Artwork by Carpe Chakram
Equilibrium – Newton’s First Law
by Jules Mills
Part One – One effect of a force is to alter the dimensions or shape of the body on which the force acts.
Blue eyes followed the graceful figure weaving its way through the crowded brewery. The crowd had tripled over the past twenty minutes, the start time for the live music nearing. From a purely aesthetic point of view–objectively was the only way Doc ever viewed others–she was absolutely magical. Petite, yet not frail. Doc could tell the woman had sophistication and raw strength.
Doc was there for the music but was mesmerized by how the normal people acted, especially the happy ones. Watching was a form of self-torture but a necessary reality check–as necessary as Doc’s own self-imposed isolation. Camaraderie and laughing were for everyone else. Doc’s world was so different from theirs; it was inconceivable to be a part of it for more than a few hours, and for those few hours, Doc watched them as if through a window. Even before Doc’s life had finally and unceremoniously been flushed down the toilet at fourteen, no such ease had existed. But Doc did not want to think about that, ever.
Looking away from the happy blonde to finish off the spittle at the bottom of the bottle of Sam Adams Dark, Doc tried to focus on the goal of the night: re-acquaint oneself on the human level, far from the world of the cell life, mutating DNA, and self-replicating nano machines.
Munching on a handful of a pretzel mix, Doc returned her gaze to the crowd. Eyes fastened themselves on the mesmerizing blonde with an easy smile and faded blue jeans that grabbed the smooth contours of her rounded hips and thighs in all the right places. She wore a sage, sleeveless knit sweater cropped enough to let her midriff show when she reached across her table to pull the bowl of pretzels to her. Doc’s mouth was a little dry. The fact that the beer bottle had also been sucked dry was a problem.
There was no sexual interest in the voyeur’s intentions. The young woman was in a totally different league, had Doc ever even considered it possible to touch a person in an intimate way.
The young blonde, a Coors light in her hand, smiled and laughed with a copper-haired, bronze-skinned young man who could have passed for a Kennedy. He had the slim build of a boy recently growing into manhood: slim build but square shoulders. His curly hair was kept long and carelessly. She could not have been more than twenty-two herself, and that was pushing it. Both wore sandals, her toenails painted fire-engine red; his were not painted at all. Doc assumed they were more than friends by the way they touched each other. She touched a lot. A hand on the hand, the arm, or the thigh, or a flirting touch to the chin. Then there was the way their eyes curled into smiles as they spoke to each other. Most of the time her body bounced as she giggled at the boy-man’s entreaties. Then, after some particular remark, she threw her head back and laughed loudly, clutching her sides. The hearty sound of her laughter reached Doc’s ears despite the crowded room, and Doc realized that these were the first sounds from this woman that she had personally heard. With eyes closed, Doc wondered if sounds like that could ever be part of the world that she lived inside.
“Want another?” The bartender’s words sounded harsh compared to the purity of the laughter that Doc had just managed to isolate and visualize as a rounded and perfect sine. A man sitting on the next stool nudged Doc’s tanned forearm.
Doc was so dry the words barely came out. “Another of these.”
“I’ll get this one,” the man on the left offered.
“No, thanks,” Doc quickly responded. She pushed five dollars across the bar. With the perspiring bottle in hand, she slipped off the barstool and headed toward the pool table, a little closer to where the band was setting up but still off to the side. Leaning against the wall, Doc watched a group of men playing eight-ball for twenty bucks. After a few minutes a heavy blues rhythm began to pound as the band started to play; a woman sang deep, throaty words meant to move the soul.
Doc liked the fact that the blues never went out of style and found it hard to believe there had ever been a time when the music did not exist. Jazz and the blues were, in Doc’s opinion, the two greatest contributions to the world from the USA, along with Rice Krispies treats. Of course, the blues had given birth to rock and roll, and Doc liked some of that too, but that child was usually concerned with declaring love or moaning about lost love, and Doc could not relate to either situation.
Lost in the music, Doc drained half the bottle of beer and settled back into a comfortable niche of the wall for several songs. The crowd buzzed with conversation at a respectable level. Doc liked the way the young object of her earlier attention had turned her chair to watch the band as if at a recital. Her friend pulled his chair next to hers, and they sipped their beers and leaned into each other every so often to speak.
The evening was going well, Doc thought, when a woman with dark, spiked hair and lily-white skin forced her way through a line of spectators watching the pool competition. She grabbed the arm of the shooter, knocking the cue ball in the process. Then she began to yell at him. Her words were beyond harsh; they were pure obscenities in streams much like the ones Doc had crossed in the pen. The man, obviously her old man, rolled his eyes for his buddies and pushed her away from the table. This only made her face redden and her words even more obscene, some new even to Doc.
Doc sighed sadly, hoping the two would take the ruckus outside, where it belonged. No one here cared about the fact that he was, in her words, “a dickless, cheating bastard.” Doc did wonder about the contradiction of the statement.
Doc had edged away from the scene as it escalated. Taking a swig of the beer, she moved up to stand at the edge of the tables, next to several bystanders who had turned from the now-defunct game and placed their attention on the band. But the noise behind grew louder and louder until the music could no longer be heard.
“What the fuck,” Doc muttered, becoming angry. Doc hated to be angry because anger led to a lack of control, and then bad things happened, bad things caused by Doc, and then came punishment. Starting that cycle again would suck the life out of her once and for all.
Another woman screeched at the man now, and the first woman was crying hysterically, but the expletives continued. A group of angry male voices jumped in with the usual “Shut up, bitch” litany, taking cracks at the women. Doc did not watch it but could hear–everyone in the room could hear. Some people tried not to look; some gawked. It all made Doc uncomfortable. She hated those sounds. It was just like Mom and Dad, always yelling, screaming, every damned day, almost always about money, the lack thereof. Then finally, on a Tuesday, it had ended. Her mother had left while Doc was at school. She hadn’t made any arrangements for her daughter to be met by a neighbor or by her father. After that there was only silence. Her father held onto his words as closely as he held his pain. Doc was never sure if the silence was any better than the yelling; it hurt her just as much.
The unhappy memory disappeared with the sharp crack of a pool cue to the back of Doc’s head. She watched as half of a broken cue skittered under a nearby table. Doc did not think the cue had hit that hard, but it had struck hard enough to hurt.
Turning toward the source of the blow, Doc discovered a wide-eyed group watching, waiting for some reaction from the recipient of the blow. Luckily for Doc, it was the blubbering woman who was wielding the weapon, the other half of the cue still in her hands and her muscle mass nowhere near as large as her mouth. Her old man had apparently moved to the edge of the crowd directly behind Doc and had ducked out of the path of the woman’s swing at the most fortunate of times–for him. Blue eyes squinted in irritation more than pain at the belligerent couple while Doc’s expert fingers gently prodded the stung and welted skin. Her returning fingers were covered with blood.
“Oh, shit.” The vulgar woman now appeared nervous as Doc silently stepped toward her and pulled the cue out of her hands. Broad, muscular shoulders and a powerful body honed from sailing the Atlantic alone for a few years in search of peace were poised and ready to strike. The only piece Doc wanted now was of the cue-wielding bitch.
Sweat dripped off the black, spiky hairline of the trembling woman.
The rest of the arguing had ceased immediately after the first errant whack. In fact, everything had stopped: the band, the chatter–even the bartender had frozen in mid-pour. Doc felt the discomfort of blood trickling down under the gray T-shirt material. She took a deep breath that sounded more like a hiss.
The woman stepped back behind another woman. The boyfriend snickered.
“I have no objections if you want to kick her ass. Been bitchin’ at me all day.” He offered his pool cue with both hands. His eyes lit with a sadism that was probably aggravated by the booze. The woman was likely drunk as well.
Three years earlier Doc would have had one option: pummel them all. She knew that immediate butt-kicking would feel really good during the “during” part, but then there would be the guilt and blood to clean up. Or Doc could walk away, an option lacking in the pen because there was nowhere to walk to. Now, with freedom, she could shove off toward the islands and let the anger dissipate over the next few months. Trying to beat palm trees into toothpicks always made her feel better; it just took so damned long. Then there was the fact that Doc could not chance being picked up in a fight and being sent back to hell. Self-defense or not, cons were not exactly given the benefit of the doubt when bones were broken and breweries were destroyed.
“You okay?” A gentle, feminine voice from behind caught Doc’s ear, but she fought the impulse to turn toward the sound and continued to threaten menacingly with the half-cue. No one ever got the best of Doc twice, and she still had not decided upon a course of action.
“You’re bleeding quite heavily, and that’s not a good thing to do from the head.” A soft hand was on Doc’s right forearm.
“Don’t touch!” Doc hissed, pulling the arm away instinctively. She had not heard her own voice of fury for years, and it was obvious that her control of the situation was fading fast as she felt pulled into the darkness of anger.
The woman’s offer of help would not be thwarted so easily. She inserted herself between Doc and the spike-haired aggressor. Doc was stunned to see that it was the magnificent blonde she had been watching before the music started.
Doc’s heart stopped.
Staring into the brave, foolish green eyes, Doc felt her dark, twisted soul creep back down into the recesses of her being. Without a breath, she turned and left the bar, disappearing safely into the darkness of a moonless sky.
“You, my girl, are a total, fucking lunatic.” Ben was standing by the table as Grace returned to her seat, his young face expressing concern, with a hint of admiration. “Getting in the middle of that?” He shook his head disapprovingly and tsked her.
Grace smiled at him.
“I work in an ER, Ben. I deal with that kind of stuff every day.”
“Yeah, but that chick was a con, and by the look on her face, one teetering on homicide.” He continued to shake his head, still reeling at the image of her up against the tall, dark woman.
Grace bit back her surprise that Ben had noticed the series of numbers tattooed on the right hand of the bleeding woman. She knew about the tattoos because Yale-New Haven Hospital, where she was a resident, routinely accepted the critically injured prisoners flown in from the maximum-security women’s prison located forty miles down the coast. Some of the prisoners, enamored by their young, beautiful doctor-in-training, would try their best to entice her into conversation. Grace had taken the opportunity to try to empathize with their experiences. She had questioned them about what the numbers meant and had discovered that the first two numbers denoted the severity of the crime, the third number the prison, and the last seven a personal-identification number. The state had gone to tattooing all felony cons after a series of mistakes in releases in the late 1990s.
Grace reminded herself that Ben’s sister was a cop who liked to fill his young head with horror stories of the gangs and criminals she fought. Ex-cons were lost causes, which made them the worst of the worst, in Beth’s eyes.
Ben spoke into his bottle. “Beth’s gonna be soooo pissed at you when I tell her what happened tonight.”
Grace jerked his beer bottle out from under his mouth.
“Heyyyyyy!” He reached for it, but she held it too far away. He was even smaller than she was. Grace glared at him.
“Beth isn’t going to be told anything about this. Understand, Benjamin?”
Ben squinted back at her. He hated dividing his loyalties.
“I mean it, Ben. It will only cause a fight.” A silent stand-off took place between the two; then Ben crumbled.
“All right, already, now give me my brewsky back,” he demanded. Slowly she returned it to his hand and hooked her pinky finger with his.
“You must pinky-swear, Benny. Not a word to Beth.” Her eyes curled in a smile at him.
God! He wished she were straight and his girlfriend, not his big sister’s. He smiled at the thought and wondered which Greek complex described his warped psyche.
“Okay, I pinky-swear,” he replied, and smiled back.
Grace was relieved, and decided to settle back and enjoy the groove that had resumed moments after the disturbance had ended. The owner had escorted the instigators outside to waves and harassing whistles of patrons who had suddenly become bold.
“Did you notice she didn’t even flinch when that stick popped her?” Ben asked. Grace nodded and sipped at her Coors light. “She was one big, tough bitch.”
In the back of her mind, Grace worried about the woman. The splintered cue must have gashed her deeply, because by the time Grace reached her, which was not more than twenty seconds, her shirt was soaked red down the back. And the cracking sound it had made against her head–Grace could not forget that. That noise was what had turned her away from the band initially.
Grace tried to relax. She could not admit it to Ben, but her whole being was shaking inside. At first she thought it was the adrenaline rush, but after half an hour it was still there, something rattling her deep within. Something about the way the woman had looked at her just before she left, and the way she had watched her earlier. It should have creeped her out, normally would have, but the mystery of the woman…an ex-con who looked like that.
She closed her eyes to the fluid, sexy, sad sounds that penetrated her. “Mmmmm, love that song,” she mumbled to Ben.
He smiled and then thought she kind of looked turned on. What the heck, the music is kind of erotic, he thought. But Grace was not thinking about the music. She was thinking about the way the woman’s incredibly blue eyes had followed her for an hour as she moved around the pub, greeting acquaintances and flirting with Ben. She had noticed right away and knew if Beth had been there, she would have noticed too, and not liked it very much.
An hour later, after the band had finished its first set, Grace skipped out on Ben, using her early-morning responsibilities at the local clinic as an excuse for leaving. Beth was working thirds, which was why she was not with them in the first place. Despite Ben’s wit and charm, she wanted to be somewhere else, doing something other than drinking and socializing with the same group she saw every Friday night. She had been spending more time at the clinic to keep busy and to get away from her current relationship.
Ben walked her out to her vehicle, a hunter-green Jeep Wrangler, not too big but capable of taking her to her duties at the hospital in the snow. He chivalrously helped her into the vehicle and gave her a hand with lowering the top. She pecked him sweetly on the cheek and gave him a big hug before heading down the road.
Beth and Grace always took I-95 out of New Haven because it was faster and because they were usually feeling lusty–alcohol can do that to a woman. However, tonight Grace decided a drive along the way down the Boston Post would be a nice change; it would take a little longer but would give her time to think about things, nagging things. She thought about Beth and about her career, hoping that she could sort out these subjects better in the fresh air and with the music blaring. Driving was good for that. She had come to terms with the fact that Beth’s jealousy no longer flattered her. In fact, most of the time she was with Beth she felt lousy. Even the sex was not that great, not like when they had first started seeing each other. And now Beth was intimating that she wanted them to move in together.
Doc had been careful to stay away from the well-lighted roads to avoid gawkers and the police. Her T-shirt was sticky and was clinging to her back, and a slow headache had enveloped her brain, slowing her footsteps. The pounding had grown so loud that she did not hear the hum of the Jeep’s engine until the vehicle had passed her. She was surprised when the little cruiser stopped and backed toward her, the wheels whirring as they spun. Doc stopped and watched with trepidation. There was a lone head just barely visible over the seat back. The vehicle stopped less than a foot from her toes.
“Can I give you a lift?” the golden-crowned Samaritan asked over wire-rimmed driving glasses. A pause. “Tough question?” Grace chided with an easy gibe.
“Are you following me?” Doc responded, unable to hide her paranoia. She crossed her arms over her chest and waited for an answer.
“No,” Grace laughed.
Doc continued forward on her journey.
“But since I did run across you, I would like to take a look at your head.” Grace’s Jeep was crawling alongside the tall brunette as she leaned across the passenger seat and spoke. It was true; the woman looked worse than she had in the bar, pale and a little wobbly, and it had been an hour without any care. She had hoped the woman would go to an emergency room or seek some help.
Doc continued to walk, ignoring the following vehicle.
“I’m a doctor. I can help you.”
“Really.” Doc stopped, and Grace nearly drove over her toes again. Doc coolly pulled her foot away from the tire and continued to walk.
“Tell me, are they making twelve-year-olds doctors now?”
Grace smiled. She had heard that before, way too many times.
“I’m twenty-eight,” she said with a proud smile.
“Suuuuure you are.”
“What if I showed you my driver’s license? Would you believe me then?”
Hmmm, she needed another angle and thought she would try a professional one.
“I bet you have a headache right now, and you’re a little chilled despite the fact that it’s ninety degrees, and you’re feeling weak, maybe even want to vomit?” she tried.
“Sounds more like too much beer to me.”
“Come on, please stop.”
And Doc did just that, although she had no idea why. Grace pulled off to the side under a streetlight and let several cars pass. Pitch pines lined the road. The ocean twenty-five yards beyond the dunes and across the beach to their right pounded the sand. The lights of New Haven, miles away, lit the sky behind them.
After a brief hesitation Doc climbed into the passenger side, avoiding the seat back because of the blood on her shirt. Grace reached into her gym bag behind the seat and pulled out a towel to hang over the back, knowing her passenger would not relax otherwise.
“So, where are we headed?” she asked cheerfully, proud of her little victory as she pulled away from the curb.
“My boat is moored another mile down the road.”
That was interesting. “Did you walk all the way into town?”
The woman next to her nodded and watched the dark trees and water pass with the time.
Grace knew very little about ships and boats and mooring. “Are you a Merchant Marine or something?”
Grace waited. Nothing further came. “What kind of something?”
The driver obeyed, turning off into a beachfront parking lot.
“Park right up there on the left, under the light.”
She did that too.
“Thanks for the ride,” Doc said, sliding onto her long legs.
“Wait!” Grace yelped as she turned off the motor and hopped to the ground. She moved around to the front of the vehicle and gently caught Doc by the arm before she reached the line of overturned rowboats by the water’s edge. “I really do want to take a look at that gash.”
“I can take care of it myself.”
“With what, a needle and some sail thread?”
“No, I have first-aid gear. This is not the first scrape I’ve been in, Doogie.”
“Well, I’d like to come along to observe your methods because I don’t see how the hell you’re going to sew a wound like that without being a contortionist.”
Doc was no expert, but she could swear she actually saw a look of concern in the doctor’s eyes.
“I promise not to get in your way when you’re bending,” she said softly and smiled, dimples poking her youthful cheeks.
Doc’s eyes flitted shyly to her face and saw a gentleness so rare in her world that she could not deny the smaller woman.
“My boat’s moored inside that cove. So we have to row out,” she explained with a nod toward the water.
Grace looked at the waves and hesitated. “That’s fine. Let me get my bag.”
Doc nodded, noticing the hand still on her arm. They stood like that in silence for a moment, and then the woman released her to retrieve a doctors’ bag from the rear floor of the Jeep. Doc had righted her dinghy and was pushing it toward the water when Grace returned. She held the dinghy steady while Grace climbed into the wobbling craft, then climbed around to the bow bench and started to row toward the dark shadows of the moored boat.
The water made Grace nervous, and when she was nervous she did the only thing she could do to cope: she talked, incessantly.
“I’m not a big fan of water travels. It’s more a motion-sickness thing than boats in particular. It’s probably because I’m a Taurus; I like the land; I’m most comfortable on my own feet on earthen materials, not flying thousands of feet above the land or floating over fathoms of water.”
“Mmmmmmm-hmmmmmm.” Doc continued to row, her headache growing worse by the syllable.
“It’s a little rough out here, isn’t it?” The boat rocked slightly, forcing Grace to tightly cling to the sides.
Doc held the oars still to settle the boat. The waves were nothing more than normal.
“You do know how to swim, right?”
“Yes.” Then Grace yelped as another small wave raised, then lowered the dinghy. She was too scared to talk, it was so dark, and she was suddenly thinking about how foolish she might have been to climb into a dinghy with a complete stranger. And it did not help that the stranger’s face was completely hidden by shadows as she rowed. They continued into the darkness. Doc cut directly into the waves to eliminate some of the cross-tossing. A few minutes later they reached the stern of her boat, well out of the aura of the marina dock lights.
A loud bark, then a splash just to Grace’s right nearly made her pee her pants and shocked her out of her thoughts. A dark, snorting head popped out of the water a foot from the boat.
“That’s Rip,” the stranger offered as she stood and tied the small boat to the stern of the classic, teak Tartan forty-eight-footer. She braced her legs and held her hand to Grace to aid in boarding. Bag in one hand, Grace took hold of Doc’s arm with the other and climbed into the cockpit. Once aboard, Doc leaned over the stern, grabbed the wet hound by its full-body harness, and heaved it into the pit. The dog then shook, splattering water everywhere. Grace wiped water from her face and arms.
“I would apologize for Rip’s lack of manners,” Doc said, “but then again, she is a dog.”
Rip, her only companion, some sort of bird-dog mutt she had found rummaging in the garbage in a northern marina three years prior, whimpered with glee until Doc slid her hands across the furry back a few times and patted the dog’s head roughly. Rip then turned to the guest and growled nervously, the way dogs with greeting disorders do. Grace reached down slowly and let the dog sniff her hand. Eventually the hound nudged the proffered hand onto her head for stroking.
“Rip, go up front and keep lookout.” Doc pointed toward the bow. The dog groaned, then climbed up onto the fiberglass deck and scratched up toward the bow to guard her territory. Unclasping the key attached to a thinly woven rope hanging around her neck, Doc unlocked the companionway and ducked into the guts of the ship.
“Latch-key kid, were ya?” Grace joked.
“This way,” Doc said stoically and climbed down into the compact living quarters. She switched on a small lamp attached to the wall, then another until the cabin was well lit. Grace followed cautiously, glancing over her shoulder into the night.
Doc pulled out a large, white, dented metal tin with a faded red cross painted on it. Sitting on a cushioned berth that ran three-quarters the length of one side of the cabin, she pulled her sandals off her tanned, callused feet while Grace inventoried the cabin. Grace spied several piles of books stuffed onto the shelves that ran above the berths. Some were fiction, modern poetry, epic poems, “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” but most were college textbooks on genetics, mechanical physics, organic chemistry, and chaotic math. One shelf was lined with old National Geographic magazines, another with Laser World and Popular Science. She noticed silver wire-rimmed glasses next to a laptop. A counter and wall by the entryway were dedicated to the navigational equipment, some attached to the wall and some built into it. The only other equipment in the cabin was a small CD player hooked up to two Boss speakers. She marveled at the use of space to hold all of the materials this woman owned.
“Sorry it’s such a mess. I don’t entertain company often,” Doc offered, a little embarrassed.
“Never,” Doc answered dryly.
Grace appeared to mull the answer over, then proceeded to figure out how to lower the folded table that was locked to the wall. Eventually she worked the table free from its latches. Meanwhile, Doc had opened the first-aid kit and pulled out a surgical staple gun and a package of staples.
“You aren’t going to use that on your head?” Grace asked in disbelief.
“Sure am. Works like a charm too,” Doc replied with a half-grin.
“Yeah, but that instrument isn’t meant for the head.”
“I do things my own way, Doogie.”
“I’ve noticed,” Grace said, reaching out her hands for the instrument. Doc handed it to her hesitantly. She looked at the machine closely.
“I take it you’ve used this before.”
“It came in really handy after a shark attack off the ruins of Trinidad. They took me in the shoulder and thigh,” Doc offered with childish pride.
“No shit, let me see.” She leaned over as Doc pulled her left shirtsleeve up to reveal a V-shaped, gray scar that ran from the point of her collarbone into the meaty muscles of her triceps.
“It was a flap of muscle and skin,” Doc explained. Grace ran an expert finger across it, surprised at the smoothness. Doc moved away from the touch and blushed, quietly adding, “I’ll let you imagine the other scar.”
Grace could not help noticing the woman’s sudden shyness. She had reacted that way each time Grace touched her, almost shocked by the contact. Deciding to leave it alone, she let the professional in her take over the situation. She handed the surgical instrument back to Doc and laid out gauze bandages, cleansers, sutures, and needles onto a sterile cloth from her own bag.
“No staples,” Grace stated matter-of-factly. “You have a two-hundred-dollar-an-hour doctor here for free. I suggest you make the most of it.” With that she rubbed waterless cleanser on her hands while Doc watched her with concealed wonder. It looked more like irritation to Grace.
If Doc could like anyone, she could like this person. Somehow the blonde beauty had surprised the con. Not only was she the beautiful bar butterfly, she was also a doctor with a damned good bedside manner.
“Do you have running water?”
“I want to use some to clean the blood off,” Grace said, then added, “if that’s okay.”
“I’ll get it.” Doc suddenly discovered that she had been staring and immediately felt foolish.
The blonde gently pushed Doc back down. “No, you sit,” she said. “Just point me in the right direction.”
“The sink’s there,” the taller woman replied, pointing to the small galley near the stairs. “Or you can use the head there.” She motioned to a door in the bow.
“In the head, above the shitter–I mean ‘toilet’.”
Grace reached into the small john and grabbed two worn, white towels, slinging them over her shoulder. She then put warm water into a small, curved, hospital bowl, the utility kind used in hospitals for holding everything from vomit to used body parts. She returned to where the other woman sat waiting. Placing the bowl on the table next to her tools, she dried her damp hands on a towel and turned to Doc. She noticed that her patient had placed the ship’s first-aid box on the table next to the physician’s supplies and smiled at the surgical staple gun laid out carefully next to her needle.
“You need to remove your shirt.”
“Right,” Doc responded, but she didn’t move.
“Do you need help?”
“No, I can do it.” Doc’s brain was in a haze of discomfort and excitement, both emanating from actual human company. She turned her back to the young doctor and started to pull up her shirt from the bottom, revealing a lean, deeply-tanned torso. Grace watched the process out of the corner of her eye while she filled a syringe with anesthetic. Doc groaned as the collar dragged across the cut on her head. She was surprised to see the shirt soaked with that much blood. Careful to cover her scarred abdomen with one arm, she turned to the young woman, who took the bloody garment and placed it in a makeshift garbage pail made from a bucket and a plastic trash bag.
“Do you want to lie down for this, or sit?” Grace asked.
“Which is easier for you?”
Grace thought for a moment, taking in the half-naked form in front of her. “How about sitting over here by the light. This way I’ll be near my instruments and you can lean across the table.”
Their eyes locked as Doc slid onto the berth next to her caregiver and set her head on her forearms, which were resting on the table. Grace pulled on rubber gloves with a snap. Doc jumped when the gloved hand unlatched the bra between her shoulder blades. The woman then soaked a towel in water and, with long strokes, wiped the blood off the tanned back. Slowly and gently the cool, damp towel slid across the strong shoulder muscles. All the while her patient trembled.
“Are you cold?” Grace asked.
“No,” was the quiet reply.
“Jesus, you’re tall. Sit up a little so I can reach your neck.”
Doc complied, and Grace moved the bloody hair out of the way. The bleeding had stopped and was drying around the gash. The wound turned out to be three inches long and an inch or so deep into the flesh.
“How did you get caught in the middle of that fight anyway?”
“Wrong place at the wrong time. I have a knack for that,” Doc replied shakily. She had not been touched by another for years and could not remember being touched out of kindness. It must have happened a few times in her life, she thought. Her body could remember only the other touches, and she began to shake from a panic attack that crept into her.
Grace worked in silence as the waves lapped gently against the fiberglass hull. A dog groaned from boredom above deck.
With the excess blood removed, Grace dried off her patient’s back with the second towel. She placed the bloodied towels under the table out of the way and reached for her syringe. She stopped when she saw the tremors growing stronger.
“Hey,” she said, gently placing a hand on the strong shoulder. “You’re going to be fine.” Doc’s teeth were chattering. Grace did not think there was enough blood loss to cause shock but was concerned about a concussion.
“Turn so I can check your eyes,” she commanded, slowly lifting Doc’s chin. Grace gently cupped the shaking face with one hand and examined the pupil of each eye. They were not dilated abnormally and followed her finger movements appropriately. She felt the brow for fever. Nope, no concussion, she ruled. “Are you diabetic or hypoglycemic?”
“N-n-n-no,” Doc shivered out.
“Did you eat dinner tonight?”
“Well, because you’re shaking so hard you’re making my teeth chatter.”
Doc smiled despite the fact that the shakes were almost painful. Grace smiled back, hers with a tinge of worry. Absently she brushed dark bangs from her patient’s brow. “By the way, I know your dog’s name but not yours.”
Doc chided herself for her terrible manners. She had never even thought of introducing herself.
“I’m Dana, and she’s not my dog, she just travels with me.”
“Any more to it?”
“No, we’re just traveling companions.”
“No,” she laughed. “I mean do you have a last name?”
“Papadopolis, but most people call me Doc.”
“Well, Dana, I’m Grace.”
“Any more to it?”
“Dr. Wilson is it?” Doc asked with a lazy smile.
“Doc Papa…Papa…Pap…uhhh.” Grace looked to her for help.
“Papadopolis, but I’m not a real doctor of any sort.”
“That’s perceptive.” The smile faded from her caregiver’s face. Doc had not meant to sound as rude as she had, but one cannot brush off two decades of defensiveness. Still, she had to at least try to be slightly kind. “My father was a proud Greek immigrant who refused to Americanize his name.”
Grace acknowledged her with a quiet hum and gently pushed the dark head forward so that she could swab the wound with Betadine cleanser. It stung like mad.
“Wilson’s a nice Anglo name…ouch,” Doc hissed in pain.
“That’s because I’m a tenth-generation Kentucky hillbilly. Descendant of the Scottish gentleman James Wilson.”
“Did he come over on the Mayflower or something?”
“No, but he took part in the signing of the U.S. Constitution.”
“Oh.” Doc did not know what else to say. There weren’t any great statesmen in her lineage, only verbally-challenged fishermen. Maybe on her mother’s side, but she did not know a lick about them. “With an ancestor like that I’m surprised you’re not the mayor.”
“No, thanks. The last eight generations have been doctors of one sort or another. Dad’s the town doc back home, and my sister’s a vet. My brother, however, is a writer in Lullvul.”
“Where the hell is Lullvul?”
“I’m sorry. Lou-is-ville.”
Grace began to snicker to herself.
That kind of irritated Dana. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing. Thinking of my brother always makes me laugh. What about you–how did you get the nickname ‘Doc’? Are you a Ph.D.?”
Doc chuckled at the impossibility, not that a degree would mean anything to her anyway. In her book, “Ph.D.” simply meant “piled higher and deeper.” She respected work, not degrees.
“No, it’s more along the line of the seven dwarves. I was short as a kid and wore glasses.” That was a lie. Not only had she been tall as a child, she had received the name during her incarceration. The prison librarian had christened her with the nickname as a cruel cut at her foolish desire to learn despite the fact that she would never leave York. The staff member had also guffawed at the dry material the teenager chose: biological science magazines mostly during the first year, then old textbooks on physics and genetics as she grew older. She wore glasses for reading, silver wire-rims that hooked around her ears and bent back into shape easily after being damaged in a fight. They made her look even more studious. The librarian used to laugh at the quiet, hopeful teenager who scribbled out problems as if she were still in school. It was foolish, but Doc lived for the escape into the perfection of math and physics. That world made sense to her. It helped her get through the beatings, the rapes, and the everyday cruelty that someone so young and naive encountered. As she grew older, quickly, she continued using knowledge to escape. She had an uncanny proficiency for mechanical physics and dawdled in genetic theory for fun. The torment that had occurred daily the first year had grown sporadic after Doc cut the throat of one of the rapists with a sharpened Ticonderoga number-three pencil. That had been the first in the pen, and it hadn’t been the last. It had also landed her a reputation and a two-month stint in solitary, an all-new hell but one that brought her a short reprieve from being bothered. Every so often things would erupt. Sometimes she was able to stop them, usually by maiming or killing, but sometimes she did not fare so well. That was life at York. But she could not tell this woman that story, now could she? What she should do was to urge the doctor to finish, then row her back to shore and say good-bye.
“You didn’t get the name at York, then?”
Doc froze and stopped breathing for a second, fearing the young woman had read her thoughts. “Do I know you?” she finally managed to get out.
“No, it’s the tattoo.” The young doctor traced the numbers across the hand. “I went to med school at Yale. We had inmates sometimes.” Doc looked stunned. “You were in for a capital offense,” she said, pointing to the “01” of the tattoo.
Doc nodded, mute with wonder, and rubbed the tattoo, self-conscious about the amount of information it revealed about her. She hated the mark. She knew she could have it removed but kept it as a reminder of who she really was, especially if a situation like this ever arose. She cautiously came clean on the name, leaving out most of the ugly details of her existence.
That would explain all of the reading material, Grace thought, but she wondered how a mind like that had ended up in York. However, she did not push getting that information. Getting the dark-haired woman to give out her name had taken two hours.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to stitch you up, now that the shaking has stopped.”
Dana smiled at her, relieved that the young doctor had not panicked at her ex-con status. But she did wonder why such a lovely person would pick up an ex-con in the middle of the night and offer her services. Most of the cons Doc knew would have eaten her alive.
“Fifteen stitches,” Grace exclaimed when she had finished and applied antibacterial ointment to the wound. She pulled off her gloves and tossed them into the trash bag and tied it off before tossing it out into the cockpit.
“That many?” Dana could not believe the gash had been that serious. “I was thinking maybe four or five staples.”
Small, powerful hands punched a cold-pak, then gingerly placed it on the dark woman’s head.
“Hold this here for the swelling.” Larger hands reached up and took hold, gently brushing the caregiver’s fingers in the transfer. “I’ll get you a clean shirt if you point me to the right room.”
“We call them cabins, Grace,” the brunette said, pointing to the front cabin. “Second drawer down.” Grace disappeared and returned with a pale blue shirt, worn as thin as the towels, obviously a favorite.
Exposing her belly to the young doctor’s view, Dana took the shirt and hoped the woman would not notice the lines of scars covering her abdomen. Grace held the cold-pak while Dana carefully slipped her loosened brassiere off and the shirt over her head. A vulnerability created by exhaustion and pain showed in the pale blue eyes as they met the green of the beautiful young woman watching her.
“Do you feel up to rowing back yet, or would you like to rest a while?” Grace asked, privately wanting to stay. She had taken a huge risk with this woman, following her to a boat in the dead of night, but it felt so good. Beth would be furious if she knew.
“I doubt I could sleep with you here,” Dana said abruptly. “I’m not used to–I mean I never–” God, talking to people was hard. She blew out an exasperated sigh. “The head-shrinkers used to tell me I had intimacy problems, among other things. I won’t even let the dog sleep in the same cabin as I.”
Grace took the hint that she had worn out her welcome, plus she had to be at the clinic in five hours. “So we head to shore, then.”
Doc nodded in agreement.
Grace tossed the trash bag onto the beach. Doc surprised her by lifting her, quite easily, out of the dinghy and setting heron the sandy beach. Rip hopped out and ran up the sand to a small grassy dune to sniff and leave her mark. Grace wondered how many territories this dog had claimed during their journeys. They walked to where Grace had parked her Jeep, bumping shoulders as the shifting sand made their tired steps unsteady.
“Sorry,” Doc said after bumping Grace hard.
“It’s okay,” she laughed, grabbing Dana’s shoulder for balance. “You would think we were high.”
Doc allowed herself to chuckle at the comment. Grace dropped the trash into a steel barrel placed at the edge of the dune for the garbage of beachgoers. The parking lot was deserted. Feeling slightly awkward, both women looked around while waves lashed sand behind them. Grace placed her bag behind her seat while Dana, leaning against the fender, wondered why she did not want to lose this woman’s company.
“I want to see you again.” Grace had turned back to Dana. “In five days to remove the stitches and before then if there are any problems, like infection, pain–you know what I mean. Here’s my card, with my beeper number on the back.” She handed Dana a business card. “I usually work Saturdays at a clinic on Lincoln. It’s on the east side of the city. The address is on the back. I don’t live too far from here, so call the beeper number if you have any trouble.”
Dana flipped the card over but could not read it in the dim light without her glasses. Grace climbed into the Jeep and started it up, slipping on her own glasses for poor night vision.
“Um, Grace,” Doc said quietly as she stepped closer to the door.
Grace smiled that endearing little curve of lips and dimples that Dana realized she enjoyed seeing.
“You’re welcome. Now go rest.” Then, unceremoniously, Grace drove off down the road.
Part Two – Another effect of a force is to alter the state of motion of the body.
Two days after the pool-cue incident, the body of a woman was found less than a mile from the small cove where Grace had tended to Dana. The dead woman was a lady in her early fifties who had worked at a seafood restaurant near the local marina. She had been stabbed five times in the chest with a large, double-edged knife in an obvious act of rage. Still buzzing from the excitement of discovering the body the previous evening, Beth divulged all of the gruesome details to Grace over Sunday breakfast.
A few days later, over a rare dinner together, Beth described two forensic discoveries: the victim had struggled with her attacker, and preliminary genetic testing on skin taken from under the victim’s fingernails showed that the killer was likely a woman. The police had also discovered a bag of bloodied clothing in a trash barrel less than a mile from the body. Grace found herself unable to finish her bisque after that surprising news.
She had not seen or heard from Dana since that evening, and when she drove past the beach she did not see the boat moored where she thought they had been. She did not know that the morning after they had met, Doc had pulled up anchor and sailed south, past the Carolinas, past Florida, and back to the warm, blue waters of the Caribbean, intending a two-month cruise.
By mid-September, five weeks later, the summer weather had cooled as quickly as the police leads. All they had to go on were a bloody T-shirt, gauze, surgical gloves, and fingerprints that did not match any known criminals in the FBI supercomputer databases. Beth was still pushing Grace to move in with her, and Grace was running out of excuses for putting off a decision.
The first crisp sensations of autumn blew through the coastal town from the northern forest on the second Saturday in October. Grace awoke late, a preference that she was able to indulge all too seldom. She felt a rare abundance of energy. She had not volunteered her time to the clinic that weekend because she had started to feel haggard. She needed the break, partly because of four consecutive seventy-hour weeks at the hospital and partly because her hopeful expectation that Dana would somehow show up at the clinic had not been fulfilled. She always went home disappointed. Grace wondered where the dark, enigmatic woman had sailed off to. She decided the murder must have spooked the ex-con with a self-proclaimed attraction to trouble.
After brushing her teeth and her hair, Grace decided to skip a trip to the gym. Instead, she opted to find Beth, who was probably at the park playing basketball with her partner. She liked to play after a shift to blow off the tensions of Friday-night madness. Grace rarely had time to play and was not as good as Beth or most of the others, but she loved the game. Dressed in gray cotton shorts and a blue sweatshirt, she grabbed a bottle of water and headed for the marina park where they played.
There were only seven people there when Grace arrived: Beth’s kid brother Ben, Beth, Beth’s partner Charlie, who lived nearby, and three faces Grace did not recognize; the seventh person was unmistakable. Hair pulled back from a deeply-tanned, regal face, Dana bounced a worn ball on the edge of the court and watched the others shoot around warming up. A black, floppy-eared dog was lying next to the metal bleachers that overlooked the court. Rip gave the approaching Jeep an uninterested doggie yawn that shook the compact ebony body.
“Shit!” Grace muttered, for more than one reason. Beth had noticed the Jeep as soon as it pulled up and was walking over to greet her.
“Are you gonna play?” Beth inquired with a thick New England accent. Grace could read in her expression how surprised the cop was to see her. Grace had not told her she had taken a break from the clinic.
“I was hoping to.” Grace climbed to the ground and gave Beth a hug.
“Perfect. We were odd out–now we have eight.” Beth led her by the hand to the court.
Dana was on the court now, and if she was surprised to see Grace she did not show it but concentrated, instead, on shooting and stretching her arms. Ben was watching the tall woman carefully. When he caught Grace’s eye, he wiggled his eyebrows. He still had their secret. Such a good boy, Grace thought, grateful for his loyalty.
Beth decided they should start playing and set to the chore of choosing teams. She struggled to decide which team should get Ben and which should get Grace. In her eyes neither was very good. Dana decided for her, her first words of the morning to the group. She opted to take Grace on her team, stating that the newcomer looked fast, scrappy, and smart. That set the tone for the rest of the morning.
Beth did not like the stranger, especially when she had made Beth feel like a jerk about Grace, and also because she played so well. As her frustration grew, she began to miss shots. Touch fouls suddenly became shooting fouls. And calling a shooting foul was always a basis for a playground argument.
A particularly soft nudge by Grace against Beth’s arm before the shot suddenly became cause for a heated debate between the two teams. The argument broke out mainly between Beth and Walter, a five-foot-ten man in his mid-thirties with very little curly, brown hair on top of his head but plenty on his chin.
“It’s a friggin’ foul, Wally,” Beth complained. “I’m shooting.”
“No way. It was before the shot, and she barely touched you.”
Dana was holding the ball against her hip and waiting for the childish disagreement to play out. She watched Grace out of the corner of her eye. The cute blonde looked embarrassed by her friend, or possibly girlfriend? Grace was talking quietly to Ben, both trying to act indifferent toward the conflict. They both stole an occasional glance at Dana while the argument between the others escalated. The guards at the pen would have shot at the troublemakers if they had been playing in the yard; at least the game would have continued, Dana thought to herself.
“What do you think, Legs?” Wally addressed the tall, silent one with the ball.
Dana’s dark side took hold of her mouth. With a sinister half-grin she offered her opinion. “I think it was a wuss call.” Turning away from the suddenly angry affrontee, she shot the ball at the basket. The chink net clinked. Dana did not like the woman for many reasons, but not all were known to her at the time.
“It’s my goddamned call to make,” Beth spat angrily.
“Whatever,” Dana replied, with a tone of boredom. “Are we going to play some more or stand around acting like babies?”
“Your ball,” Beth spat at them and headed downcourt to defend the basket.
Wally chuckled deviously.
That small victory was the beginning of a much larger war. Every time Dana received the ball, Beth slammed her or swatted her in some manner. Dana knew she had brought it on herself. Basketball was known for turning mild-mannered commoners into trash-talking would-be assassins. Criminals behaved better on the courts than freebirds did, usually because a sniper refereed the games in the pen. Doc did not play often. When she did, there was usually a fight but not usually one with her in it.
After an elbow to the mouth and another to the nose, she grew agitated. Beth was taunting her, waiting for her to call a foul. She would not give the other player the satisfaction. When she failed to complain, the roughness of the game escalated. What irked the hothead even more was that Dana still made her shots and was winning.
“Game point,” Grace, the official point guard of the winning team, called dutifully as she brought the ball downcourt. Beth was cursing diligently under her breath and above it too. Dana had cleared out to draw Beth out of the play. She knew her defender was close to rampaging. She could tell by the eyes, knew the look too well. Dana urged Grace to take it to the hole for the final point. Ben, a sound defensive player, if not a shooter, stopped her. She passed off to Wally, who took a wild shot that bounced high into the air. Unable to resist the draw of victory, Dana crashed the boards and snagged the rebound. Using a power dribble to the hole, she jammed the ball over Beth. As soon as she landed, the game won, Beth drove her forearm hard into her throat, knocking the tall champion to the ground.
“Game’s over,” Beth growled as she stomped away from the downed player. Rip was pulling at the black leash tethering her to the bleachers. She barked wildly, gagging at the pressure her strained harness caused against her chest and neck. Beth’s teammates followed her, including Ben. Grace knelt beside Dana, who was sitting up holding her throat. She had a cut on her lip and above her right eye from the previous whacks, but the last one had been completely unexpected and had knocked her for a loop.
“You fucking bitch!” Wally yelled after Beth as he knelt next to his downed teammate. He started to chuckle but stopped when he saw that Dana did not appear to appreciate the laughter. “I’m sorry, but it was sooooo good to see her lose,” he said.
“Sorry if I’m not sharing your pleasure.” Dana’s voice was strained. “But I do have to admit, the win was worth the fractured trachea.” Dana looked into Grace’s eyes for the first time that morning. Unfortunately, she saw no humor in them. Dana lost her own half-grin. They both looked over toward the cars where Beth was beckoning Grace to join them.
Their eyes locked once more before Grace stood and headed off to her friends.
What was I thinking? Dana chastised herself. Acting like a stupid kid. What did you think you were doing? God, you’re such an idiot, she silently told herself as she stood and brushed the dirt off her clothes. She and Wally walked to the bleachers, where they both donned sweatpants and sweatshirts. Rip was still on alert, watching her friend’s enemy warily, tail and head arched alertly. Dana tore protective wrist supports off her hand, which still had a couple of pins holding together previously-broken bones. The blue tattoo on her hand was now exposed. She heard an angry female voice and the sound of peeling tires. When she looked up, Grace was walking toward her with the first look of anger Dana had seen cross that face.
Heading to his own car, Wally patted his blonde teammate’s shoulder knowingly. “See you next week,” he said, and then jogged to his own car, a blue Caravan. Their other teammate, a quiet kid, no more than seventeen, was still shooting. Ashamed to have caused such a scene, Dana diverted her attention to the lithe figure pounding the rubber ball against the pavement.
When Dana felt the vibration from Grace walking down the bleachers toward her and then the jiggle as the younger woman straddled the bench next to her, she finally surrendered her attention to the young doctor.
Grace spoke first. “You’re always bleeding when I see you.” Dana reached up and wiped her brow and chin with her sweatshirt sleeve.
“That’s why I always keep plenty of staples around the boat,” Dana replied wryly.
Grace barely smiled. “How’s the head?”
“Just not all the time,” Grace said.
“Look, I didn’t cause her to freak out like that.”
“But what?” Dana had assumed defensive body posture, crossing her arms across her chest.
“But you could have diffused it. All you had to do was call one foul.”
“No way!” she said stubbornly. “That’s exactly what she wanted.”
Grace sighed out her disgust. “You’re just like her.”
Dana shot Grace an angry look.
“Neither of you acted very grown-up.” Grace crossed her arms, then consciously uncrossed them. Neither woman spoke for a long moment, but crystal-blue eyes searched green ones, hoping for a relenting to come.
“You’re probably right.” The one with the baby blues gave up first. She was rewarded with a forgiving smile that caused the strangest, most pleasurable sensation of warmth in her chest.
“So, you’re into chicks?” Dana asked as she tied her shoe.
Grace laughed. “We call them women, Dana,” she corrected, “and, yes, I’ve been into my share.” She figured Dana had been exposed to women aplenty in York, and her simple ability to ask about it acknowledged that she could probably deal with Grace’s preference. “Want to go grab some lunch,” Grace offered, with a nod toward her car.
Dana looked around to see if someone was behind her.
“I mean you, Dana.”
After a moment of utter shock, Dana answered her with a slow nod.
“I would give anything for a benedictine-and-bacon sandwich,” Grace said, biting into her turkey club. They were seated in the back of a small deli on Main Street in South Milford. Dana felt too big for the table and chair they were sitting at. To make matters worse, the table wobbled. She could not eat her own sandwich, a grilled ham and cheese, until she had fixed the wobble by wedging a folded napkin under the table leg. Then she tasted her food.
“Mmmmmm, a cucumber-mayonnaise spread with bacon, lettuce, and tomato. Everything pales in comparison.”
“Sounds interesting,” Dana said sarcastically.
“Don’t you have a favorite food?”
“Bread and water.”
Grace did not laugh. She decided to change the subject. “You were pretty incredible on the court today.”
Dana shrugged and continued to eat.
“Did you play in high school?”
Dana stopped mid-bite, then began to chew again. “I never went to high school. I went to York when I was fifteen.”
Grace suddenly felt terrible.
“Yeah? What for?”
“–that I was normal? I wouldn’t apologize for that, Grace. It’s nice to be seen as normal. It gives me hope that not everyone sees me as a monster.”
“Then why not let me think that you’re normal and that you played basketball in school?”
“Because I’m a murderer, not a liar. I learned the game in the yard when I grew bored with walking in circles, not because I was trying to win a scholarship so that I could go to college.
“That’s as good a reason as any,” Grace decided.
“Grace, I won’t want to talk about this.”
“Okay, what would you like to talk about?”
“Can’t we just eat?”
Grace nodded at her companion, suddenly aware of how she always felt obligated to fill silences. This was a change and felt a bit uncomfortable. She decided to concentrate on eating and actually found the sandwich enjoyable despite the lack of cucumber froth.
Grace and Dana sat side-by-side in the Jeep. It was parked in the beach parking lot close to the cove where Dana’s boat was again moored. Neither had said anything other than short sentences related to payment of the lunch bill.
“What?” Grace turned to her companion, surprised at having heard a sound from her.
“My favorite food. It’s asparagus.”
Grace smiled at her for encouragement.
“My dad and I used to eat it by the bushel.”
“It used to scare me because it always made my pee smell funny,” Grace responded.
Dana chuckled, a deep sound.
“So, where have you been, Dana?” It was time to get down to business.
“The West Indies.”
“Any sharks catch you this time?”
“Nothing big.” Dana smiled, surprised the woman had remembered.
“I take it you removed the stitches yourself.”
Dana nodded in affirmation. The light-sensitive lenses of the driver prevented Dana from seeing the green eyes that surveyed her.
“Any particular reason you came back to Milford?”
Dana could not lie. “Rip likes it here.”
The dog’s head suddenly appeared between the seats, a wet tongue flicking slobber in their faces.
“Yuk, Rip,” Dana remarked, wiping the drops of drool from her cheek. Grace laughed and scratched behind the beast’s ears.
“And it was my destiny,” Dana added, eyes suddenly dark.
“Destiny?” Grace asked nervously.
“Oh, yeah. It was my destiny to come here today and whup your girlfriend’s ass all over that basketball court.” Dana half-smiled at the mild irritation that remark appeared to provoke.
“Lady, you have a dark side,” Grace commented, shaking her head from side to side.
She doesn’t know the half of it, Dana thought.
“Have you heard about the murder?”
I guess not. “A lady was killed down by the marina, that night we…met.”
“No, I hadn’t heard.” Dana was brushing her legs nervously.
“The police found the bag with the gauze and your bloody shirt. They think it belongs to the murderer, that maybe the attacker was injured in a struggle.”
“Oh, shit!” Dana looked up in alarm.
“Yeah, your blood and my fingerprints are all over that trash.”
Dana rubbed her forehead in consternation. “My DNA is logged in the FBI computer.” She was stating a fact Grace had already assumed. Since 2001 the DNA of all felons in the United States had been systematically collected and catalogued with the FBI. “How long have they had the shirt?”
“A little over a month.”
Dana swore silently. “They should have the results any day.” Dana was rubbing her head again, unable to look at the doctor. The fact that the labs had such careful testing procedures that took weeks to complete seemed to be the only good fortune so far.
“Dana.” A soft voice. “Look at me,” she pleaded. Frightened blue eyes locked with her.
“If you didn’t do it you have nothing to worry about.”
“If?” Dana was hurt and bewildered. “I thought I was with you.”
“You were. Damn, I’m sorry–I chose the wrong words.” Her voice was rising with the panic. “I’m nervous, for God’s sake. Cut me some slack!” Grace looked away from the incredulous stare, and her eyes started to tear from frustration and the weeks of stress. “My fingerprints are all over the evidence too. And my fucking girlfriend is smack-dab in the middle of the case.”
“We didn’t do anything wrong,” Dana reasoned, knowing her companion needed support. “Why didn’t you tell her the truth about the trash?”
Grace wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. “I don’t know.”
“That’s not an answer. This is fucking serious, Grace!”
“I was afraid, all right? What if I had picked up some other person on the road and not you. I could have been that dead woman. Beth would have killed me if she’d known I picked up a stranger and followed her to a secluded boat.”
“So you were afraid of your girlfriend finding out you were with another woman? Good God, Grace, this is my life you’re screwing with!”
Grace sniffled. Dana knew she should not blame the woman for having to deal with Dana’s legal vulnerabilities. She could not hate her for letting fear control her. But the problem remained; the law would believe what was most convenient. Grace was sobbing, the shame and regret more than Dana could bear to watch.
“Grace,” Dana said, tentatively reaching for the woman’s shaking shoulder. “It doesn’t matter.” She spoke reassuringly, smoothly. “Listen, I’ll take care of this.”
“How?” she asked with a sniffle.
Dana was dismayed to see the woman lacking the self-confidence which Dana had come to associate with her. The vulnerability stirred a protectiveness she had not allowed herself to feel for a long time. She had no answer yet but hoped that one would come soon. She knew one thing for a fact: she could not turn herself in to the authorities. She remembered the bar and the fury she had nearly unleashed before stomping out of the crowd. Too many witnesses could testify to her “agitated state.” And her violent history–a con, with body piled upon body. And even if by some miracle they did sort it out, she would have to spend time in the clink during the process. She had promised herself she would never go back to that existence, not for one second.
“I’m assuming they failed to ID your prints?” she asked, trying to keep the despair from her voice.
“Not yet. I’ve never been printed.”
“Good. If they haven’t yet, they aren’t going to. That means you’re safe and I can run.”
“No!” Grace growled through clenched jaw. “That’s no life. They would catch you sooner or later. Maybe if we went together to someone other than the local police.”
“That’s not an option.”
“Listen, there’s nothing tying you to this other than a bag of bloody garments.”
“I killed a cop once, Grace.” Dana thought that should be explanation enough but seeing the question on the young face, she continued. “They won’t give a cop-killer the benefit of the doubt. Never have.” She looked at Grace’s pained, innocent eyes, her self-loathing consuming her voice.
“Why did you kill him?”
Dana did not want to talk about it.
“If you don’t tell me, I’ll only imagine why, and that’s not fair to you.”
“I’m assuming drugs were involved, you were young, and–”
“No, no drugs. I’ve never done drugs.” She was adamant. Grace waited for more, realizing that this woman had certain rules that she did not want anyone to think she had broken.
“After my dad…died, I was placed in a temp home, the cop’s home.” She left out the devastating details of her father’s suicide and the subsequent rejection by her mother when the courts had asked her to take Dana into her new family. “It was a temporary home. A lot of kids passed through, mostly boys.”
Dana swallowed, willing herself to go on with the story. “He abused some of us, some emotionally, others sexually. Usually the boys took the brunt of it because they would keep quiet. I’d been there a month, maybe a little longer. I was a little mixed up after my dad died.” She paused, searching for the right words to describe the numbness that had consumed her after she found her father slumped on the floor, dead by his own hand. He had left no note or explanation for her, but she had known that the despair and pain he had held so closely had finally killed him. She had blamed herself for not saving him from it, for not bringing him enough joy.
She swallowed and continued the story. “I knew what he was doing to those boys. He was sneaking into their rooms late at night, and it sickened me. I was so confused that this could happen, confused about why my dad had left me like that. Nothing made sense to me at the time. I locked on to the need to set some kind of order–you know, the way you know things should be but aren’t. I had to do something for them.”
“So you killed him.”
Dana smothered her face with her hands. “I stayed up one night listening to him creep around the house. He went into the boy’s room next to mine. The kid wasn’t quite twelve yet. Then I heard the whimpering start. I had a butcher knife I had taken from the kitchen earlier in case he….” The rest was self-evident.
“What about the boy?”
“He was too ashamed of what had been done to him to talk.” In retrospect, Dana had figured that the newly revamped foster care system had played a role in the boy’s silence. The state had spent over a billion dollars making the system safer for the children. Dana had sparked a political bomb with her metal butcher knife. She had killed the man, and the state’s failure to protect the boy had gone against her in court as much as anything else.
Minutes passed in silence. Grace wondered if this woman would ever forgive herself. She placed her soft hand on the back of the downturned head. Her fingers ran over the raised scar for a moment, then through the silky, dark tresses.
“We’ll get through this together,” she whispered into the ear of the devastated woman.
Dana was trying to regain her self-control, hide the shame she felt. But the stroking of the woman’s hand made her want to release her painful feelings.
“Together?” Dana whispered the foreign word. She had been on her own for so long.
“Do I speak in Greek?” Grace asked, a hint of bemusement in her voice. “You know, an adverb describing a relationship of one to another, mutually, reciprocally.”
“You mean you want to share this problem with me?”
Dana looked away while she put her walls back in place where she needed them. “I don’t share very well.”
“I’m good enough at it for us both. Meanwhile, I want you to come home with me while we figure this out.”
“Geez, you’re forward.”
“We need to work together on this, and knowing you, you’ll take off on your own if I let you out of my sight. And besides, I always get what I want.”
Dana smiled. “You don’t have a clue about what you’re getting.”
Grace leered at her out of the corner of her eye as she climbed out of the vehicle. “I’m always willing to try new things. Now come on, let’s go get you some clean clothes. You can shower at my place.”
That was when Dana realized that she was the one who did not know what she was in for. She hopped out of the car and followed the fiery woman down to the dingy on the beach. Rip scurried after them, intent on being a part of the activity.
“By the way, Grace, I speak Greek fluently.”
The young doctor’s home was a former beach house which had been converted for year-round living. It had once been three streets from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Now the home was prime beachfront property. Shingles storm-worn to gray by wind and ocean spray gave it that charming look. A small crabapple tree in the front yard was beginning to turn orange. As she stepped out of the Jeep, Dana slid on a rotting apple that had dropped onto the gravel drive.
“Watch where you’re walking.”
Dana glanced at her new partner with irritation, then scraped the mess off her sneaker, using the edge of the tire. Dana heaved her black duffel bag and computer case out of the back seat. Rip had followed her new best friend, Grace, to the front door.
“Go sniff around, you fickle hound,” Dana scolded the black dog as Grace played with the keypad entry for the door lock. Despite her small hands, she kept hitting the wrong key, and the door refused to open.
“You should get the big-button Fisher-Price version,” Dana quipped.
A blush crept over Grace’s face.
“Mind if I try?” Dana asked cockily.
Grace waved the way for her, but before she could recite the five-digit combo, Dana had pressed several numbers, and the door opened with a click. Dana moved aside for the smaller woman to enter, a look of astonishment on the ivory face. Dana wore a smirk as she followed her into the house. Maybe she could hold her own with the little doctor, until she ran out of tricks.
The front door of the house opened into a large sitting room decorated in bright yellows and greens, with pale blue wall-to-wall carpeting under a hand-woven Persian rug. The large, comfortable living area flowed into the dining area, which had a round, etched glass table and four upholstered hardwood chairs surrounding it. The dining area was separated by a white Formica counter that held a pile of newspapers and the cordless answering machine. Just beyond the counter was the tiled kitchen and a huge window greenhouse lined with exotic plants and flowers. To the right was the back door, which led to a deck and the beach. The bathroom sat between two rooms. The large bedroom appeared to be where Grace slept, with a queen-sized bed, still unmade, centered in the room. The smaller room seemed to be for storage, the only furniture an old wooden rolltop desk, with boxes of books and clothes piled around it. An ironing board leaned against the wall, collecting dust.
“The shower is here,” Grace said, pointing to the bathroom. “I suggest you use it before you kill my plants. Right, babies?” she said, gently stroking a leaf of a mother-in-law’s tongue.
“Are you saying that I smell?” Dana asked incredulously, letting her large bag thump against the floor in the middle of the living room.
“I’m sure you smell; we all smell. What I’m saying is that you stink when I smell you.”
“I think I’m offended.”
“‘Offensive’ is more like it.”
“Just for that I don’t think I will take a shower,” she replied and sat on the floral couch, legs and arms folded across her large frame.
Grace ignored her and walked into the small kitchen area. She took out a bottle of water and tossed it at her guest. Then, with hands on her hips, she stated plainly, “No shower, no asparagus.”
A smile crept to Dana’s lips at the thought of asparagus. Oh, this lady was good. With that she removed some clothes, a towel, and a bag of toiletries from her duffel and went to shower.
The sexual experimenter in Grace would have liked to join her friend in the shower, but there was an invisible, yet tangible barrier around Dana. Grace’s gentle platonic touches were always met with a tensing, and even the clinical touches had been met with trembling. She had experimented with comfortable distances when they returned to the boat to get the articles and had found that Dana seemed most comfortable when Grace was at least a meter away from her.
She moved the bag and computer into the bedroom to get it out of the way in the small living room. She had nearly tripped over it once while straightening the house. She was straightening the bedroom, having forgotten to make the bed before leaving to play earlier, when Dana entered the room, dirty clothes in hand, her raven hair wet and combed back, revealing her striking beauty. Grace stared, dumbfounded, at the woman standing before her.
“Grace, when I told you I had some intimacy issues before, I really meant it. I can’t sleep in the same bed with you.” Her voice was quiet, almost shy.
“Who said anything about sleeping?” Grace joked and finished making the bed.
Dana’s ruddy complexion turned crimson. Grace noticed the look of terror on the flushed woman.
“I was only kidding, kiddo. I’ll sleep on the couch.” She wondered what kind of intimacy issues this seemingly impenetrable woman had, no pun intended–okay, maybe a little one.
“I’ll take the couch.”
“No, it’s way too short for you.” She snapped the top sheet across the bed and let it drift down onto the mattress. “You can wash your dirty things here,” she explained, opening a folding closet door to reveal a small, stackable washer/dryer unit. “But wait until I’m done with my shower. Otherwise I’ll get no hot water. So much for technological advances, eh?” Dana dropped her sweaty clothes into the washer basin. She realized now that she had a weapon against Little Miss Smart Ass.
Grace recognized the devious glint in her eye. “I mean it,” she threatened. Dana held her arms out, declaring innocence.
She could not resist the urge to turn the washer on while the young doctor was showering. She pulled the knot back out after the walls started shaking from Grace’s elbow pounding the tile. Heh, heh, heh, Little Miss Yalie has herself a little temper, Dana said to herself. After a quick tour of the house on her own, during which she stopped to admire the seashore watercolors dotting the walls, Dana found a telephone line in the bedroom and plugged in her laptop.
“What are you doing?” Grace had finished her shower and was towel-drying her hair.
Dana folded the screen down upon hearing the question. “Checking my mail.”
Grace sat across from her on the bed, working the ends of her hair. “What do you do for a living, Dana?”
“I’m a sailor, remember?”
“No, you were an ‘or something.'”
“You have a good memory.”
“It comes in handy when I’m trying to differentiate vital organs from non-vitals.”
“I’m a freelance nano physicist.”
“Ooooh, a nano tech. Cool. Have you worked on anything I would recognize?”
“Probably.” But Dana offered no other information.
Noticing her guest’s reluctance to postulate further, she changed the subject. “I have to go to the grocery, and I would like it if you came along.” She had moved to the washer and flipped it on, adding her dirty laundry to the soapy water. “I’ll even let you squeeze a melon or two if you’re good.”
“You’re quite a flirt, Dr. Wilson.”
“We’re leaving in five minutes, so hurry up with your mail.” Grace left the room with a youthful spring in her step. Dana fell back on the bed, unable to determine why her heart was pounding.
Beth did not sleep after the loss at Marina Park. She was still seething from the humiliation, and on top of it, Grace had bitched her out in front of Ben for losing her temper.
“Chill, Beth, it was just a game,” Ben offered guardedly. He handed her one of her own beers from the fridge. She took the cold bottle and opened it with her hand, then took his and opened it for him. He had noticed the silent exchanges between his sister’s girlfriend and the tall, dark-haired woman. He also had driven by Grace’s house that Friday evening a month earlier to make sure Grace had arrived home safely. When he did not see her car, he waited down the road until she finally drove past. That was at four-thirty, four hours later than he had expected. He had not mentioned it to Grace or Beth, but it had bothered him despite the fact that he knew it was none of his business. But now, with Grace staying behind and all of the other telltale signs, he was not so sure where his loyalties lay.
“Did Grace seem strange to you today?” he asked his sister.
The lean woman with short, cropped blond hair and large brown eyes shrugged. “She has been kind of distant lately.”
“Yeah, like she’s in Canada. I think she’s seeing that convict,” Ben stated before taking a swig of beer. Beth yanked the bottle from his lips, and beer dribbled down the front of his clothes.
“Hey!” he protested.
“The one who kicked our asses today in that game.” He tried to blot the beer from his Nike shirt.
“How do you know she’s a con, Benny?” She handed him a dishrag.
“Her tattoo.” He grabbed his beer back from her.
Beth searched her memory but did not remember that detail.
“We ran into her at Sully’s a month or so back. Grace stopped a brawl that night.”
“Benjamin!” Beth exclaimed. “You never told me that!”
Now Ben was in trouble.
While the two were packing away the groceries into the refrigerator and cupboards, Grace initiated a conversation about nano technology based on what she knew was happening in the medical field.
“I have a friend who’s the microbiologist on the cancer-cure nano project at Yale.” She watched as her tall friend put the spaghetti noodles on the top shelf. That was going to be a problem later.
“Really. I was under the impression they weren’t doing much work on that project.”
“Well, yes, they’re stalled.”
“More like completely out of ethanol.”
Grace leaned back against the counter and observed the woman who was bustling around her kitchen.
“You know, this would be a lot easier if you helped,” Dana said, her face in a cabinet, trying to decide if she should follow Grace’s lead and place canned goods with cake mix.
“I enjoy watching you move.”
Dana’s mouth went dry.
She really did like it. Dana was fluid, powerful, and efficient, even when it came to putting away the milk.
Dana folded up the last paper bag and handed it to Grace. “Does your girlfriend carry a gun all the time?”
“That’s good to know.”
“Why do you ask?”
Dana leaned forward and whispered, “Because she’s standing at your front door.”
Grace turned around to see Beth watching them through the oval glass.
“Cover your hand,” Grace said as she walked over to unlock the door.
“Hello, Grace,” Beth said coldly as she stepped into the house. Her eyes were glued to the tall, dark-haired woman. Beth was shocked that the woman was there. “I think you and I need to talk.” Her eyes darted to Grace for only a moment despite the fact that she was speaking to her.
Dana allowed her blue eyes to latch onto Beth’s dark ones long enough to relay the fact that she could be a threat.
My God, she sneered at me, Dana thought, a smile creeping to her lips.
When Grace caught the fire in Beth, she was not sure if she wanted to be alone with her.
“I need to find Rip anyway,” Dana said, grabbing a gray sweatshirt.
“Prison gray looks good on you,” Beth snapped.
Dana did not let that faze her. “We always wore day-glo orange,” she replied as she opened the door and exited.
Dana walked to the edge of the yard and whistled for the dog. She waited a moment, looking down the gravel road for a sign of the hound. Grace’s backyard was all sand, but the front was a patch of wispy grass and dead dandelion stems clinging to transplanted soil. She whistled again, this time with her fingers in her mouth. A second later the dog was bounding toward her, her coat gleaming from a dip in the water and her legs covered with sand.
“Come on, Rip, let’s go for a walk,” she said, leading the dog down toward a rock jetty. Rip followed for a few paces, then assumed the lead down the road to the dead end.
While her new friend was out for a walk, the young doctor had the serious business of extricating herself from her souring relationship and deciphering how that could compound the problem of the bloody shirt. Her instinct was to come clean, end the relationship crisply, and not hee-haw about it. However, like before, she thought too much about her actions and found that being a Kentucky girl made hee-hawing come all too easily to her.
“Your friend has an interesting mark on her hand.”
“Want a drink?”
“I want an answer.”
“Yes, it is an interesting tattoo.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“Oh, so you have a particular question in mind.”
“Why do you have a stranger in your house, a…a…deviant?”
“Deviant? She’s an ex-con, not a deviant. The prison system is for reforming people, not labeling them. Remember?”
“How long have you been seeing her?”
“I’m not seeing her, Beth.”
“Bullshit, Grace. Ben told me you were. She’s at your house. Duh, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out. You think everyone is so stupid compared to you.”
“I do not! And what does Ben know? That I stopped her from fighting a group of bikers at Sully’s a couple of months ago.”
“That you left early and didn’t get home until five a.m.”
“You had your brother spying on me? That says a lot about this relationship.”
“You’re the one who didn’t go home. Now I know why you haven’t wanted to move in with me. Tell me, Grace, you into bad girls now?”
Grace glared at her.
“And we slept together that morning too. Boy, that was slutty of you.”
“I think you should leave, now.”
“You think you’re so civilized. Is she civilized, or does she take you like you’re her bitch?”
“Shut up, Beth!” Grace shouted.
“Is that our problem, you like it rough?”
“You’re a bitch, Grace,” Beth said as she slammed the door behind her.
Dana was using the garden hose to wash the sand and dirt from the dark hound when the angry woman stormed past and then drove away.
When the dog and the tall ex-con entered the house, Grace was in the kitchen starting dinner.
“Stay off the furniture,” Dana told the dog before meandering into the kitchen herself.
“Can I do anything?” she asked the bustling blonde.
“With Beth or dinner?”
“I’d better stick to dinner. I’m good at both chopping and basting.”
Grace looked up from her roast, a sadness in her green eyes.
“I’m sorry it didn’t go very well.”
“You can help me with the potatoes,” Grace said, offering a smile.
“I have never seen a person consume that much asparagus,” Grace commented.
Dana smiled proudly. “Did you get any?”
“More than I wanted.”
“There’s still some on your plate.”
“Please, take it.”
Dana reached over and grabbed the long stalk, eating it one bite at a time until it disappeared.
“That is truly obscene.”
“It’s the only way to eat it. First you eat the bitter tip, then work your way down to the sweetness of the–”
“Okay, that’s enough.” Grace’s face was bright-red. She cleared the dishes for them both and placed them into the dishwasher. Dana used a napkin to wipe the stray butter from her face.
“Hey, there, dog,” Grace said to the resting beast lying on her side near the back door. Rip got up from her spot and went to the bathroom to drink out of the toilet. Grace heard the noise and went to drag her out, closing the door.
“That’s disgusting, Rip. You know, Dana, you should get her a water bowl.” Grace brought the dog into the kitchen and found a round Tupperware container, which she filled with water and set on the floor. “What does she eat?”
“She was eating garbage when we found each other. I don’t think she’s too particular. But usually I give her kibble.”
“We didn’t buy any kibble.”
“Then garbage it is,” Dana said with a half-grin. Grace looked at her angrily. “I’m kidding. I brought some with me.” Dana went to the bedroom and pulled a five-pound sack of chow out of her duffel and brought it to the kitchen. “Do you have another dish?”
Grace dug into the cupboard and found a square dish, which Dana filled and placed next to the water. She put the dogfood bag on the counter.
“Can I help you wash the dishes?”
“No, Dana, you practically did all the dishes while you were cooking. Go turn on the tube and relax.”
“I don’t watch television. Turns your brains to mush,” she said, gently tapping her friend’s head with a finger several times.
“Then go listen to music.”
Dana was sitting on the floor, flipping through the doctor’s music discs, not liking what she saw. Grace had practically every Disney soundtrack, old Celine Dion, several unrecognizable groups that looked like they had sappy love-song tracks, going by the titles, and several discs of flute music.
“You haven’t found anything yet?” Grace asked, stepping next to her. She had finished the few dishes and was drying her hands on a towel. Dana sighed.
“This one is good,” Grace said, holding up a New Era label with a woman playing flute versions as a tribute to old Melissa Etheridge songs.
“Don’t think so,” Dana said, rolling her eyes, shivering, and placing the disc on the bottom of the pile. She shivered again at the thought of what it would sound like.
“You don’t like New Era?”
“New Error is more like it. And flute music drives me nuts.”
“What, a traumatic incident with a drum-and-fife corps as a child?”
Dana laughed. “No, for some reason the sound of a flute has always irritated me. Modern science cannot explain it.”
Grace looked hurt.
“Sorry.” Dana shrugged.
“What about these?” The doctorheld up a Celine Dion disc.
“Mushy love songs, ugh. Can’t relate.”
“What do you relate to?” Grace was becoming frustrated.
“Sass Jordan, ‘Damaged.'”
“Never mind. Queen, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’?”
“Never heard of it.”
“Nope. Any relation to me?”
A shake of the head.
“Oh, you like country?”
“Not Charlie Pride, Charlie Parker. Never mind.”
“How about Hootie?”
“How about not? Grace, has anyone ever told you you’re a bit…” she drew a square in the air with her fingers, making sound effects to emphasize each corner, “when it comes to music? I mean, none of these songs is actually performed by the composer, except for Hootie.”
“You called me square!” Her face was red with anger. Dana froze. “Don’t deny it. You drew a square in the air and meant that for me.”
“Only in terms of music.”
Grace flipped importantly through the rack and handed her a CD.
“Try this on.” She handed her a Madonna disc.
“Let’s try the radio,” Dana said, handing the disc back to her. She was beginning to have real fun now.
Dana kept an eye on her hostess while she fiddled with the tuner. She was able to find a classic rock station which at the moment was playing an ancient Heart song.
“See? These people actually write the music they play. Gives it a whole new level of meaning.”
“I’m not going to debate with you about music.”
“That’s because you would lose,” Dana replied.
“Not likely.” Resistance was futile. “The voice is an instrument, just as a trumpet or saxophone is.”
Dana took the bait–hook, line, and sinker. “You cannot tell me that a person who writes the song doesn’t convey much more than someone who is simply performing it?”
“Surely they can. Haven’t you ever given someone a card that said exactly what you wanted it to say? But you signed it and handed it to the person yourself.”
“You’re comparing music to a Hallmark moment?”
“I won.” A wide grin broke out across Grace’s face.
Dana shook her head. “Have you ever played an instrument?”
“The recorder, in kindergarten.”
Dana smiled. “When I play, I play for myself because it feels good. When it doesn’t feel good, I won’t play anymore. You can’t compare that to a Hallmark card.”
“My, my, that’s a selfish attitude. I was always taught to share my gifts.”
“From what I can tell, music isn’t one of them.”
Grace laughed. “What do you play, your armpit?”
“Ha…ha…ha…that is so funny.”
“Really, what do you play?”
“A twelve-string Guild.”
” ;What’s that?”
“You should have brought it.”
Dana gave her a tired look.
“Oh, that’s right, you only play for yourself. Silly me. I bet you write your own music too.”
“I fool around with songs. I wrote one about this square woman doctor who picks up bleeding convicts and goes to deserted boats with them. I’ll play it for you sometime. I doubt it would hit the Top Forty and make it to your collection, though.”
“What are you talking about now?”
“She didn’t write her own songs, but she’s kickin’.” Grace started hip-hoppin’ around.
Dana thought for a few seconds as the little blonde swirled around her. “Okay, I’ll concede Tina Turner.”
“Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin–no one could have meant the words the way she sang them even if they understood what she was saying–Billie Holliday, Mariah Carey, Madonna.”
“Okay, okay. I concede. But Madonna is pushing it. And Mariah wrote her own music.”
Grace beamed. “Want a beer?” she offered as she bopped into the kitchen.
Rip had finished dinner and jingled into the room, taking a seat on the couch.
“Get off there,” Dana said, tapping her rump. The dog rolled off the couch, snorted, and curled up on the matching chair. Dana crawled over to the chair and repeated the herding. Rip finally settled for lying under the cocktail table.
Grace handed Dana the bottle of brew and slid down on the floor next to her. They sat with their backs to the couch, Dana sorting the music and Grace watching her, trying to figure out the categories she was using.
“So, have you figured out what we’re going to do?”
“I was thinking that if you really wanted to, we could listen to Hootie.”
“I meant about the DNA test.”
Dana twisted to study her new buddy. She truly is beautiful, she thought to herself. The silky blonde hair hung loosely around her delicate oval face. Her light-green eyes were intelligent and friendly, and she had fine smile lines all around them. When she smiled at Dana, she made two dimples on either side of her mouth that made the taller woman melt. Dana felt a twinge in her stomach and had to look away. Her body had grown warm, for some unknown reason.
“I have an idea, but it’s a long shot.”
Grace noticed the rosy blush climb up her friend’s cheeks, and her smile grew wider. She could not help herself, and she let her hand rest on the strong knee beside her. That grabbed Dana’s attention, and her leg began to shake.
“It’s okay,” Grace whispered as she moved closer so that their faces were only inches apart.
“You just broke up with your girlfriend, and you don’t know me very well,” Dana said, inching away.
Grace removed her hand from the soft, worn denim.
Dana sensed that her new friend needed to feel connected to someone, overcame her survivalist instinct, and gently claimed the smaller, retreating hand. She replaced it in its original position on her leg. She left her own hand on top of it and squeezed the smaller fingers. She knew loneliness quite well herself.
Grace let her head rest on the round shoulder next to her. A moment of silence lapsed while they both acclimated to the touching. Dana nervously sipped her Coors from the long-necked bottle.
Dana awoke with a jerk, the loud clang of a storm door jostling her out of a deep sleep. Having insisted on sleeping on the couch, she had propped her ankles on the armrests, and the tendons in her knees were stiff from being locked all night. As she tried to bend them and sit, she cursed loudly.
The front door opened and slapped closed again.
“I told you that couch was too small for you,” Grace said as she walked through the living room and threw the Sunday paper on the counter. She was dressed in gray shorts and a faded navy-blue Yale sweatshirt. Using the counter for balance, she began contorting her legs in what appeared to be methodical stretching.
Dana rubbed her face. Too much beer and too much talking had given her a headache.
“What are you up to?” she grumbled.
“I’m going for my morning run. Want to come along?” she asked, bright and chipper.
“Not unless someone is chasing me,” Dana said, lying back down and pulling the blanket over her body.
“Don’t you want to be in shape?” Grace said, throwing punches and karate kicks in the air at an invisible opponent.
“Not if I can avoid it.”
“Suit yourself. I’ll be back in half an hour,” she said and bounced out of the house.
While the good doctor was busy sucking in car fumes and building up the lactic acid in her body, Dana took a long, hot shower, brewed a supremely strong pot of java, whipped up eggs with Monterey Jack cheese, jalapeno peppers, green chilies and Tabasco sauce, and sat down to read the paper. She was scrutinizing the weather and tidal times when the bedraggled jogger returned, her blonde hair dark and soaked with perspiration, her cheeks blotched with pink.
Dana looked up over her wire rims and the paper at the gasping woman. She returned to her paper.
“Yeah, baby,” Grace gasped.
Grace pulled off the sweatshirt to reveal her dark-blue sports halter and a rippled stomach and strong back. She tossed the clothing on the floor by her bedroom and headed for the fridge for a bottle of water.
“Oooooh, eggs. Any left?”
“They’re spicy,” Dana warned and took a gulp of her coffee.
“I like spicy,” she said, grabbing a plate and taking the other half of the eggs out of the frying pan. She sat in the chair next to her friend and began to eat.
“Doesn’t exercise curb your appetite?”
“Only one thing curbs my appetite,” she answered while stuffing her face.
“Let me guess–eating?”
Grace didn’t bite.
Dana returned to her reading.
“Want to do the crossword?” Grace asked, reaching for the Literature section and a pencil on the counter.
“I’m not very big on words.”
No shit, Grace thought. She was sitting on her chair, knees to her chest, pencil held between her teeth. Every so often she wrote, then replaced the pencil. Five minutes later she put down her pencil and paper.
“Done. What do you want to do now?”
“That was the ‘Jersey Times.'” The “Jersey Times” had replaced the “New York Times” after the big wave removed Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Long Island.
“And your point is…?”
Dana’s mouth hung open slightly. My God, Dana thought to herself, Miss Hyperextension was a freaking genius too.
Grace filled a mug with coffee. “Would you like some more?” she offered. Dana held her mug out blindly for a refill. Grace poured the remaining coffee into her cup.
“You are soooo welcome.”
“Thanks,” Dana said, guiltily pulling her nose from the stock market news, where her main interests were in the pharmaceutical companies and several chemical companies. “When you finish your coffee, we should probably head out.”
Grace finished the hot java quickly.
“I’m done. Let me get cleaned up and rid of this uniboob look.”
I kind of like the uniboob look, Dana thought, as the bathroom door closed.
Part Three – Stable, unstable, and neutral equilibrium.
Rachel Jones lived in the penthouse of the Gates Building, which had been erected early in 2005 after the Big Wave had washed away Long Island and leveled Manhattan and most of New York City. The coast of Connecticut had been saved by the barricade of Long Island, although the coast was badly eroded. It was what made Grace’s home prime beachfront realty. The Gates Building had been erected on the new coastline formed when New York went out with the tide. Rachel Jones had purchased her place while it was still being constructed and held onto it through masterful use of false identities and hidden treasures while she was locked away in York. She had been imprisoned there after being caught with, of all things, a few kilos of cocaine she had been driving through Connecticut for her long-since-fled boyfriend Fred. Luckily for her, the authorities did not know anything about her true crimes, like hacking into financial databases and helping herself to a few loans under assumed identities, primarily that of Bill Gates.
Doc had met her in the only place she could have over the past ten years: York penitentiary. Despite a propensity not to socialize with anyone, for she trusted no one, Doc had approached the chatty, curly-headed new fish one rainy afternoon in the mess hall, taking a seat across from the woman. Doc asked for the ketchup to conceal the greenish tinge to the beefy-looking object on her tray. Rachel had observed the tall, silent woman on several occasions throughout the first two weeks. A few of the friendlier women had answered her questions when she inquired about people, one of whom was Doc. She never would have believed the woman was only nineteen. She carried herself like a woman of thirty or older, knowledge etched deeply into the furrows of her brow. But she had the most incredible soft blue eyes that dazzled when she looked at you, which was not often.
Later that same day Rachel approached Doc while most of the population were either walking around the gravel track or playing basketball. Doc had chosen the track because lately fights had been breaking out on the court more often than usual from the heat.
Rachel fell into step next to Doc. “I hear you like to read,” Rachel opened.
“I hear you deal coke.”
“You hear wrong.”
“My ears are good, my eyes are bad.”
“The coke wasn’t mine. It was a friend’s,” she explained.
“Sounds like you got fucked, then.”
“I’ll be out in three at the most,” she said nonchalantly. “It’ll give me time to appreciate what I had.”
Doc stopped and for the first time in years smiled, although only a little grin. She began walking again. “If you don’t deal dope, what do you do?”
“I’m a pirate of the cyberseas.”
Doc smiled again. She pictured the woman in a childhood image, with a patch over her eye, red balloon pants, a striped shirt, and a red bandanna tied on her head, as she swung from a sail rope. “A hacker, huh?”
Now computers, that caught Doc’s interest. She wanted to learn about programming, having read about some of the newer computer languages in a recent copy of Time magazine. “Do you know anything about TBD?”
“TBD is a dinosaur, dear. We’re into IDNO.”
Doc’s blue eyes gleamed with youthful interest.
“I created the language.” Then the buzzer sounded, and the inmates began to head for their afternoon work. “I’ll be in quiet hall during free-time tonight,” Rachel said, as the crowd enveloped them.
Rachel taught Doc as much as she could about computers and programming. They sat together every night for several months. During the visits together, Rachel tried not to notice the bruises Doc sported on her face and hands. She knew that Doc had been fighting off Melanie Gundy and her pals on a regular basis lately. She was never sure how successful Doc was, but the kid kept coming back for lessons night after night, no matter what happened. Her intelligence was as astounding as her desire to learn, and the hacker’s heart ached with the knowledge that the young murderer was racking up the years with each new body she sent to the morgue during the brutal struggles for her own dignity over the years. Doc would never get out at this pace, even if she lived to be a hundred years old.
Then one night Doc did not show up at quiet hall. When Rachel inquired before lights-out, she was told that Doc had been severely injured during an attack by Melanie Gundy and her evil sister, Ruel. She had been found unconscious on the floor of the shower room with six stab wounds and a broken jaw. They had Life-Starred her to Yale. No one expected her to return. Melanie Gundy’s neck had been broken, and her sister had drowned in the toilet.
Sixteen months later Doc re-emerged at dinner mess, a lot thinner, pale, and as quiet as ever. While the crowd murmured in disbelief, the tall, raven-crowned woman sought out the seat next to Rachel and asked for the ketchup to cover the blue tinge to her turkey. “Are you going to be in quiet hall tonight?” she asked softly.
“Yes,” Rachel answered, tears filling her eyes. She wanted to throw her arms around her and hug her.
“Good. So will I,” Doc stated and offered no more.
Of course, Doc did not relate this story to her new companion. All she told her was that Rachel Jones had helped her publish her work on the World Wide Web, set her up with her internet accounts, and taught her about computers, which was all true but not the whole story. But most importantly, Doc relayed that Rachel would likely help her hack into the DNA database of the FBI and erase her records from the files.
They phoned the hacker from the corner of New Park Avenue by the building entrance. Doc figured that she would be home. It was a Sunday, and she was probably watching the Jets and eating Doritos.
The doorman escorted them to the express elevator, tipping his hat as Dr. Wilson thanked him. Doc chewed her bottom lip as they zipped to the two-hundred-fortieth floor. As the door flung open, Doc looked into the waiting smile of her teacher.
“As I live and sneeze, I never thought I would see your lovely face again,” Rachel said, blowing out a stream of cigarette smoke.
Grace was surprised to see a woman shorter than herself, a little heavier, with long, reddish-blonde, curly hair, wearing the ugliest brown plaid bathrobe and carrying a huge glass mug of clear liquid in one hand and a stubby cigarette in the other.
Doc stepped out onto the shag-carpeted landing, nervousness radiating from every pore.
“Come on in,” Rachel instructed, leading the way into her living room. The football game, covered by three separate camera crews, was playing on three large-screen televisions. The Jets were losing, as usual. Rachel sat on the suede sofa, tucking her bare feet under herself.
“See what I meant about television?” Doc said to Grace.
The hacker flipped down the sound on two of the televisions. “Sit, you two. There aren’t any formalities here.”
Grace sat on the other end of the couch. Rachel leaned toward her and offered her hand. “Rachel Jones.”
“Grace Wilson,” the doctor replied, taking her hand.
“Sit down, Doc, you’re giving me the willies.”
I’m making her nervous? Doc thought, and found a place in a tall, wing-backed chair.
“I never thought I would see you again,” Rachel commented, placing her mug down and snuffing out her cigarette in a crystal ashtray.
“You know me and trouble.” Doc wiped her damp palms on her pants.
Rachel touched her fingers to her lips and stared at the tall woman thoughtfully, then at the young blonde woman. “So what’s going on?” she asked, suddenly serious.
“I need your help.”
“Uh-huh.” She lit another cigarette. “Well, I figured that much, but with what? New hardware? Software?”
Doc paused, unsure of how to ask her to commit a crime. “I need you to hack for me.”
Rachel’s brown eyes grew wide. “Are you shittin’ me?” She looked over at the younger woman cautiously.
“You can trust her, Rach. I do.” Doc bit the inside of her cheeks with her molars, nervously waiting for Rachel to accept Grace. Finally, Rachel sighed and rolled her eyes.
“And it’s kind of a rush request.”
Rachel laughed and walked over to her computer, her flannel robe and tie trailing unevenly across the floor. “Who are we hacking?”
“The Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
Rachel froze a moment, then continued on to her machine. She clapped her hands twice, and the thing surged to power with the ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead tune.
Dana looked at Grace with a raised eyebrow. Then she walked over to join the hacker, who was giving the computer voice commands to start up several programs and plug-ins. Rachel acknowledged her with a tired expression.
“What have you gotten yourself into this time, Doc?”
“The wrong place at the wrong time, I swear.” They both looked back at the young doctor, who wanted to join them but was not sure if she should. Rachel waved her over. She came quickly, the excitement and fear of committing a crime giving her the jitters.
“Right person, I hope.”
Dana looked at Rachel, confused. Rachel looked away, shaking her head. “I hope someday you’ll understand,” she said, “and get some,” she mumbled to herself. “So, any specific damage to be done, or would you like to crash the whole damned Federal Net?”
“I want to remove something.”
Rachel made a big show of yawning and stretching. Then she waited, silently, for instructions. She turned to the tall woman. “You need to be, oh, just a little bit more specific, okay?” she said in a sickly-sweet voice.
Doc stifled a half-smile.
Rachel suddenly looked at her funny.
“What?” Doc was becoming irritated.
“I never saw you almost-smile before is all.”
“Humph,” Doc replied.
“That’s more the Doc I know. Now, what database are we altering?”
“The Genetic Catalogue.”
Rachel spoke into her mouthpiece, running programs that would let her first access the Federal Domain, then piggy-back in on a user that was logging onto the FBI’s subdomain. They had to wait twenty minutes before a user logged on. “Are we removing your chromosome map?” Rachel asked while they waited.
“Yes,” Doc replied quietly. Grace gently touched her arm instinctively. The stroke did not go unnoticed by the hacker.
“I can think of two approaches. One, I insert a virus which will destroy the whole database, although they probably have a backup copy, or two, we wipe out the specific file or part of the file. But they will have that on backup too.”
“Would you load a backup if you didn’t know anything had been altered or removed?” Grace asked.
“No, but I would have to make sure that no trace evidence existed of the file. I would have to see how the information is organized, cross-referenced, and then coded to do that.”
“Are we talking a couple of hours, or days?”
“Hours. I have a program that will track all the cross-references and the patterns of the coding. We’ll have to figure out what the patterns refer to specifically.”
“And if they’ve already identified the sample?” Grace asked.
“And we wipe it out now, they’ll probably come back a few times, notice the record is gone, find the appropriate backup, and then start a huge investigation into how the data was lost,” Rachel explained.
“Check and see if my record has been updated or accessed. There must be a history.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, back off, will ya?” Rachel said, shooing them away. “Go…” she searched for something lewd to say, “…eat something.” Okay, that could be considered lewd.
Dana and Grace were sitting in a small Italian restaurant on the east side. Grace was munching on butter-drenched garlic bread from a red plastic basket.
“Your friend Rachel is nice.”
Dana was spinning the Parmesan cheese shaker on the table while they waited for their food. She laughed to herself, not taking her eyes off the shaker. “She’s been good to me.”
“She seems to know you pretty well.”
“No, she doesn’t,” Dana said curtly.
“I wonder why,” Grace said just as acidulously.
Dana was tapping her black shoes on the floor.
“You seem nervous,” Grace said, stuffing a piece of bread in her mouth. It melted, causing her to moan with pleasure. Dana raised her eyebrows unconsciously and smiled.
“Here, try this,” Grace said, holding a piece out for her. Dana reached out, took the bread, and tasted it. She smiled at her acquaintance.
“What?” Dana asked her staring partner.
“Nothing. I never saw you almost-smile is all,” she said, mimicking Rachel’s Midwestern twang, badly. Dana smiled again.
“So, how come you don’t have an accent?” Dana asked, helping herself to more bread.
“Oh, I cud if’n I wanted one, but I dunt,” she said softly. “I worked a long time at getting rid of it,” she said without moving her jaw, creating a clipped Yankee accent.
“I thought you were proud of your roots.”
“I am, but people tend to treat a Southern woman differently up here.”
“You’re saying we’re snobs?”
“But you’re pretending to be one of us?”
“Did I say being a snob was bad?”
“I don’t think it’s any better than being a beautiful Southern belle. You should be proud of your roots, what’s-his-name? James Wilson, the statesman. He must be on your father’s side.”
“Actually, both sides. I am from Kentucky, you know.” She smiled. “My parents are very, very, very distant cousins. Kind of like the Roosevelts.”
“What’s so funny?”
“Have you ever wondered why the Roosevelts were so funny-looking? Well, there’s your answer.”
Grace’s eyes narrowed.
“By the way, how many toes do you have?”
Grace became flustered. “Huh? Why…ten, of course.”
“Just checking for the Founder Effect.”
“Kiss my ass, you…big…mouth…fathead!” Grace could barely spit the words out, she was so furious.
Ooops, I think I hit a raw nerve, Dana thought to herself. “I’m only kidding.” She tried to sound soothing but it came out patronizing.
“It’s not funny,” she said angrily.
Dana sat back and scratched her neck nervously. She was new at this conversation thing and obviously she lacked charm.
They ate in silence, Grace reeling over Dana’s words.
Dana thought back to her early adolescence. She and the local boys would spend the day at the wharf fishing and trying to top the others’ insults. It was obviously not something you did as an adult, she thought to herself as she split a meatball with her fork. The nervousness had crept back into their booth and sat clinging to Dana for the rest of the meal. Dana drank a few glasses of red wine to try to relax, but it did not help. When the two looked at each other, it was only for a second. After eating her food, Grace left for the ladies’ room. Dana sat twirling her nearly empty wine glass in her hand and wondering if Grace would return.
When the waiter brought the check, Grace reached for it, but Dana was quicker and slid it to her side. “Mine,” she said commandingly. She paid the bill in cash and left a tip of exactly fifteen percent. When they reached the Jeep, all Dana could think about was that once the DNA record was deleted, they should split from each other.
The Jeep shook as the two climbed in and slammed the doors. Grace reached to turn the engine over, then stopped and looked at her companion.
“You know, Beth used to do that all the time.”
“Do what?” She did not want to hear about Beth.
“Try to make me feel bad about myself and put me down.”
Dana looked at her friend, her mouth slightly agape. “I wasn’t trying to hurt you, Grace. I was only teasing. You’re the one who made the crack about being from Kentucky.”
“Yeah, well, I was born with six toes on my right foot, and I’m still sensitive about it.”
Dana leaned forward to look at the foot.
“Hey, it’s gone now.”
Dana sat upright. “What happened to it?”
“I had my brother chop it off with his Cub Scout ax when I was six.”
Dana looked around, fighting the temptation to laugh. “I’m not Beth, Grace, and if I had known that I was really hurting you, I wouldn’t have said anything. I have no intention of trying to belittle you, and knowing I did that makes me feel even more inferior, not superior.”
“Even more inferior?” Grace asked as she slipped her glasses on her face.
“You and I aren’t exactly of the same social class.”
“We’re Americans–there is no social class.”
“Yes, there is.”
Grace opened her mouth to argue, but Dana stopped her. “You are an educated, kind-hearted doctor, from a strong Southern family dedicated to education and community service. I’m a dead-immigrant-fisherman’s daughter, with no mother, no family history, a non-educated, ex-con, murdering loner whose only excuse for being with you right now has to do with the fact that I’m trying to avoid becoming a suspect in a brutal murder case. Hell, we wouldn’t have even met if you hadn’t tried to stop a brawl, my being a main participant in it. And that, my dear, is why you are high-class and I am pond scum. Now, let’s go and see if Rachel has managed to save my worthless hide.”
Grace was shocked by Dana’s self-appraisal and refused to move. “Do you really think that about yourself?”
When Dana looked at her, the pale blue eyes seemed distant and dark. “Just drive,” she said coldly. Yeah, she believed that about herself.
“How’s it going, Rach?” Dana yelled as they re-entered the penthouse.
Rachel made a big display of yawning as she lay stretched across the couch.
“I was done an hour ago.” Dana sat across from her on the cocktail table. Grace stood behind a chair, using it for support.
“Sew buttons on tissue paper. What the hell do you think I mean?”
“Oh, right. I couldn’t remove your mapping because they had several cross-referencing ID numbers, and removing either from the file would create serial gaps unless I renumbered them manually, and I couldn’t possibly renumber the entire catalog of thirteen million records, twice.”
Dana blew out a defeated sigh.
“Has her file been accessed recently?” Grace asked.
“Last access for query by identification number was August 23, 2016. So nothing within the past month.”
“They haven’t had the sample that long,” Grace relayed.
“So what I did was switch the data from your map with someone else’s.”
Dana shook her head. “I don’t want somebody else to be blamed.”
“Not even Ruel Gundy?”
“She’s dead, Rach. And the Feds aren’t stupid.”
“Yes, they are,” Rachel said flippantly. “They haven’t caught me yet, and I’m living across from the Federal Building.”
Dana walked away from her, her problem suddenly magnified exponentially. She tried to think of all the possible courses of action that the authorities would follow when they discovered that Ruel’s DNA was the DNA on the bloody gray T-shirt. “They’re going to see that the files were altered.”
“No, they won’t. I can control the alteration date,” Rachel said smartly. “Besides, how do you know Gundy is really dead?” she said, wiggling her eyebrows.
“I know,” Dana stated coldly. Grace caught her eyes for a moment, but the pale blue ones looked away in guilt. “Switch them back.”
“No!” Rachel said defiantly. Doc glared at her, gritting her teeth, working her jaw, and clenching her fists. The color drained from Rachel’s face.
“Can you think of another solution, Dana?” Grace asked from behind the chair.
Dana did not answer and continued her intimidation of the hacker.
“Then I don’t see how letting a dead woman’s DNA stand for yours is a problem.”
Dana finally turned to the doctor. “No? What if someone finds Ruel Gundy’s DNA in an unsolved case and it’s linked to me? Or here’s one: what if I’m picked up and identified by my DNA as Ruel Gundy, serial child-torturer?
“But you know what? That’s not going to happen. What’s more likely to go down is as soon as they think a dead woman has murdered another woman, they’ll verify the data by using the backups. Then they’ll know for sure that the database has been tampered with. I’ll be charged with murder and the federal offense of tampering with their computer.”
“There won’t be a backup,” Rachel muttered.
Dana spun to look at her.
“I put a virus in the loading program. Unless they’re smart enough to use an entirely separate network to run the application on, they’ll end up with corrupted files of pure nonsense.”
Dana rubbed her temples and began to pace. “Great! Now you have the Feds believing that a dead woman, my DNA though, is running around killing people on the eastern coast of the United States. But, no, they’re not going to believe that, not until they exhume the body of Ruel Gundy from York Cemetery. Then they’ll run more DNA tests and find out that that’s not Ruel Gundy’s DNA. Whose is it? they’ll ask. They’ll interview the York prison officials and cons, who will testify that Dana Papadopolis was the convict who killed Ruel Gundy, her sister, and a prison guard. And they’ll have a lead on who switched the DNA in the database that crashes whenever they try to access archived files. It’ll be two months later, the real killer will still be out there, and I’ll be the prime suspect.” Worked up into a tizzy, she turned back to Rachel. “Bright move, genius.”
“I’ll switch it back,” Rachel said, clamoring over to the computer. With a clap-clap, her machine was up and running.
Doc paced the room, chewing on her lip as they waited.
“Shit!” she heard Rachel say. “The program is being queried.”
Doc ran over to the work station. “Have they hit anything?”
“No, still searching.”
“Put a bug in it, crash the search, time it out.”
“We don’t know if it’s a related query.”
“I can’t take the chance. Time it out so they’ll come back later. We need time.”
When Rachel did not move quickly enough, Doc grabbed the keyboard and pressed a series of buttons to override the voice commands. She began to type furiously. “Come on, come on, you stupid fucking machine.”
Grace looked on in shock at the scene. The hacker was so angry she was turning purple.
“Who the fuck do you think you are, Doc, coming in here and taking over my controls?”
“Shut up,” Doc said with a note of finality. She watched as the query tracking stalled and then timed out in error.
“There was no time-out on that program.”
“There is now,” Doc said wryly. “How did you cover the alteration date?” She pinned Rachel with her eyes over the small frames of her spectacles.
Rachel refused to reveal her secret.
“Come on, work with me. I have an idea, but only you can make it work.”
Rachel still bristled, but Dana’s sudden charm was working.
“They’re querying again.”
“I slowed their search rate by three trillion seconds. They’ll time out in ten seconds,” Dana said, looking to Rachel to acquiesce. “Please.”
“What do you want to do?” she said, taking the keyboard back from Doc. Sure enough, the query timed out again.
Doc climbed up off her knees, away from the computer table that the keyboard rested on while she worked. “I want to alter the DNA map.”
“Alter the map?” Grace asked, finally feeling it was safe to assert herself. “You have to understand the chromosomes to do that.”
“Yeah.” Rachel and Doc both responded at the same time, knowingly.
“Is there anything you two don’t know how to do?”
“I can think of something Doc doesn’t know,” Rachel said, wiggling her eyebrows.
Doc looked at her in surprise.
“What’s that?” Grace asked.
Rachel smirked. “Never, ever take a hacker’s controls from her without asking.”
“I know that,” Doc muttered. “It won’t happen again, I promise.”
That seemed to placate Rachel. “So what chromosome would we like to mutate today?” she asked as she cracked her knuckles.
“We should probably change three or four.”
“Nothing too obvious, Rach.”
Doc actually laughed.
Doc nodded and looked at Grace. “I’ve always wanted twelve toes.”
Grace covered her mouth with her hand while she laughed. “Give her an overbite too.”
“Hey!” Dana said, returning from a bookshelf with a huge, green, hardbound textbook. “This is the Merck Gene Index Manual. It was published in 2002, depicting where each gene resides in the 23 pairs of human chromosomes and what each attribute looks like chemically. Specifically, the length and order of the nucleic acids in codon form, and the order of the codons in the chain. I figured we could use this to decipher the numeric program that stores my sequences.”
Grace had never used the Merck Index but had heard of it. It had been used in more important purposes such as describing the genes for genetic diseases such as Cystic Fibrosis or Huntington’s Disease. That was why Dana had originally discovered the book, to find out how she could use nano technology to repair the mutated DNA and cure the diseases on the genetic level. The book held so many possibilities, unpursued possibilities.
“Okay, kids, we know the attributes. Now let’s find the right chromes and swap a few nucleotides, shall we.” She opened to the index and looked up skeletal structure to find the appropriate chromosomes in which those genes resided. Meanwhile, the techs on the other end had given up trying to query.
The three women spent the next three hours deciphering how the chromosomes were coded in the application’s numerical language. This was primarily Rachel’s job. She succeeded by matching the language to the output. She chose a section of code and translated it using the application’s own retrieval system to view it as the texts would eventually be translated into a video image on the fourth tier. That way she could derive the characters that stood for bonds and the different nucleotides, and the codes for numbering the chromosomes. When she had her Rosetta Stone, she opened up Doc’s file. One by one, they located the chromosomes they wanted to manipulate.
“So this is the real you?” Grace whispered and nudged her arm.
Dana smiled at her. “Stop there, Rach! Take that code out and replace it with the code for two guanine, guanine, cytosine. Take that whole line out!” Dana kept Rachel busy cutting and pasting code. “Good. Now you can delete this whole section.” She pointed to the screen. “Put a stop right there.” They worked that way for several more hours, altering Dana’s genetic makeup.
“No, take that out,” Dana said after Grace instructed her on a chromosome she was recoding.
“Because you just gave me three buttocks. You two need to be a little more careful with the Copy command.”
“Oh, wow,” Rachel said, looking at the code.
“Yeah,” Dana chuckled, “a few too many thyamines in there.”
Dana was growing tired as they reached the last chromosome they wanted to alter. She and Grace argued about swapping a cytosine with an adenine. Dana agreed after Grace used the text to point out her erroneous choice.
“Looks like you picked a smart one,” Rachel said. And brave too, she thought.
They altered all the genes that affected the number of toes, and buck teeth, and, oh, yeah, potential breast size, which actually amounted to several genes for each attribute, to make it appear human, in case someone with genetics knowledge ever looked at it closely. Rachel saved the file and covered the alteration date with the original input date.
“This reminds me of ‘Weird Science,'” Rachel said, taking a swig of clear liquid.
Grace giggled. “I loved that movie.”
“Me too,” Rachel said, laughing.
“What’s that?” Dana asked.
“‘Well, it ain’t no whale’s dick, honey,'” she said and began to laugh with Grace.
Doc watched the two passing movie quotes and laughing hysterically. She had never seen the movie and would have felt left out if the two had not looked so ridiculous as they rolled around the living room, contorted with laughter.
“Rachel, do you mind if I remove the time-out program?”
“I’ll do it,” Rachel said, rolling to her feet and trying to stop laughing while she wiped tears from her eyes.
Grace was still giggling.
“What did you call it?”
“I swear, you have no imagination,” Rachel said. She found the electronic file and removed it, trying to leave no electronic footprints. “I guess I should take out the backup virus?”
“No, leave that in for now, just in case they try to load it after today’s problems querying.”
“They should know it’s the query software and not the database.”
“You’re assuming they know the difference. Leave it in.”
Grace and Rachel decided to spend the evening drinking the clear liquid house beverage and watching “Weird Science,” which they had digitally downloaded from the great satellite movie store in the heavens to the television’s computer.
Dana was thumbing through the Merck Index for mistakes they might have made, trying not to notice the two women becoming drunker as they sipped and giggled. They were close together on the couch, and Grace was doing that touchy-feely thing Doc had noticed that night at Sully’s when she went to hear the blues band. This time, though, she did not find herself admiring the easiness that Grace had with others, especially the older woman. She tried to concentrate on the book in front of her but could not keep her attention from the two women. Some feeling was swelling inside of her that she did not recognize. She looked up from the mapping of a defective gene that caused the disease Cystic Fibrosis when she finally realized that the laughing noises had ceased. She gasped at the scene. Rachel had her hand wrapped in Grace’s long hair, and they were staring into each other’s eyes. She watched as Rachel slowly leaned in and kissed Grace on the lips. And then she began to eat her face–that’s what it looked like to Doc.
Doc stood abruptly, suddenly overwhelmed with embarrassment and anger all at once. She must have made a racket, although she could not tell; her head was thumping with the pounding of blood through her veins. Both women broke from the embrace and stared at her.
“Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Doc, what’s the matter?” Rachel asked, a little woozy from the moonshine.
“I’m going to get some fresh air,” she said, her palms sweating.
Rachel approached Doc, her robe halfway down her back. “Is this okay with you?” she asked quietly.
“Sure. Why wouldn’t it be?” she answered curtly.
“Because you look upset.” She surveyed Doc’s strong features. She spoke quietly so that Grace could not hear her, but, being drunk, she was too loud. “I figured, you know, you weren’t interested in relationships.”
Doc was growing warmer. Grace looked on in astonishment as the dark-haired woman blushed.
“I had no idea you liked women,” Doc said. “You never showed any interest in York.”
“Yeah, like I would want any of those women,” Rachel said. She shivered in disgust. “You were the only good-looking one in the bunch, and you weren’t exactly approachable.”
Doc’s face took on its customary hard lines. “Don’t say another word.”
“I can understand if being around us makes you uncomfortable,” Grace said.
Doc’s blue eyes were dull. “I’ll give you two some privacy,” she said, grabbing her sweatshirt from the couch and bustling to the elevator. Rachel and Grace looked at each other in surprise at the fluster. “Come on, you fucking elevator,” Dana cursed as she waited for the doors to open. Grace and Rachel followed her. “Come on!” she screamed as the doors hissed and moaned while they opened.
After Dana had disappeared, Rachel turned to Grace and smiled widely. “Doc likes you.”
Grace nodded back, astonished by the discovery.
Rachel took her hand and led her back to the kitchen. She let go once they were inside. “Let’s make some popcorn and then watch Monty Python, shall we?” Grace nodded but looked back toward the elevator.
Rachel poured kernels into the air popper. “Do you know what’s funny about this whole situation?”
“What?” Grace melted a stick of butter in the microwave.
“Doc has no idea what she’s feeling. I could see it in her face. She was so jealous because I was kissing you and she wanted to.”
“You talk about her as if she were a kid.”
“Gracie, I don’t think Doc’s ever been with anyone, by choice.”
“She had some really bad stuff happen to her in York. For years, from what I could tell when I was there. That kind of experience doesn’t disappear once you’re released. She keeps her distance physically and emotionally.”
“She mentioned that she had intimacy issues.”
“Issues? She has an encyclopedia.” Rachel took a moment to formulate the next unselfish statement. “If she’s interested in you and you are in her, I don’t want to get in between you. Well, I would consider it, if you asked,” she added naughtily.
“You like her that much?” Grace asked.
“Yeah, I do. Even though she could crush my windpipe with her pinky finger.”
“You know her a lot better than I. How should I approach her?”
“Never from behind. Seriously, I have no idea. If you want to fall in love with her, you’re on your own. That’s uncharted territory.”
“She’s really smart.”
“Kind of honorable.”
“In a completely criminal sort of way.”
“Are we talking about the same person?”
“And really, really beautiful.”
Rachel smiled. “I bet she went to G’Williker’s for a drink.”
“Two blocks north,” Rachel said, grabbing the bowl of popcorn and dousing it in butter.
“How do you know she went there?”
“It’s the only bar she knows within walking distance.”
“Do you think I should….”
“Go? Yes, I do.” Rachel walked over to the couch with her bowl of popcorn, snatched up the remote, and began to channel-surf. Grace grabbed her car keys and her fleece coat and boarded the elevator long before Rachel had settled on the Cartoon Network.
Grace had to look around the seedy bar twice before she located the lone, dark figure in the far corner. Her feet cracked the peanut shells on the floor as she walked to the table, the knot she called a stomach tightening with each step. Dana had watched her the whole way and knew she was there long before Grace saw her.
“Are you still angry?”
“Angry?” Dana asked. “I was never angry.”
Maybe Rachel was wrong. “Did we weird you out up there?”
“No. I’ve seen it before.” Dana was staring at the clear golden brew in her Pilsner glass, a nice white froth clinging to the sides.
Grace sighed. Here goes, straight forward is the best way, never from behind. “Have you ever…uh….”
Dana’s head snapped up at the attempted question. Her eyes dropped again. “No, not really.”
Grace slipped into the seat across from her. “Would you like to?”
“I’m not comfortable being close to people, Grace,” she mumbled, unable to look up.
“I would really like to help you with that, if you let me, if you want me. Rachel seems to think you do.”
“Rachel?” Dana laughed. “Rachel thinks she knows how I feel?”
“And what do you know about your feelings?”
“I don’t have feelings.”
“Yes, you do. Look at me!” She waited until Dana did. “I think you like me and you were jealous that Rachel kissed me because you want to do it yourself.”
“My, you are full of yourself, Dr. Wilson.” She finished her beer in one long swallow.
“Tell me to my face that you aren’t attracted to me.”
Dana looked into her gentle, sweet face, the light making her green eyes a dark, hungry hazel. She opened her mouth to speak, then snapped it shut.
“Let’s go home, where we can talk about this,” Grace recommended, extending her hand to the speechless woman. After a moment’s hesitation, Dana allowed herself to be led out of the bar by the hand, unconscious of the eyes that followed.
Part Four – Any given force is but one aspect of a mutual interaction between two bodies.
Grace took the Merrit Parkway straight to I-95 and ended up in Milford around two a.m. The two-hour trip allowed her excitement to build, and her mind wandered to what Dana might be willing to try. For Dana, the time built a dread from insecurities so deep that by the time they hit New Haven, she was ready to toss her cookies.
“Maybe you should drop me off at the marina,” Dana suggested as they neared Exit 60.
“I’m not dropping you anywhere. You said we could talk, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Dana was silent.
Grace thought about her words and decided she was being selfish. She was used to being forceful in her work and most other aspects of her life–you don’t get to be a doctor any other way. “If you want to be alone, I can respect that, but you should get your things and your dog.”
“She’s not my dog. I don’t own her.”
“Fine. We’ll go to my place, you can grab your belongings and the dog that you travel with, and I’ll take you back to the marina.”
Dana knew she had disappointed her friend, but she was so consumed with fear, she didn’t care.
They pulled into the gravel driveway. The crescent moon was in mid-sky, and ocean waves pounded the sand behind the house. Grace removed her glasses and slid them into the visor above her head. She turned to face Dana and grinned. “Let’s go get your stuff,” she said lightly and touched the taut thigh. She had seen the distant look in her friend’s eyes. The meaning of the deep, long silence had hit her about halfway home. This woman was not ready for anything, and she really should take a breather herself; Beth was only one day in her past. She should never have kissed Rachel, but she had been feeling so good, so relieved, and Rachel was funny and cute and forward.
Grace sauntered toward the front door, putting her car keys into her coat pocket as she proceeded up the flagstone walkway. She heard the pounding of feet on grass, an “umph,” and then the stirring of gravel. What she saw was Beth in black jeans and a dark sweatshirt, kneeling on Dana’s back. Beth pulled the long arms behind her prisoner, forcing Dana’s face into the cutting gravel. Grace ran over to the two women.
“Grace, get in the house!” Dana screamed into the gravel. Her head was pounding from a blow, and the right side of her face was aching from the hard pressure of the rocks. She felt like her eye was going to implode as a stone tried to leave its impression. Beth yanked hard, and Dana felt her right shoulder leave its socket.
“I want to know who the fuck you are,” Beth hissed. She smelled of whiskey, a cheap well brand.
“I’m Bat Girl,” Dana mumbled into the rocks.
Beth twisted Dana’s wrist to look at the tattoo on the hand. “You’re a piece of shit is what you are. Judging from your ID number and your age, I’d say you’ve been a shithead your whole life. You’re a nobody, you’re scum, and you shouldn’t be walking around breathing my air or messing with my girlfriend.”
“Ex-girlfriend,” Doc managed with a strain. Another yank and out popped the other shoulder. She heard herself scream as the muscles spasmed and refused to release. My God, if childbirth feels like this, I am never having kids, Doc thought.
“Beth, stop it!” Grace screamed as she charged the larger woman. Using her powerful legs, she threw her whole body into Beth, knocking her sideways and off the downed woman. Beth had not removed her hold, and the jolt tore at Dana’s arms. The nausea that had been building in the pit of her stomach let loose, and beer burned its way up her throat into her mouth. She spat the hot liquid into the rocks.
Grace and Beth were on their feet now, exchanging kicks and punches. Grace’s eyes burned with tears of hot anger, which Beth took advantage of, and when she was wiping her eyes, Beth lunged forward and knocked her to the ground. She straddled Grace with her hips and pinned her hands beside her head.
“You like bad girls now, Grace?” She squeezed her wrists hard. Grace struggled and cried against the pain.
“Beth, stop it!” she begged.
Dana watched Grace fighting as she struggled against her own pain. Even the act of breathing sent her muscles into tighter spasms and new waves of heat and nausea. When she heard Grace cry out in pain and she could not do anything, she wanted to die. One last time she tried to roll to her feet, but darkness enveloped her as she passed out from the torture.
Rip had been waiting for this moment all day as she sat crouched beneath a yew, hidden from her prey. The wild turkey she had been stalking all day was finally settling down for sleep in a small stand of trees. She crept within pouncing distance and waited. Then when the bird’s eyes finally closed, she leaped, paws first, landing on the bird’s back. The weight of her powerful shoulders applied the crushing force that broke the bird’s neck and caused its last gobble to be a scream of agony.
She grabbed the limp prize delicately with her mouth, rearranged the feathers that were tickling the roof of her mouth, and began her trek down the road. Her tail was at full attention and curled to her back like a soldier’s dress plume. She proudly displayed the turkey against her chest. As she bounded the corner at an easy ceremonial trot, she heard the scream of her travel mate and her travel mate’s new friend in the distance. The bird fell from her mouth, forgotten as she charged into battle.
Her dog tags pounded against the powerful chest as her equally powerful legs swiftly carried her to the battlefield. Beth looked up just in time to see the white, bared fangs fly at her and connect with her shoulder. The teeth tore deeply into her flesh and held as Beth reeled out of the way, screaming. The dog tried to shake the large woman like a rat, tearing the punctures.
Meanwhile, Grace scrambled to her feet and watched as Beth curled her head into her body to protect her face and ears from the attack. The dog was grunting and growling as she attacked. No mercy, she thought, no mercy, and another bite, this time closer to the neck. Protect, protect.
Grace reached in and grasped the dog’s harness to pull her away from a bloodied Beth. “Easy, girl, easy,” she soothed, as the dog lunged and barked at her ex-girlfriend. Given the opening, Beth scrambled away, holding her shoulder.
“Get the fuck out of here, Beth!” Grace yelled angrily, “or I swear, I’ll let her eat you alive.” The dog growled menacingly on cue.
“You’re such a bitch,” Beth cried and then walked determinedly back to the main road, where she had left her car before staking out the cottage.
Grace led the dog by the harness into the house and closed her inside. Rip watched from the window, her dirty feet planted on the couch cushions, viewing the blonde woman as she returned to her shipmate.
Dana was lying face-down in the rocks, both of her arms at odd angles behind her shoulders, but her face was relaxed and emotionless. Grace used her hands to feel the dislocation of one shoulder. Using her knees on the woman’s back, she yanked the arm sideways and slid the joint back into place. When she heard the solid pop, she moved to the other arm and repeated the process. These muscles were tighter, and it took three efforts before the bones fit again snugly. She rolled the woman onto her back and saw the deep, jagged tear on her forehead and cheek and a deep, purpling bruise already forming on her jaw. She gently stroked the face of her friend and spoke to her, trying to bring her to consciousness.
Dana moved toward the warmth and soothing sounds as she slowly came to. Her body ached and burned, and she was afraid to stir for fear of the sickening pain.
“We need to get into the house,” she heard Grace say. Grace watched the eyes flicker open, then pale blue eyes the color of Alaskan glaciers stared back at her.
“I feel like shit,” Dana mumbled through her dry mouth. She bolted upright when she remembered how she had come to be in such bad shape. She cringed from the pain but realized it was bearable. “Beth?”
“And you?” She reached to touch the blonde woman’s cheek.
“Fine. I’m okay, really.”
Dana removed her hand self-consciously as if it had gone there of its own accord. “Boy, you were one bad ass. Where’d you learn that?”
“Kick-Boxing 101, my freshman year.”
“Three cheers for the liberal education system,” Dana said, trying to get to her feet. Grace smiled as she helped her from a sitting position by wrapping her arms around the larger woman’s waist and lifting.
All of the cushions had been dragged off the couch by the time they made it to the house. As soon as they opened the door, Rip was out and in pursuit of the bleeding cop.
“Oh, no!” Grace exclaimed, reaching for, but missing the dog’s harness.
Doc looked around the front room and nervously bit her lip.
“Holy crap! Look what that dog did to my furniture.”
Dana began to pick up the cushions with her aching arms and set them straight. Grace joined her. “There’s slobber on everything. And blood too,” Grace observed aloud. “Well, fuck, I’m really pissed now. Next time I see Beth, I’m gonna…gonna….”
“Let it go.”
“What if she comes back?”
“I won’t be here, and she wanted me.” She placed the last cushion on the couch.
Grace covered her face and sat down. “I’ve had some messy breakups, but this one takes the cake.”
Dana was bending over, picking up shredded newspapers from the floor. “That’s what you get for liking bad girls,” Doc said as she placed a hand on Grace’s shoulder in passing.
“Where are you going?”
“To take a hot shower.” She twisted her neck until she heard a solid pop. “My back is killing me.”
“Can I help?”
“Actually, I meant with a back rub, that kind of thing, not the shower. Geez, you must think I’m a total floozy.”
“You are a flirt but too smart to be a floozy,” Dana stated.
“And you’re playing hard to get.”
“I’m not playing,” Dana said seriously.
“Maybe you should play.”
Dana’s retort was shut down by the sudden tightness in her throat as she looked the woman’s body over from toes to nose. She had been thinking about her for the past month, dreaming of that body, and wondering what it would be like to become familiar with it.
Grace began to laugh. “Go take your shower,” she said, gently nudging her in the right direction.
The doctor poured herself a straight vodka with a twist of lime and sipped it as she listened to WHCN the Classic Rock Station. Bob Seger was singing about his gawky teenaged years for the hundred billionth time. Grace thought about those years. Hers hadn’t been so gawky, they’d been pretty exciting, and she had been, wow, had she been sexual.
Doc eased herself down in the chair next to Grace, her hair damp and combed back from her face, a white, sleeveless T-shirt and blue cotton shorts covering her. She had found the Band-Aids and had applied a few to the cuts on her face.
“You should put ice on that,” Grace said, pointing to her cheek and then getting up for the freezer.
Dana caught her arm, wincing at the pain the movement caused. “You go take a shower. I’ll take care of the ice.”
While Grace was bathing, Doc was medicating herself with three Ibuprofen and a couple of Tylenol. Using the sink sponge and some liquid laundry soap, she scrubbed the couch cushions to remove the dirt, blood, and slobber. She could not do much with the puncture marks and flipped over the cushions to hide the worst tears. She had scrubbed them and removed most of the stains when she heard the familiar bark of her friend approaching the house. Grace was finally re-emerging from her bath, dressed in a short blue terry robe.
“Guess who’s home?” Doc said as she opened the door. In walked the regal beast with a dead turkey. With what seemed to Grace like a flourish, the dog dropped the dead bird at Dana’s feet. A stray feather floated up and then drifted down to the carpet in the middle of the room.
“Don’t give it to me, you silly mutt. You didn’t rip up my couch cushions.”
“There’s a dead bird on my three-thousand-dollar rug.”
“Yes, I do believe it is dead,” Doc said as she picked up the carcass. She held it out to the doctor by its feet. “Want to give it mouth-to-mouth?”
“Yuk, get that thing away from me,” she squawked, waving her hands.
“You should have it for dinner tomorrow,” Dana said. “Good dog.” She patted the hound on the head.
“What?” She took the bird to the kitchen and began to pluck out the feathers, dropping them in a paper sack. “I thought you were a country girl.”
“You don’t know how long it’s been dead.”
Dana sniffed the carcass. “Two hours at the most. Think of it as similar to eating an albatross. It tastes good with a little basil and red pepper.”
“Albatross? Who the hell eats albatross?”
“Rip and I, when we run out of food and the fish aren’t biting. It beats eating out of garbage cans, doesn’t it, girl?” she said to the dog, who was licking her chops watching the preparation. “Do you mind feeding her?” Dana asked.
Grace dumped food into the dog’s dish and poured water into the other bowl. Dana could not help noticing how her robe fell open and revealed her breasts or how the bottom rose up for a peek of her upper thighs.
It took her five minutes to pluck the bird, clean out the guts, and chop up the parts most people do not know their food once had. She put the dead bird in a bowl in the refrigerator and washed up the knife and cutting board.
“Do you have to work today?” she asked, as she washed the counter down.
“Work? What day is today?”
Doc looked at her watch. “It’s 3:45 a.m. Monday. We should get some sleep. I’ll take the couch again.”
“No, the couch is wet. You come sleep in the bed.”
“I–I–” Dana stuttered.
“I think I can, I think I can,” Grace teased. “Come on, be brave,” she said, taking the strong, callused hand in her smaller, softer one.
As soon as they entered the room, Grace removed her robe and slipped into her pajamas. Dana had turned away, her face burning and heart pounding.
“Dana,” she said seriously.
“Yeah,” she answered into the wall.
“We’re only going to sleep.”
“Uh-huh,”she said without turning around.
“So come lie down.”
“Do you have clothes on?”
“Yes, dear,” she replied, slipping under the covers.
Dana breathed a sigh of relief and disappointment. She approached and then climbed onto the bed on top of the covers.
“I hate that,” Grace grumbled, yanking the quilt over herself. “I can’t move when you do that. Now get underneath.”
Doc pulled her knees up and slipped her legs under the sheets. She was lying on her back–it hurt too much to sleep on her side–contemplating whether or not Grace expected her to kiss her. Grace rolled over to look at her and immediately noticed the fact that Dana was barely breathing.
“You aren’t just nervous, you’re really scared,” she observed quietly.
“I cannot remember ever being in the same bed with another person.”
“Not even as a kid, when you had a bad dream or thought you heard something go bump in the night?”
That made Grace kind of sad, and she did not know what to say, so she lay on her back and stared at the ceiling too. “What did you do when you were scared, I mean as a kid?”
Silence. “What would you have liked to do?”
Silence. Dana could not answer but turned her head to look at the green eyes staring back at her. Grace gently touched her arm, causing Dana to jump, but Grace did not pull her hand away. She felt the trembling in the other body, much like the first evening when they had met, and watched the ice-blue eyes look at her with alarm. “Go to sleep,” she whispered to her friend as she let the exhaustion pull her into her own deep sleep.
It took Dana a little longer before she could relax and drift off, and for a few hours it was fitful. When Grace stumbled out of bed to get ready for work, Dana finally fell into a deep sleep. She would have tried to get up with Grace and have her drop her at the marina, but she was too sore to move.
It was almost noontime. Grace was eating lunch in the cafeteria of the Yale-New Haven Medical Center when Beth approached her. She had her arm in a sling and dark circles around her eyes. Grace put down her forkful of pasta salad, unable to believe that the Milford cop had the nerve to approach her. Beth held her good hand out, offering peace.
“I only want to talk to you, I swear.”
“I have nothing to say to you.”
“I’m sorry about what happened last night.” She was on the verge of tears. She went down on her knees next to the peeved doctor. “I’ve never done anything like that before, Gracie.” The tears started to flow.
All she needed was a scene like this in front of her co-workers and patients. “Let’s go for a walk,” Grace said to remove them from the eyes that were beginning to pry. They sat on a park bench outside in the grassy municipal area across from the Emergency Room entrance of the hospital. Beth had used the time walking together to recompose herself.
“How is your shoulder?” Grace asked.
“I’m out of work for a few days.”
“You’re right. I deserved it.” She shifted to look at Grace. “It will give me time to get control of myself.”
“That’s a good idea, because you were acting crazy last night. You really scared me.”
“I would never hurt you, Gracie,” she said, fidgeting with her hands. “I was worried about you, hanging out with someone like that, and when you didn’t come home, I thought maybe something terrible had happened. I mean, that woman is a murderer. I thought maybe she was the one…being around at the same time as the woman was killed and all.”
“She’s not the killer.”
“How do you know that, Gracie?”
“Because I was with her the night of the murder.”
Oooh, that stung. Beth reined in her hurt and angry jealousy. “All night?” she managed to get out.
“Well, still, I did some research on your friend today,” she pulled out a disk and handed it to her, “based on her ID number. She’s a real piece of work, and she’s sick, Grace.” She let her words sink in. “I’m begging you, stay away from her.”
“Beth, if this is some kind of ploy….”
Beth brought out her trump card from her brown leather coat pocket. It was a small computer CD-ROM in a plastic case. She held it toward Grace between her index and middle finger. “Look at this disk. You should know who you’ve been sleeping with.”
Grace refused to take it, even though she was intrigued. Dana was such a mystery, but she hoped to unravel those secrets through Dana, not some impersonal data file.
“We are not sleeping together,” Grace said, knowing that it hurt Beth to think she was with anyone else. It was not Beth’s fault that she did not love her or that the relationship had not worked, and hurting anyone outright was not Grace’s goal. “What about the bloody clothes? Have you gotten a hit on that yet? Maybe that can rule out your fear that I’m hanging around with a killer.”
“I wish I could rule that out, but we haven’t received the results. They do know that the DNA from the trash bag is an exact match to some skin they recovered from under the dead woman’s fingernails. We’re hoping for the Feds to get lucky and match it to one of their records. If there is one, we should know any day now.” Grace did not hear the last part of her statement.
“And if it is your friend, we’ll know for sure. As long as she’s been in the system, they must have her in the FBI Genetic Index.”
“Are you saying the blood matched some skin found on the woman’s body?”
Beth absorbed Grace’s body language as well as her words. The strawberry blonde was shocked, for some reason.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. Why?”
“No reason.” Grace tried to recover. “What time did the woman die?”
Beth saw the doubt and smiled inwardly. “The radiation and base forensic analysis point to an attack and quick death around eleven-thirty, give or take half an hour”
“Eleven-thirty,” Grace repeated as she thought aloud. She was becoming confused about that night. What time had she left the bar?
Beth began slowly, scooting a little closer to the bewildered doctor. “Gracie, if you think there is any chance that she could be the killer, tell me. I’ll protect you.”
“I have to get back to work.” Grace suddenly stood and walked away.
Beth jogged after her. “Please take this, Grace.” She held out the disc. Grace took the case and shoved it into her white lab coat. “Is she still at your place?” Beth asked as they approached the street to cross.
“Yes,” Grace replied absently as she wove between the few cars, more on her mind than avoiding being struck by a Beamer.
Beth smiled as she watched the petite figure move across the asphalt and disappear into the hospital.
Grace had to wait until late afternoon to visit the desktop unit in the doctors’ lounge. A bus carrying a group of senior citizens had been hit by a station wagon full of high school kids. It was the worst thing she could have had to deal with medically.
The disc that Beth had given her contained Dana Papadopolis’ life from the abandonment by her mother, the suicide of her father, and the official report by the Connecticut Child Care Agency of Ruth Cannata’s refusal to take her daughter in after Dmitri Papadopolis’ death. The murder one conviction and all the killings in York penitentiary were described in detail. It also included the reports from the sporadic sessions with the prison psychologist who had labeled Dana as a manic-depressive psychotic after a single meeting. It was noted on several occasions that she had become violent when administered medication for said mental affliction. Each murder was accompanied by a scene of the body, the method of murder, and the subsequent psychiatric evaluations and punishments. Then she saw something that shocked her. The name “Ruel Gundy” jumped out at her in a bloody description of a triple murder, one of the victims a prison guard. She barely noted the brief description of Dana’s own injuries and brief stay at Yale. In 2016 Dana had been paroled under the seldom-used Kennedy Act, and that was the end of the record.
Grace was shaking by the time she finished with the records. Dana had not told her about all of the other killings, and Gundy was the person Rachel had mentioned. If Grace were to say she did not have her doubts about Dana, she would be lying to herself. But Rachel had a certain affinity for the convict, and she seemed a good judge of character, right? Shit, she was thinking a convicted drug dealer was a good judge of character. And that manic-depressive psychotic thing? Dana did not seem to be that, and she would have known if Doc was medicating to control it. Dana was reserved, quiet, maybe had a tendency to resort to violence when pushed, although she had not struck anyone, not even Beth.
And Beth was, of course, always capable of a good mind fuck–she had done it before. Maybe that was what was going on here.
Grace entered the house silently, her heart pounding against her chest. Doc was sitting at the table answering her e-mail when she opened the door. The smell of tomatoes and basil filled the house.
“Hi,” Doc said with a half-smile as the tired, stressed-out woman approached. “You didn’t call, so I figured it would be okay if I made spaghetti for dinner. I didn’t think you wanted the turkey, so Rip and I had it for lunch.”
Grace went into her room without saying a word and put her black doctors’ bag away in the closet. Then she walked over to the dining table and tossed the disc case at the dark-haired woman.
“What’s this?” she asked, wincing as she reached to pick up the disc.
“It’s your life story,” she said coldly.
The warm, fuzzy feeling that Doc had experienced immediately when the little blonde had walked through the door vanished. “Where did you get it?”
Grace stood in the middle of the room, her crossed arms woven across her chest. “Does that matter?”
“Sweet Beth, I bet. Well, well, well. Now you know all about me. Isn’t that quaint.” She opened the box and inserted the disc into her drive. “I’ve never read it myself. It would be nice to know what everyone else does.” She feigned a coolness she did not feel. As she flipped from one document to the next, she felt her life click by, the life she had tried to deny, or better put, lock away from her consciousness. This was the way the world viewed her, now how Grace viewed her. There were no mentions of the rapes by the guards during her first year. No mentions of the rapes by the inmates either because Dana would not go to the doctor unless she was sent unconscious. Her eyes were dark when she looked up at Grace. The honeymoon was over. She ejected the disc and tossed it back to the doctor.
“You want me to leave, right?” she stated more than asked, and began to shut down her computer, then placed it in a bag.
“Beth told me the strangest thing today. Would you like to hear it?”
“The blood found on the shirt in the garbage can, your blood, is an identical match to trace tissue found on the dead woman’s body.”
“W-what?” Doc stammered.
“So now they’re running the mapping of both DNA samples through the FBI database. Beth told me that if you were the one, they would know for sure sometime today. Isn’t that ironic. You’re a suspect, they have your DNA, but the map won’t match your DNA, now will it?”
Doc looked up at her. “I didn’t kill that lady.”
Angry tears were running silently down Grace’s cheeks. “You tell me how your DNA ended up under that woman’s nails.”
“I don’t know!” Doc yelled as the walls of the cottage began to close in on her. She knew exactly where this was leading, and it was a place she dreaded going. She looked back down at her computer case and zipped it. “If you want to ask me something, Grace, just ask,” she said sarcastically, feeling foolish for trusting, for forgetting that who she was mattered to people.
Grace felt just as foolish and scared. “Where did you go before I picked you up that night?”
Doc looked at her with pale, sad eyes. She stood without answering. Grace instinctively backed away from her, and that made Doc feel like the most hideous creature alive. She gathered her belongings in silence.
“If it was you, you can tell me. You can get help.
“If?” Doc whispered the word again. The hurt was so close to the surface she wanted to scream and release it. “I did not kill that woman,” she said quietly, more to herself than to Grace.
“I’m supposed to believe that, after reading about all of your blood matches. God, Dana, you killed fourteen people. You never told me about them.”
“Come on, Grace, do you think it’s something I’m proud of?” She grabbed her clothes duffel and shoved a few stray garments into it.
“The doctors say you don’t even feel remorse.”
“That’s because I don’t,” Dana growled. “I hated every one of those fucking people.”
She opened the front door and whistled for her shipmate. But by the time her eyes left Grace and took in her surroundings, it was too late. Rip was locked away in a police cruiser, three blue-and-white cars lining the dirt road. She took a quick glance back at Grace when she realized what the doctor had done. A second later she was thrown face-down on the flagstone walkway, her shoulders once more yanked and bound behind her back. Grace had seen the look of utter desolation on the woman’s face as she turned to her and knew then that she had made a mistake, no matter what the DNA said. She ran to the doorway but was held back by Beth. “Dana!” she yelled in panic.
Dana was yanked to her feet by her arms, her back and shoulders screaming in pain. Doc looked into the steel-gray eyes of Charlie, Beth’s partner, and resisted the urge to spit. The last thing she saw was Grace staring at her as she was dragged away like a rabid animal.
The day only grew worse because, for the first time in three years, Dana found herself back in a jail cell, the last place she ever wanted to be. And then the old familiar feeling of despair sat beside her and wrapped its strong arms tightly around her, so much stronger this time because she had had a taste of freedom. Now she had nothing.
It was not until mid-morning, Tuesday, that she was recuffed and dragged from her cell to an interrogation room. She stared at the floor, trying to hide her fears somewhere deep in her mind.
Beth was standing in the corner of the room, in uniform, without her sling, watching the interrogation play out, as two detectives, most likely her friends, set to work on their prisoner.
They grilled her about her activities before and after that Saturday night that she met Grace and the woman lost her life. Dana refused to answer or look at them. They wanted to know where she lived and who her parole officer was.
She could not understand why they did not read her the Miranda, or charge her, or take a sample of her skin or blood. Surely they would think to do that when Grace told them what she had done to her DNA records. Surely they would…unless Grace believed her and had not told them about the trip to New Jersey.
“Where is the dog?” Doc spoke for the first time, looking defiantly at Beth.
“She’s dead,” Beth said cruelly.
Doc looked at the floor quickly to hide her reaction. Never let the enemy see your vulnerability. “I want to be charged or set free.”
The detectives shifted uncomfortably. The DNA match had turned up Dana Papadopolis as having only a seventy-five percent possibility of being the perpetrator.
“And if you are charging me, I want a lawyer here before you ask me another fucking question.” She had learned a few things from her fellow inmates about making mistakes with the cops.
One of the detectives looked over at Beth. Doc did not miss the subtle exchange. The two men left the room, leaving Doc with her new nemesis. Beth slithered behind the handcuffed woman and shoved the chair hard, forcing Doc to give her her attention. “I want you to be aware that you are a suspect, Papadopolis, and I want you to remember that.” Her face was inches away, and her breath stank of cigarettes. “And I’m watching you closely.”
Doc barked at her, making her jerk her head backwards. Doc half-smiled. “Bite me, Miss Piggy.”
For that, Beth punched her in the mouth and then laughed as Doc spat out blood from her torn gums. She yanked Doc to her feet and out of the room to the desk sergeant. Both women were surprised to see Grace standing in the lobby arguing about due process, freedom of information, and all of the other legal half-truths. Beth dragged Dana over to an unoccupied sergeant and mumbled instructions about releasing her. The sergeant slid her an envelope with her watch and cash, and her boat key, still on its hand-woven tether. Beth unlocked the cuffs and gave her a shove toward the outer sanctum.
“Any time you want to confess, I’ll be here waiting.”
Doc refused to look back at her and concentrated on Grace, who had a look of relief and trepidation. When she reached her, she stopped, breathed deeply a few times, and looked back at Beth. She was so full of disbelief that Grace might possibly still believe in her, that she did not care about what had happened before. She was utterly speechless, afraid to ask if it was true, if Grace did believe she was innocent. Acting on the urge to flee, she impetuously grabbed the hand of the smaller woman and led her out of the brown stone building as fast as she could walk.
“Where’s your car?” she asked urgently.
“Over here.” Grace pulled her in the opposite direction.
“They killed Rip,” Grace said angrily as she spotted the Jeep and pulled her to the car.
“No, Dana, I picked her up from the pound this morning. She’s in the Jeep.” Surely enough, Dana could see the black figure sleeping in the back as she approached. When she turned toward the smaller woman, Grace saw her eyes filling with tears.
She wrapped her arms around Dana and pulled her closer. “Dana, I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. I was so confused and scared, and when Beth told me about the DNA match, I freaked out. But when I worked out when we were together, I knew there was no way…and I know you couldn’t do that. The others were different, right? There was a reason you hated them?” She was crying. “I’m so sorry.”
Dana placed an awkward hand on the soft cheek to wipe away the falling tears. A sympathetic smile took hold of her face as she tried to comfort and understand. “If I had read something like that about you, I would have been freaked out too. But that’s not everything, Grace, and that’s not my DNA on that woman, I promise you.”
Doc breathed in deeply and sighed heavily. “But I did kill those people in York.”
Grace nodded knowingly.
“I’ve done other things too, Grace, that I’m ashamed of, that are not in that report.”
Grace swallowed and nodded again.
“It means everything in the world that you believe me.”
Grace sniffled as she smiled. She squeezed, hugged her hard, and then released the ex-con. Then she sighed, missing the warmth, and wrapped her arms around herself as the wind whipped at them. Reaching up, she wiped away the blood from Dana’s lips. “You’re always getting beat up.”
Dana’s body ached as if it were one big sprain. “Did you bring my things?”
“No, they’re at my place. I didn’t know if I would even get to see you.” She unlocked the door for Dana, who climbed in gingerly.
“Grace, I think it would be best for you if I left.” Dana spoke calmly once Grace had climbed into the vehicle and closed the door.
Grace ignored Dana’s remark. “Don’t let Beth scare you into running away from me. It’s what she wants.”
Dana sat back into the bucket seat. “I want to know how somebody as nice as you ever hooked up with her.”
“She pulled me over for speeding. I went to court to contest it, and she was there to defend it.” She started the engine. “They never show for that either. God, I was so pissed, and she looked so smug as the judge gave me a three-hundred-fifty-dollar ticket. Why I agreed to have a drink with her I’ll never know.”
“Must have been the uniform. Chicks like you like that.”
Grace smiled and pulled out of the parking lot. “Shut up.”
“How do you work with all those nurses with a fetish like that, Doctor?”
Grace blushed. “A fetish.” She chuckled. “You don’t have a uniform.”
It was Dana’s chance to blush. “No, now you’re into women with tattoos.”
“Is that an offer?”
Silence. Dana should have learned by now not to flirt with this woman, especially if she was not ready to pay the consequences. She turned to the sleeping dog and patted her head. “Did they give her something?”
“A tranquilizer to calm her down. After she saw them taking you in, she went ballistic. She tore up the back seat of the squad car. I guess we’re lucky they didn’t shoot her, but with animal rights laws now, we lucked out. But don’t worry; I called my sister, Joy, and she says Rip should be up and about in a day or two.”
“Your sister?” She turned to Grace. “Oh, right, the Dr. Wilson the veterinarian. Thanks for taking care of her.”
“After what she did to Beth the other night to save me, I would give her my life. She’s a great dog.”
“You did well the other night too.”
“Yeah, right.” She turned away from the road for a second to look at Dana. “You look like you haven’t slept in weeks.”
“I had a little trouble with the cell last night.”
“Missed being next to me?”
“I didn’t sleep much that night either, I’m afraid.”
“Oh,” she said dejectedly. She had slept like a rock.
“You snore really loud.”
“Is that why you couldn’t sleep?” she asked hopefully.
“Yeah.” It was partly true.
“Do you want to try it again, if I sleep on my side?” Dana looked at her nervously. “We will take this really slow, I promise,” she added reassuringly.
“I can’t stay at the house right now.”
“I think we should both–”
“No, we’re in this together.”
“This could ruin you, Grace.”
“Just shut up and let me help. God, you always have to go it alone. You’re really starting to piss me off. I’ve already put in for two weeks’ personal leave until we can get this mess straightened out. Okay?”
Dana’s mouth hung open from shock. “I need to get away before your psycho girlfriend makes me a paraplege.”
“So, if you don’t want to stay at the house, where are we going to go?”
“I thought we could go sailing.”
Grace had known this was a possibility and had hoped otherwise but had entertained the idea. She was of a generation where many were taught to fear the ocean, witnesses to its awesome destructive powers. “Sailing it is,” she said confidently. I have never been sailing, or on the ocean, for that matter, she thought nervously.
They were pulling onto her dirt road. Dana checked on Rip, who was still breathing soundly. “Let’s get you packed.”
“What should I bring?” she asked as she tried her keypad to unlock the door. She failed, as usual. Dana looked around the yard despite the fact that it was daylight.
Grace tried the door again but got a flashing error.
Dana rolled her eyes and punched in a series of numbers that clicked the door open.
“Hey, that’s not my code.”
Dana opened the door and held it for her with a slight arm flourish and a cocky grin. “I know.”
“But how…? Don’t tell me, something you learned in prison.”
“Yeah, Rachel wrote the program used by all the nano chips in these devices. It’s a back door she put into the language.”
“Shit, I feel safe.”
“You should never rely on a thing like this to feel safe,” Doc said seriously as she closed the door behind them.
“What makes you feel safe?”
“Nothing.” Dana hunted up her computer and duffel.
“So what should I bring?”
“Clothes, a toothbrush. We’ll stop and get some groceries.”
“A bathing suit?”
“Unless you swim nude.”
“Do you?” Grace wiggled her eyebrows.
“Just get your stuff so we can hit the waves.”
“Will it be hot or cold?” she yelled from her room as she went through her drawers.
“We’re going south.”
“I guess that means hot,” she mumbled to herself. Not a really good communicator. “Anything dressy?” she asked hopefully.
Dana was standing in the doorway watching her bustle about. “You can bring a dress, but I don’t guarantee anything.”
Grace went to her closet and picked out the perfect tropical dress and zipped it into a suit bag, then pumps and nylons and a black garter. “Almost there,” she said as she disappeared into the bathroom and filled her travel case.
Dana moved over to the liquor cabinet and grabbed a bottle of Captain Morgan and a bottle of Sauza tequila.
“Here I am,” Grace said, holding her luggage and beaming broadly. “Food, we need food.”
Dana closed the door behind them. “You can drop me at the dingy and go shopping while I bring the boat around to the main dock. I’ll gas up and fill the water tank.”
Grace’s face scrunched up into a childlike joy. Then a thought. “You do have life vests?”
“Of course.” She placed the last of their bags in the tight space of the little Jeep. “I know I’ve asked you this before, but you can swim, right?”
Hesitation, how to answer. She’ll think I’m a doofus if I say no.
“Grace?” The raven-haired con looked to her friend when she did not receive an answer. She poked her head from behind the car to look to see that she was still there. “You can’t swim?”
“No,” she said, embarrassed. “Is that going to be a problem?”
Dana walked up to her, her face serious. “Only if you fall in. The question is, will you feel comfortable?”
A nod yes. “And maybe you can teach me how.”
Part Five – Whenever the surface of one body slides over that of another, each body exerts a frictional force on the other.
They hit the open seas a little after four p.m. Dana knew they had little sailing time before the sun disappeared, but she wanted to be as far away from the shoreline town of Milford as she could by the time it grew dark. Being on the boat, preparing to sail, and going through all of the familiar activities of stowing away supplies and filling tanks brought her a comfort she desperately needed. She was thinking she could not be any happier, until she saw the smiling face of Grace Wilson walking along the wooden planks of the dock toward her.
The fall sun was closing in on the skyline of the city quickly. Dana took the bags of groceries from Grace and then extended her strong, bronzed arm to support the smaller woman climbing aboard. Her face was tight from beaming at the woman, happiness swelling her insides so much she thought that she would explode. It did not go unnoticed by her new shipmate. Then Grace slipped, and Dana stifled a groan as the smaller woman tugged her shoulder for balance.
“There’s a tropical storm off Florida, so I think we’ll head north instead.”
“But I packed for the heat.”
“You can borrow some of my clothes,” Dana suggested, wary of the disappointment she heard. She untied the lines from the dock and started the inboard. “I thought we could go in to Freeport and buy some new things.”
“Shopping?” A smile. “I’m in.”
“You sure are easy to please.”
“Oh, how I wish you’d try to find out,” she replied with a laugh.
Dana found herself smiling as she steered the boat out of the marina. She cut the engine and readied to raise the sails. “See that handle?”
“Yep.” Grace moved over to a black winch mounted to the hull.
“Grab it, and when I tell you to, start turning.”
Doc set the boat into the wind. “Okay, turn away.” She was glad the woman was here to help, because her arms and shoulders still ached despite the massive quantities of Ibuprofen. “Good job,” she said as the sail rose and caught the wind fully. The boat began to break through the waves. “Ahh, that’s much better,” Dana sighed, feeling the vibration of the keel as the boat picked up speed. Grace smiled proudly.
“Come, sit with me,” Doc said, patting the cushioned bench next to her. “You can steer while I mix us some toddies.” Grace managed her way to her friend and took a seat.
“I don’t quite have sea legs yet.”
“Give it time.” Then as an afterthought, “Do you want some Dramamine?”
“No, thanks. I tripped on that stuff when I was a sophomore. I can’t take it without seeing little spiders crawling all over me.”
Dana looked at the package. “How many did you take?”
“The whole package. It was like fucking LSD in that quantity.”
Doc shook her head in dismay. “You never cease to amaze me, Doctor Wilson. But since you’re sober at the moment, take the helm.”
“No, I can’t.”
“Come on, it’s easy.” She took the woman’s hands and placed them on the large leather-bound wheel. “Now keep heading toward that buoy, and watch out for icebergs.” Grace tensed. Her mother had taken her to see the movie “Titanic” when she was twelve, and she still had nightmares.
“Do you want tequila, rum, or vodka?” Dana asked as she disappeared through the companionway.
Dana returned with a spiced rum and coke and handed it to her. “Watch out for the lobster pots.”
“Where?” She panicked. “The little floating things?”
“Yes, the little floating things. Buoys mark where the pots are located.”
“Oh. How fast are we going?”
“About ten knots. It’s a good pace. This thing can only do about twenty, based on the hull length and shape and whether I can catch a wave and get her planing. We won’t get too far, though, unless we sail in the dark for a few hours. We can anchor off the mainland or head to Fisher’s Island. It’s up to you, but we need to decide in the next hour.”
“The mainland sounds better,” Grace said.
Dana nodded. “The mainland it is. I’ll find a cove to moor in overnight. Want me to take over?”
“Yes, please,” Grace said, prying her tense fingers from the wheel and downing her drink.
Dana held to her promise, and by eight p.m. they had anchored in a cove close to the Mystic Seaport. Since it was the end of the sailing season, most of the cruisers had left, and plenty of space was available near the old tall ships.
Steaks and potatoes were grilling while she finished tucking away the sails. Rip was just beginning to come around and had vomited on the rug of the main cabin. Grace cleaned it up and tried to soothe the dog with gentle caresses. Once the hound fell back to sleep, she brought the carpet up to the deck and handed it to Doc. “Your dog, you clean it.”
Doc tossed the carpet into the dingy off the back. “Tomorrow. Now we eat,” she said, carrying a plate of food into the boat. With one hand she released the table from its hitch. Using her only dishes, she set the table and placed a small vase with a single rose in the center.
“Do we have a phone?” Grace asked as she came down the stairs. “Wow!” she exclaimed as she looked at the table. “You’re quite domestic, for a sailor.” Her eyes were on the flower, and she wondered where it had come from.
“The phone is here. You have to plug the handset…where is it?” She searched in a cabinet for it. “I don’t use it to call people very often. Ahh, here it is.”
“Why do you have it at all?”
“For the computer.”
“What do you do on the computer all day?”
“I monitor information.”
“No, I don’t hack. Have a seat. I’ll find some good eatin’ music.”
“How about something where people actually sing?” Grace moved over and knelt next to her on the berth as they went through the music tucked away on the shelf. Dana liked a challenge. Grace felt the warmth of the other woman’s body through the cooling air of the cabin. She smelled good too, a little sweaty, but she liked the way it mingled with her hair and clothes. It was going to be hard not to throw herself at the brunette.
“Ah-ha, here, this is Cassandra Wilson. She sings a kick-ass ‘Harvest Moon.'” She put it into the digital player with a Miles Davis recording and Boney James.
Throughout dinner, which tasted fantastic, Grace could not help noticing how much Dana had changed once they passed the breakwaters. Her manner was easier, her joking came more freely, and she actually smiled more than those cute little half-smirks. It was as if she were enjoying sharing her world with a foreigner and liking her job as a tour guide. And she was right–that was a kick-ass version of “Harvest Moon.”
Grace also enjoyed being waited on. She did not have to wash the dishes, or cook. She actually relaxed for the first time in…years? After dinner, Grace found her way to the sanctuary of the cockpit and sipped at another Captain Morgan and Coke. When Doc had concluded her work in the galley, she got a large, dark-blue cable-knit sweater and handed it to Grace.
“You look cold.”
“Thanks,” Grace said, placing her drink in a holder and slipping the wool sweater over her head. Doc helped pull the silky golden hair out of the collar as she sat next to her.
Dana leaned back to look at the cloudless night sky. Grace followed suit, looking at the bright star. “Taurus, the Bull.” She pointed.
“The Pleiades.” Dana pointed at the same constellation.
“The seven sisters. See?” She leaned closer and pointed to the tiny patch of stars that were part of the larger constellation.
“I only count six.”
“That’s because she’s hiding.”
“Why is she hiding?”
“She fell in love with a mortal, and he shamed her. The ancient Greeks believed that they were the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione. When Atlas was condemned to carry the weight of the Earth on his back, Zeus took pity on his grieving daughters and changed them into stars. That’s one version. The other one is that the lech Orion was chasing the sisters through the woods, and Zeus took pity on them and turned them into doves so they could fly away, and they flew up to the stars. But the Australian Aborigines believe they’re the two wives and five sisters-in-law of a man named Wurrunna. They landed up there on fast-growing trees. It’s kind of funny, because they’re about 415 light-years away.”
“Are you sure a Texan didn’t make up that story? Look, Ursa Major.” Grace pointed. “Got a story for that one?”
“That’s Callisto, a beautiful maiden from Arcadia. Zeus was in love with her, but when Hera found out, she turned her into a bear to wander the forest forever. One day Callisto’s human son, the hunter, tried to kill her, not knowing she was his mother. Zeus intervened and flung Callisto into the night sky to save her.”
“A bear with a tail?”
“Zeus stretched it when he whirled her around and flung her.”
Grace began to laugh. “Is there anything you don’t know?”
“Ursa Minor is Callisto’s son, also put there by Zeus, so that they could be together. The Aztecs thought it was a three-legged puppet that danced around.”
Dana stretched her arms along the back of the bench, her legs propped on the edge of the bench across from them. She relaxed into the fresh sea air and the warmth of company. After a few minutes of star-staring she began to nod off.
“Dana,” Grace whispered into her ear. Dana’s eyes popped open. “I think we should go to bed.”
Dana sat forward and stretched her arms and shoulders, unaware of how long she had dozed.
“So, are there any particular sleeping arrangements you had in mind?” Grace asked as she followed the tall figure into the cabin.
“Pick a berth. They’re all pretty comfy.”
“Where are you going to sleep?”
Dana turned to her after closing the companionway. The light was dim at best. “I usually sleep up in the front cabin.”
“You don’t sleep out here?” Grace could not keep the disappointment out of her voice.
“No, Rip snores.” She watched the nervous glances Grace was taking around the cabin. “What are you looking for?”
“There is no heat, Grace.”
“Then I’ll need another blanket.” She took the thick wool one Dana was holding out to her. Dana froze. She had only two, and that had always been enough for one person. “Shit! Here, you can have mine,” she said, walking to her cabin and removing it from the bed. She returned and handed her the thick fleece cover.
“I can’t take it. You’ll freeze.”
“Come on, take it.”
“No!” She found a berth as close to the front cabin as she could and lay down on it. “Leave the light on, please.”
“Of all the stubborn….” Dana mumbled. Purposefully, she walked over to the prone figure. She yanked the cover back and grabbed her hand. “Come with me.” She pulled her into her cabin and climbed on the bed. “Well, come on, I’m not going to be responsible for your freezing to death tonight. We’ll go to shore and buy a few more blankets tomorrow.”
Grace climbed up onto the large, soft bed and plopped down on her side next to her friend. Dana put her cover across their bodies and then laid Grace’s out too.
A few minutes passed, and Dana began to relax.
“Now I’m too hot,” Grace complained.
“Well, I am.”
“Take off your sweater.”
Grace sat up, short enough so that she did not have to worry about hitting her head, and tugged the sweater over her head. She reached under the covers and removed her slacks and tossed them to the end of the bed. She faced her still companion, who was barely breathing. “What about you–are you hot?”
“Yes… I mean no,” she replied, flustered.
“You’re sweating.” Grace touched a bead of sweat on the strong face.
Dana sat up and hunched forward, pulling off her sweatshirt. Grace held her T-shirt for her when it began to come off with the other garment. Then Dana reached under the covers and removed her jeans. She leaned forward and hung them on a hook on the wall. The stretching made her shoulder cramp, and she shrank in pain.
Grace was at her side immediately and began to work on her shoulders. “Hold on, I got it,” Grace said as she slid her practiced hands onto the muscle and began to knead and smooth it. “I should have realized you were still hurting. Roll onto your stomach. I’ll be right back.” She scampered off the bed and rummaged through her travel bag. She climbed back onto the bed with a tube of white gel in her hand. Then she slipped Dana’s shirt up to her shoulders. Taking some gel in her hands, she began to rub it into the muscular, wide shoulders.
“What is that?”
“Menthol and aloe.”
“It feels great,” Dana mumbled. The hands felt good too.
“Can you take this off for me?” Grace asked, tugging gently at the shirt.
Dana paused and then lifted the rolled-up fabric over her head and held it in her hand as she lay back down on her belly. Grace kneaded her neck and upper arms, then moved back down to the lats and the traps. After a few more minutes of strokes and caresses, Dana was snoring lightly. Grace sat back on her heels, amazed, and with a sense of accomplishment warming her from the inside out.
Dana awoke the next morning to Rip’s confused barks. The sun was filtering in the east-side windows. She was shocked to find her face nestled in the soft blond hair of her companion, shoulders touching, a hand–her hand–lying across a firm belly not her own. Grace was on her back facing away, snoring loudly. She pushed herself up, lifting the covers off their bodies, and peered down at the beautiful doctor for a few seconds. She was wearing only a white shirt and bikini underwear, her shirt pushed up slightly, revealing a lined abdomen. Dana wondered if she had done that in her sleep and looked at her hand. Then she let her eyes roam down to the muscular legs, and then back up the length of the finely-toned body to admire the peaceful face. Of course, by that time she was caught by half-lidded hazel eyes staring back at her. A golden eyebrow shot up under messed bangs.
“I’d better go see what’s wrong with the dog.”
Grace smiled and watched her retreat into the main cabin, clumsily pulling on her jeans and sweatshirt. She returned within a few minutes, her hair still messy and a sleepy look on her face. “We need to take her to shore and give her a chance to run that stuff out of her system. We could grab breakfast while we’re there if you want.”
“I want,” Grace said, crunching herself to a sitting position. The covers slipped down her body, and Dana found herself staring at the nipples that were peeking through the thin shirt. “How do you feel this morning?”
Grace pulled the covers off her legs and slid forward, dangling her bare legs over the edge of the berth. “Excuse me,” she said as she brushed past the frozen captain, heading for the loo.
By midday they were navigating the reefs off New Cape Cod, a sand bar washed by the big wave twenty miles northeast from its original position. They were anchoring just north of New Provincetown when Grace was reminded by her stomach that she had not eaten since the morning meal in Mystic. She was reading the “New Haven Register” that they had picked up at breakfast while Dana was going on about the radar navigation system she had on board and why it was so important after the big wave. With its force, the wave had redistributed several of the reef systems as well as many land masses along the eastern shoreline, making many of the oceanic survey maps of the late ’90s useless for navigation.
“What’s for dinner tonight?” Grace interrupted.
A questioning look.
“It’s lamb burgers in pita with yogurt sauce. It’s kind of Greek.”
“Will I like it?”
“From what I’ve seen, you’ll eat anything that hasn’t been flying or mooing within the previous two hours. And this sheep ain’t been bleating for at least a couple of days. But you won’t know if you don’t try.”
That was going to come back at her, Grace thought deviously.
“Okay, how was it?”
“Delicious. You’re a great cook.”
Dana smiled with pride. She had learned to cook from her father. Making dinner and eating it had been the only time, besides summers on the boat, that they spent together.
“I’m beginning to enjoy many Greek things.” She rubbed her belly. “Let me do the dishes tonight,” she offered, grabbing the plates from Dana and carrying them to the galley sink. Dana poured herself and Grace more red wine, leaving Grace’s drink next to her on the counter and carrying hers topside so she could sit under the stars.
Rip crawled up beside her on the bench and laid her chin on her lap.
“Still don’t feel all there, do you, girl?” Dana remarked as she stroked the hound’s smooth head. They sat like that for some time before Grace appeared. Unwilling to separate the two sailing mates, she sat down across from them. Dana thought she looked really cute in her sweater, the hem dangling almost to her knees and the sleeves covering her hands.
“So, what stories are you going to share tonight?”
Dana tried to stifle a yawn. The sun and cold air had worn her out, and she was tired. The alcohol only helped her relax. She wanted to relax for another reason as well. After watching her friend all day, she had made up her mind that if something was going to happen, it would happen tonight. She could not ignore the way her heartbeat or her breathing quickened when she watched the blonde, and her thoughts were going way beyond platonic, they were prurient. “Any genre in particular?”
“Tell me another story about the Greek gods. Zeus seems like the nicest one, always looking out for maidens in the forest and then tossing them into the stratosphere.”
“You think Zeus was nice?”
Grace nodded. “So far.”
“Have you ever read the poem ‘Leda and the Swan,’ by Yeats?”
“My brother was the English major.”
“I’m no English major, but I had a lot of time to read, and whenever I found something I could relate to, I clung to it. Anyway, Leda was a beautiful maiden whom Zeus visited as a swan. The result of their encounter was the birth of Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra, who became the wife of Agamemnon. And Yeats saw the visit by Zeus as an annunciation to mark the beginning of Greek civilization.”
“Can you remember any of it?”
“Grace, I can’t….”
Grace sighed her disappointment.
“Okay.” It was too hard to resist making her smile.
“A sudden blow, the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.
How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?
A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?”
“He raped her.”
“What kind of poem is that?”
“On one level it’s about a rape, but on another it’s about annunciation, Grace. Yeats was a visionist, and he believed that history came in cycles. Evil, Innocence, Reason, Irrationality, Apathy, Morality: their prevalence in society is constantly changing as each year passes. The Greco-Roman time was a period of mathematical morality to him, and the coming of Christ was the end of that cycle. He was afraid we were approaching the end of the next cycle, and he thought the new cycle was going to be evil and dark. It was going to be forceful and not necessarily a pleasant transition.”
“Maybe he knew the big wave was coming.”
“Nah, but the Native Americans did.”
“Let’s go to bed.”
Dana froze at the abrupt change of subject. She was not ready.
“Come now,” Grace said, extending her soft hand. “I’m tired, drunk, and cold.” Dana took the hand, noticing the warmth and strength. This time she was dragged down the hole into the forward cabin. With a small stroke with her thumb along the back of her hand, Grace let go and began to remove her clothes as she walked. First her sweater, then her jeans, off came her socks, and then her shirt. Looking over her shoulder, she tossed the shirt at the stunned dark-haired woman. “Let’s see if I like something else that’s kind of Greek.”
Dana’s feet moved forward of their own accord, her body completely disconnected from her mind. Her mind feared memories, but her body had none and was drawn by chemicals, incredible beauty, and aching desire.
Grace sat on the edge of the bed facing her. “Take your clothes off.”
Dana pulled her sweatshirt over her head while Grace began to remove her jeans for her. Small hands unsnapped and unzipped more quickly than she could have herself, then pushed the denim over her hips and down her strong thighs, letting them fall to her ankles. Those same hands trailed a path down and then up the bronze skin. Fingers traced a large “V” scar on her right thigh.
“Is this where the shark got you?” she asked, looking up into sky-blue eyes. Dana placed her hand on the probing one on her leg.
“Grace, I’ve never done this.”
“Are we moving too fast?” she asked softly, hoping to the heavens the answer was no. She could feel the body begin to tremble and entwined their fingers together. Scooting back on the back, she pulled Dana closer. “We go as slow as you want,” she whispered as Dana’s body settled on top of hers and their faces were inches apart. Their warm breath intermingled, and Grace slid her hands down to Doc’s hips, pulling her more squarely on top of her. “I just want to feel you against me.”
Dana closed her eyes at the sensation of the soft skin of Grace’s thighs sliding between her own. Inquisitive hands slid under Dana’s shirt along her back. Dana was holding herself up on her elbows, enthralled by the sensual pleasure.
A formerly six-toed foot began to caress the back of her calf, also causing movement against another, more sensitive part of her body. Soft fingers ran along her jaw and then gently cupped her cheek. Dana opened her eyes and stared at the lips below her that were saying something.
“Dana,” Grace chuckled. “Are you ever going to kiss me?”
Doc was feeling dizzy with arousal and sensation, the cabin was warmer than she remembered it being this time of year at this latitude, and every cell in her body was screaming, “Oh, yeah!” All except for the smooth muscle lining her stomach.
“I’m gonna throw up.” She suddenly jumped off the bed and ran for the deck. Leaning over the edge, she lost her dinner and most of the wine she had consumed.
“Are you seasick?” Grace asked hopefully. She was dressed in her jeans and shirt. She let a hand caress the sweating, tense back. Instead of being soothing, it caused the bent-over woman to heave violently.
Doc shook as a chill worked its way down her body. She spun around slowly and sat on the bench of the cockpit, her head in her hands.
Grace was hurt and disappointed and was undergoing a serious ego check, but she managed to put her own feelings aside. “Do you want to talk about it?”
A shake of the head. “No.”
Grace sat for a moment, reveling in the dejection, then got up to go to bed.
She turned around and sat back down.
“I have more bad memories than good, and sometimes they catch up with me at very inopportune times.”
Grace nodded, still feeling a sob in her throat.
“Sometimes people….” She stopped, unsure of how to proceed. “I was…I mean in York, I was sometimes, many times…what I’m trying to say is, I have been with women before–I just wasn’t willing.”
“You were raped.”
“Yeah,” quietly, with a shame that should not have been.
“How often?” she asked softly.
“I lost count after the first year. As I grew older I was able to fight them off, most of the time, but sometimes there were too many or I was too weak.”
“It’s not your fault that they did that to you.” She stroked the dark head.
“I just wanted you to know. It isn’t you–it’s my problem.”
A sad smile. She leaned forward, giving Dana a light kiss on the forehead. “Do you want me to sleep in the other cabin?”
“Good.” This time when Grace took hold of her hand and led her down to the cabin, there was no sexual intention or seduction. Dana stopped to brush her teeth and wash her face, then climbed into bed next to the sweet doctor. Grace tucked the covers in around them and lay back, wanting desperately to hold her companion but not sure if she would be allowed to. Neither slept very well, and even if the storm had not blown in and gently drummed the hull with rain and swayed the ship forth and back endlessly, Dana would have likely been topside by three a.m. anyway. She pulled up anchor and headed up the coast in the dark and drizzle, urged on by the need to leave that place behind her.
Grace lingered in bed, catching a few naps until sunrise. When she finally came on deck, Dana had sailed out of the storm into the choppy waters and dry skies of the Maine coastal shelf. Her ebony head was soaked, and she was shucking her yellow slicker when the blonde surfaced.
“Morning,” Grace said quietly.
“Nope. I’ve been up for quite some time. We’re in Maine waters now.”
A nod. “Look, Dana, I feel really bad about coming on so strong last night.”
Dana smiled crookedly. “Don’t. I’m sorry I couldn’t respond properly.” She looked Grace squarely in the eyes. “I really wanted to.”
Grace sighed in relief. “What are the plans today?”
“Today I have to navigate us through a six-mile reef channel, after I make us some breakfast. Here, take the helm.” Grace slid into position, and Dana stepped backwards. As Grace took the large wheel Dana slid her hands around her slim waist and sat down on the bench behind them, pulling Grace onto her lap.
Grace turned around to face her.
Dana placed a hand on the warm, soft skin of an ivory cheek. The two moved together slowly, both overcoming fears, one afraid of rejection, the other afraid to touch. Their top lips met first and brushed each other tentatively, tenderly. Dana reached up further with her mouth so that the bottom lips could join as well. She was electrified by the softness of the mouth and the minty taste of a morning brushing still on the tongue that had insisted on entering her mouth. Grace had had every intention of taking any more sexual activity with the gorgeous sailor to a remedial level, but the tongue thing sort of slipped in on its own. She slowly drew away when she realized what she had done and also because of the fact that Dana’s tongue had retreated and was dancing around hers timidly.
She leaned back to inspect any damage in the form of pallor and nausea and was surprised to see that Dana’s eyes were just beginning to open. She leaned her forehead against Dana’s. “Have you ever kissed before?”
“Yeah, a kid named Booger, in the sixth grade. Was I that bad?”
Grace smiled. “Not bad…his name was Booger?”
Dana’s eyes darted around nervously and then found something of interest on the floor. Grace twisted around to see what she was looking at but found nothing. Got to be careful with what I say to her, she thought, realizing her mistake. She wondered how someone with such a violent past could be so innocent. “You haven’t kissed anyone since before you were a teenager?”
“I’m going to make breakfast,” Dana said, her mood having changed. Rejection of any sort made her react in the easiest way, with anger. But she did not want to show Grace that side, had promised herself she would not, so instead she retreated. Next time she would do better, would learn how to kiss better, somehow. She forced Grace to stand by doing so herself. “Try not to hit anything,” she said before disappearing below.
Dana flipped pancakes with one hand and signed on to Rachel’s server via her satellite link to run a series of searches. Her primary objective was to find information on genetic duplication techniques and to determine which establishments were conducting research into cloning, specifically human. She placed the growing stack of flap jacks in the warm oven and refined her search. Cloning had become a huge business, and she had received way too many hits on her initial search. She cracked several eggs, added cheese and jalapeno peppers, and began to stir while verbally commanding the computer.
She refined her search to universities and companies that conducted the culturing and creation of human tissues. With that search she came up with twenty-two thousand hits. She saved the search and shut down.
She set the table, poured a few glasses of OJ, and returned topside to set the ship on the self-navigation system. “Come on, Doctor, it’s chow time.”
“I thought you’d forgotten about me,” the blonde said as she entered the galley. When she saw the stack of food on the table, she smacked her hands together appreciatively. “Wow! I could kiss you for this.”
Dana brought her a mug of coffee and slid into her seat without acknowledging the comment. Oh, boy, Grace thought, realizing that this might be a difficult day, at best.
Dana began the conversation herself. “Have you ever heard of taking a genetic map and duplicating it?”
“It’s called cloning, Dana, and they’ve been doing it for two decades now.” She shoved a large mouthful of buttered, syrupy cake into her mouth.
“No, I mean from a blueprint, not actual cells.”
Grace swallowed. “You mean like from your blueprint.”
“You mean like growing skin to match your genetic makeup and then planting it under a woman’s fingernails.”
Grace took a sip of juice. “They would have to have a cell to begin with. Even if it wasn’t yours, it would have to be a like cell. Otherwise, they would have to resculpture all of your nucleotides, or most of them, and that would be an incredible chore. Even if they could change the nucleotides and the orders, with the machinery they have now it would destroy the cell. Supercomputers have come a long way, but…a nano manipulator would be the only way to make changes on that level without killing the organism.”
Dana felt defeated. “Nano tech is not there yet.”
“It’s more likely that they have some of your blood or tissue and cloned it. I assume they took blood every so often and you had physicals in prison.”
“The real question is, who would do this to you?”
“I have a few enemies.” And that was the end of the conversation.
As soon as they had made it through the reef channel, Dana found a calm inlet into the mainland and anchored. Then she went below deck, where Grace was reading a pocket version of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”
“I’m going to take a nap. Wake me up in a few hours, and I’ll make dinner,” she said a little gruffly.
Dana crawled into bed facing the wall. A few minutes later she was joined by Grace.
“Dana,” Grace said softly, “I’m sorry for hurting your feelings earlier.”
“I told you, I don’t have feelings.”
“Yes, you do.” A soft hand slid across Dana’s belly. Breath warmed her ear. “Turn over,” she commanded softly.
“No,” Dana answered.
Grace gently prodded her waist and forced her onto her back. She rose up over the long, brooding form and raised her hand to turn the averted face toward her. Dana felt warm from the hand touching her body and the intensity in the green eyes drawing her out.
“You’re way out of my league, you know?”
“Do you know what women do together?”
“Yes. But knowing doesn’t make me any good at it.” A foreign finger traced her lower lip while she spoke.
“It’s not something I’m worried about,” Grace whispered as she leaned in and captured the soft lips with hers. Boy, she had wanted to do that again all day. She let her tongue run across the lips and opened her mouth slightly. Dana parted hers as well, and tentatively her tongue came out to meet Grace. A few touches and they retreated to Grace’s mouth to slide against each other. Legs began to do the same. Grace was sucking on Dana’s tongue when she felt the strong hands brush against her nipples through her shirt. Okay, Dana, you’re doing great, she thought.
Despite the heat between her legs and the urge to touch more of Grace’s body, the nausea quickly arose again into Dana’s throat. She pushed Grace away abruptly and sprang to her feet.
Grace fell back on the cushions and blew out her frustrations. A few minutes later Dana returned as white as a sail, her face wet from a cold sweat. She lay down on the mattress, exhausted.
A soft hand took hers and held it. “Go to sleep, Dana,” Grace said softly.
Grace spent the evening reading and did not bother to wake Dana, eventually crawling in bed next to her until the next morning.
Dana spent the following morning searching the various databases of contractors and government facilities specializing in biological cloning techniques that she had found the previous day in order to find a recent case trial that matched her blood type and sex. The government required all genetic manufacturing to be documented within the private companies but available for government oversight. After finding twenty thousand hits, she narrowed her search to skin cultures. She was surprised to find that nearly three-quarters of trials were skin cultures. She narrowed it down again by searching using her penitentiary identification number and her Social Security number as well. When she was finished, she had come up with two trials at two separate medical facilities, one that matched her Social Security number and one her prison identification number, both of which had been used when labeling samples of blood while she was in York. After downloading the files pertaining to the trials–she knew a little about hacking herself–she looked around to see what Grace was doing. When she discovered her sunning herself, she went back below deck and began working on her programs.
“What are you doing?” Grace asked as she came down following an urgent need to eat.
Out of habit, Dana flipped her screen closed.
Grace smiled at her friend’s sudden secretiveness. “That must be top-secret stuff you’re working on.”
“No.” She would not call it that.
“Can I see?”
Dana hesitated, then peeked at the screen to make sure the browsing application had closed. When she was assured it was safe, she handed the computer over.
Grace flipped the screen up and was not shocked to find a password-input window, on a black background.
Dana reached over and punched in her password. Grace dragged her finger across the pad until the cursor rested on the icon of a black dog. She tapped twice, and the machine barked at her, and then a user interface flashed to the screen, prompting her for another password.
“What is this?”
“It’s a program I’m writing that simulates the pathology of a dog for veterinary purposes so that they can conduct experimental clinical research electronically. Normally, research takes months or years. This can speed up the trials to within minutes, or days, based on the supercomputer speed and complexity of the experiment.”
“I have them for all sorts of animals: cats, horses. I started with rats.”
“What about humans?”
“I have one of those too.”
“I’d like to see it.”
Dana reached over and quit the dog-simulation program. She found herself dizzyingly close to Grace and leaned away to catch her breath. She hit two keys to activate the voice commands. “Open Imma.”
“Hello, Doc,” a sexy alto voice greeted as the user interface logon came on. “What would you like to do with me today?” it asked.
Dana’s face began to burn.
“What exactly does this program do for you?” Grace asked, amusement in her voice.
Dana turned her flushed face to the doctor and cleared her throat. “You can give Imma a disease that I have programmed and try different approaches to curing it. Or you can have normal pathology and simulate what might happen when you introduce certain molecular compounds, such as drugs or toxins.”
“What kinds of diseases?”
“Everything from a cold to certain cancers. I start by changing the cellular chemistry that creates the proteins and hormones, depending on the nature of the disease: mutational, bacterial, or viral. Of course, it depends on the pathology of the disease and how the chemical imbalances within the intertwined system of the body affect each other. The program monitors the bodily functions by simulating medical tests from blood pressure to lumbar taps. Want to try it?”
“New User, Imma,” Dana commanded. “New ID ‘Doctor Wilson,’ Password ‘Good Samaritan.'”
“I would have preferred ‘My Lover.'”
Dana cleared her throat and was about to speak. She then hit the toggle switch for the keyboard board. “You can change your password yourself,” she said, her lip curling up the right side of her face in a half-smile.
Grace tapped her name and password in.
“Hello, Doctor Wilson. What would you like to do with me today?”
“Jealous?” she asked Dana.
Dana shook her head, still smiling.
“Whose voice is that?”
“Some babe who read the dictionary on the Web. I downloaded her bytes and fed it into my computer. I think it gives her character.”
Grace used a series of pull-down menus to choose Imma’s age, weight, and ethnicity. Then she chose a disease and began to treat it with a series of drugs from a choice of aspirin to the latest cancer drugs, and the computer monitored her progress. She also was able to vary the dosages and the frequency.
“Can you perform surgery?”
“No, that would be a virtual program, and I don’t do virtual. I’m not really a programmer; I focus more on problem-solving. Rachel is the programming whiz.”
“But you wrote these yourself?”
“Yep. I pulled most of the medical information out of the government’s Human Body Project, and I try to update it with any new postings that they publish as to new drugs or some new cellular chemistry they discover. I think it’s as accurate as our knowledge is. But this is mainly for internal medicine.” The base program, not very slick, had originally been written for nano technological warfare, but she did not want to tell Grace about that, not yet.
Grace chose a new disease while Dana made lunch. Imma had a bad case of diabetes mellitus and had not been eating properly. She complained to Grace of headache, nausea, and stomach cramps, as if she were a real patient sitting on a gurney in the ER. After a good half-hour of trying various treatments, Imma eventually grew better.
“Med schools would eat this up.”
“Nothing replaces personal care, Grace. You should know that.”
“That’s true, but starting students in their second year with this would be great. And think of the implications in fields like pharmaceuticals and biomedical research. And if you could create one for surgery or ER Trauma, you’d be a millionaire.”
“I don’t want to be a millionaire.”
“You’re missing my point. This thing has potential. Why is it sitting on your laptop?”
Dana took the laptop from her hands and began to shut down the controls. She placed a plate with chicken and peppers in a tortilla in front of Grace. “I’m not sure the world is ready for it. And technically, I do not keep anything on my hard drive. I download all of my programs from a remote server.” She put the computer away and returned to the galley for her own plate.
“I could help you with a trauma version if you’re interested.”
Dana had not thought about working with anyone else, but the idea of spending time with this woman appealed to her immensely. She moved over to her own bench and sat down with a plate. “That’s a hands-on program, and I told you, I don’t do virtual.”
Hands-on, Grace was discovering, was very difficult for Dana to handle. “You will just have to learn something new,” she said, moving over and sitting on Dana’s lap. “Learn where to put your hands and how to touch.” She took hold of the large, tough hand and slid it up her body to gently cup her breast. She moved it around in a small circle as her nipple hardened beneath her shirt. Dana felt her own breath quickening and her throat beginning to parch. Grace leaned forward and began to softly brush the long neck with her lips, gently sucking and releasing, then moving slightly higher to repeat the action until Dana could no longer breathe enough or keep herself from moaning. Her other hand had found the other breast on its own and was circling. When Grace reached the tender parted lips, she placed a small kiss on them. “Lesson One is over,” she said, mimicking Imma’s sexy voice. She slid off Dana’s lap and sat down to consume the burrito. “After lunch I thought we could do that shopping you promised.”
“Right. Shopping,” Dana repeated, in an aroused haze.
“What’s it like out there?” Dana asked, following her up the stairs after lunch. It had begun to drizzle lightly as the storm finally found them again. “Yuk, shopping it is,” she said, grabbing her slicker and handing it to Grace to wear. “Come on, Rip, we’re going ashore.” She beckoned the dog from the stern. She then pulled on a wool sweater and placed a red wool ball cap on her dark head.
The shops of Freeport were as packed as they had been for over a century. People were always trying to get out of paying taxes, and Freeport summoned the “Live Free or Die” pilgrims in droves. The couple stayed on the main strip themselves, where they could walk through the mist from store to store. Using her credit card, Grace bought herself a few pairs of slacks and sweaters, her own slicker, and two dresses she could not live without. Then they went to the shoe store, and Dana found herself with her arms full.
“Want to eat?” Dana asked as a last resort, exhausted.
“Okay,” a perky Grace.
“Let’s take these things to the boat, and then I’ll make arrangements to take you to the best food in town.”
“Do we get to dress up?”
“It’s usually casual. But if you want to dress up, we can go for low-quality food and high price.”
“Good food,” Grace said.
Thank heaven, Dana thought.
Dana took a few minutes once they reached the boat to rest her feet. She hated shopping, which was why her clothes had not been replaced in three years. Grace had insisted on her purchasing several new pairs of jeans, a black sweater, shoes, and underwear. Dana had at least been allowed to pick out what she bought, although she had a clothing quality-assurance rep overseeing her final purchases. All had been her choice, except for a large, black leather jacket that Grace had insisted on buying for her. When she held it up to Dana’s chest, green eyes sparkled for some mysterious reason, and Grace found herself practically swooning.
“So what kind of food does this restaurant serve?” Grace asked Dana, who was lying on deck next to Rip, listening to the waves lap against the fiberglass hull. Grace was sitting Indian-style next to her, munching on pretzelsticks.
“It’s not a restaurant. It’s the home of my dad’s old business partner.”
Grace eyed her with interest.
“They owned several fishing boats together. After Dad died, he brought the boats up here and re-established himself. It was hard for him, staying in Conn after Dad died. And the fishing is better here.” She pulled the brim of her cap down further over her face.
“What happened?” Grace ventured carefully.
Dana lifted her bill up and studied her friend for a sad moment. “You read my file.”
“A file doesn’t tell the whole story–at least that’s what you told me. Was business bad?”
“No.” Dana hid beneath her hat.
“Do you know why?”
“He wasn’t happy, I guess. He didn’t talk much to me, but I figured it had to do with Ruth leaving him. He thought he had failed her and couldn’t live with it. He was a good man, Grace, and I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
Grace nodded her understanding.
Grace wore her new dress to Tony Pole’s house even though Dana had told her she could wear jeans if she wanted to. They were greeted at the door of the gray shingled cape by one of the largest men Grace had ever met. Tony was a six-foot-eight block of meat. He had a white, fluffy beard that wrapped around his jaw, no mustache, and dark-brown eyes. Dana looked like a shrimp compared to him, and Grace an ant. After the initial hugs and squeezes, Tony led them into his cedar-paneled study, decorated with scrimshaw and wooden model tall ships. He excused himself to tell his wife that the guests had arrived. Grace leisurely walked around the warm room, which had a fire burning in the stone hearth. She stopped and studied a shelf of framed pictures.
“Wow, is this hunk your dad?” Grace asked, holding up a picture of a dark-haired, blue-eyed man and a young Dana, both in yellow weather gear, standing in front of a white fishing troller. “He’s so handsome. And he looked happy.”
Dana leaned over to study the photograph in Grace’s hands. “They had just bought their second boat together.”
“How old were you?”
“Seven, eight.” Dana shrugged. “I was so proud of him.”
“You look like him.”
Dana looked at the picture for a moment, a sad smile passing over her face. “Ruth used to think so too, but then she realized he wasn’t going to be wealthy. She had always wanted that country club membership.” Dana took the picture out of Grace’s hands and replaced it on the shelf.
Tony re-entered the room, his eyes flitting on Dana, a love passing at the sight of his best friend’s daughter.
“Tony, does Fuzzy need any help in the kitchen?” Dana asked, needing to leave the room full of her father.
“You have to ask her. She doesn’t tell me that stuff.”
Dana smiled at his gruffness and left the room to find his wife, Fuzzy.
“You know, I haven’t seen her in over a year?” he said to the cute blonde admiring his scrimshaw pipes.
“She’s certainly on the go all the time.”
“How long have you known her?”
“A couple of months.”
“Well, I’m glad she’s making friends. I worry about her. She’s had a rough time of it.”
“That’s an understatement.”
Tony sat in a large leather chair and urged Grace into the one next to him facing the fire. She slid into the soft leather. “What’s your line of work, little lady?” Every lady, even Dana, was little to him.
“I’m a doctor.”
“Of that physics stuff too?”
“No, I’m a medical doctor.”
Grace smiled at the term her father used to describe the profession.
“Did you know doctors were not considered gentlemen in Colonial times but rather skilled workers like blacksmiths?”
“All it took to be a gentleman in those days, Mr. Pole, was land ownership, not skill or social relevance.”
Ooh, she’d brought a smart one. “Want a drink?”
“Absolutely. Can I ask you a question?”
“Go for it, kiddo.”
“How come you didn’t take Dana in after her father died?”
He studied her a moment as he poured her a whiskey. “Dmitri left no will, so when her mother refused to take her, she was made a ward of the court. I had a few DWIs, and my petition was turned down by the Board.”
“I’m sorry, I was…Dana doesn’t like to talk about herself.”
“It’s okay, hon.”
“How does a mother refuse to take her own daughter?”
“Ruth didn’t want anything to do with her past life. She had a new husband, two babies.”
“That’s no excuse.”
“I think it’s criminal what she did.”
They sipped their Canadian whiskey in silence and watched a log burn.
“You know, it touches me that she still comes to see me, and brings her friend. I feel blessed.”
Fuzzy set out a perfect Maine seafood dinner of lobster bisque, clam fritters, and a fillet of sole that melted on the tongue. Halfway through dinner, the front door opened and a cool breeze blew through the house.
“Ma!” a deep voice bellowed from the foyer.
Dana’s eyes twinkled.
“In here, baby!” Fuzzy yelled.
Loud footfalls echoed through the hallway headed toward the dining room. Then a mountain in the form of a man filled the doorway.
“Booger!” Dana exclaimed and walked over, wrapping her arms around the thick torso. He squeezed her back, lifting her off her feet, his long, brown hair falling into his face.
“Hey, Shrimp. Long time.” He finally put her down. “Oooh, I’m in time for dinner.”
Dana patted his stomach. “Still don’t miss a meal, I see.”
Grace was shocked at his All-American good looks and easy demeanor. He didn’t look like a “Booger.”
“Booger, this is Grace,” Dana said, introducing her to the man. He reached his huge hand out and Grace hesitated. With a name like Booger, one could not help wondering where his hand had been. Eventually she shook it, and they settled down to eat.
Booger and Tony spent the hour talking to Dana about the past season’s fishing and the acquisition of another boat but the lack of an adequate captain. Grace thought it was a job proposal to Dana, but Dana only smiled and listened intently.
Fuzzy was kept busy refilling their plates and cracking up the group with one-liners, and eventually she was urged by Dana and Booger into reciting dirty limericks. Grace never knew so many words rhymed with “bucket.”
“I had the most wonderful evening,” Grace said as they climbed into the cockpit from the dinghy. “Great food, great company, and I even got a little insight into your childhood shenanigans. And I met Booger.”
Dana followed the chatty woman below deck, glad that she had enjoyed herself but a little hesitant about having opened up, even to Grace. Doing this, bringing her on a cruise, falling in love with her went against everything she had promised herself she would never do.
“Do you know what would make this day even better?”
“Let me guess,” Dana said with a mischievous half-grin. She put a pot of water on the stove to boil.
“It’s not tea, Dana.”
“I don’t want to ruin your perfect night, “Dana said seriously.
“You mean by puking when I touch you?”
“Yeah,” Dana said, with a little laugh over how this woman had such a way with cutting through the niceties.
“I have a theory about that,” she said.
The water was boiling, and Dana placed tea bags into mugs and poured hot water over them. She handed a mug to Grace. “You have a theory about my impromptu emesis?”
“But as a good scientist, I need to see if I can disprove it, if you’re a willing test subject.”
Dana warily looked at her over her mug. “What is this theory?”
Grace carried her mug into the forward cabin. “I can’t tell you without possibly skewing the results. Come find out,” she said, taking off her coat and clothes until she was sitting on the bed in her brassiere and underwear. Dana closed the companionway, cracked the windows, and climbed on the bed next to her, her eyebrow stuck in her bangs.
Grace took her mug from her and placed it on the shelf next to her own. Dana pulled off her sweater and jeans until she was in her white cotton T-shirt and underwear as well. Grace surveyed the cut of muscle and legs for several seconds, then lay back on the bed. “Tell me, Dana.” Her voice was deeper and husky, causing the strangest sensation in Dana’s chest. “What would you like to do?”
Dana leaned on her side, propping herself up on her elbow, and thought really hard about how to answer that question. Her eyes roamed the attractive body lying next to her.
“Would you like to touch me?”
“So why don’t you?”
“Touch me,” she commanded in a whisper, taking the larger, coarser hand and placing it on her naked side. Dana let her hand wander over the body, checking the round, fair face periodically for signs of distaste, but she saw only enjoyment, and that encouraged her. She moved to a kneeling position and allowed both hands to explore the legs and belly and shoulders beneath her. When Grace took her hand and ran it over her breast, Dana began to hyperventilate. Grace let go of her hand and unlatched her bra so that she could remove it. She placed Dana’s hand on her bare breast again and moved it so that it rubbed her hardening nipple. “Would you like to kiss it?”
“Don’t be shy, Dana. I want you to.”
Tentatively, Dana leaned forward, placing her mouth on the skin.
“Use your tongue–it feels good when you do,” Grace kibitzed. Blue eyes watched the reaction of the face as she used her tongue on the hard nipple. The groan urged her onward. She moved over to the other breast and performed a repetition of the previous act, getting similar results. O-da-lally, she thought to herself. Grace had taken hold of her hand and led it down her belly to a more sensitive area, about the size of a quarter. Dana slid her fingers over the soft, damp material of Grace’s underwear. It was only a matter of time before her hand was inside the material, stroking her. She formulated through a posteriori analysis that certain areas elicited different responses, as did different pressures and directions of movement. When she began to test the dynamic relationship between the oral effects on her breast with the digital impetus on her groin, she was astounded by the assortment of groans, moans, jerks, and grinds she produced, not to mention wetness. Oh, yes, she thought, as she sucked hard on a nipple and slid a finger deep into Grace. She had a sense as to what the petting was doing to the woman. As the intensity grew for Grace, Dana watched in wonder. When she felt the muscles grab her fingers and saw Grace stiffen in spasms of release, she was a little concerned and withdrew her hand and released the breast.
“Are you okay, Grace?” she asked the sweating woman.
Grace’s arm was over her eyes, and she began to laugh. “Very okay,” she answered breathlessly.
“It sounded like it hurt.”
Grace lifted her arm and looked at the woman sitting up watching her with such concern. “It feels really, really good, Dana. Haven’t you ever had one?”
“You mean climbing to the top of a cliff and then having someone push you over the edge?”
“Never mind, just the way I’ve seen it described. I figured it hurts when you land. But, no, I have never had that pleasure. I’ve been kind of turned off by those kinds of thoughts.”
“You aren’t now?”
“Mmmmmmmmm,” Dana mumbled, lying down next to the naked woman, her underwear pushed down around her ankles when the touching became intense.
“You have a gentle touch,” the doctor said, running a finger up her arm.
“I think it’s psychopathic to push someone off a cliff.”
“Different strokes for different folks.”
“You mean not everyone likes it around and around?”
Grace began to laugh and leaned over and softly kissed the full red lips.
“So, what was your theory?” Dana asked, slipping her legs under the covers.
Grace followed her example, the air in the cabin beginning to chill. “My theory? Yes, my theory. You don’t like to be dominated physically. It turns you off.”
Dana slid closer and wrapped a long arm around her new lover, kissing her shoulder and nestling into the crook of her neck. “Do you want to push me over the edge, Grace?” she mumbled into the silky, herbal-smelling hair.
“It has crossed my mind, a few hundred times,” Grace said, running her fingers up the strong forearm that held her.
“I’m not ready.”
“I know,” was the quiet reply.
Part Six – Einstein never did understand how a sailboat sailed into the wind.
On Sunday evening, when the skyline was exploding with the pinks and purples of an autumn sunset, they sailed into the Milford marina. Dana and Grace used the three days of the return trip becoming closer friends. They both enjoyed the cold evenings, especially Dana, who learned all of the intimate things Grace would allow her to do to her body. Grace made headway as well, managing to get to second base, only to be thrown out whenever she tried to steal third or led off the bag too far. And when they were not between the sheets fooling around, they were setting up a plan to investigate whoever was framing Dana for the waitress’ murder.
“So,” Grace said when the boat was docked and her belongings and dirty clothes had been packed in her car. “Where are you heading off to now?”
“I’m going to get a room and take a long, hot shower,” Dana said, flinging her small duffel over her shoulder.”
“You don’t want to come home with me?”
“I figured you wanted to settle in and get ready for work in the morning.”
“No. You figured wrong, smartypants.”
“I’m certainly glad you’re here to set me straight.”
Grace smiled. “Get in the Jeep,” she commanded, and Dana practically ran to get into the vehicle. The fact was that she had been dreading the separation. She knew it was inevitable, but as a well-practiced procrastinator, she felt that later was always better than sooner.
Dana hopped into the shower while Grace checked her phone messages and watered her plants. The digital memory of the recorder was nearly full with sixty-eight messages, most of which were from her sister and mother, and the news they brought was dreadful. By the fifth message, her sister finally revealed that their father had had a heart attack and asked her to call as soon as she received the message. Joy must have tried her at work as well, and she kicked herself for not calling from the sea at some point.
She put the replay on hold and phoned Joy’s house nine hundred miles away in Kentucky. It rang several times and was picked up by the answering machine. Since it was Sunday, they were likely at a church dinner. Grace left a brief message for Joy to call her and then tried her mother’s house.
“Wilsons’,” the soft Southern drawl of Faith Wilson came across the line.
“Mom, it’s Grace,” she said, her throat tight from holding back tears. “I just got in. How’s Daddy?”
“He’s bad, Gracie. We had to take him to the city. He wants you to come home as soon as possible.”
Tears began to flow down her cheeks, and she sniffled. “I’ll leave right away.” She imagined her father on life-support waiting for her to arrive so that they could say good-bye to each other. When Grace was growing up, he never left for the office without kissing his daughters goodbye, and she knew he would never leave life without that either.
Nano Book 2 Equilibrium – Moment of Force