what . . . ?”
“Jason, there was a small camera of some sort stuck in among my books. I could feel that something was there. Someone must have been in my apartment, probably earlier this afternoon. When I saw the camera, I knew someone had been there. Now, someone may be outside too—watching our every move.”
“You felt it? You didn’t actually see it?” Jason eased slowly in and out of traffic like any other traveler on the road.
“Yes, I felt it at first, but then, when you bent me back, I saw it. So when I went over to the bookshelves to get a better look, I saw it clearly, Jason . . . like a camera thing I had seen in an old book. It takes motion activated pictures of anyone who happens to be in the room.”
“How does something like that, an old camera maybe, continue to operate?”
“I don’t know. I just glanced at it and kept pretending not to see it. But, some of the old cameras turned on and recorded when movement activated them. I read about them last week in an old spy novel.” I sat back and tried to gather my thoughts. “Motion sensitive, I think they called them. The one in the book took one picture after another as long as there was movement within the range of the lens.”
“I see another problem.” Jason shook his head as he looked in the rear view mirror.
“What is it?” I turned around and tried to see what had caused alarm.
“No,” Jason snapped and then added, “sorry. We’d better act like we don’t notice it.”
“What?” I asked but resisted my need to look.
“Maybe nothing but every time I turn, the car behind us turns too.” Jason went around another corner to test his theory and looked in the mirror. “I was right. He turned again.”
“With that camera in my apartment, if it had sound, they may have heard us. We’d better go to the ice cream shop like we said we were going to do, in case the camera had sound. Marion’s Ice Cream Parlor is on North Main Street.”
“Right,” Jason agreed and turned the last corner to get us back on course.
“Who do you suppose would be following us and why?”
“I don’t know but maybe they’ll give up once we go into the ice cream shop.” Jason said as he checked his mirror again.
Even when Jason stopped the car at the curb, I resisted the urge to look around. We had to pretend we were happily spending an afternoon out. By this time we both knew it was important to maintain that charade or we might be caught, accused, and tried for crimes against the state.

Ice Cream as an Alibi

4:00 p.m.

Luckily for Jason and me the little ice cream parlor was still open. I started to get out of the car but Jason touched my arm and stopped me.
“I’m not going to let whoever is back there, make me less than a gentleman.” He smiled, walked around the car and opened the door for me. He offered his hand and I slid out. I resisted the temptation to look back to see if the other car had also stopped.
Once inside Marion’s, we moved past the other patrons eating frozen treats. Their eyes told the Gifting Day Eve story. There usually was no life, no joy, no gift of Hope, but for the Gifting holidays, there was a faint glimmer of something beautiful. I wanted to find a shadow to hide in. My new happiness may have been dangerous to reveal and hard to hide among the walking dead.
We settled into a small booth in the back. I inhaled the sweet aroma of rich cream and chocolate. I used to think that some wise soul would finally make a perfume from those scents. “No, an aftershave.”
“What? We came to the ice cream parlor, and you want to order aftershave?” He smiled but held in his laughter as a precaution.
“No silly. You must have read my thoughts. I was just thinking of a perfume fragrance, then realized the scent would be better put to use as an aftershave. What woman wouldn’t be attracted to a man who smelled like chocolate?”
“Chocolate? You design the fancy bottle, and I’ll invest in the company.” He smiled.
“I would really be in trouble if you started using our new fragrance, Chocolate Mystery.” I couldn’t believe I had said it, but it was already out.
“Wow, that almost sounds like forbidden talk. Remember, women aren’t attracted to men anymore. They have no libido.”
“Well, most women don’t,” I teased.
We laughed softly and allowed ourselves to forget. Had we actually been followed? Was there someone—waiting and watching us?

Read Faster: Get eBook or paperback by clicking on the cover to the right, or go to, www.b& or 1st in a trilogy. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

SEGMENT FIVE: Length of Days-The Age of Silence (Copyright 2011 Doris Gaines Rapp)

Stoner Demands Answers

Over at the Headquarters of the Blue Guard, Inspector Ward Stoner was on another rampage. “Boone!” He barked as he charged past Chalky Boone’s desk. “Come into my office.”
“Right,” she responded as she grabbed up her palm-held verbal steno recorder.
The inspector stood at the window seeing nothing. “I need as much information as you can get on Christiana Applewait.”
“Lady Applewait?” she questioned.
“Yes, Christiana Applewait. Is she so far above us all that you can’t get a dossier on her?” Stoner’s body twitched as he hiked up his pants and smoothed his shirt trying to control his seething anger.
Chalky blinked in disbelief. “Yes . . . Ward . . .  she is ―”
Stoner certainly knew the law. He turned and glared at her. His valued assistant and First Lieutenant was perhaps the only person left in the city who actually knew him. “Chalky, I don’t want to hear that answer.”
“I know you don’t, but it’s the truth.” Chalky stood her ground with feet firmly planted. She was the only person who could tell the Chief Inspector, “No.”
“Boone, let’s not talk about what’s true. Let’s grind out a little of what’s necessary.”
“Ward . . . she is a Legacy Citizen. You know the laws regarding the Council of Elders and those who will rise to that position. The Law of 2031 purged every file known to Society of even the name of a Legacy Citizen. None of our e-files have a word about the Wise Ones.” Boone’s tone was calming but firm. Educated as a lawyer, she knew the law.
“What about the little wise crackers, the second and third generations?” He hissed with sarcasm.
“Inspector ―”
“Then how do we know she’s Legacy? Tell me that.” His face was red and the veins on his temples bulged with anger. “Can’t anyone do their job around here but me?” he shouted.
“There is a paper file on each of the members of the Council, their ancestors, their descendants, and any pertinent information about them, including education, achievements, and their writings. But, there is nothing that we can access from our readers. It is not in the air, anywhere. It’s on paper.”
“Okay, okay, let’s sit down and brainstorm.” Stoner sat at his desk, leaned back and closed his eyes. “Applewait is her father’s name. She is Legacy by linage from her maternal grandparents, Oliver and Constance Richly.”
“Yes, that’s true, Ward, but she is also Legacy through her paternal grandparents, Abraham and Claudia Applewait. They passed into the sleep several years ago following a house fire.”
“Those wood frame houses in Oakwood should have been demolished a long time ago. They’re nothing but tinder boxes waiting to ignite,” Stoner said. “The fancy people think they are so great because they have so much space.”
“Space and ambiance. I was in one once and it seemed so warm and friendly.”
“Oh please,” Stoner drew out his words with indignation. “Those buildings take a lot more maintenance than the newer, high-rise buildings.”
“Yes Sir. There was a rumor that the senior Applewait’s house was deliberately torched,” Boone added.
“Why hadn’t I heard about that?” Stoner snapped back. “Arson is a crime you know.”
“That was about the time your wife went to sleep, Ward. You were off duty and probably weren’t informed.”
Stoner made no response. He had barely acknowledged the passing of his wife in his own frozen emotions. He was locked in a state of grief and anger and never spoke of her out loud.
“So, by linage, she is a Lady, Lady Applewait,” Boone broke the silence.
“I’m not impressed,” Stoner snapped back. “So, where are these paper files on the Legacy Citizens?”
“I . . . don’t know how to access them,” Boone said. “But, some place I ran across the addresses of a few Legacy Citizens. Those locations are stored here in my palm-reader.” She spoke into her reader, “Legacy addresses.” She selected a tab and the information was instantly available. “Christiana Applewait lives in the penthouse,” she read, “in the Indian River Apartments.”
A slight sneer crossed Stoner’s lips. “Yes, I know.”
Chalky looked up but said nothing about his comment. “Her parents live in the Lee Ridge High Rise and her grandparents, two of the twelve, live in Oakwood, at 721 Primrose Lane.”
“That’s all we have?” He growled. “That’s it?”
“That’s it.”
“Who has access to the paper files if they’re so secret?”
“The Council of Elders, Sir,” she stated flatly as if she had just completed a circle. “And those files are stored in the vault at Fort Knox, Kentucky where the gold used to be stored.”
“The gold is still there, Boone. It was never moved as they said it had been.” Stoner’s expression softened from the anger that was usually stored around his eyes. “I would be willing to bet that not even the current Council members remember what’s in those files. We could say anything we wanted to about any of them.”
“Yes, but if you spread lies about even one of them, are you willing to bet your career, maybe even your life, on getting away with it?” Chalky asked.
“Maybe not this time. For now, it may be enough to know where I can find them. As long as I know where these people are, they’re as good as captured. They’re not going anywhere. I’ll keep an eye on Oakwood myself. It might be amusing to haunt the good little citizens who never have a worry, never have a care. Maybe I can shake them up a little bit.”
“Ward, you just can’t harass them.” Chalky moved in a little closer and nearly whispered. “It’s against the law.”
“Boone, I am the law!” he shouted.
“Hold your voice down, Sir. You’re sounding out of control.”
“Don’t you dare talk to me like that,” he seethed.
“I’m the only one who can, Ward.” She refused to retreat; she did not back down.
“You listen to me Boone, I don’t plan to do anything now, just watch and wait. But, the time may come when the benefit of creating some chaos in Oakwood might far outweigh the cost. I don’t know when. Maybe years from now. But, it would be fun if it happened in my lifetime.” He spun his chair around and refocused his stare outside his office. “I have the time. Laws or no laws, power is everything. I can wait for the prize — when the golden nugget is ultimate control.”

Gracie’s Grief

9:30 a.m.

My conversation with Marge at the library had lifted my spirits. She had revealed her knowledge of the suppressed book and other forbidden documents hidden in the back rooms. I kept the book I had slipped out of the library wrapped in the folds of my cloak. As I rode across town to the medical center, I saw Sean, the man from the sing along—the one who delivered underground newspapers. He was sitting on the P-T side bench, and this time, I wasn’t uncomfortable. He smiled but said nothing. I found that strange, since he had spoken out so freely last evening. Then, I saw that he was carrying a large bag of rolled up newspapers. I was amazed to see the papers out in the open! News sheets of any size had not been printed in years and the reality was, they had been forbidden. The Government Communications Agency, the GCA, hadn’t initially banned them, but had corrupted the print outlets to the point they were no longer credible. Columnists and reporters were regulated on the most trifling detail, to the point they were eventually forbidden to report almost anything. Finally, newspapers were banned with the excuse they were no longer relevant.
Sean is delivering newspaper around town! He must have been delivering papers each time I had seen him on the bus. Since people hadn’t seen newspapers in our lifetime, there was no danger. They didn’t know what he was carrying.
I started to walk past him without acknowledging his presence but he stopped me. He spoke in a dull tone, like everyone else on the bus that day, but his eyes conveyed another meaning.
“I found that special high-mountain coffee we were talking about last evening. Do you know, it is grown at such high elevations, the snow caps look like grandpa’s white hair,” he laughed lightly. Others looked up.
His cryptic message was not well veiled but esoteric enough to slip past those around us. “Wonderful! Could we enjoy some at the Gift-giving celebration tomorrow?” I asked.
“That would be perfect. I could come by in the afternoon, after dinner.” He smiled. We were just two causal friends talking about the little things of life.
“We will be at ―” I couldn’t mention my grandparents’ home. “Well, here’s my stop. Why don’t you call me this evening and I’ll give you the directions?”
Since grandparents no longer existed for most people in our age group, a mention of mine would have drawn curiosity. I saw my stop approaching, so I said no more.
I got off the bus near the huge medical center which housed several physicians’ practices, various specialists’ offices and labs. As I walked through the reception area toward the lift, I heard sobbing coming from the Women’s Lounge. It was so strange to be drawn to the sound of sorrow. A few days before, I wouldn’t have even heard it; or, if I had, I would have walked on past.
Cautiously, I pushed the lounge door open, not knowing what I might find. A young woman lay on the bathroom floor with her legs pulled up to her body. She was rocking back and forth, while moaning and sobbing like a wounded infant. She was gripping a partially opened pocket knife in her hand. I rushed in and knelt down.
“What happened to you? What is wrong?”
She whimpered and opened her eyes a little. “My Lady?”
“I’ll get a doctor for you. Just lie still.”
“But, you need care.”
“I just came from a doctor’s office. They can’t do anything.” I saw her slide the knife under her body as she closed her eyes again.
I sensed her horrible plan and reached for the knife she had tried to hide under her clothing.
“No, I must have it,” she gasped and grabbed at the knife as I pulled it from underneath her.
As she struggled to grab the knife from my hand, the blade popped open and slashed my arm a few inches above my wrist. I flung the knife out of her reach as she struggled to get up.
“Oh no, My Lady, no!” she pleaded when she saw my arm. She sank back to the floor.
I quickly wrapped a clean white cloth from my pocket around the slight wound and then turned back to her. “What has happened to you? Tell me, so I can get the help you need. Can you give me your name?”
“My husband and I love each other, My Lady.” She started to sit up. She breathed more freely and the gasping stopped. “We have two beautiful children. Then, I got pregnant again so my doctor said we would have to abort the baby. Then the doctor was sick and my time went on.” Her whispers bore testimony to the pain within her.
“So, your pregnancy continued?”
“Yes, there aren’t enough other doctors in his practice to cover his patients when he’s sick. I was seven and a half months along when they came for me. They terminated the pre-birth mass just this morning.” She looked up at me with grief written on her face. “My Lady . . . I saw her. She was so tiny and pink and breathing. She wasn’t a mass of anything. She was a baby—my baby.” Her voice faded to a weak whisper. “It feels like my heart has slipped into a vast abyss. I am so lost and empty.”
I felt so stunned that I couldn’t find words to sooth her grief, so I sat on the bathroom floor with her and folded her in my arms. “Where is your baby now?”
“She . . .” the little mother sobbed in my arms, “she was discarded. They said, since we already had our allotted two children, the third birth mass was unnecessary. They . . .” her words drifted off to a whisper, “just threw her away.”
“What’s the problem, Gracie?” A nurse startled us as she barged into the lounge unexpectedly.
“There’s no problem,” the new mother whispered with fear in her voice.
“You know what Doctor told you. If you can’t pull yourself together, you will have to be hospitalized and that will put a point in your chart,” the nurse said.
Gracie looked at me in terror and tried not to look at the pocket knife I had picked up and still held in my hand with the bandaged arm. She glanced quickly away. “No, I’ll be fine. I was just a little weak and this lady spoke to me.”
“We’ve called your husband. He’s waiting for you in the hall. Are you coming?”
“Yes, yes of course. Stephen is here? Good,” she smiled weakly and got up.
“Gracie, stop by the Main Library after the Holidays. We could have some coffee or something,” I said as she started to walk away.
She turned and looked at me with amazement in her tired eyes. “You would have coffee with me?”
“I want to very much,” I gave her a little side hug for reassurance. “My name is Christiana.”
“I know who you are, My Lady.” She smiled and then was gone.
When I got into the hallway, I saw Gracie disappear out the door with a young man. He had his arm around her as though he were both protecting her and guiding her unsteady feet. I stood there and watched them until they were out of sight. Grief was another emotion I was learning. And, sorrow often comes as its opposite, the joy of life. Little did I realize this was only the beginning of the horror stories I would encounter.

An Invitation and a Discovery

10:00 a.m.

I had come to the medical building to see Jason O’Reilly. I looked at my time piece. The encounter with Gracie, the tragic woman in the Women’s Lounge, had happened so fast. I was still stunned when I walked into Jason’s waiting room and looked around. It was empty and quiet. Even the receptionist was absent from her station.
“Christy!” Jason walked through the door from the inner hall and nearly bumped into me. “What are you doing here?”
His surprise would have put me off but when he gathered me in his arms, his reassurance made me feel wanted again. “Well now, that is better,” I smiled.
“Oh yeah,” Jason ran his fingers across my back. “I’ll phrase it differently this time.” He cleared his throat with dramatic flair. “I am so happy to see you Christiana. To what do I owe this visit?” He bowed slightly.
“I have come on the happy chance you have no plans for Gift-giving dinner, but I’ve just had a horrible experience.”
“What on earth happened?” It was then that he saw the wound on my arm and the knife I still clutched in my hand.
“My arm will be fine. It’s stopped bleeding. I cleaned it in the bathroom. But Jason, there was a woman.” The whole incident raced through my mind. “She was so sad. I think she would have taken her own life with this blade if I hadn’t heard her crying and found her on the bathroom floor.”
He looked at the cut on my arm. “The bathroom? Here in this building? Where is she?”
“She had a pregnancy termination but, Jason it wasn’t a cell mass at all. It was her baby they threw away.”
“That’s why I don’t have maternity patients, Christy. It’s the law. Thinning out the population has been legal, and even required, for a long time. I can’t do it.”
I looked around the room to make sure we were still alone and cleared my head of the image of Gracie and her only encounter with her beautiful baby daughter. “We’ve had the Length of Days policy for a long time, Jason. I’m hoping we can overturn it, including the section on two for two, two children for each couple. Maybe it will start a fresh reverence for life for all people. Let’s talk about something else. I can’t bear the pictures that are stuck in my mind. I have to think about something happy, something full of life.”
“I know Christy.” He hugged me again. “What would you like for a Gifting present?”
“To have a simple life again, like it was a few days ago. I haven’t told you before about this strange little man who lives in my building. He turned up again, rumpled and unkempt.”
“You have a lot going on in that building,” Jason laughed.
“So it’s turning out to be.” All of the faces of laughing, singing people flooded my mind. My thoughts were overrun, like an unexpected infestation of vermin, by the foulness that Silas Drummond had described. “Jason, the man told me what really happens to those entering the long-sleep. It was too horrible to imagine.”
“What did he say?”
“Their bodies are burned and their ground bones and ashes are used in things like building construction and fertilizer. Jason, today I saw that man being forced into a strata-car. He said that we were all in danger.”
“Did you believe him, Christy?”
“I don’t know. It all seems so ghastly, so preposterous. I don’t even want to think about any of that. I want to think about Gifting Dinner.”
“Tomorrow? Christmas dinner?”
“I’d like you to come for holiday dinner,” I smiled. “It will be our family Christmas feast. Are you busy? Can you come?”
“Actually, I have no plans at all. Usually, I make rounds in the hospital so those who are stuck there on the holiday have someone to talk to. Right now, I have no patients in the hospital. What did you have in mind?”
“We will all be at Grand-mère and Grand-père’s house. I would like for you to come to our family dinner with me.”
“I get it, you want a ride in my car,” he laughed mischievously.
“I do not need a ride, Sir. The transit will be running tomorrow.” I gave his arm a little smack and then buried my head in his chest. “Don’t make this so hard, Jason.”
He tossed his head back in fresh enjoyment. “I would love to come to Christmas dinner with you. When can I pick you up?”
“Grand-mère serves holiday dinner promptly at twelve noon.”
“Oh . . . I missed that. Dinner will be at your grandparents’ home, two of the Wise Ones. I’ll have to confess, I could feel a little intimidated around them.” He teased again.
“Don’t be. Grand-mère already knew who you were when I mentioned your name, Dr. O’Reilly.”
“She knew me or had heard of me?” Jason’s chest puffed out a little.
“She knew you. She called you by your first name.”
“Perhaps she knew my parents or grandparents,” he wondered out loud. “In that case, I would be honored to join all of you for Christmas dinner.” He kissed my forehead and lingered there, close.
 “Now, here’s another thing,” I approached the new idea more carefully. “I had thought I would invite Dahlia too. She could talk to my grandparents about the spiritual awakening she is experiencing. They could give her more answers than I could. I know Society doesn’t approve of socialization between bosses and employees. Would you be uncomfortable if I invited her?”
“Christy, she would be your guest, not mine. Besides, joining someone for dinner at another person’s house is hardly fraternization.”
“Why do you think they initiated the non-mingling law in the first place?” So many laws were beginning to sound strange now that I was being detoxed and thinking with my heart as well as my head. “What could be the harm in enjoying someone’s company?”
“Maybe enjoyment of anything was considered taboo. My parents had told me that marital relationships and loyalty to one’s spouse had totally broken down in the past, threatening the emotional safety of nearly all of the country’s children. Keeping people apart was a way of making sure that new alliances were not begun with people outside the family unit.”
The image of Gracie and her supportive husband flashed before my eyes with the agonizing pain and desperate emptiness over the loss of her baby. I shuddered and wanted to crawl closer into Jason’s arms.
He gave me a reassuring hug that let me know he was there. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes, of course. I just want to have a beautiful Christmas. I need only lovely thoughts right now.”
“Okay, a wonderful Christmas has been ordered for you and if you want to invite Dahlia, that would be fine with me too.”
“Do you think she would come?”
“She came in for a few minutes today. Let’s go ask her.”
I looked around the room again and added, “Wait Jason, I want to show you something first.” I pulled the book from under my cloak. I was trembling with excitement and fear. “It’s all right here.”
Jason pushed the book away, pulled my cloak over it and said nothing. He checked the door to the inner hallway and led me quickly through the complex and back to his private office. Then he turned around and closed the door carefully so as not to make a sound. “We have to be careful with any book in our possession, Christy.” He threw his arms around me and drew me close. “Okay, what did you find?”
I placed the book on his desk and it fell open to the page I had marked. I turned the book around for him to read. “Jason, the law regarding our Length of Days can be changed.” My voice shook and cracked as I forced out the words in an excited whisper. “A referendum can be scheduled.”
“But Christy, how long would that take?” Jason sighed.
I felt my hope plummet again. “I cannot think about that now. The referendum will be in time. It has to be.”
Jason looked toward the door. There was no sound, no movement. Then he began to quietly read. “A referendum in our government is usually in the form of a direct vote which is initiated by the legislature, the government itself. There is a second type of referendum, initiated by the citizens. The second type is an initiative, ballot measure, or proposition. This last form of vote is originated by the citizens as a petition. A binding referendum requires only a simple majority of the voters for it to carry. With enough signatures, the measure is brought to a vote by a citizens’ referendum. If passed, it is binding.
“Don’t you see, Jason?” I begged. “If we can get a majority of the citizens, right here in Capitol City, to sign the petition, perhaps the government will see the need to change the policy for the entire land.” I held my breath as I waited for him to answer. He had to agree with me.
“Christy, I think you may have found the solution,” he whispered. Then he paused. “There is a small hitch. There is a cover letter that must accompany the petition. If that official document is not with the petition, it won’t be valid.”
“An official cover letter? Where would we get that?”
“It says that one can be secured from the Office of Government Regulation.”
“They won’t be open until next Monday, due to the holidays.” Again, my emotions plummeted. “There is so little time.”
“Maybe we can intrude on a Constitutional Court judge this evening or even tomorrow. You’re a Legacy Citizen. They will have to take your call.”
I smiled. “I find it interesting how you can distance yourself from your own legacy, Jason. You are one of us.”
“I know, I know,” He admitted. “We can ask the judge together. Now . . . the next step is the petition. We have to find out how we can get a petition signed by a majority of the voting citizens without raising suspicion from the Blue Guard. I know they would stop us,” Jason said.
“There will be a way. I know there will.” It was done. “Now, Jason, may I see Dahlia?”
Jason took my hand and led me down the hall to a supply room and small pharmacy. Dahlia, a dark beauty, had her back to us when we entered.
“Dahlia?” Jason’s voice was full of disappointment and surprise. “What are you doing?”
Dahlia was stuffing paper packets of the tiny white pills into her pockets. She turned, startled, when she heard her name.
“Dr. O’Reilly!” Dahlia jumped and staggered. Jason eased her onto a chair in the corner.
“Dahlia,” I whispered and knelt down in front of her, “you are the one who has been giving the detox pills to the people in town, aren’t you?”
“But, you reported the missing pills to me in the first place,” Jason seemed confused and hurt.
“Since we finally had a patient who needed them, I thought it would soon be obvious that some were missing. I was afraid you would call for an audit of the pharmacy.” Dahlia didn’t say more. She merely nodded in admission. She swallowed hard then spoke with fear in her voice. “Yes, Christiana, I have started to pass them out too. I couldn’t keep feelings of love and other emotions from my friends. Even if I would get caught, the gift of life was too precious to withhold.”
“Dahlia, I understand.” Not completely out of Jason’s hearing, I whispered in Dahlia’s ear, “The music stops when you don’t have the pills, doesn’t it?”
“Christiana, you know? You have heard the music already?” She wiped her eyes on the corner of her cotton office jacket.
“Yes, Dahlia, I’ve heard it. I wouldn’t give it up for anything either.” I gave her a hug. “Now, for the reason I came to talk to you. I’ve just invited Dr. O’Reilly to share Christmas dinner with me and my family. I want you to come too.”
“Oh, My Lady . . . I am not worthy,” she whispered.
“None of us are, Dahlia. I have contributed nothing to earn my place in society. I was born into it. I did not earn it. Please say you’ll come.”
“Yes,” her voice was faint, and I could sense apprehension beneath the surface of her words. She looked at Jason.
Then I realized that Jason held the key to Dahlia’s future at that point. I wondered what her fate would be in his hands. I was learning that he was a fair man, a man of integrity, but he also expected the same in return.
He took the pills from her pockets and placed them back in the cabinet. “We’ll find another way to detox the people, Dahlia. It will be necessary to do it a little at a time in order to make sure they have no adverse effects.” He helped her to her feet. “The chemical additives in our water supply have made illegal drug use a thing of the past. Drawing the police or Blue Guard into this would only raise alarm. No one else needs to know about this. We have to keep our circle small, but I will have to take the key to the pharmacy from you.”
Dahlia handed it over with relief.
“For now, why don’t you go on home and enjoy the rest of the day. Tomorrow, I’m going to pick up Christiana about fifteen ‘til twelve. If you can be ready then, we’ll all go together.”
“Dr. O’Reilly,” she sobbed, “how can I thank you?”
“By being the loving, caring person that you are,” Jason said, “and the best healthcare professional I know. No one has been hurt. The pills weren’t narcotics. They were neutralizing agents. The patients who became suicidal had abused the tablets you passed on to them. They detoxed too fast. Taken properly, they would have been fine.” He took a tissue from the box on the table and smiled. He dabbed at her eyes and added, “You will have to blow your own nose.”

Stoner Waited

Outside the Health Center, Ward Stoner waited in his car for his target to emerge. Her ID tag had told him she was there. He crouched in his vehicle like a thief, waiting to catch his next victim in a weakened state. He had always been able to dominate a situation, to use his mind and the weight of his office, to force his will on others. He could have had any of his Blue Guardsmen follow a young woman around town. But, he knew in his gut that this case was different.
A transit car streamed by overhead and he thought again about the ghost who had brought him into the hazy vapor of mystery in which he found himself. It was either one of the biggest cases of his career or someone was making a colossal fool out of him. It had better not be the latter. He tried to look at both sides of the paradox he called his life.
He inspected the old-fashioned timepiece he wore on his wrist. It had been his great-grandfather’s, and for some reason he enjoyed wearing it. It had a tiny knob on the side of the case that he faithfully wound each night when he took it off. There was no one who would have dared to call him sentimental, any more than they would have called him Inspector Tombstone to his face. Besides, sentimentalism had lost all of it meaning.
Sentiment required emotions and most people had none. But, the watch brought a strange sense of continuity, a feeling of family. The hands on the face marched slowly on into the day.  He looked again at the doors leading into the medical office building.
He wanted to leave but the whole thing mesmerized him. As he pressed on, in an effort to find answers to the puzzle he had started calling the Princess Case, he felt a strong force pushing back the more he pursued. He had to admit that the challenge made him angry. But, in the greater game he found himself in, he had finally met his match, an equal force to push against. Or was it equal? Still, the watcher watched.

Many Had No Joy

10:45 a.m.

As I gathered up my things to leave Jason’s office, he wrapped me in his arms. “I’ll meet you at the Demitasse in an hour? We could have some lunch.” He gently touched my back, a gallant gesture of ushering someone along.
“Lunch would be fine,” I agreed.
I soon walked back out into the wintery day and across the street to the shops I enjoyed so much. The library book was tucked neatly in the fold of my cloak.
The little shopping village was like something out of a Dickens novel, even if most people didn’t know who Dickens was. I loved the little cluster of fancy shops and felt at home there.
Since I had an hour before I would meet Jason, I decided to spend my time shopping, something I rarely did. I passed the coffee shop and drifted into the boutique a few doors down. I hadn’t bought new clothes in a long time. Clothes never seemed important before. I wandered over to the sale rack and shuffled through the hangers. Legacy Citizens have no need to shop from the reduced section since our personal fortunes and our annual stipend, allow us to live very comfortably, but I enjoyed saving money.
“Good morning My Lady,” the sales clerk smiled lightly but her eyes were dull and unresponsive.
“Good morning,” I replied then realized the woman was a classmate from secondary school. “Valley? Is that you? I haven’t seen you in several years.”
“Yes, Ma’am, it’s been a long time. I didn’t think you would remember me.” Her eyes were looking away but there seemed to be a spark, a new measure of pleasure on her face.
“Of course I remember you. We managed to survive Mr. Funderman’s advanced mathematics class together.” I walked through life respected but alone when classmates no longer acknowledged my existence.
“Thank you for remembering,” she added. “Is there anything I can help you with? We have a nice selection of holiday green caftogs over here. That color would look beautiful on you with your coloring.”
Caftogs were long garments that took their design from a combination of the caftan and toga styles. They had a top with full caftan sleeves, under a wound skirt that then came around and draped up and over the shoulder. The display of fine silk garments, woven with threads that prevented the usual wrinkling, enticed me.
“Yes, Valley, they are beautiful.” I ran my fingers over the delicate fabric and down the sleeve to the price tag. It was expensive but certainly not out of my budget. Ordinarily, I would not have considered such an extravagance. I was perfectly satisfied with more modestly priced garments but then I saw Valley’s face and understood. She must have worked on commission and a sale of that magnitude, the day before Gift-giving Day, could have made her family’s holiday more joyous.
“It is very lovely.”
Valley didn’t pressure me as it wasn’t appropriate to push a sale on a Legacy Citizen.
“I’ll take it,” I smiled and took the garment without trying it on. “I’ll wear it to my grandparents’ Gifting Day party.” It was bound to fit. The government established a uniform sizing system for all clothing many years ago. If you wore a size six, every six fit exactly the same way.
I casually slipped the library book into my clothing package and started to leave. To continue the comfortable contact I had with Valley, I asked, “Do you have plans for the holidays?” I waited for a response from my old friend.
“Plans?” she questioned with an emotionless expression except for an artificial, painted on pleasantness.
“You know . . . are you going to be with your parents for holiday dinner?”
“We always had gotten together but . . .” She paused as if she were searching her memory for a happy holiday with her family. “It’s been so long since my grandmother was alive. She made the best date pudding.”
“I always found the term, date pudding, a strange name for a cake.” I hoped to get a real smile out of Valley, a brief reprieve from her dull life.
“What?” Valley blinked and stared. She was no longer with me but had drifted off to a gray existence among the colorless memories of her life.

I took my shopping bag with the book and package tucked inside and wished Valley a joyous Gift-giving Day. Outside, I saw the town clock and knew I was nearing my time with Jason and I smiled. A Blue Shirted Inspector looked at me sharply so I quickly wiped the smile from my face. He darted into the bank on the other side of the boutique and was quickly gone. I thought he looked familiar but dismissed him from my mind and smiled again. I had discovered that my face felt more relaxed when I smiled. And, the annoying pain between my eyes, I used to frequently experience, vanished when the corners of my mouth tuned up. Wow!  Life was vibrant and new. But, when would the happiness stop? If I couldn’t end the Length of Days terrible policy, my joy, like Valley’s, might be gone forever.

Read Faster: Get eBook or paperback by clicking on the cover to the right, or go to, www.b& or 1st in a trilogy.