The Burning Tree
by Karen Malevich
Logan Kendrick ran as if her life depended on it.
If not her life, then perhaps her sanity.
Two kilometers of a gentle warm-up jog had got her to the point of serious effort without the risk of injury. The long, flat beach at Taratoa presented just enough of a challenge to keep her mentally alert. The driftwood, piles of shells and the odd barking dog determined to join her sprint, reminded her of a beginner’s level on a video game.
The clean air filled her lungs as her intake increased to match her exertion. As Logan got comfortable at this speed, she kicked it up a gear, her long black hair floating out behind her. The trouble with a comfort zone was that it allowed you space to think. And thinking was not what she wanted. She wanted not thinking. Thinking and feeling had got her into this predicament.
Through the small stream that deterred most casual walkers, she dropped her pace to a jog again to let her breathing calm down. Concentrating on her breathing and the burn in her leg muscles, she slowed to a walk and then to a stop.
As she started a full set of stretches, she looked out to sea, past the looming bulk of Kapiti Island. No ships, no boats, no swimmers. This western coastline always seemed deserted – the main shipping routes traveled up the east side of the long, narrow island, slightly sheltered from the dominant westerlies and the stormy southerlies. That other coast also had more people.
Looking north, Logan strained to see past the sparkle reflected off the water, to the volcanoes she knew were there. The pile that was Mt. Ruapehu and, further west, the perfect cone that was Mt. Taranaki. But the haze that had covered the North Island for the last year thwarted her again. For the three months she had been sprinting up and down the beach, she had not seen the mountains clearly once.
The stretches complete, the tall woman started north again, running at a steady pace. She would go about another two kilometers until the path that took her inland past the hydroponics glasshouses and back towards the main settlement and her car.
The inland path was not marked at all, and on her early runs she had missed it and just run back down the beach. But now she enjoyed the variety of the run, the resistance of the sand, the up and down of the sand dunes, the verdant green of the inland pathway back to the car. More to look at and concentrate on. Mindless running just freed up her brain to think.
As she turned off the beach on to the inland path, she noticed two things. The first was a new chain link fence. A really serious fence. This fence said ‘keep to your own damn side’. Well, well. Maybe someone was actually making money out of hydroponics and was looking to protect their investment.
The second thing was that she had company. For the first time in three months she was not the only person running on the path. A couple of runners were ahead of her, also running southwards. They were really sprinting. The woman was in front but her companion was catching up. Damn, he was chasing her! And catching her. As Logan rounded a corner underneath a macrocarpa tree, she saw the man leap forward and tackle the woman to the ground. She screamed and struggled, desperately trying to scrabble away. As he drew his fist back to strike her, Logan barreled into his kneeling form, knocking him off the prone figure.
The man flew forward, landing face down in the dirt. They scrambled to their feet at the same time. He charged her, his face red with exertion and fury. Logan’s defensive stance bore the brunt of his attack. Arms swinging wildly, the man forced her back down the path.
As she fended him off, Logan was puzzled. He wasn’t saying anything. Not shouts or curses. He was clearly a professional something – perhaps a security guard? Finally an opening presented itself and she went on the offensive. Planting her foot, she caught him with a thrusting kick to the midriff that winded him and knocked him to the ground.
Having taken care of the thug for the time being, she caught her breath, panting from the unexpected effort. The adrenaline still racing through her, Logan turned to look for the woman. She was still lying where she had been pushed. She was crying and had her arms clasped across her chest, holding her left shoulder.
Logan knelt beside her. “Are you all right?” she asked. The woman looked up through long blondish hair.
“Where’s that bastard?” she gasped. “I’ve got to get out of here!”
“Is it your shoulder? Can you get up?”
The woman climbed to her knees, then, levering herself on Logan’s shoulder, to her feet. She staggered off down the path.
“Hey! Wait up! What’s hap— oooof!”
The question was left unfinished as she was rushed from behind and sent sprawling. A swift kick in her side had her gasping.
She looked up at the triumphant man, stunned and waiting for the next blow.
But a man beaten by a woman sometimes feels the need to dispense a little extra punishment. The further the foot goes back, the more damaging the kick. Unfortunately it also leaves more time for recovery, evasion or counterattack.
As he drew his foot back, Logan swept her leg around his other ankle, dumping him to the ground again. This time she did not hesitate. She hauled herself up on one knee as he groggily shook his head and struck his forehead with the heel of her palm.
He was out for the count.
Logan checked his pulse quickly. He was still alive. She rolled him on to his back and surveyed his uniform. The badge sewn on said KCS. The military style pants and shirt and heavy army boots looked the business. But what business? KCS possibly stood for something like Kapiti Coast Security. It was not a firm she knew, and she had lived on the Kapiti Coast as a child and more recently, for the past few months. His pockets were empty except for a set of keys and a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. She pocketed the keys but left the cigarettes. One habit at a time was bad enough.
“They’ll kill you if you let them, mate,” she muttered. She rolled him on to his front and put him in the recovery position. “No point dying if you’re going to puke.”
Turning to look down the path, she could not see the blonde woman anywhere. Swearing under her breath, she started off at a jog.
After five hundred meters or so, she caught up with her. The woman was walking quickly, still clutching her shoulder. Logan drew up alongside her. As the blonde woman turned around in alarm and flinched away, Logan jerked back, her hands raised calmingly.
“Are you okay?” she repeated her question. The woman glanced apprehensively back up the path over Logan’s shoulder.
“Not conscious and will have a headache when he comes around,” answered Logan.
“Thank god,” the woman said. “That prick would have beaten me up. So much for public relations.”
Despite her little voice saying ‘Don’t get interested, Logan, that’s real trouble’, Logan was interested.
“Whose public relations?” she asked.
The woman suddenly turned to her. “Look,” she said, “my bike is back on the dunes, but I don’t want to go and get it. I’m not sure if he was on a regular patrol. What if he has buddies who will be looking for him and me by now? Can you give me a lift into town, or to a phone at least?”
“No worries,” said Logan. “My car is in the carpark.”
As they walked towards the carpark, Logan found herself wondering whether she should introduce herself. She had been getting into the habit of being a recluse. No names, just cash at the supermarket and gas station. But after three months of near silence she felt the urge to talk and listen. To talk about something other than herself. She had talked so much to her counselor about herself that even she was tired of it.
“I’m Logan —,” she stopped, then made herself go on. “Logan Kendrick.”
The woman shot her a sharp glance. Logan caught the look and regretted not having lied.
“And you are?”
It looked for a moment that she was only going to give a first name. But no.
“Well, Frith Buchanan, you were getting yourself into a bit of trouble back there.”
They came into the carpark and Logan led the way over to her car. As Logan fished in her pants for the key, Frith looked carefully inside the beat up yellow Mazda. She didn’t see a car-phone, but that was no surprise considering the state of the twenty year-old rusty heap.
“Yes, it was a bit dicey,” she replied. “Thanks for coming along and being my white knight. But I think I need to use a phone to continue my rescue in progress.”
They climbed into the car. As they buckled up, Logan took a better look at Frith.
Long blonde hair with just a hint of red. Pert nose. Greeny-blue eyes. Smooth skin, a few soft freckles. ‘Definitely cute, but is she family? Maybe. Definitely a maybe.’
“Have you got a cellphone?” asked Frith.
“Not in this piece of fine automotive engineering,” replied Logan. “But my house isn’t far… unless you want me to drop you in the township?”
“Your house would be fine. There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.”
As the tall woman drove the little car along the road leading away from the beach, Frith took the opportunity to assess her new companion.
So this was the infamous Logan Kendrick. Close-up, she hadn’t expected her to be quite so … tall. The photos that had accompanied her articles in the New Business Age paper were in black and white and quite tiny. The television cameras had loved her in colour, but the few times she had featured, they had not shown more than her head and shoulders. She had seen her only once in person.
Tall, yes. And beautiful too. All New Zealand knew that, as did half the world. Logan Kendrick had achieved fame (or notoriety) across the Western World for her investigative series outlining corruption in an international chain of Christian charities. Money donated by little old ladies in Auckland, Manchester and Cleveland had ended up in a failed speculative share deal, not in the food bowls of poor villagers in unspecified third world countries. The suicide of the principal fraudster, a high profile televangelist, and his murder of his family had made the news all over the world.
It had been the pinnacle of a glistening career in exposing the tawdry side of public do-gooders. Her paper, the New Business Age, and its right-of-Genghis-Khan global owner, YJ Holdings, had sold a lot of copies and a lot of advertising space on the basis of Logan’s skill in ripping some poor bastard’s life apart.
And now she was being driven by this woman, of all people, along the back roads of a small North Island town.
Logan, meanwhile, was busy trying to mentally place Frith. Wellington, definitely. Greenpeace? The New Business Age had once targeted Greenpeace for accepting kickbacks. After coming out of a meeting with the Director, she had glanced around the Greenpeace office, memorising faces for future reference. Frith had perhaps been one of them. Darryl Booth, the weaselly Director, had been as white as a sheet by the time she left.
His subsequent resignation, nervous breakdown and committal to a psychiatric facility had stymied the Fraud Squad’s prosecution attempt.
They had pulled up into the foothills near the beach, up a long driveway to a modest beach house, perched on a steep slope, surrounded by pine trees and some native bush. Logan parked the car under the overhanging deck. As the engine noise died away and the car doors were firmly shut, Frith breathed deeply. The silence was lovely. Only the sounds of magpies, calling out to dissuade potential competitors for nesting sites, were audible. The sea was too distant now to be heard.
She winced as she jarred her shoulder getting out of the car.
The taller woman slung a jersey over her shoulders. “So, the phone?” she asked.
“Right,” said Frith. The only words exchanged since the beach carpark.
Logan led the way up the steps into the rear of the house. Inside the house Frith looked around in unabashed curiosity. She was sure Logan Kendrick would have been able to afford something more upmarket. This house seemed typical of beach houses built in the sixties. And not redecorated since then. A kitchen, which had patterned Formica benches and yellow wooden cupboards, went through to a livingroom that looked out over a view of the coastline and out to the island.
Logan handed her a phone. She took hold of it with her left hand, forgetting her injury. It reasserted itself with of flash of pain and she dropped the phone with a clang.
The dark haired woman knelt quickly to pick it up.
“Would you like…. a cup of tea?” she asked. Suddenly a cup of hot, sweet, milky tea was exactly what Frith craved.
“Yes, thank you.”
“Sit down, then, before you fall down.”
Frith suddenly felt rather unsteady and a bit stupid. God, who was she going to call? Whose phone number did she have? She found herself unexpectedly sitting down on the tatty sofa. Logan’s arm was around her waist, helping her down.
“Leave that – put your head between your legs for a minute, while I make some tea.”
“Right,” she mumbled, as she leaned forward, holding her throbbing head in her hands.
Shock. A delayed reaction to the chase and fight on the beach. She felt again the man’s bulk crash into her and saw the grassy path rise up to strike her in the head. No wonder she had said barely more than two words to her rescuer.
As she sat remembering the assault, her stomach churned and she realised she was going to throw up. Frith staggered up and across the room to the glass doors that opened on to the deck. As she reached the railing, she vomited over the edge. Feeling like death, she hung on grimly to the top rail.
Logan heard the glass door open and came out of the kitchen just in time to see the small woman, Frith, throw up off the edge of her deck.
‘I hope the Mazda isn’t right underneath,’ she thought.
Some ten minutes later, Frith and Logan sat down at the battered wooden dining table. The tea was strong and hot. The familiar act of stirring and sipping tea calmed Frith’s head and stomach.
Logan looked at her curiously.
“So, Frith,” she began, “What is a Greenpeace member doing getting beaten up on Taratoa Beach?”
Frith was impressed. Those famed journalistic talents weren’t just a PR beat-up.
Where to start?
“I’m not exactly working for Greenpeace today,” she said.
Logan’s eyebrow quirked, inviting more.
“That guy scared me today. I’m sorry I ran off and left you to him.”
“Not half as sorry as he is,” Logan smirked in reply.
Frith smiled back, uncertainly. With a deep breath, she continued.
“I think I need to consult you professionally. Are you… umm… available for a … consultation today?”
The other eyebrow joined its mate under dark bangs. She composed her face as she thought about it. Curious – well she was always curious. Interested in the young woman? Oh yes. Maybe this would be a pleasant diversion from the exile to which she had sentenced herself.
“Okay,” she said, cautiously. “Tell me some more.”
She could see the blond woman struggle for where to start. To make the conversation easier, she asked, “Tell me something about yourself first. I only know your face from that day in Greenpeace. That was at least a year ago. How did you end up there and what have you been doing since?”
The tale that emerged was one familiar to many her age. After finishing University, Frith had looked around for something useful, interesting and hopefully fun to do. Greenpeace had seemed like a worthwhile place that didn’t hire only experienced people. The culture was one of politics, youth and striving. People sacrificed personal lives for the greater good. Petty courtesies were less important than the environment.
Her double major in English and Politics was put to immediate use – writing pamphlets and notices for local papers and their web-site. But as with many not-for-profit organisations, the culture also involved exploiting the emotional and physical energies of the young, inexperienced, highly motivated kids attracted to the cause. Burn out happened quickly. Frith found herself tired and depressed. An unhappy and frustrating affair had only exacerbated matters.
Thanks to a timely chat with her sister, she had jumped ship with her self-esteem bruised but largely intact. Ignoring the pressure from her parents to take up a socially-acceptable career, she found a job with a web-publishing firm, designing and building web-sites for local businesses and smaller government agencies. Wellington was a government town and even companies that primarily targeted private business found themselves doing work for one government agency or another.
As with so many breakdowns in security, it was a fortuitous coincidence that led to her discovery.
“I was working on an Intranet security protocol for…” she hesitated, then plunged on, “Tall Trees, when I saw they had some pages for a hydroponics place out here on the Coast.”
Logan was immediately intrigued. Tall Trees Limited was a large international company which would seem to have little connection with a small horticultural concern north of Wellington.
“Did the pages indicate the nature of the relationship?”
“Not exactly. But some of the dummy pages sent over by TTL had some URL links to a laboratory in Texas.”
Logan sat back and poured herself another cup of tea. It tasted very strong, so she added a couple of teaspoons of sugar. She really wanted a cigarette about now.
“Could have been some TTL employee mucking around with a personal interest on the company’s time,” she observed.
“That’s what I thought. An employee who also had an incomplete, maybe partially deleted phrase on that same page which read Department of Sec. As in Security,” she added.
“Oh, you’re kidding!” Logan burst out, with a grin.
Frith’s eyes sparked.
“No, I am not kidding. Why would I kid? I figured that it was easiest to check out the hydroponics farm before tackling the other players. But then that idiot jumped me while I was climbing over the fence.” Frith stopped talking. Should she lay it all out? Or was this enough to intrigue the journalist?
Logan kept her smile, despite the impassioned outburst.
“C’mon. The Department of Security involved with TTL? Those butt-scratchers couldn’t organise a conspiracy in an X-files convention! And I’ve had some dealings with Tall Trees, enough —” she broke off. ‘Enough to last me quite a while,’ she thought.
“Well, no doubt you’d know,” Frith said sarcastically. “But I know what was on those pages and I know that arsehole at the farm tried to knock me into next week.”
“So why are you interested? You still got a connection at Greenpeace?” Logan asked.
“My … um … sister … volunteers at Greenpeace in Auckland. She says that TTL is still on Greenpeace’s list for animal testing in cosmetics.”
Logan got up and wandered out on to the deck. She pondered the young woman’s story as she gazed out over the bush and paddocks leading down from the house towards the road. The sunny day had given way to overcast skies making the green bush somber and dull. The island drew her eye as it always did.
Logan’s view – Kapiti Island
The tale was barely more than snippets. Small fragments that did not, as yet, go anywhere. But some of her best stories had started as tiny co-incidental facts which had landed right in front of her under some very odd circumstances.
What was certain was the unidentified violent, aggressive guard she had knocked unconscious.
Logan knew that Tall Trees had recently considered involvement in genetic engineering. It had not been relevant to her work at the time.
Had they branched out into bio-engineering? How did that fit in with New Zealand’s firm resistance to the importing of genetically modified foods and experimental organisms? And what was the New Zealand Department of Security doing? Were they involved or was that just a coincidence?
Logan hated coincidences.
Frith was… interesting, attractive, but was she telling the truth? She was definitely holding something back. Why was Frith so interested on the basis of rather tenuous information? Should she press her?
Frith joined her against the railing.
“So, Frith,” she turned and looked down at the woman standing next to her. “What do you want from me?”
Frith was not entirely sure. Logan was known for her work for large corporate news media companies. She had caused the breakup of several not-for-profit organisations and rumour was she was responsible for the suicide of her last exposed do-gooder and his slaughter of his family. But standing next to this woman who had saved her, this tall, strong, lovely woman, she was still not thinking clearly. ‘Good grief Frith, get a grip. If you want a date, just ask her out.’
She looked up into blue eyes and swallowed.
Logan smiled gently. She knew she often had an effect on people, but something about this woman made her want to earn her regard, not rely on hormones.
“Do you want my advice? Or my help?”
“Your help. Your contacts. Your judgment. All of that. I don’t know exactly what this is all about. But I know something is screwy. Meeting you today is too good an opportunity, a coincidence, a something that I need to take advantage of,” Frith got it out at last.
“The last time I was taken advantage of, all hell broke loose on the Tokyo stock market for at least 24 hours. But for you I could make another exception.”
Frith blushed and turned away.
Logan moved close behind her, nearly touching. She leaned down and spoke softly in Frith’s ear.
“Leave it with me for a couple of days. I’ll see what I can find out without stirring up too much muck.”
Logan had driven Frith down to the station to catch a local train into Wellington. They had swapped numbers and email addresses and arranged to meet at Logan’s house again in two days time.
Instead of driving home, Logan detoured past the front entrance of the hydroponics farm. Other than a shiny new gate, all looked pretty much as it always did. Half a dozen cars outside the largest glasshouse, a truck near the gate, a security guard’s car coming around the corner… oops! Time to leave.
Well, THAT was new. Since when did this farm need security patrols, a new fence and gung-ho guards beating up women at said fence? Out here, well off the beaten track?
Maybe something was rotten in the state of Denmark. Something worth sniffing at.
On the way back to her house, the inevitable argument started up in her head.
‘This is not what you decided.’
‘Oh yeah remind me what was that again?’
‘Turning my back on someone who asks for my help?’
‘If she knew what kind of bastard you were, she would… ‘
‘Go on I’m interested now, she would what?’
‘Run a mile, not fall gratefully into your bed.’
‘You think this is about sex? Loneliness? Remorse?’
‘You ARE lonely.’
‘I AM sorry.’
‘Shit, you are full of shit.’
‘But she doesn’t know that.’
‘Oh yes she does, you saw that look she gave you. And that scene at Greenpeace….’
‘He deserved it.’
‘He deserved worse.’
‘No he didn’t. Not like ….’
‘Oh he deserved it and he got it.’
‘Yeah but he took his wife and kids with him and that’s down to you.’
‘Face it, you just fancy her.’
‘Got a problem with that?’
‘There’s a puzzle here anyway.’
The mental maelstrom continued all the way home.
Logan parked the car under the deck and sighed. Thinking. It was highly over-rated. Some action was required. She ran up the stairs to the back door and blew through the kitchen into the livingroom.
Right. Laptop. Modem. Where’s the damn phone jack? Cell phone. It was around here somewhere. It took ten minutes before Logan had assembled the tools of her trade. The tea mugs were shoved to the side of the old dining table, all the single plugs in the room now occupied by power leads and the guitar shoved back in its case.
As the laptop powered up, she mentally reviewed her options. Alan? Well, that would be a trip into the lion’s den. Maybe as a last resort. Sarah? Way too dangerous. Jack was a good bet. He still fancied her, she was sure. And who was he working for now? Three months ago he had implied that he had been seconded from the Fraud Squad into something more secret-squirrel.
Jack McKechnie it was.
She opened her contacts database. Home phone or mobile? Home first probably.
“Jack? It’s Logan. Call me on 021-623-6512. Urgent.” She left the same message on Jack’s mobile.
Time for some heavy-duty net browsing, maybe even a spot of hacking. It is a capital offence to theorise in advance of the facts and she needed facts. And maybe a few wild hunches to try out while she was at it. She had loved Sherlock Holmes but theory and observation drove each other in her experience. This approach had its share of deadends but some of them paid off in quite surprising areas.
To work. At last!
Frith found herself back at work the next day, staring blankly at her screen. Her shoulder and head were still tender, but her thoughts were not on her physical state. Not entirely. She turned the few pieces of the puzzle over in her mind, but as Logan had pointed out, it wasn’t much to go on.
Logan. As often as she thought about the events of the previous day, she thought about Logan Kendrick. Nothing coherent, that was the trouble. Just images of her face, her hair, her long legs, her smile. Frith sighed. Anyway she looked at it, trouble. Getting involved with Logan Kendrick, in any capacity, was trouble. But that smile, when it had arrived, was dazzling. Those blue, blue eyes in combination with the black hair….. her strong arm around me ….. Frith was caught in a powerful daydream.
“Hey! Ms. Buchanan? You going to be finished with that prototype any time this century?” Wiremu Kale’s face peered around the doorframe.
Wiremu was the co-owner of Solaris Consulting, a small web-design company making a living on the edges of the corporate internet/intranet market in the nation’s capital. Maori owners of such companies were rare. In his late thirties, he was slight and not much taller than Frith, dressed in the ubiquitous dark gray, almost black, suit that was the current corporate uniform in Wellington. Thankfully his funk quotient was saved by groovy glasses and more jewelry than most New Zealand men would own in entire lifetimes.
He came further into Frith’s workroom, his attention drawn by the purpling bruise on her face. “Babe! What caused that?”
Frith turned her face away, towards the window. She slid off her chair.
“You know, Willy,” she said thoughtfully, “mountain biking is a dangerous sport for the uninitiated. I took my bike up to beach yesterday and suffice to say the sand dunes proved treacherous.”
“As long as your hands are okay and you can you still use a mouse? No worries then,” Wiremu grinned. “Come and keep me company for five minutes while I have a fag.”
“But the prototype…,” protested Firth, half-heartedly.
“The TTL project manager just rang. Another delay at their end. Some kind of security problem.”
“Jesus, if they don’t get their butts into gear, we’re not going to meet the deadline.”
“Well, it’s time for the old drill,” said Wiremu. “I document everything and move higher up the food chain.”
Frith considered for a moment. “I have another project I can spend some time on, if you want to play tough guy,” she said. “You’re the boss, you know. Gotta earn that inflated salary.”
“What project’s that, babe?” Wiremu asked as they climbed the fire stairs to the rooftop garden.
“Personal stuff,” Frith replied.
The pair walked to the balcony and looked across the harbour, north towards the Hutt Valley. Wiremu turned his back to the breezy northerly and lit his cigarette.
“You’ve just about used up all your contracted hours for this month already, and it’s only the 21st. If TTL is going to be on the backburner for at least two days – how much left to go on that prototype once you get the final stuff? Maybe fifteen hours?”
“Fifteen is about right,” she replied. “But I need a beta-tester right now for the current build and Joan is off with the school holidays.”
“Bugger. I’m already using all the hours Simon and Elise can spare for the Ministry of Commerce gig. Do you know anyone likely?”
Frith thought immediately of Logan.
“Yes,” she said cautiously. “This ex-journo I met yesterday might be available.”
Wiremu calculated the remaining hours for TTL.
“Okay. Line them up for 6 hours. Usual rate. Allow at least two hours for going over the testing regime with them. And get Joan to process the paperwork when she gets back.”
“Right, then. I’ll pack it in here for today then and get her started. It’s too nice a day to be stuck inside slaving over a hot processor.”
“Sure. That’s right. You toddle off and have fun while I figure out how to afford you full-time.” As Frith protested half-heartedly, Wiremu interrupted her.
“No, seriously Frith, I appreciate the quality of your work, you know. If this TTL job goes okay, we might get some work on their US web-site. And who is this ex-journo?” Wiremu’s partner was a staff writer for the Dominion newspaper.
“Um… Lo- … Lois … um… Kennedy. She’s Australian, I think.”
“Well, let’s do it then. There’s money out there just waiting for us!”
They halfheartedly chorused the punchline together. “Let’s go get it!”
Logan had woken that morning feeling … feeling good. Feeling something other than tired and stupid. Maybe her therapist’s suggestion of taking a break after the events of April had not been the best option. Or maybe it had done the trick. Certainly Frith Buchanan was making her feel good, without even being here.
She spent the rest of the afternoon of the previous day browsing the Web and sneaking into the few sites where the access details she had accumulated still worked. Some organisations really needed to update their system security more than once a year. She also made a few bogus calls, posing as anything from an old friend to a photocopy service bureau updating client contacts to a radio-station giving away free lessons at the local judo school.
The local security company had been slightly useful – the electrician was away up north for a week. No major new alarm systems had been installed then. The others had drawn blanks.
Waiting for Jack to call back was irritating, and to be honest, rather unusual. It was out of character for him to have his cell phone off anyway, but she had never known him to go more than a couple of hours without clearing his messages. Maybe it was the possibility he was now undercover.
In the evening she had strung up a heavy punching bag and had a good time beating the living daylights out of it. After a session of kenpo drills she had lit a fire and bemoaned the lack of a television. Well, she had wanted to be left alone and not have the world bother her and it had worked. But now, with an puzzle which may involve the government, she regretted not knowing what was going on in New Zealand and the outside world. It reduced her effectiveness. Much of her success as an investigative journalist had come from putting together disparate facts that were seemingly unrelated.
At least the web-sites for newspapers and news organisations still had the last three months worth of information. She spent the evening catching up with the living.
Her early morning run along the beach had been much less eventful than the previous day. As she ran along the path beside the farm and its new fence, a remote CCTV camera turned to follow her as she jogged along nonchalantly. Suspecting they would have beefed up security, she had worn a baseball cap and tied her long hair up. She usually enjoyed the feeling of it whipping around her face as she ran. It made running fast seem even faster. Until that moment where it stopped being fun and started being irritating.
As she passed the spot where the tussle had taken place, she slowed slightly but nothing out of the ordinary presented itself to her. She suddenly remembered the set of keys she had taken off the creep yesterday. ‘Dammit,’ she thought, ‘I should have tried them last night. Before he reported them missing, if his brain is working yet.’ Even if he had not thought of it, whoever had picked him up and gotten him medical attention would have. ‘Maybe it’s still worth a shot.’
After lunch, when it seemed no more progress could be made unless she talked to Jack, and while she wasn’t prepared to make contact with Alan or Sarah yet and tip her hand, Logan moped around the house. The downside of a high energy level was that she was frustrated with nothing to do. Although she enjoyed the research, it was the thrill of the chase which really energised her. In a battle of wits and sometimes fists the adrenaline, flooded her system and made her feel truly alive. Other forms of stimulation had never come close. She enjoyed sex but it paled with the thrill of the hunt.
It had been a while since her last sexual relationship. It had ended badly. Not surprisingly, as it hadn’t started in auspicious circumstances. The plump woman had eyed her up at a Tall Trees corporate affair. Logan had been undercover and in disguise, waiting table at an annual stockholders meeting, trying to get a line on one of the executives she suspected was insider trading … well, it had been complicated. Sarah had slipped her business card into Logan’s breast pocket. Logan had torn it in two and handed it back. Sarah had just laughed and caught Logan in the woman’s loo later. They nearly consummated the relationship then and there, only the arrival of the catering supervisor stopping them.
Perhaps it was because the sex had been an integral part of the hunt. She has used Sarah’s position as the Communications Manager at the company to dig out the facts she needed. When the hunt was over and the article published, Sarah had been bitter, furious and hurt. She had also thrown Logan’s clothes out of her 10th floor apartment’s window. She took revenge by screwing Logan’s lover, the Chief Executive, Alan Gadsby. That, too, was complicated.
Logan sighed. Was she better off staying well away from Tall Trees? Her recent messy entanglements with Alan and Sarah clouded the picture and a journalist sought clarity above all.
She was also better off out of the romantic arena. Frith was, no doubt, a gentle soul who would run a mile rather than get involved with a self-hating, violent, manipulative…. and whatever else Sarah had screamed after her that night. All characteristics she agreed with. Her therapist had nodded quietly and written them down.
A noise outside caught her attention. She wandered out on the deck and looked down the driveway. A green Suzuki 4-wheel drive emerged from under the trees. Logan glimpsed a flash of golden hair. Frith? She wasn’t due until tomorrow.
A small frisson of anticipation ran through her.
“Here. Take my hand.”
“Here. No, that’s my ….”
With a grunt of effort, Logan pulled Frith up to the top of the brick wall. She had spotted this possible way to bypass the new fence when she had driven past yesterday. Now, under the cover of darkness, the two women were going to break into the hydroponics farm and see what they could see.
Frith and Logan had argued over which target to attack first. Frith had pushed for the TTL offices in central Wellington. Logan had countered with the jingle of the set of keys. In truth, she was too apprehensive to tackle that company first. A warm-up in the provinces would get her back in the saddle. Maybe she’d even stop mixing her metaphors.
It was a calculated risk whether the locks had been changed. With the worst scenario of tripping an alarm or being discovered by a patrol, the pair could easily escape into the surrounding countryside. They had parked the old Mazda, not in the carpark near the beach, but hidden under a macrocarpa hedge in an adjoining property. The street it was on ran at right angles to the beach road, and any pursuer was likely to concentrate on that road.
But now it was the doorway to the farm’s office that had her attention. Logan was betting that the new additions to the farm’s security had started with the fence and had not infiltrated into the office yet. Earlier in the day she walked into the open office, posing as a courier delivering flowers, briefly checked for cameras and pressure pads. Her hunch that there was not much internal security seemed to be correct, otherwise she would not have suggested this approach.
Carefully she pulled the keys from her pocket. Frith switched on her small pen-light and trained the beam on the lock. Her pale face reflected in the light underneath the black woolen hat Logan had lent her. Logan tried each of the keys – success on the fourth one.
The door opened slowly outwards. The two woman squeezed together to let it open. Inside the reception area was dimly lit by the light from a tall fish tank.
Logan motioned with her head and walked quietly towards an inner office. Once they were inside, she quickly shut the curtains at the window which appeared to overlook an enclosed courtyard, and switched on the desk lamp.
Moving close to Frith, she murmured, ” Keep an eye out. Close the front door nearly all the way. Use your eyes and ears. Whistle if you see something.”
Frith looked resentful at being excluded from search of the office.
“Go!” Logan whispered harshly.
As she left the room, Logan got to work. Starting with the manager’s desk, she rifled through the intray. What was she looking for? At this stage she didn’t always know. Anything odd, anything linking the farm to the Texas laboratory or to Tall Trees or to the Department of Security.
This guy was organised, and stupid enough to print out some of his emails. At least she wouldn’t have to attempt to hack into anything tonight. Her skills in that area were adequate but no more. Interpersonal extraction of information was more her style.
She turned to the filing cabinet. Working up from the bottom drawers, which held a set of trainers and a half bottle of whiskey and a spare power cord – she flicked through the top drawer. After 5 minutes she had a small stash of papers which looked promising.
At the front door Frith crouched, hidden in the shadows, peering out the tiny crack she had left. She shifted to ease her protesting muscles. The slight sounds of the search in the office reached her. As she turned her head to look at the inner office door, her peripheral vision caught….. something…. What was that? Her straining ears caught the sound of footsteps crunching along the path leading up from the beach. She turned her head and whistled softly. Had she been heard? There was no response from the inner office. As she pursed her lips to whistle again, she saw the flash of car headlights turn off the road and into the car-park.
Panicked, she stood up abruptly, only to find her face sandwiched into Logan’s chest. Her squawk of surprise was muffled by a large hand over her mouth. Logan’s eyes gleamed as she mouthed, “Out the door, go left, behind the pot plants and wait.”
She gave Frith a gentle shove and mostly closed the door behind her. She saw the shadow of Frith scrambling along in front of the reception window towards the planters.
The sound of bootsteps on gravel grew louder but were drowned out by the approaching car. The vehicle drew to a stop less than 50 feet from the door. The man in the boots was at the car window, talking to the driver. Her eyes narrowed as she tried to hear what they were saying. Suddenly the man turned to follow the pointing arm of the driver, towards the office. Damn! What has he seen? She glanced around – shit! she had left the light on in the office. The door was slightly ajar and the beam of light was a beacon to watchful eyes.
The driver got out of the car and the two men walked briskly towards the office door. One pulled out a powerful torch, the other pulled out his gun. As they closed in on the door, the man with the gun went first. He pulled out his keys and inserted one in the lock. Turning it gently, he was smashed in the face as the door exploded outwards.
He went tumbling backwards, knocking over the second man. They fell in a heap, swearing profusely. Logan rocketed out of the doorway, leaping over the two men and running for the car. Her aim was to disable the car so they couldn’t pursue her, but she had not noticed a second person sitting in the passenger seat. He… no she, was reaching over to the driver’s door to hit the central-locking button. Logan wrenched the door open before she could push it and thumped her in the temple with her fist. The woman slumped in her seat as Logan ripped out the two-way radio microphone and then removed the keys. With a grunt she threw them into the neighbouring field.
As she turned back to the buildings she was tackled by a shadowy figure. They rolled together on the gravel, scuffling for advantage. The second man staggered over, still winded from the first knock down. Pointing the gun at the struggling pair he screamed, “Stop! Stop or I’ll shoot!” But he hesitated to fire as the dark clothing of both people merged into the darkness. One of the pair was thrown off with a mighty shout of effort. As he lay motionless on the driveway, the other staggered up and towards the guard, now holding the pistol rather unsteadily. Fuckfuckfuckfuck! This wasn’t what he signed up for! Backing away, he fumbled with the safety on the gun. “Stop!” he cried again, uncertainly. “Hands up! Get down on the ground or I’ll…..” What he was proposing never passed his lips, as he was struck from behind by a wooden planter.
Frith stood revealed as the guard slumped lifelessly to the ground. Her hat had come off and her long pale hair shone like a torch in the dim light. Logan thought she had never seen a lovelier sight.
Frith grabbed Logan by the arm. “Did you get it?” she hissed.
“What did you get?”
“Let’s get out of here first.”
No longer needing the helpful wall, they jogged towards the main gate. As they reached the road, the sound of sirens floated towards them, disturbing the quiet night air.
“Crap!” Logan muttered. “She must have got a message out.”
“Who’s she?” asked Frith.
“Never mind. Just run for that set of trees!” Logan broke into a dead run, with Frith right on her heels. As they reached the safety of the trees, two police cars turned off the main road and neared the gates of the farm. They screeched to a halt, men pouring out and shouting for the shapes lying on the ground to stay down! stay down!
Logan smirked at Frith. “I hope they enjoy explaining this tomorrow. Should stir up the nest a bit.”
As they turned to walk through the cypresses towards the car, they heard the rapid thud-thud-thud of a helicopter approaching, a spotlight searching out the figures in the carpark. Fortunately the groggy guards had not seen which direction the women had run off, so all they could do was gesture helplessly.
Not wanting to be caught in a search pattern, Logan pulled Frith into a run again, over a fence, through a field filled with sleepy cows and along the road towards the Mazda.
They jumped into the car and Logan gently eased it out on to the street, leaving the headlights off and driving slowly towards the main road.
“Can you still see the ‘copter?” she asked.
Frith was peering anxiously out the side window.
“Yes. It’s heading out towards the beach.”
“Great,” said Logan. “Hold on!”
She flipped on the lights and floored it. Frith grabbed on to the safety belt as the ancient car careened around a corner.
“Jesus, Logan,” she shouted, “I thought we were trying for discreet!”
Logan just laughed. She felt alive at last!
As the car pulled up at the end of the long drive way to Logan’s house, Frith was buzzed. Logan had turned on the decrepit car stereo full blast and driven like a rally sprint maniac, almost side-swiping the gate-post at the entrance to the lane.
Logan’s laugh, the sound deep and sexy, had an electrifying effect on Frith. Her body, in a sexual hibernation for the past year, was waking up in the presence of the enigmatic journalist. The proximity of the beautiful woman, combined with the adrenaline still coursing through her body was extremely arousing.
She briefly debated clamping down on her feelings and getting the hell out of this messy situation. But with a single sideways glance at the near perfect profile of tall, dark and dangerous, her natural inclination to go for what she wanted reasserted itself. Turning in her seat she braced herself with a hand on the other woman’s shoulder. She closed the small space between them, tracing the curve of Logan’s ear with her tongue and finishing with a none too gentle bite of an ear-lobe.
The look of surprise on Logan’s face turned to one of sheer lust as Frith made her intentions perfectly clear.
“I want to take you inside and fuck you senseless,” she whispered.
In the uncomfortable space between the seats and over the park-brake the two women fused their mouths together. There was nothing gentle about their first kiss. Tongues, lips and teeth fiercely, quickly, aquainted themselves. Logan threaded her hand through the smaller woman’s blonde hair, her hand cupping the shape of her head, adding pressure to the kiss. Finally she pulled back, her chest rising and falling as she tried in vain to get her breathing under control.
“For Christ’s sake, let’s go inside….”
The blonde woman, her face flushed, nodded fervently.
Having successfully extricated themselves from the car, the two women met again, their bodies pressed into each other. Standing, the contrast in their height became an erotic point of difference, as again the enthusiasm for each other’s body was signaled. Logan bending her head down even as Frith stretched upwards.
Frith reveled in the feel of Logan’s body against her, her hands becoming relentless in their exploration, cupping firm buttocks, then running up a long back, coming around to knead shapely breasts, thumbs dragging over hard nipples. All the while a searing hot kiss continued, tongues exploring the intimate space of the other’s mouth.
Frith considered pushing the taller woman up against the hood of the car and taking her then and there, but even in her state of intense arousal, the bite of the cool night air was a sufficient deterrent. She grabbed Logan’s hand and, breaking the kiss, issued a short two word command.
“Inside – now.”
They made it up the path to the back door, Logan fumbling in the pocket of her leather jacket for the house key. The simple task was made complex by the distracting hands pulling her T shirt out of the waistband of her jeans and the groan of pleasure from the blonde woman as she ran her hands over Logan’s smooth skin for the first time.
“God, you feel good.”
After a short eternity they made it inside. Frith pushed Logan against the wall next to the kitchen table, her compact strength surprising the woman, who took pride in her own physical prowess.
“I want you right now, I want to taste you, I’m going to run my tongue over your wet cunt until you scream.” The words whispered into the dark woman’s ear were clearly statements of fact, not a hypothesis up for debate.
With one last lingering look into pale eyes rendered colourless in the in the half light of the kitchen, Frith sank to her knees. Her hands deftly made short work of the buttons of the well worn 501s and, grasping them by the waistband, she pulled Logan’s jeans and underwear down over her hips to her knees in one abrupt movement.
“Oh sweet jesus,” Frith moaned at the sight of the flat plane of stomach, which segued into a trimmed covering of black pubic hair, framed between thighs that would have had Anita Bryant deciding to bat for the home team.
‘Got to get rid of these jeans,’ Frith mumbled to herself, as she bent to unlace Logan’s sturdy boots. Boots and socks out of the way, the jeans were unceremoniously lowered to her ankles.
“Lift your foot for me, sweetheart.” Logan, a little dazed, did as she was told, the slight movement having the double benefit for Frith as not only were the constricting clothes finally out of the way, but it also offered the first glimpses of a beautiful cunt between slightly parted legs.
Frith leaned forward and with both hands stroking muscled hips and thighs, she kissed Logan’s mons, dragging in a deep breath and absorbing the fragrance of her arousal. Her tongue swirled through pubic hair, saliva and salty moistness mingling in an erotic cocktail.
Logan moaned, leaning back against the kitchen wall as she parted her thighs and tilted her hips forward, an unsubtle and insistent invitation to the woman kneeling at her feet. Frith was no reluctant party goer. Using her thumbs she parted the lips of Logan’s vulva and, moving closer, she ran her tongue along the length of dark woman’s cunt.
“Oh god!” Logan’s exclamation was strangled and unusually high pitched for the woman with the deep chocolate-timbred voice.
The blonde woman began consuming her, the tendons in her neck taut as she used her tongue to sweetly torture Logan. Lips, tongue and occasionally gentle teeth, were at turns deployed in the pursuit of the journalist’s pleasure. Using the point of her tongue she circled the base of Logan’s clitoris then sucked it gently into her mouth.
“Got … to … lie … down … legs … won’t … work … ” Logan’s body was trembling, her left hand tangled in Frith’s hair, her right flat against the wall, trying unsuccessfully to get some purchase to bolster her failing legs.
Frith came to the rescue. Standing, she guided Logan to the kitchen table and laid her down on it. The cruel shock of the cold formica against her ass was instantly forgotten as two strong fingers unceremoniously and easily penetrated her.
Frith, looking down, savoured the sight of Logan naked from the waist down, laid out on the kitchen table, slick cunt filled with two fingers of her right hand. Logan’s hips were moving rhythmically, intensifying the sweet friction of Frith’s hand as it moved in and out of her.
Frith again lowered herself to her knees, careful to maintain the contact of her fingers inside of Logan. Lifting Logan’s left leg over her shoulder, she bent her head and again tongued her clitoris, quickly finding a complementary rhythm to her fingers.
The tension deep inside of Logan was reaching crisis point, the sensations sourced from the blonde woman’s fingers and tongue at once too much but not quite enough.
“Fuck me harder Frith … please … hard ….”
Frith instantly obliged and adding a third finger she flexed her right arm, short rapid movements counterpointed by her tongue.
Logan raised her hips off the table, her thighs tensed as a crashing orgasm overtook her body. The knuckles of her hands were white as she grabbed the table’s edge, the chrome trim cutting into her palm. Delicious spasms continued for some time around Frith’s fingers as Logan slowly returned to earth.
Frith raised her head, but began hopefully to move her fingers again.
“Oh Jesus … stop … please.” Logan shot up to a sitting position and grabbed the smaller woman’s hand. Her chest heaved as she tried to suck in enough air to restore some semblance of calm. It was a futile effort as another spasm convulsed in her cunt.
Frith took pity on Logan and rising to her feet she slowly and gently withdrew her fingers. She pressed her body into the space between Logan’s legs and enfolded the woman in her arms. Frith tilted her head and placed the softest of kisses on the journalist’s lips.
“Come on, let’s go to bed.”
Logan nodded her agreement. Her wits were returning to her slowly. She got off the table and flipping on a light, walked across the kitchen to the refrigerator, grabbed some water, taking several large gulps from the bottle.
Frith, who had enjoyed the sight of the woman’s tight buttocks peeking out from beneath the leather jacket, declined the offer of a drink, a cheeky grin on her face.
“You look pleased with yourself,” Logan said as she returned to stand inches from Frith, staring down into shining green eyes.
“Well, why wouldn’t I? You were fucking amazing. Come on, where’s the bedroom? I want you again.” Frith moved her hand forward sliding it under Logan’s rumpled T shirt and luckily happening upon a smooth round breast that just needed a firm squeeze.
“We’ll see about that …” Logan grabbed Frith’s hand and led her through the living room to the bedroom door, which she kicked open impatiently.
“You, my little blonde-haired friend, have way too many clothes on. I want to see you.” Logan shrugged off her jacket and set about divesting Frith of her clothes.
A dark sweater was pulled up and over Frith’s head and flung on the floor. Two pairs of hands dealt to the buttons of her shirt, surprisingly only one uncooperative button on the cuff sacrificed in the process.
“Fuck …” Logan breathed. Not the most romantic of compliments but fully expressive as she eyed Frith’s body, breasts exquisitely captured by the red lace bra. Soon Frith’s shoes and pants were also history.
Logan sat on the edge of the bed and gazed at the woman in front of her. Broad planes of flesh shaped by muscle, colours subtle and complex. It was as if the most captured subject in the history of painting was presented to her, simultaneously representative and abstracted.
“Take your underwear off.”
Frith wasn’t quite sure how she had lost the initiative in this encounter, but for her following had as many merits as leading. She reached around and undid her bra, slowly sliding the straps down her arms until she held the item in her hand. She dropped it gently to the floor.
Frith took two steps towards Logan. “You can deal with the panties.”
Logan leaned forward and kissed the skin between Frith’s breasts.
“My pleasure,” she hummed slightly as she slid her hands between the lacy fabric and the blonde woman’s hips, lowering them over thighs, until gravity took over and they too landed on the carpet.
Frith leaned down and grasping the bottom of Logan’s T shirt, dragged it up and over her dark head. Finally the two women were naked. Obviously the only way to do justice to this new state was to achieve as much skin on skin contact as possible.
Logan stood and drew Frith into her arms, breasts, bellies and thighs melded together. With strong hands she massaged her way down the smaller woman’s back until she reached a very pert bottom, which she captured, the fit in her large hands perfect.
Her hands descended even lower and without further hesitation she grasped Frith’s thighs and lifted, the inevitable result was the smaller woman’s legs wrapping around her waist, her cunt quietly slick against her stomach.
Frith, surprised to find herself no longer directly connected to the earth, felt nonetheless safe in Logan’s strong arms. Her own arms had wended their way around Logan’s neck. A kiss was definitely in order and again their lips met. Their bodies were entwined in such a way that the kiss went on for some moments. Frith’s arousal was evident, her hips began undulating as she stroked her cunt against Logan’s stomach.
“Hang on lover, not yet.” Logan turned towards the bed, knelt and deposited Frith on to it. Logan was on all fours above her, her hair falling forward, breasts swinging enticingly.
“Come down here, I want to feel you on top of me,” Frith instructed.
Logan lowered herself, her long length settling on the smaller woman’s body and between her parted legs. Frith spread her legs wider and bent them, both her feet flat on the bed. The women rocked together, Frith’s cunt sliding smoothly against Logan’s groin, their position one that only the most progressive of missionaries would have approved.
Logan raised herself on her forearms to begin tasting whatever flesh she could find. Frith’s lips, face, neck, shoulders, breasts were bestowed with fluttering kisses, small bites and swipes of her tongue. As the blonde woman groaned underneath her, Logan thrust her pelvis forward hard into Frith’s cunt and latched her mouth hotly around a breast sucking intently, knowing that she was leaving marks on the flawless skin that would still be there tomorrow.
Logan reached down between their bodies to introduce her fingers to the hot slippery flesh between Frith’s legs. She shifted her body slightly to create room and began exploring. Planting her thumb on Frith’s clitoris she began to insert her index and second finger. The blonde woman stiffened and gave a strangled cry of no.
Logan stopped moving and looked down concern on her face.
Frith gave a small smile. “Just not in me… please not now … anything else is fine …”
“You sure you want to carry on?”
Logan’s fingers gently retreated a little but took up position on the blonde’s clit. Slowly and surely they began moving, building a rhythm gently. Frith moaned and matched the rhythm with her hips, grasping the tall woman’s shoulders ferociously.
Logan kissed Frith gently on the lips and whispered “I need to see your body.”
Raising herself gently off Frith’s body, she propped several pillows under the blonde woman’s shoulders so her head and torso were slightly raised off the bed. Logan then repositioned herself at the end of the bed on her stomach, lying between Frith’s legs, her shoulders even with Frith’s knees. Logan’s hand moved forward and resumed its task of pleasuring.
“You’re so beautiful Frith, I needed to see all of you.” Logan’s eyes roamed over the woman’s face, hair, breasts, skin, cunt all displayed before her, completely open to her gaze.
If Frith felt at all vulnerable, it did not show, her eyes closing as Logan’s hand kept up its relentless stroking, the intensity of feeling growing all the time.
Logan bent her head and began suckling the tender skin where thigh met torso, her tongue wetly exploring, nose occasionally nuzzling soft pubic hair.
The added sensations were more that Frith could bear, her legs tensing against the resistance of Logan’s shoulders. Her hips rose completely off the bed, Logan having the wherewithal to maintain her contact with the quivering woman.
It was all Logan could do not to laugh when the finale of Frith’s orgasm was a stream of four letter words not usually heard in polite society, nor, for that matter, making much in the way of grammatical sense.
Frith, however, was reveling in the intense sensation of her orgasm, exploring that internal space in her brain – an infinite fourth dimension – where all that counted was delicious feeling, sourced from the elimination of tension. This was no petit mort. In this space, Frith lived.
Slowly calm was close to being restored and Logan withdrew her hand from between Frith’s legs. She climbed up the bed and drew Frith into her arms, kissing her on the top of her head. She soon became aware that the shoulders she was holding were shuddering as Frith quietly wept.
“Hey, what’s the matter? I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
Frith shook her head, uncertainly looking up at Logan and making eye contact.
“No, it was great. It’s just … I don’t usually orgasm with other people. I mostly get myself off.”
“Oh.” Logan wasn’t sure if she was up for this conversation just yet.
Frith caught her uncertainty and sighed a little.
“It’s okay Logan, I’m not looking for therapy. It’s just a fact of life for me. It’s not that I don’t like sex, it’s just I generally get other things out of it. Tonight’s been a bit of a surprise. Actually, a fucking great surprise.” Even as there were tears on her face, she grinned. “Sorry, I’m a bit all over the place.”
Logan, thankful that she wasn’t in for a ‘deep and meaningful’, grinned back and decided to lighten things up even further.
“Well, some sort of celebration is in order then, isn’t it?” Logan kissed Frith briefly on the lips, then left the bedroom. She returned moments later, a plastic container and two spoons in her hand.
“Ice-cream. Come on … under the blankets.”
The two women resettled themselves in the bed and, taking a spoon, they began feeding each other.
For Logan, the sight of Frith’s tongue cleaning her spoon brought to mind other possible activities for the body part in question. She leaned over, confiscated the spoon and the tub of ice-cream and put them on the floor beside the bed. Sliding down the bed, dragging Frith with her, she began kissing the small woman again, her hand cupping a breast.
Sexual tension, that for a few minutes had been at a simmer, was soon at a rolling boil again.
Logan awoke to the sun sneaking in between the curtains. She stretched, cat-like, the movements those of a woman whose body has been well loved. Eyes still closed she did a quick inventory of her body. The odd twinge in her muscles, a dull but pleasant ache between her legs. Her head felt a little fuzzy, no doubt the result of an endorphin overload combined with a lack of sleep. Her mind began surveying the previous night’s activities, quickly discarding the action at Tall Trees in favor of the marathon of sex that had kept both women awake until just before dawn.
Her pleasant reverie was interrupted by the sound of a gentle thud of a car door being quietly shut. She clambered out of the disheveled bed and went over to the window. Drawing the rest of the curtain aside, she saw Frith’s car disappearing under the trees. Not a good sign.
The thirty miles into Wellington flew by quickly as Logan treated the Mazda with even more disregard than usual.
The morning had passed in a sleepy daze. She had crawled back into bed after Frith had left and dozed until the late morning sun woke her with its heat. Once fully awake, she stared at the ceiling of her bedroom for a while, thoughts and feelings and memories of the night swirling through her mind. How had this happened? ‘The usual way,’ she snorted to herself and with that she dragged herself out of bed and into her day.
She remembered the small pile of documents she had stolen from the farm and searched the house and the car for them. She realised Frith had probably taken them.
So, to progress she needed several things. Frith. Those documents. A meeting with Jack, her missing source. An entry into Tall Trees. And all four things were in Wellington.
Some quick searching of the on-line white pages and she had Frith’s home address narrowed down to two possible choices. Had she mentioned which web company she was working for? A quick visit to the dot-co-dot-nz TTL website revealed the name of the web design company. Frith, then Jack. She almost convinced herself that was a sound investigative tactic.
Parking was its own usual torment. A city like Wellington, which is crammed into a very small space between steep hills and the busy harbour, relies on public transport to facilitate the movement of worker drones into the paper-consumed bureaucracies of central government.
Logan turned into a car-parking building near Te Papa, the new national museum. Allen Street was right across the road and she could easily see the sign for Solaris Consulting. The old three-story stone masonry building did not boast a lift, so she bounded up to the top floor reception area.
Not surprisingly, for a small company, there was no receptionist – just a bell inviting her to ring it. As she reached out to tap the bell, she heard a familiar voice from a meeting room adjacent to the foyer. She snatched back her hand and stood frozen in place. God, there were two familiar voices and she had no trouble in placing both of them. Frith’s warm alto tones and Sarah’s higher pitched voice. Logan cursed under her breath. The rumble of a male voice entered what was apparently turning into an argument.
“Ms. Harris! How can we investigate a potential breach of security when you can’t tell us anything about it?” That must be Wiremu Kale, the owner, thought Logan.
“Wiremu,” Sarah purred, “you must see our dilemma. Investigating something ….. delicate, can as easily do the damage the troublemaker sought in the first place.”
“So, you can’t tell me why you are taking all the Tall Trees development work back? Are you giving it to another company? Is this really about dissatisfaction with our work?”
Frith’s voice floated through the doorway. “Is it me in particular?” she asked.
“Well, Ms Buchanan, your involvement with Greenpeace IS potentially a factor, minor, I admit. But TTL is reviewing security as part of a world-wide project towards e-commerce. You know how it is – head office twitches and we all get jerked around,” Sarah laughed lightly. “With any luck, we’ll be able to restart the work in a couple of weeks. And we WILL come back to you, I promise. Now, is this everything?”
Papers and disks were now being shuffled and obviously being placed in briefcases. The meeting was ending. Logan glanced around the reception, but there was nowhere to hide. She opened the glass door on the opposite side of the foyer from the meeting room and slid into the first doorway.
Wiremu and Frith said their farewells to the Tall Trees Communications Manager. As soon as she had disappeared down the stairs, they looked at each other and, by common understanding, headed for the roof stairs.
“Friiiiiiith……” Wiremu dragged her name out. “What’s going on?”
Frith waited until they were up on the roof. The winter sun made her shade her eyes as she considered what to tell her employer. Could he be of help? Or would he just be royally irritated?
“Well,” she said cautiously, “She didn’t take the work away, not really. We still have a contract and she made no mention of varying that.”
“Not that!” he snapped. “What’s this deal with Greenpeace?”
“I have no idea,” she said. “I used to do volunteer work with them. Got out a year or so ago. I can’t recall anything wildly outrageous about Tall Trees – I certainly wasn’t involved in the research or investigations or anything. I just wrote their local propaganda.”
“SHE clearly thinks it’s an issue.”
“It sounded like bullshit to me.”
“But she’s obviously done a background check on you. Christ, maybe she’s done one on me, too.” Wiremu’s worried face looked even more anxious. “If she thinks you having worked for Greenpeace is a problem, then the fact that Brian works for the Dominion might be just as bad.”
Seeing the possibility of the potentially lucrative TTL contract about to go down the toilet, Wiremu frowned and hauled out his packet of cigarettes. Lighting one, he absently offered a cigarette to Frith. She took one, equally absently. Only when she put her hand out for the lighter, did he register the unusual fact.
“Frith! I thought you didn’t smoke?”
“Willy, there’s a lot of things about me you don’t know,” she replied. “Some things even I didn’t suspect.”
“I’m beginning to see that. Care to enlighten me?”
“Know thyself. I’ll let you know when I’ve figured it out myself. So I guess there’s no more work for me this month? I’ve got a life to organise.”
“A social life?” he asked. “You don’t mean of the romantic variety, do you? Oh my god! You do! At last! Details, details!”
Logan waited patiently, hidden behind the heating unit, as they extinguished the cigarettes and vanished down the stairs, Frith audibly fending off Wiremu’s curiosity.
Greenpeace. Sarah. And a journalist named Brian. The mix was slowly mutating. But she really needed to find Jack, and soon. She hated flying blind and suspected that a big piece of the puzzle would be illuminated by her secret-squirrel friend.
She descended the stairs. Should she see Frith now or was she more a part of the mystery than she had let on so far?
‘I want those documents,’ she thought.
Once again in the reception area, Logan firmly struck the bell. As the sound died away, both Wiremu and Frith appeared from different offices.
Logan dazzled Frith with a broad grin. The blonde woman blushed furiously. Wiremu caught the smile and the blush, and grinned himself.
“I’ll leave you to it,” he smirked and disappeared back into his office.
Frith and Logan stood staring at each other for a moment, until Frith remembered where she was.
“Come on in,” she invited, standing beside her office doorway.
Logan walked in, trying to wipe the grin from her face and failing miserably.
“I… um … was after those papers,” she muttered. She was not sure how to act. Last night had been primal, intense, exciting, amazing. But was it purely situational? How did she feel about this woman? How did Frith feel about her?
Frith followed her in, closing the door behind her. She simply walked up to Logan, put her arms around the taller woman’s waist and hugged her. Logan nearly wept in gratitude, her eyes filling with unshed tears. She returned the hug. As the hug lasted, it became an embrace. Logan bent her head, searching out Frith’s eyes.
Frith melted as she saw the emotion in the other woman’s eyes. She lifted her face. Lips met and lingered. Hands touched and explored. Tongues stroked and caressed. Before they fully realised it, Frith’s shirt was open and Logan was bending to kiss her breasts. Stooping, she lifted Frith on to the desk and slipped her hands around Frith’s back, fumbling with her bra.
“No!” panted Frith. She slipped off the desk and out of Logan’s embrace. Logan’s flushed features stilled.
“Not here,” Frith continued.
“But Frith….” Logan murmured, as she advanced on the blonde woman, “You know you want to…” The smile was more salacious this time.
Frith felt her willpower rapidly evaporating. At that moment, just as Logan was reaching out for her, Wiremu’s voice sounded on the other side of the door.
“Frith? You presentable?”
Logan raised an eyebrow as Frith fumbled her clothes back into a semblance of order.
“Sure, come on in,” she called, as she turned and walked towards the window.
Wiremu sidled into the room. One look at the faces of both women and the slightly disheveled state of Frith’s top, left Wiremu in no doubt that he had interrupted Frith’s ‘social life’.
“Sorry, girls,” he said, fighting to keep a straight face.
Another look at Logan’s face and he stiffened.
“Logan Kendrick?” he stammered.
Frith moved forward to introduce her boss, but Logan smoothly held out her hand and said, “Wiremu Kale, I presume?”
The blonde woman’s jaw dropped.
Turning at her slight gasp, Logan smirked.
“I believe you’re a friend of Brian Cowley. At the Dominion?”
“So….” he muttered, “there is something going on.”
The women glanced at each other.
Wiremu caught the look.
“C’mon, Frith. Tall Trees security shut-down. Sarah Harris in here – smarmy, intimidating bitch. You and Greenpeace … and
A deep voice behind them interrupted, ” – and now, Logan Kendrick.”
Three heads snapped toward the doorway. A tall, brown-haired man stood in the frame.
“Well, well, well. Jacky-boy, as I live and die,” drawled Logan. “I was just coming to see you.”
“Oh yeah,” said Wiremu. “Frith, there’s someone here to see you.”
Frith groaned and held her head.
“Does anyone else have a headache?” she asked.
Everyone started to talk at once. As the gabble of voices rose, Logan walked over to the whiteboard on the wall and wrote in big letters HAS SARAH BUGGED THIS OFFICE?
That shut them up.
LET’S GO TO …..?
They stared at one another. Frith took the pen and wrote her address. Jack and Logan looked at each other and nodded.
Logan retrieved the pen. SPLIT UP. 60 MINUTES.
Jack took up the conversation. “Well, I better be going,” he said. “Frith, it was lovely to meet you. Logan, let’s meet at the Paradiso Bar in, say, ten minutes?”
“Great idea, Jack,” Logan practically cooed. Frith shot her a very surprised look. “We have so much catching up to do.” The tone in her voice shouted the implication that the catching up would be in the bedroom.
Wiremu and Frith did their best in ‘remembering’ appointments that would take them out of the office. As they were about to head down the stairs, Logan grabbed Frith by the hand.
“Let them go first and draw whatever tail Sarah may have left out there,” she murmured quietly in Frith’s ear. “Is there a back way out of this place?”
Frith nodded, and they waited as first Jack, then Wiremu left the building.
Down the stairs, Frith led Logan behind the staircase and out a rear door into a tidy alley. Logan was impressed, the gentrification of this part of town even extended to the alleyways.
She took the lead then and within minutes they were at Logan’s Mazda.
“Get in the back and lie down.”
“Oooh – just the invitation I’ve been waiting for,” Frith half-joked as she slid into the back seat.
They waited in the car-park for a good five minutes, Logan scanning the surrounding area for any sign they had been followed. In total silence.
Finally, Frith spoke. “How much longer?”
“Now should be okay.”
Logan drove out of the car-park and turned north along Oriental Parade. The Parade was popular with pedestrians, roller-bladers and joggers at lunchtime, as well as many trades-people eating their home-packed lunch in vans and work-cars. She kept an eye in the rear-vision mirror, looking for any following vehicles. None were apparent.
She drove fairly directly to Frith’s house, high up on Mt Victoria. The twisting, winding, narrow streets of Roseneath meant they traveled slowly, but it still only took them another few minutes. As she parked (illegally on the sidewalk, of course) Logan considered the next step.
Turning to Frith, who was levering herself upright, she said, “I’m going in first to make sure there are no unwelcome visitors. Gimme your house keys.”
Frith pulled them out of her satchel. “Here. It’s this one, in the top lock,” she said. “How long should I wait before coming in?”
“If I’m not back in five minutes, skedaddle. Head back to your office and wait for me or Jack to contact you.”
“He’s a spy,” Logan grinned. “And, I’m pretty sure, one of the good guys.”
“Be careful,” Frith reached out and touched Logan’s arm. Logan grabbed Frith’s hand and kissed it.
“I will,” she promised. “Don’t move.” And with that she was out of the car and jogging up the steps.
She slowed to a walk as the path to Frith’s house turned off from its neighbours. Wellington suburbs were worse than rabbit warrens. A watcher could be up any of these other paths, or even clear across the central city on the Kelburn hill, watching with high-powered equipment. Privacy was much sought-after but seldom achieved in this town.
Frith’s house was well hidden from its neighbours – the judicial use of trees, shrubs and the natural curve of the hill allowing a modicum of separation. It was a 1920’s weatherboard house, painted white with a dark green trim on the windowsills and door frames. The path leveled out as it approached the house and crossed a small grassed area with some early daffodils and a late flowering daphne bush giving off its sharp perfume.
Up the last few steps to the front door, Logan peered in the stained-glass surrounds. Nothing obvious. She walked around the house as best she could, making the acquaintance of an elderly black and white cat at the back door.
She returned to the front-door and let herself in.
Inside, the hallway was wood paneled, kauri timber Logan guessed. White plaster walls contrasted with the golden wood, reaching high to the ceiling some twelve feet above. Three rooms opened off the hall. Quickly she looked in each room.
Two were bedrooms, one obviously a spare room. The other door led into a living room.
Everything looked in place. At the end of the hall, with a door into the living room, was the kitchen. It was modern within the constraints of the era of the house – new benches, cupboards and appliances. Off the kitchen was the laundry and bathroom, and a porch for the back door. The black and white cat poked its head in the cat door but scurried off when Logan tested the back door lock.
She felt guilty (that she checked) and yet relieved that it was apparent that only one person lived here – one toothbrush, one towel on the towel-rail, one coffee mug in the drying rack.
Time to get Frith, before she took off.
As she walked quietly down the path, she stopped dead in her tracks as she heard footsteps coming up. She ducked behind a large hydrangea and waited. ‘Oh for christ’s sake,’ she groaned to herself, as Frith walked past her. ‘Can’t you follow simple instructions?’ Logan knew she was being a little unreasonable. Unless you had experienced the down-side of the cloak-and-dagger life, it always seemed preposterous that people could be hurt, or worse, by blundering in unawares.
A quick mental flash of the screams of a middle-aged woman, clutching her young child to her as they died at the hands of her assailant. The smell of blood filled her senses. The sickening sound of metal in flesh …..
Logan swallowed hard – the nausea from the too-vivid memory threatening to overwhelm her.
“Frith!” she hissed, and had a slight satisfaction in seeing the younger woman jump. “I told you to wait for me.”
She jumped down from her hiding place and they walked the remaining distance together.
Back inside the house, Logan quietly said, “Let’s go on to the verandah.” As Frith went to answer, Logan placed her finger on her lips and gestured – ‘show me’.
She led the way out though the living-room, with its high stud and tall sash windows, on to a generous verandah looking out over a breath-taking view of Wellington harbour. The house was not as exposed as it might have been, partially obscured by the pine trees and macrocarpas of the city’s green-belt.
Once outside, Logan closed the french-doors and talked more normally. Her frame of mind was shaken, her normal resilience to surprises was corroding under the weight of her memories.
“Jack will bring some bug-scanners,” she said. “Until then it is best to wait out here. Now – are you going to tell me everything?”
Frith looked at her in shock.
“What do you mean?” she gasped.
Logan snorted. “I’m not a strong believer in coincidences,” she stated. “First, Sarah Harris at Solaris. Then Jack. And me – was that just an accident too? What do you want from me?”
Her grip on Frith’s arm grew tighter. She cried out, “Logan! You’re hurting me!”
“Sorry,” snapped Logan, but her grip slackened only slightly. “Well?”
Just then a gentle knock at the door interrupted the tense scene.
“That’ll be Jack. Let him in.” Logan released Frith’s arm abruptly. She rubbed at it, looking away, unable to meet Logan’s eyes.
Jack had a black sports bag with him. Once inside the front-door, he motioned for Frith to be quiet. Working quickly, he checked the two phones, lightfittings, tables, and door and window frames with a scanner.
Frith followed him from room to room, anxious for the moment not to be alone with Logan.
Logan stayed out on the balcony, glowering. Fear for Frith flooded through her, so apparently unsuited to be playing this kind of game, mixed with suspicion about her motivation for being in the game at all. Logan had been prepared to accept the way they met, but hearing Sarah’s voice had shaken her.
Was Frith being played by an expert? Did Frith know she was being played? Surely not, her heart pleaded.
She considered Sarah Harris, the Communications Manager for Tall Trees. Last seen, or more accurately heard, by Logan, screaming obscenities and hurling clothes as the depth of the betrayal became apparent. Logan knew about betrayal from personal experience. She had deceived others – a thousand times.
The last time had had consequences so horrific that she had just packed up and walked away. And spent the next three months in therapy and exile, trying to find absolution.
Jack finished his work and joined Logan on the verandah. She was leaning on the railing, gloomily staring out over the harbour. He recognised this mood and knew enough not to irritate her. All her beauty, intelligence and spirit hid a violence he had witnessed several times and did not particularly wish to see again.
He leaned beside her, not speaking for a long moment, planning his approach. This meeting with Logan needed to go exactly right.
“You wanted me?” he eventually asked. It was their old joke, based on his long standing desire to be more than friends and her decision to remain merely comrades. Jack McKechnie had been her contact in the Fraud Squad as Logan investigated do-gooders, usually with their hands in the till. Her ability to move without some of the procedural constraints of the Police Department complemented his access to intelligence data. Together they had made a formidable, though unofficial, team. Until three months ago.
Three long months ago, when her world had shattered around her. Jack had been first on the scene and witnessed the carnage. He had whisked Logan away to the safety of a private clinic, where no questions were asked. He had seen her only once since that dark day. The woman he had met with then had not been the same vibrant woman he loved. She had been a shadow, a wraith. Defensive, haunted and subdued. His heart had cried for his friend, but he had walked away. She had not wanted him, even then.
“Yes,” she finally replied, turning towards him. “And I suspect you know why.”
“Tall Trees,” he said simply.
“Is it serious?” she asked.
Although Logan was tall, Jack still towered over her. His unremarkable, good-looking face was at her level as he stooped. Logan thought idly, as she had many times, ‘Must make being undercover a bitch.’ She waited for him to continue.
“So, what’s the deal with you and Ms Buchanan?” His slightly snarky questioned intimated he suspected more than a professional relationship.
Logan ignored his implied question.
“I ran into her out at a hydroponics place up the Kapiti Coast.” She noticed his tiny reaction, quickly controlled. “She had a bit of trouble with a security guard.”
“I guess you know about the involvement of her company, Solaris, with Tall Trees? Of course you do, you were there.”
Logan returned her gaze to the city.
“Let’s wait until Mr Kale gets here, shall we? I only want to hear this story once,” she said, evenly.
As if on cue, Wiremu’s dark head appeared, bobbing up the path.
“Okay inside?” she asked.
“Sure, nothing there. And no sign of any surveillance, though in this neighbourhood it’s way too easy to set up a directional mike or telephoto camera in any of those houses,” he gestured at the surrounding villas and apartments.
Most of the houses in Roseneath were wooden villas built in the 1910’s and 1920’s. They were old but well cared for – the sunny aspects, the views, the beautiful trees of the green-belt and the proximity to the city made it the most desirable locale in the city.
Logan frowned. How could Frith afford to own a house here? Or even rent one without a room-mate?
Inside, Frith let her employer into the hall. She motioned him to precede her into the livingroom. Taking a steadying breath, she followed him in as Jack and Logan came in through the french-doors opposite.
“Right,” said Jack. “It’s safer in here – no bugs and away from prying eyes.”
“Why don’t you start, Jack?” suggested Logan. “I don’t believe Mr Kale or Ms Buchanan have any idea who the fuck you are.” The bitter note in her voice startled Jack. He raised his hands in a calming gesture.
“I’m Jack Wilson. I’ve worked with Logan before, on fraud investigations. Now I’m seconded somewhere a bit more security conscious …. let’s just say …. for the government.”
Logan was not surprised to hear Jack use a false name. But it did indicate a lack of trust of some or all of their companions. ‘Including me?’ she wondered cynically. Perhaps he was going to use this meeting to tempt some information, or someone, into the open.
“It seems that someone in the New Zealand government is assisting Tall Trees to break our border control for genetically engineered organisms. What exactly they are sneaking in the back-door …. well, we don’t know precisely what yet. But my information is that a hybrid has been created of a common grass and what was once a disease carried only by insects. An contagious epidemic disease. It’s adapting from an arthropod vector to an organic one.”
He paused, inviting reaction or comment.
“My god,” exclaimed Wiremu, “You don’t mean biological weapons? Here in New Zealand?”
“It’s not certain that they are biological weapons, not exactly,” replied Jack.
“Then what?” asked Logan, curtly.
“Rather than biological terrorism, like setting off a canister of anthrax in New York, this seems to be more like biological sabotage. Longer term damage rather than short-term devastation. But, as I said, we don’t know for certain.”
Wiremu looked pale. “And why would anyone in their right minds want to unleash something like that here in New Zealand?” He turned to Frith in appeal. “We haven’t got up anyone’s noses lately, have we? I mean, like the French blowing up the Rainbow Warrior?”
Frith was silent. She was too aware of the cold suspicion pouring off Logan’s presence. Suspicion aimed directly at her.
Jack answered him. “It may not be directed at us. We may be being used as some kind of laboratory or testing ground. For an assault on a similar type of country.”
BINGO! If Frith could have gone any paler, she would have. In fact, she looked like she was about to …….
Wiremu leapt to the blonde’s side and supported her on the couch. Logan and Jack exchanged glances over his head as he held her, rubbing her back gently. “C’mon Frith. Snap out of it. Pull yourself together, babe.”
He turned to the others. “A glass of water would help,” he suggested firmly.
Logan walked into the kitchen, looking for the elusive cupboard with the glasses. Jack joined her in the search.
As the faucet ran, Logan asked, “What’s going on with Frith? What’s your interest in her?”
Jack did not seem surprised by the quiet question. His voice, equally quiet, was urgent and rapid.
“Wonder how she can afford this place on a part-time contract with a small computer company? She’s only 25. She has strong contacts with Greenpeace – no, more than just her sister – it’s Darryl Booth in particular. He has some kind of hold over her. Combined with the fact her parents are major shareholders in -”
He was interrupted by Wiremu opening the living room door. “Good god, how long does a simple glass of water take? If this is the state of efficiency in our secret services…..” he trailed off as he disappeared into the other room, glass firmly in hand. They heard the murmur of voices.
“Shareholders? In what – not Tall Trees?”
“Yup. Major players too. Her dad used to be on the Board, until a year ago or so.”
“Fuck,” swore Logan. “And the Greenpeace thing? What about that slime, Booth?”
“She was having an affair with him,” Jack said. “Usual story, I guess. She wanted the thrill of a grown-up affair. He panted over her in front of everyone. Even his wife, I heard.”
It was Logan’s turn to go pale. She leaned back against the kitchen bench.
The investigation she had started into Darryl Booth, the local New Zealand head of Greenpeace, had come to an abrupt halt when the embattled Director had suffered a nervous breakdown. She had moved on to more promising stories, leaving the investigation up to the authorities – up to Jack.
She tried to turn her thoughts from the mental image of Frith with Darryl.
“Where did that thing go? After I ditched it, I mean,” she asked.
“It turned into a criminal case, rather than a fraud investigation,” he replied. “Not accepting kickbacks, as we initially figured. More like extortion.”
She saw Frith’s passion flushed face, half hidden by a man’s naked shoulder.
“Extortion?” she muttered weakly.
“He had something on Tall Trees, something big. And she was involved. Not just sexually, though I’m sure it was hot and heavy.”
Frith’s naked body moving against his urgently..
“This bio-weapon thing?” Logan was feeling sick now.
“Maybe,” replied Jack.
She closed her eyes, but the vision remained.
Frith was being fucked from behind by the man, her body arching in ecstasy.
He leaned closer. Time for the kill. “Logan ….. he had something tangible. Evidence. I don’t know what. And it’s gone. She must have it.”
Logan turned the faucet on full and splashed a handful of water into her face.
“I’ve been waiting for her to make a move for nearly twelve months. And look who she just happens to run in to. You. She’s using you, Kendrick. She’s just fucking your brains out like she did that shit-head. I hope she’s dynamite in the sack.”
The sounds of Frith’s voice raised at the moment of orgasm, and the animalistic grunts of her lover, filled Logan’s mind.
“Something the matter, lover girl?” Jack sneered.
“You PRICK!” she shouted, as she swung her fist viciously, hitting Jack flush on the jaw. The big man went down in a heap.
As the thud echoed around the surfaces of the kitchen, the door swung open and two inquisitive faces peered cautiously in. Eyes widened as they saw Jack on the floor and Logan vigorously rubbing her hand.
“What the heck is going on?” asked Frith. She was still pale.
Logan controlled herself with an effort. She swung around to face the two workmates.
“Just a difference of opinion,” she said, coolly.
Frith’s expression was skeptical.
“Riiight. And I’m the Queen of Sheba.”
“Well, your majesty,” came Jack’s voice, “if you’ll just move your pretty backside….?” He raised himself off the kitchen floor. “Nice clean floor,” he commented. “Good cleaning lady?”
“Jack!” snarled Logan, warningly.
“Playtime over?” he asked lightly. “I’m outta here, then.”
He went into the hallway, grabbed his bag of tricks and left. His mission accomplished, Logan was now primed and ready to explode. And all he needed to do was stand back and wait for the smoke to clear. Somewhere in the debris would be the missing piece he needed to finish this business.
In the ten seconds his departure took, Frith and Wiremu stared open-mouthed at Logan. She looked nonchalant, or attempted to. Frith noted the damp hair and ashen face.
Turning, she dragged Wiremu into the living room.
“Boss ….. why don’t you head off back to work? Nothing’s going to happen here.”
He protested, but allowed Frith to bundle him out the front door. In a few moments, he found himself standing on the steps outside the firmly shut front door of Frith’s house.
By the time Frith got back into the kitchen, Logan had gone. There was no sign of her in the living room, nor on the deck. The hallway and spare bedroom were empty. As she walked into her bedroom, the door swung shut behind her and she was grabbed firmly and shoved against the wall. Logan’s body pressed against her, driving the breath from Frith’s body.
“What have you done to me?” hissed Logan. “You’ve told me nothing but lies. You made me hit my best friend.” Her voice cracked. “I’ve known you for forty-eight hours and ….”
“And what?” Frith fought to draw breath. “Did I touch you … as deeply as you’ve touched me? Logan …. I…. what do you want from me?”
The grip around her arms tightened convulsively.
“Tell me the truth. That’s all I need. The truth.”
The proximity of Logan’s body began working its magic on Frith. Despite, or maybe because of, the barely suppressed violence emanating from the taller woman, Frith was almost instantly in a state of high arousal. Fighting for a little space, she managed to free her arms, snaking them around Logan’s body and holding the dark angry woman close to her. She sought out now familiar blue eyes and, maintaining eye contact, kissed Logan. The kiss was surprisingly gentle, lips exploring softly.
Logan was struggling with her emotions, one part of her relishing the surprising tenderness, wanting to let herself be gentled by the small blonde woman who was holding her tight, as if her life depended on it. But the adrenaline in her body was not so easily soothed. Her hand still throbbed dully, a reminder of having punched Jack. And the memory of punching Jack was enough for her mind to play even crueler games on her vulnerable psyche. The image of Frith, naked, on all fours, being fucked from behind by that bastard Darryl Booth, flooded her mind.
Logan shook her head, trying to erase the unwelcome picture in her head. Her doubts about Frith’s motives were too present and too threatening for gentleness. Using her body to keep Frith still, she reached behind her back and grabbed Frith’s wrists and forced them above the blonde woman’s head, pinning them against the wall effectively immobilising the smaller woman. Strong enough to hold Frith’s wrists with one hand, with the other she ripped her shirt open and pushed her bra up and over her breasts. Logan bent her head and sucked a nipple into her mouth – hard. After a short time she raised her head, her teeth grazing over the hard nipple as her mouth retreated.
It was Logan’s turn to make eye contact, her gaze hard, drilling into the blonde woman’s eyes.
“So, what will it be? You ready to talk, or shall I take you now? You’d like it a little rough, wouldn’t you? I bet you’re already wet for me. If I keep your mouth busy, at least it won’t be able to tell any more lies.” Logan pressed Frith’s hands a little harder against the wall for emphasis. She reclaimed a breast, roughly massaging it.
By now Frith’s anger was on the rise.
“For Christ’s sake Logan, cut the macho bullshit and cool it. If you would behave like a rational human being for a second I’ll tell you whatever you want to know. Let me go.” She struggled against the hold Logan had on her. It was to no avail, her strength being no match for Logan’s.
Frith was now really pissed. Serious action was required. Dredging up lesson two of the YWCA’s self defence class she raised her foot, and jammed it down on Logan’s instep.
“Ow! Fuck, fuck, fuck and double fuck”. The pain in Logan’s foot instantly cleared the journalist’s head and she released Frith’s hands.
Frith, enjoying the victory for a moment, rammed home the point, spitting out her words.
“Don’t you ever do that again. I will not stand for it. How dare you behave like some testosterone-laden jerk? I have had enough of those in my life. I do not need another one. I don’t give a fuck who you are or what you think of me. Got it?”
Frith stood, hands on her hips, glaring up at Logan, taking in short sharp breaths.
Logan, however, was made of tough stuff, used to staring down politicians and captains of industry. She also knew when retreat was the best strategic option.
“I don’t suppose I’d get away with telling you that you are beautiful when you’re angry?” A crooked half-smile sketched across Logan’s face in an apology of sorts.
Frith’s temper, as impressive as it was, was quick to arrive and equally quick to disappear. Taking in another deep calming breath, she gave a small smile.
“If that’s as close as you are going to get to saying sorry, I guess I’ll take it.”
“No, you get a proper apology. I’m sorry a behaved like a ‘testosterone-laden jerk’. I do that sometimes. I’m sorry you found out this soon. I’m really sorry if I hurt you, Frith.”
The look of genuine regret in Logan’s eyes was all that Frith needed. She reached out for Logan and took her in her arms, giving her an almost chaste peck on the lips.
She smiled again.
“A few useful bits of information for the journalist. One. You didn’t hurt me. Two. You did piss me off. Three. I was wet for you. Four. I think I probably would like it rough with you, just another time when you are not angry. Five. I forgive you and six, what we need to do now is talk. Come with me.”
Frith gave Logan a quick kiss on the cheek and left the tall gobsmacked woman, heading for the bathroom. She adjusted her disheveled clothing as she went.
Fifteen minutes preparation and the two women were ensconced in the old fashioned claw foot tub, the fragrance of bath oil carried on steam filling the room. Logan was seated between Frith’s legs, leaning back against the other woman even as she leaned back against the bath.
No significant conversation had been exchanged, rather the two women had given into the charms of undressing each other and slowly submerging themselves in the hot water, finding their current comfortable position.
Frith decided it was time to get on with the hard stuff. She ran a cloth over Logan’s broad shoulders and kissed her on the temple.
“So, you ready to hear the sordid details of the life and times of Frith Buchanan? What would you like to know?”
Logan weighed up the possible questions, pissed off with herself that the first one to pop into her head was whether or not Frith had enjoyed fucking Darryl. Jesus, a few months out of circulation and she was behaving like a jealous schoolgirl. Safer territory was needed, at least to start.
“Tell me about your parents.”
“It’s all a bit banal, really. Your classic poor, little, rich girl story. My family is rich, they own property, this house. The one they are currently living in is in Milan. An apartment in Manhattan, a farm in Ireland and probably a couple others I have forgotten about. Anyway, you get the idea.
“My parents care a lot about money and position and knowing the right people. My mother still hasn’t recovered from being seated four down from Jackie Onassis at a lunch sometime in the mid seventies. It’s been like that all my life, the right schools, the right languages, the right clothes, for Christ’s sake, even ballet lessons and I’ve got two left feet”.
Logan reflexively stretched her bruised foot, wincing slightly. The move did not escape Frith’s notice and she lent down and kissed her shoulder.
“Sorry about your foot. Anyway, my sister and I both went to boarding school from about age seven. We looked out for each other, mum and dad were usually away somewhere. There’s one good thing about being bought up the way we were. You get independent fast, learn to think for yourself. By the time Serena and I were teenagers we understood where all the money came from, inherited blue chip stocks mostly in companies with really shaky environmental records. Exxon, Union Carbide, BP, Tall Trees – you name it, if it fucked up the environment, we had it,” Frith laughed mirthlessly.
“That’s why I got involved in Greenpeace, trying to make up for it I guess. God, that sounds so naïve now. My parents found that out after I was arrested in a demonstration. They threatened to cut me off, we had a huge fight. Looking back the Greenpeace thing was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. We’re just so different, different values…everything. Now I try and live as independently as I can, although this is still their house. I’m as much of a hypocrite as they are.”
Logan stroked Frith’s thigh, encouraging her to continue. “You’re not a hypocrite, you’re trying to live as best you can. It’s pretty much what everyone does. Is that why you drive that old Suzuki Samurai?”
Frith laughed quietly again, but with some amusement this time. “Yeah. Dad wanted to buy me a Land Cruiser. A year or so ago they decided to retry buying our affection. Christmas present that time, I think. I wanted a RAV4, but I could only afford a ten-year-old Sammy. It’s cute and functional –”
“Gee, thanks,” said Frith. “Functional, huh?”
“Cute,” said Logan affectionately.
Frith blushed slightly.
“I’m saving up to buy a new one – a Vitara. Those RAV4’s are still too pricey. Anyway, when I was at Greenpeace, one of the guys, well, Darryl Booth actually, was doing some work on Tall Trees, thinking there was maybe something shady going on. It was public knowledge that one of their subsidiaries was still logging native forests. Dad was on the board of directors at that point. He owned about 15% of the company. Darryl wanted me to get information from him.”
Logan was confused. She was sure she knew all the main players on the Tall Trees board from her previous investigations into insider trading and there wasn’t a Buchanan among them.
“What’s your father’s name?”
“Alexander Richardson. I use my maternal grandmother’s name. Another futile attempt at independence I guess.”
On hearing the name Logan immediately conjured up a picture of the man in question – blond, short, rugged, good looking in impeccably cut suits. Sandy Richardson was probably on the periphery of the insider trading that had been going on at Tall Trees but had got out just in time, resigning his directorship and divesting quite a large percentage of his shares. Logan had tried but none of the dirt that had taken down two other office holders would stick on the very slick Mr Richardson.
Logan gave no hint that she knew who Frith’s father was as the blonde woman stretched a little to get comfortable and continued her story.
“There’s not a lot else really. I was stupid enough to believe Darryl was investigating for the greater good, so I agreed to help him, digging up what I could about Dad which wasn’t much. I eventually figured out that Darryl’s motives were somewhat more basic …. and after he …. well, I was silently cheering when you came into the Greenpeace office that day and did him over. I’ve never seen anyone go so white. And I thought I loved him. Jesus…” Frith sighed and wound her arms around Logan tightly, drawing comfort from the feel of her skin.
Logan nodded. “Darryl was in way too deep. He didn’t have the balls to play games with the big boys and extortion is a big boys game.” A pause, then she casually continued, “So what did Darryl have on Tall Trees?”
“I never knew. But he used to make nasty jokes about American farms. When Jack said that thing …. about a country like New Zealand … I wondered if that … if… that was what …..” she trailed off.
“Come on, enough of this. Let’s get out of the bath or we are both going to be like prunes.”
Logan stood, the water cascading down her body and stepped out of the bath. Reaching down she offered a hand to Frith, helping her to her feet. She grabbed a large fluffy bath towel, still warm from the heated rail and wrapped the smaller woman up in it, patting her gently dry.
Frith’s openness about her family and about Darryl had disarmed Logan. She wasn’t used to such honesty. The people she had lived and loved with generally wanted something from her, which meant that exchanges of information or body fluid were generally conditional, part of a complex system of barter that Logan no longer found tenable.
Wrapping another large towel around herself she lead Frith from the bathroom and back into the bedroom. Logan dropped her own towel to the floor, deliberately displaying her body for Frith.
“You have to be anywhere in a hurry?” The tall woman was at her seductive best, but she knew that if she were being honest with herself this wasn’t about seduction or even lust or the thrill of the chase. This was something more.
Frith indicated with a shake of her head that she had no other pressing engagements. Right now she couldn’t imagine anything on earth that would be important enough to warrant walking away from the beautiful naked woman in front of her.
“Good,” said Logan. “Come here.”
Logan took Frith in her arms and kissed her. Soon Frith’s towel was also on the floor, the women exploring each others skin, rendered even more soft and smooth and fragrant from the bath oil.
By mutual, unspoken agreement they got into the bed, snuggling under the covers, clinging to the warmth of each others body until the chill of the sheets disappeared. If their first night together was characterised by urgency and passion, this afternoon was calm and gentle, both of them taking time to stroke and taste and explore without haste. Neither of them felt the need to accelerate the pace toward climax, rather they reveled in the sweet arousal. Soft kisses were exchanged along with lingering touches, limbs intertwined so that it was difficult to tell where one woman began and the other finished.
Eventually the meandering journey became little more purposeful, bodies pressing into each other a little more urgently.
Logan leaned up on one elbow, cupping one of Frith’s breasts, her thumb teasing a very alert nipple.
“Show you what?” Frith’s voice was quizzical.
“You said last night that you don’t usually come with other people, that you get yourself off. I want to see. Show me,” Logan repeated, encouraging the other woman.
“Oh….” Frith hesitated and searched Logan’s face for some re-assurance.
“Please show me.” Logan pushed the covers off them, the sight of their tangled limbs beautifully erotic. She nuzzled Frith’s neck and pressed her thigh between the other woman’s legs. She reached over and took Frith’s hand, threading their fingers together, gliding their hands over Frith’s body.
Frith moaned – the feeling of being simultaneously stroked by Logan and herself was unbelievable.
“Show me.” The words whispered in her ear gave her confidence in her body and its reactions.
Frith took the initiative and directed their joined hands, fingertips tracing a increasingly heated path over her breasts and across her stomach and into her pubic hair where they paused, stroking quietly. Logan was content to let Frith lead, enjoying the wonderful sight of Frith’s body stretched out, her eyes closed, their joined hands weaving a little magic over her. Almost by accident fingers playing in pubic hair traveled a little further south, slipping gently between Frith’s legs which parted instinctively, her hips arching off the bed.
Frith had almost lost the ability to tell whose hand was whose and who exactly was creating the sensations in her cunt. All she knew was she felt safe and in control and loved. If there was surprise that the “love” word had entered her head, it wasn’t sufficient to distract her from leading the dance of hands underway between her legs.
And soon the sensation was just enough, aided a little by Logan taking a nipple between her lips and running her tongue back and forth over its tip.
“Oh … Logan….” The blonde woman moaned her lover’s name as she quietly and intensely climaxed.
After a few minutes, reaching for Logan, Frith insinuated herself back into her arms, kissing her collar bone. “That was lovely.” Frith looked up and smiled. “You are lovely.”
Logan grinned happily and squeezed the blonde woman tightly. “So are you.”
It crossed Frith’s mind that maybe she should rouse herself a little and make love to Logan but, really, the sense of calm pervading her body was too wonderful to deny. She felt her eyelids getting heavy as an incongruous thought flitted through her mind.
“Logan,” she murmured sleepily, ” Do you really think Sarah Harris bugged my office?” And with that, she drifted off.
Logan kissed the woman in her arms on the top of her head and wished her ‘sweet dreams’.
Her thoughts inevitably turned to less pleasant concerns, specifically the unanswered questions surrounding Tall Trees and the associated cast of characters. Covering Frith with the sheet and duvet, she slipped from the bed.
She looked out the bay window of Frith’s bedroom, over the harbour towards Wellington central city. Frith’s confession had moved her – but the dilemma remained. What to do now? How to get closer to Tall Trees?
Face it, the issue was – how would she approach Sarah? Did Sarah know she was involved yet? How deeply involved was Sarah herself? She had been a trifle melodramatic with the warning about the Communications Manager for Tall Trees having possibly bugged Frith’s office at Solaris Consulting. If she had, Wiremu and Jack had cheerfully and loudly announced Logan’s name.
As Frith moved in her sleep on the bed, Logan thought about the last woman to love her. Sarah Harris. The buxom blonde woman had caught her eye immediately at the Tall Trees stockholder meeting Logan had covertly attended. She had been employed for the night by the catering company, a favour owed by a friend.
To be fair, Sarah had caught the eye and the libido of most men and not a few of the women present as well. Her generous figure, poured into a tight red dress, had shrieked sex, sex, sex and more sex to Logan’s starving senses.
Logan had been quietly dating Tall Trees Chief Executive, Alan Gadsby, at the time. In fact, he had asked her to investigate the possibility of insider trading by one of his senior managers. But the sexual component of their relationship had not advanced as far as Logan had wanted. He seemed to be weighing her up as potential marriage material, rather than a roll in the hay. She had briefly considered it too. Having just turned thirty and feeling alone, suffering one of the frequent bouts of mild depression which plagued her life, she thought about the future.
Sarah had just blown that all away with a single wink and smirk. Logan gritted her teeth and rejected Sarah’s initial overture with her business
card. The blonde had squared up to the challenge and flirted furiously with her all night, until she followed Logan into the women’s bathroom.
Logan was washing her hands, when the door had opened and closed behind her. She paid no attention, until the pressure of hands reaching straight for her breasts registered in her brain along with the fragrance of a Gaultier perfume.
Logan had known immediately who it was. Two seconds of delicious pressure on her breasts was all it took to decide to blow off the angle she was investigating and a potential alliance with a powerful man.
“Darling, you really do have the most gorgeous tits. I just had to touch them”. Sarah pulled Logan into the closest stall and claimed her mouth. Her hands reached down and lifted Logan’s skirt up and over her thighs. She ended the kiss and spoke again, her words as useful as her hands in teasing Logan.
“You have had me so hot for it all night, sashaying around in your little catering drag. It was all I could do not do bend you over the hors-d’oeuvres table, rip your knickers off and have you in front of all one hundred and fifty of those boring little stockholders. Now, wouldn’t that have gotten their dividends up?”
The humour enabled Logan to recover a little and to take some of the initiative back. “I may have gorgeous tits but you … you have the most fuckable body I have seen in a long, long time, and fuck you is what I am going to do.”
Logan turned the other woman, forcing her hard up against the cool wall of the toilet stall. It faintly crossed Logan’s mind that perhaps she should close the door, but Sarah’s butt grinding into her groin was shorting out important connections in her brain, rendering her incapable of carrying out any manual activity that did not require her hands on Sarah’s soft, full flesh.
Reaching down Logan grasped the hem of the red velvet dress, the colour and texture of the fabric presaging two of the more salient qualities of Sarah’s cunt. The dress ascended Sarah’s body, up over thighs, buttocks, rounded belly and full breasts until it was bunched under her armpits.
“Jesus … fucking … christ.” Logan let out a long breath and took in the picture that was Sarah – a pornographer’s wet dream. The woman went for the classic accoutrement of sexual fantasy, sheer seamed black stockings and garter belt the only underwear she saw fit to wear. Logan grabbed Sarah by the waist and pulled her back from the wall so she was slightly bent at the hips, the blonde using her elbows to brace herself.
The months of celibate game-playing with Alan Gadsby resulted in a degree of sexual frustration Logan had rarely experienced in her generally promiscuous life. A beautiful woman was practically naked in front of her in a semi-public bathroom, stockinged legs spread for her. Logan didn’t know whether she wanted to bury her fingers or her face in the cunt on offer. Sarah, however, knew what she wanted.
“Get your fingers in me – now.” A thrust of round backside added emphasis.
Logan, never the most compliant of women, decided on this occasion to do as she was told. Logan shaped her body against Sarah’s. Her mouth tasted tender skin on a neck hidden under curly blonde hair, her left hand reached around and firmly grasped a heavy breast, while her dominant right slid down the cleft between full buttocks and, on encountering a gratifying degree of lubrication, two fingers began fucking Sarah.
The woman in the disheveled red dress arched backwards into the touch and met Logan’s thrusts stroke for stroke. “Oh yes, darling woman, fuck me.”
Logan’s own cunt was throbbing, signaling a very strong interest in its own direct involvement. Reluctantly releasing Sarah’s breast, Logan slid her hand down pliant flesh seeking out the blonde woman’s clitoris, now using both her hands in synchronisation to ratchet Sarah’s arousal up even further. Logan’s firm hold on the woman also enabled her to maneuver her long legs either side of Sarah’s rocking hip, the subsequent explosion of sensation in her own sex making her lose her rhythm briefly.
“Easy, darling, we can do this together.” Sarah slowed her own movements, generously allowing Logan to catch up. Soon the two women, strangers, were moving together with a precision that would have had even the Russian judges reaching for the number ten score card.
The click of the outer door handle being turned gave them a nanosecond’s warning that they were about to have company. The woman who
walked in was an old friend and drinking buddy of Logan’s. She was also the caterer who had organised Logan’s undercover presence that evening and a woman not easily phased. Walking past the love nest that was the third toilet stall from the end, she shrieked slightly in shock at the image reflected in the mirror. She recovered quickly.
“Jesus, Kendrick! Trust you, you filthy bitch!”
Leaning casually against the marble vanity unit, she laughingly absorbed the sight of the sweaty panting women in front of her.
“Well, much as I would like to suggest that I stay and watch the finale, the meeting has just broken up and in about three minutes twenty five rich women with full bladders will be providing you with more of an audience that even you could brazen out.”
The woman grinned broadly.
Sarah had rolled her eyes at the interruption and addressed the tall dark woman whose hands were still buried between her legs.
“Well, sweetheart, much as I hate to suggest a detour so close to our destination, it does appear that a little decorum is the order of the day.”
Within minutes the two women were outside the hotel, running and giggling along the brightly lit pedestrian precinct of Cuba Street. After one brief pause when one pulled the other into a darkened doorway and kissed her wildly, they arrived at Sarah’s building. Barely in the lift, it started again. Hands, lips, thighs, arms – all pressed into the service of completion of sexual gratification.
The investigation into insider trading in Tall Trees was on hiatus.
Frith drifted from a light sleep to a waking doze. She had heard Logan get up, but she hadn’t left the house, so Frith relaxed.
Confession is good for the soul. A true cliché, Frith thought, but only if all was confessed. She had not been able to tell Logan the whole truth. She was too afraid of losing her now. Maybe later, when this was all over.
She lay there, considering the woman she was rapidly falling in love with. Was it love? The sex was fantastic. And there was something about Logan which really attracted her. Maybe it was the mix of utter competence, her dark good looks, the ever-present sense of danger and violence – and the underlying feeling that this complicated woman somehow … needed her too.
She glanced out the sash-window at the lengthening shadows of late afternoon. Soon the sun would shine directly in, before descending behind Tinakori Hill across the city. Time to get on with it – whatever it was. Maybe Logan had a plan.
Frith dragged the white cotton sheet off the bed, wrapping it around her as she walked out into the livingroom. Logan was standing at the north bay window, staring out at Somes Island in the middle of Wellington Harbour. Frith cleared her throat gently, as Logan turned towards her. Gods, she was beautiful. Dressed in only a superman t-shirt and her blue jeans, Logan made every other standard of aesthetic beauty Frith had ever known seem insipid and shallow. She wanted to touch that beauty and power, to inhale it, to make it a part of her own skin, to consume the tall woman and make them one. Then the shadows which plagued her own life would surely be banished. Together they could form one whole undamaged person.
Some of her longing must have shown in her face, for Logan crossed the room and drew her to the couch. Unwrapping Frith from the cocoon she was in, Logan tenderly kissed and caressed her. Clothes and sheet were removed, the manifestation of love needing no mundane apparel. The darkness could wait. For these moments they had each other.
Wellington by night is one of the more beautiful sights in the world. The silver lights of the office buildings nestle in a protective barrier of the surrounding hills, with orange street lamps and lit-up houses criss-crossing in an intricate pattern. The blaze of splendour sets off the brooding presence of the dark water of the harbour itself.
Logan and Frith lay entangled on the couch, looking out the french doors over the bay towards the city. The heat of passion had abated to a gentle warmth. Logan had seldom before felt so comfortable just cuddling. Her life had always been so full on, with little opportunity for the simple give and take of affection. Lust, not her less turbulent sister, had ruled her relationships in the past.
As she lay there, her thoughts turned to the work ahead of her. Jack had given her enough information to point her in the right direction. Darryl Booth had been extorting money out of Tall Trees. He had tangible evidence of something really nasty – was it the same nasty that was currently stinking up the atmosphere? Was the evidence information or an object? How did the Department of Security figure in this? Was Jack investigating or was he covering-up?
Her stomach sank as she considered that possibility. Jack and Sarah?
As if sensing her turmoil, Frith tightened her clasp around Logan’s waist.
“What’s up?” she mumbled.
“Me, in a few minutes,” replied Logan.
“Wha’ for? Can’t we just stay like this forever?”
Logan smiled in the dark.
“Bad guys to catch, conspiracies to foil. That kind of thing,” she said.
“So what’s the plan? Frith asked. “Do you have one?”
“Unfortunately, now that Jack has buggered off, I reckon Sarah is my best bet.”
Frith sat up abruptly. “You know her?” she asked.
“Oh yes… we have what you might call a history.”
“Let me guess,” said Frith. “Romantic.”
“I used to her get information for a story. Then when I had what I wanted, I dumped her.” Logan’s tone was bitter. “Frith, I’m not a very nice person. And better you should know that now…. before…”
“Before what? Before I …..”
Frith broke off. Like Logan, she couldn’t yet articulate what was growing between them. ‘Please, don’t let me fuck this one up,’ she prayed, though to whom or what she addressed this plea, she did not know.
“So, do we just turn up at her house and say – ‘hey, tell us everything’?” asked Frith.
“That’s one possible approach. But maybe ‘me’, not ‘we’.”
“No! You can’t leave me behind. Better think of another approach, buddy.”
“Buddy?” asked Logan. “That wasn’t what I’d call buddy-behaviour, you know. Except maybe it is in the South Island. Where were you brought up, again?”
“Nelson. And no changing the subject.
The two women extricated themselves from the muddle of sheets, clothes and cushions they had nested in and wandered down the hallway.
“The other approach is to find her in one of her leisure pursuits. Meet in a neutral kind of space.”
“Like at the gym?”
Logan laughed. “No way. Sarah gets all her best exercise in less, um, salubrious settings.”
“Like clubbing or the party circuit or her famous orgies.”
Frith shot her a look.
“Okay, okay….. reputed orgies.”
“So … which clubs?”
“On Friday’s she always went to Claire’s on Garrett Street.”
Frith walked towards the closet, dragging Logan with her.
“Then help me choose something to wear to Claire’s. Tonight.”
Logan made a show of reluctance. “Hold on, hold on.” She glanced at the bedside clock. “It’s only seven.” Part of her wanted to make a pretend event as close to the real thing as possible. A first date. With Frith.
“Let’s have some fun, while we’re at it,” she suggested. “There’s nothing useful to do before talking to Sarah, so let’s enjoy ourselves.”
“All right,” agreed Frith. “I’ll make us a drink, while you pick out some clothes for me. And then you are going to have to find something to wear.”
She eyed Logan up and down. “For a start, nothing I have will fit you, and secondly…” It had been bothering her from the beginning. “You must live somewhere with your own wardrobe, other than that little beach house up the Coast? Don’t you? I mean, naked women holding blue jeans and t-shirt make the grade here, but perhaps not in a club.”
“Really? Do you enforce the dress code rigidly?” asked Logan, as she dropped her clothes and squeezed her arms around Frith.
“Stop that! Oh, don’t stop that…..” Logan was kissing her throat and, pulling long blonde hair aside, worked her way along Frith’s shoulder. A shiver ran through her.
“Ah, no … thanks … toasty … hmmmm.” With an effort she pulled herself away from Logan’s embrace. “How are you doing? Cold, wearing no clothes and changing the subject?”
“I keep some clothes in my office. We could pop in there.” Logan was uncomfortable with the idea of Frith in her house in Island Bay. Not yet.
Frith caught the hesitation, but decided to ignore it. ‘No fucking this up, remember,’ she told herself sternly.
“Right then, it’s a date.” She extricated herself from long arms. “A drink perhaps? Wine? Something stronger?” She wandered into the living room. The CD player had CD’s scattered all over it. What to put on? Romantic schmaltz? That would just end them up back in bed ….. hmmmm …. She picked up Natalie Cole thoughtfully. Nope, not the objective this time. How about something dancy? Get them in the party mood rather than the other. She crouched down to her older CD’s in the drawer beneath the player. Compilation of anonymous techno? Nah. Oh – this was it. Grace Jones. Perfect. Her older sister had left this behind, a relic of the eighties.
She put the CD in and pressed play. Nothing. She checked the volume. Still nothing.
“Bugger. What’s the matter with this?” She had just gotten the player cleaned, so it was unlikely to be that. She looked at the CD. How had a data CD gotten in there? She checked the empty cover. There was Grace.
She put the correct disk in and the strains of Sly and Robbie underneath Grace’s powerful tones filled the house.
By the time she had fixed the drinks – two classic G&T’s – Logan was dressed again in her t-shirt and jeans and half a dozen items were laid out on the bed.
Frith laughed out loud as she saw what Logan wanted her in. All the shortest, skimpiest skirts in her wardrobe were partnered with tight tops.
“Well, I’ll take that as a compliment, Logan,” she said.
Logan blushed. She mumbled defensively, “Well, it gets hot in those places, you know.” She took her drink and sipping it, turned away from Frith’s smirk.
“Let me get ready. Why don’t you ring Wiremu and see if he and Brian can join us? Might make us less conspicuous. His number’s on the wall by the phone.”
It was a good idea, Logan thought. ‘I can leave Frith with them once I find Sarah.’
Out in the hall-way, she dialed Wiremu’s number. Wiremu answered and they talked for a few minutes. Details were exchanged, arrangements made.
Frith had disappeared into the bathroom. Logan was at a loose end, so she poured another drink and let the music infiltrate her consciousness. The heavy bass notes of the title track boomed around Frith’s livingroom. Logan sat on the couch, waiting while Frith showered and dressed.
A slight movement caught her eye. Frith was standing silhouetted in the doorway, the light from the hallway spilling into the darkened room. Her hair was long and loose, tinged more red than blonde in the light. The dress she was in was form fitting. Logan rose mechanically. As she moved closer to Frith, she saw the dress was tight and black, thigh length. Her breath caught, her heart-beat quickened.
Frith smiled shyly. She held up a pair of shoes and asked, “What kind of shoes?”
Logan smiled back automatically.
“I mean, are we going to be running after bad guys down dark alleys?” A pause. “C’mon Logan, talk to me.”
In answer, Logan drew Frith into the living room, removed the shoes from her grasp. The music moved her into Logan’s arms. Her hands settled on Frith’s hips, Frith’s hands slid around Logan’s waist. Her head rested on the taller woman’s breast. They swayed together.
A life-time later, Frith raised her head. Logan had her eyes closed, shutting out the whole world except for Frith’s body.
“Logan. What’s the matter?” she asked gently.
A hesitant answer came. “I don’t know if I can do this again.”
“Do what?” ‘Oh please, let her not mean me.’
“Tall Trees. Sarah. Alan. Putting you in danger.”
“Whoa right there! What are you talking about?” Frith was alarmed by Logan’s demeanor. Her tone penetrated Logan’s trance.
Hastily, she let Frith go and shook herself. ‘Get a grip, Logan. This is what you do, remember.’
“Nothing. Forget it,” she muttered. She picked up the shoes. “These look fine. Ready?”
The sudden switch in mood threw Frith for a moment.
“Oh… right… okay. Yes, I’m as ready as I can be.”
In the hall closet, she picked out a warm coat as Logan shrugged her leather jacket on.
“Your car or mine?”
“Follow me to the office. We’ll leave my car there and take yours.”
They left the house and walked down the dark path to the road. Wellington sparkled across the bay. A full moon had risen over the hills to the east of the harbour, illuminating the hills surrounding Port Nicholson. Logan’s battered yellow Mazda took off before Frith even had her seatbelt on. Hurriedly, she shoved the Suzuki into gear and, bouncing off the sidewalk, followed the distinctive tail-lights down Palliser Road towards town.
They drove through the streets of downtown Wellington as the city came alive in its ritual celebration of the end of the working week. Logan’s office in the New Business Age building was at the north end of Lambton Quay. It wasn’t really a quay anymore, although it had been when Wellington was founded. An earthquake in 1855 had jolted the shoreline of the port out by a hundred meters. Quays and wharves and jetties had all been left high and dry.
Frith parked in the top level of the underground carpark, while the Mazda disappeared down to a lower level. She waited until Logan jogged up the ramp.
“Come with me,” she ordered. The ground-floor lobby was darkened and deserted. The other employees of the publishing concern had already headed off for the bars and clubs. Using her access card, they made their way up to the twentieth floor. Logan’s office was in the prime north-east corner, overlooking Wellington Harbour and out to the Hutt Valley. She locked the door behind them.
“Make yourself at home.”
Frith automatically drifted over to the large windows. Every Wellingtonian checked out the view, no matter where they were. It was the major compensating factor for being stuck with New Zealand’s most notorious climate. They didn’t call it the Windy City for nothing. The capital’s position at the bottom of the North Island, right on the strait between it and the South Island, formed an enormous wind-tunnel effect, exacerbated by the strong ocean currents. Whatever blustery weather was going, Wellington got a double dose. At least it didn’t rain as much as in Auckland. A small consolation sometimes.
Looking around the office, Frith could easily see the public face of Logan Kendrick. Journalism awards lined one wall, framed copies of some of her biggest stories lined another. The third wall had a giant map of the world and a large map of New Zealand. She wandered over to the desk and fingered some of the tiny figurines adorning the top of Logan’s monitor. Hmmmm… was Virgil from Thunderbirds ogling Uhura from Star Trek? Or was Counselor Troi doing the ogling? She noticed the calendar was still set on May. Had Logan not been here for over three months?
Logan had disappeared into the ensuite bathroom. When she emerged, hair still damp from the shower, she was dressed ready for action. Of a sort.
Faded blue jeans were gone, replaced by figure-hugging black leather pants. T-shirt was gone, replaced by what Frith could only characterise as a black leather bra. A loose silk shirt was draped over one shoulder.
Frith felt her legs wobble underneath her. To save some shred of dignity, she sat down with a thump on the office chair.
“My god. You look …..” Words failed her….. ‘Like you’re setting out to seduce someone,’ her mind helpfully supplied. ‘Other than me,’ it meanly continued.
But Logan was all business now.
“Ready? Good, let’s go.” And with that she lead the way out of her office and to the lifts. The elevator stopped twice on the way down. The first time two weary-looking men in suits got in, nodding politely to the women.
The second time, an older woman entered. Behind her, a distinguished man walked past the lift as the door closed.
As Frith squeezed out of the lift ahead of the two men, she was surprised to see Logan’s face had gone dead white. Pulling her aside and waiting until the foyer was empty she asked, “What’s up, Logan? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Logan placed her hand over Frith’s mouth. She motioned with her head. Frith followed her gaze to the camera in the high corner. Taking her by the hand, Logan led her outside and to the visitor’s carpark. Only when they were safe in Frith’s car, did she feel safe enough to speak.
“Did you see that man, when the lift stopped?” she asked.
“Tall, good-looking, fifty-ish? Sure,” Frith answered.
“Did you see who was with him?”
She hadn’t. The lift door had closed too soon.
Logan was still white as a sheet. “I thought … it looked like … ” She couldn’t continue.
“Who, Logan? Who was it? Sarah?”
“No,” she whispered. “It was Jack.”
Logan had arranged with Wiremu to meet for dinner at Flipp, one of Wellington’s funkiest restaurants, and only a five minute walk from Claire’s. It was just before 8.30 when the Suzuki pulled into the tiny carpark beside the old building which housed the Brasserie. Climbing the marble stairs to the first floor, the women could hear Wiremu’s voice clearly, wafting down the stairwell.
“No, I reserved a smoking table. What do you mean I can smoke at the bar? Oh, for christ’s sake!”
Frith grinned and rolled her eyes. Logan’s spirits were slowly returning to normal after the shock of seeing Jack with the Managing Editor of the New Business Age. What had he been doing there?
But now, she had a few hours to kill before heading to the nightclub to try and contact Sarah. Dinner with Frith, her boss and his boyfriend seemed relatively innocuous and a chance to regain her composure. She felt a bit rusty around people after three months of isolation.
At the top of the stairs, Wiremu was still remonstrating with the maitre de hotel. To one side stood a taller, slightly tubby man with wispy blond hair. His irritated expression changed to a good-natured smile as he saw Frith.
“Gidday, Frith,” he greeted her. “Can you calm the mad little bastard down?”
“No way, Brian,” she replied. “That’s your delegated task. We just ignore him at work.”
Wiremu turned to her, leaving the hapless maitre d’ gesturing furiously to one of the waiting staff.
“And because you ignore me there, I am forced to play the drama queen in public!”
“Just the queen, if you ask me,” muttered Brian.
“I most certainly did not, my friend!” exclaimed Wiremu. “Frith, you look divine. Wear that outfit the next time those wankers from the Ministry of Defence want a demo of an intranet. I do love to watch straight boys in uniform sweat. Logan, my goodness, you obviously keep in shape, don’t you?”
Logan had removed her leather jacket. Looking down ruefully, she buttoned up the silk shirt to fit in with the more decorous demands of a restaurant. Frith looked regretful as delicious skin disappeared from view.
As Wiremu turned again to badger the maitre d’, Logan and Brian shook hands and introduced themselves. They agreed they must have met at some journalistic function someplace sometime.
The harassed maitre d’ now had a table ready for them. Fortunately for Logan’s digestion, it was away from the eight foot by ten foot painting of the severed sheep’s head.
Two hours later, Logan was prepared to admit that social events were more enjoyable with Frith than they had been before. Perhaps it was the low level but good-natured flirting, perhaps the queer company with intelligent and wide-ranging discussions, or maybe the occasional hand on her thigh, followed by a dazzling smile. The tension which had threatened to engulf her before had subsided to a manageable level. Logan Kendrick, big trouble, had been replaced by Logan Kendrick, potential friend. It was a pleasant change.
Wiremu had kept away from the events of earlier in the day, though several times Logan had caught a glitter in his eyes as he looked her way.
By eleven, she was starting to feel anxious about the rest of the night. She had no doubt that Sarah would be at Claire’s. But Logan had no clear idea about how to approach her. Other than to duck whatever object Sarah would aim at her head. Sarah had her own ideas about the world and forgiveness was low on the list. But even with her expensive tastes, would she knowingly connive at a plot to test a biological weapon in New Zealand? Logan’s gut feeling was that she wouldn’t.
Twenty minutes later, the foursome were checking their coats and jackets at Claire’s. Claire’s was a dance floor downstairs and a jazz club upstairs. At Logan’s suggestion they headed upstairs first. A trio of piano, guitar and vocalist was performing in the large, crowded room. Wiremu headed for the bar to procure some drinks. Frith and Brian sat chatting while Logan excused herself to go to the bathroom.
When Wiremu rejoined his friends, he could no longer keep away from the topic which had pre-occupied him throughout the day. Taking advantage of Logan’s absence, he broached the topic with Frith.
“So, what’s the deal with the bio-terrorism shit?” he asked bluntly.
“I have no idea, Willy,” Frith replied, wearily. Apart from the emotional highs and lows of the day, the self-same question had nagged at her too. She knew Darryl had been blackmailing Tall Trees about something. When the html files for the Tall Trees web-site had referred to the hydroponics farm and the Texas lab, she had assumed (or had she really jumped to a conclusion?) that same something was involved.
Where was Logan?
Logan bypassed the bathrooms entirely. She briefly looked around the dance floor downstairs, but it was a little early for Sarah, so she went outside to check the carpark. On the phone earlier, she had asked Wiremu what cars were parked outside Frith’s house earlier in the afternoon. From the list of cars he remembered Logan recognised a car very likely to be Jack’s. A dark blue Subaru Impreza. Jack had always liked cars which looked innocuous but went like stink.
No sign of him. Logan wasn’t sure why she kept expecting him to be at the club. Just as she turned to re-enter the club doors, she heard the familiar sound of Sarah laughing. A gaggle of men and women were weaving their way up Cuba Street, walking in the middle of the very narrow road. Sarah was the centre of the throng, as usual. As they neared the entrance, Sarah shushed them all and, with a giggle made an announcement.
“My darlings! As we prepare to enter the hedonistic whirl of the dance floor, there is a deeper purpose to our revels this evening.”
“Getting wasted?” enquired a voice from the back.
“Nonononono. Well, yes. But other than that, this is the one month anniversary of me and my darling boy. A celebration is in order!”
“Sarah and Gareth!” they enthusiastically cried.
“There is a tab at the bar under my name. They have orders not to break out the best bubbly – ”
Calls of “Shame!”
” – but other than that, please imbibe to your heart’s content and raise a toast during the evening to love, sweet love.”
“Oh, yes,” she continued. “Remember to cab it home!”
“Yes, Camp Mother!” they chorused.
With another cheer, the crowd poured into the entranceway.
Frith was worried. Had Logan just abandoned her? As the band launched into another standard, she spotted a tall dark-haired presence in the doorway to the now crowded room.
Logan made her way over to the table with its solitary occupant.
Leaning close to Frith, she whispered, “She’s here.”
She looked around for the lads.
Brian and Wiremu were on the tiny dance floor. A small group of couples were braving a slower tempo number. Damn. Logan had hoped that Wiremu would take care of Frith while she talked to Sarah. He had been okay with that idea earlier on the phone.
“Let’s go down to the dance floor.”
Frith whispered back, “Do you have a plan?”
“Yes. I’m going to hide behind you when she tries to kill me.”
Catching Brian’s eye, she motioned that the two of them were going downstairs. Brian replied with his hand, indicating that they would be down in five.
‘That’ll work,’ thought Logan.
Abandoning the table, the two women made their way out of the jazz club. More than one set of eyes followed them, most in appreciation. A tall man at the far end of the bar turned discreetly away and finished his drink, reaching for his cellphone.
Downstairs the jazz ambiance vanished immediately. A loud insistent beat pulsed through the doors leading from the foyer into the disco. The foyer itself was crowded – it was really a bar-cum-coat-check-cum-entrance.
In the main room, Logan decided a subtle approach might work. Let Sarah see her first, to get the shock out of the way.
Maneuvering Frith into the middle of the crush, they danced. To be fair, neither woman’s mind was really on it. Logan’s height allowed her to continually monitor the edges of the room, looking for where Sarah might be holding court. As they danced, she eventually became aware that Frith was something of a mover. And that others around them were also taking notice. Frith’s red blonde hair, sweet figure and tight, tight dress was definitely an attention grabber. Logan might have noticed that she herself was a focus of attention, except that eyes tended to skitter away from her glare.
Frith motioned Logan closer. Pulling her head down, she softly said, “Don’t glower. You’re scaring the horses.”
Logan grinned half-heartedly. “Just warning off any poachers,” she replied.
She was a little frustrated she couldn’t spot Sarah. She hadn’t been able to see what Sarah had been wearing under her coat, but her hair had been blonder than usual and with wilder curls. No doubt her outfit was cut down to there – Sarah enjoyed flaunting her body. She had always appreciated spontaneous and uncontrolled reactions from both men and women alike. The tease.
The sweet smell of cannabis wafted to her senses across the crowded room. It was not unusual in public places, but Wellington police had lately been cracking down on overt drug use. There was an election coming up and every politician and their dog was busy playing the law and order card. Police had no choice but to look busy too.
The crowd was in a typical midnight frenzy, close and oppressive. Logan was jostled as a man danced past her. She felt his hand brush her back and she pushed him away.
Logan idly watched an asian man answer a cellphone. How could he hear anything over this din? Apparently it was bad news as his face stiffened in shock. His eyes twitched towards the men’s room. Closing the phone, he shouted something in the ear of his companion. The other man moved swiftly towards the men’s bathroom, while he pushed his way to a blonde woman dressed in red – Sarah!
Sarah looked annoyed more than shocked with whatever his news was. But she turned with him and moved as swiftly as the throng would allow towards an unobtrusive exit. Logan was now more than intrigued. Looking down to Frith, she saw that Wiremu and Brian had joined them, and the threesome were dancing like it was 1999. She eased away from them and set sail for the exit that Sarah had made for.
As she reached the exit, a skirmish at the entrance to the rest rooms broke out. People were pouring out of the loos and pushing through the crowd towards the main exit. Logan hesitated, half wanting to see what was happening, half needing to catch Sarah before she disappeared into the night. Sarah won out, and Logan slipped out the exit.
Frith turned just in time to catch sight of Logan’s back vanishing into the mass of humanity. She had suspected that Logan would want to approach Sarah by herself, so she persuaded herself to patience.
The dancers around her were looking agitated. An tide swell swept them towards the main doors. But the doors burst inwards as a dozen police rushed into the large room. Chaos erupted. The music abruptly stopped and the clamour of voices rose to compensate for the sudden silence. The flashing lights of the dance floor were overwhelmed by the blue flashing lights of the police. A loud hailer cut through the racket.
THIS IS THE POLICE. EVERYBODY STAY CALM. THE BUILDING IS BEING SECURED.
STAY WHERE YOU ARE. THIS IS A RAID. YOU CAN ALL BE HELD UNDER THE PROVISIONS OF THE MIS-USE OF DRUGS ACT. SO PLEASE CO-OPERATE.
A small group at a fire exit managed to open the barred doors. This set off the automatic alarms making the din near to intolerable. Outside the fire exit more cops were waiting, these ones had batons and riot gear. Frith could not see much over the crowd (for the millionth time she cursed being 5′ 4″) but Brian was feeding her a running commentary. As the noise abated, he pulled out his cellphone and rang the news desk of the Dominion newspaper.
“Phil? Hi, it’s Brian. I’m caught up in a bust at Claire’s. No, I don’t have any drugs. No, I won’t do anything stupid. Check this with the boss for tomorrow’s edition.” He looked at his watch. “Might make the local run, perhaps the What’s New column. About thirty police, three hundred people, two paddy wagons. No arrests yet as far as I can see. Nope, no celebrities. Just us hard working yuppies. Oh, and Phil? Can you tell Stephanie I might be in late tomorrow? See ya.”
He turned to his two friends. “Let’s just stay loose and try not to get arrested. Hopefully it will be just statements or names and addresses here, rather than down at the cop shop.”
“Can you see Logan?” Frith asked.
Brian smiled patronisingly. “You two short bunnies can’t see anything?” He grunted as a swift kick was delivered to his shins. “Sorry, sweetheart,” he apologised to Wiremu. “You know I can’t resist short jokes.”
He scanned the room again. People were calming down, many reaching for cellphone to call either lawyers or spouses. No sign of a six foot tall beautiful woman.
“Nope,” he reported. “Maybe she was in the ladies loos.”
“I hope not,” snickered Wiremu. “Those are the first place the lads in blue hit. All that powder and tablets flushed away. Ruins the fishing in the harbour for weeks.”
“I think she might have taken off after Sarah,” said Frith.
“Aah, well then, she’ll be fine. Sarah Harris has an instinct for self-preservation like no-one else.” He took Brian’s hand and held it tight. “Let’s just get through this with the minimum of fuss. We’ll find her afterwards, back at your place no doubt.”
Logan found herself in the alley behind Claire’s. From her right, she heard the sounds of approaching sirens. To her left was the entrance to Glover Park, a hangout for local street kids and winos. She could see Sarah and her companion scurrying towards the park. Closing the door behind her, Logan jogged after them.
The park was secluded, surrounded by tall buildings, with a few dozen or so trees throwing deep shadows. Only one street really touched it – Ghuznee Street which was an exit from the motorway. Once in the park, Logan could not immediately see Sarah. She started towards the lights of the distant traffic. Walking quickly, she was aware that the park was inhabited, not empty as it initially seemed. She could sense eyes following her from the shadows. Now deep in the darkest part, she heard a short stifled scream.
Spinning around, she tried to identify which direction the shout had come from. A cry came again. This time, Logan could hear the plea for help.
“Leave him alone, you bastard. Help! Someone help!”
She ran towards the noise. There, struggling with an assailant, was Sarah. On the ground was a huddled, still body.
Coming from behind, Logan grabbed the attacker by the arms and just tore him away from the woman. He staggered a few steps, before looking at the new danger. For a moment it seemed he might renew the assault. But Logan stepped towards him, raising her fists threateningly. Somehow the confident attitude, coupled with her height, persuaded him that this was a lost cause. The shadowy figure turned and fled.
When she twisted to where Sarah was, the woman was kneeling beside the prone figure. She was crying, calling his name.
“Gareth! Gareth! Can you hear me? Are you all right? Speak to me!”
Logan crouched beside her.
“Sarah, it’s all right. He’s gone.”
The woman started. “Logan! Oh my god! Help me. He’s ……”
“Let me look,” said Logan. She moved Sarah out of the way and knelt close to Gareth. She checked his pulse. It was strong and fast.
“It’s okay, he’s alive. What happened?”
“They … he… on the head….” Sarah was near hysteria. Logan put her arm gingerly around her.
“C’mon, c’mon, shush now, calm down….” As she soothed the agitated woman, she gradually became aware of a group of indistinct figures confronting them. The shadow had returned, with help.
With a snarl, the leader flung himself at Logan. In seconds the others had joined in. Logan staggered away from Gareth and Sarah, trying to move the fight away from the prone man.
Fists and kicks flew furiously. Logan felt rather than saw her punches and kicks land. In reality, their greater numbers were little advantage as they got in each others way. A few blows landed on her, mostly ineffectual. One enterprising bastard had a stripped branch which was being twirled like a club. At last he got a strike in, striking Logan on the arm and head as she partially deflected the blow. She dropped to one knee, attempting to clear the stars from her eyes. A kick came at her head , but she grabbed the foot and yanked her assailant over. Gritting her teeth, she went all out on offense. Her eyes had fully adjusted to the gloom by now and she nailed the thug who had the club with an elbow to the throat. He collapsed.
A kick to the groin disposed of the next one. She was aware of figures shuffling off as she threw herself at the last man. He failed completely to get out of way and took the full force of her body in a tackle. Almost casually, she kicked him in the head as she clambered up.
All that was left now was the sound of her heavy breathing and Sarah’s sobs. In the distance, the sound of the raid in progress filtered through the other city sounds.
Right. Gareth next.
Returning to Sarah’s side, Logan once again knelt by the injured man. Using a technique she had learnt from the Waikanae Volunteer Fire Brigade, she hoisted his body on to her shoulder.
“Right. Where to?” she asked. “Your place?”
Five months ago Sarah had lived in the apartments in Atlas House, further down Ghuznee Street. The building had once housed parts of both the National Library and the National Archives, but now like so many inner city buildings, had been converted into twenty or so swanky apartments.
Sarah could only nod yes.
Logan took a deep breath and started off. In minutes they were turning right on to Ghuznee Street. Although it was now closer to one in the morning, there was still a reasonable amount of traffic. Her muscles began to protest. She couldn’t do this much longer. Cars slowed down as they passed, drivers rubbernecking at the sight of a person being carried along. One car that didn’t slow down, but which caught Logan’s eye, was a dark Subaru Impreza.
At the entrance to Atlas House, Sarah keyed in her security code. They had covered the one hundred and fifty or so meters in silence. Now, in the safety of her own building, she finally spoke. “Are you doing okay?”
Logan was breathing heavily. “Just get us up to your place,” she panted. “Then we’ll talk. Christ! I’m glad he’s a little fellow….”
Once inside her apartment, Logan carried Gareth into Sarah’s bedroom. It appeared unchanged from her brief tenure as Sarah’s lover.
As gently as she could, she dumped him on the bed.
“Get a cold flannel, some water and a bowl or bucket,” she told Sarah. As the other woman trotted off, Logan stretched out her much abused muscles. She would pay for that effort.
Flicking on the bedside light, she examined Sarah’s new lover. He had dark hair with the blue sheen, but otherwise was ordinary looking. She loosened his shirt collar and smoothed his hair back off his face. There, above his left eye, was a nasty graze and lump. She checked his pupils. They appeared normal.
Sarah returned with the face cloth and the water.
“Is he all right?” she asked. Her voice was strained.
“He has a bit of a bang,” Logan indicated where. She took the cloth and cleaned around the lump.
Leaning close, she spoke clearly. “Gareth. Gareth! Can you hear me?”
“C’mon Gareth. Open those eyes for me.”
His eyes fluttered open. “Sarah?”
“I’m right here, love.” Sarah sat on the bed, holding his hand to her lips.
“Are you ….?”
“Yes, I’m okay.”
“What day is it, Gareth?” Logan asked.
“Friday – no Saturday now.”
“What’s your name?”
“Where do you live, Gareth?”
“24b Matai Road.”
“And – forgive me for this – who’s Prime Minister?”
“Is Jenny Shipley a good or bad answer?”
“Very good – a joke even.”
His eyes flickered from Sarah to Logan and back. He was about to speak again, when his face screwed up. Sarah held him as he threw up into the bowl.
“Should I call a doctor?” she asked Logan.
She shrugged her shoulders. “He should be okay. He’s probably concussed. Maybe take it easy for a few days. Do you want me to call an ambulance?”
“No, I don’t think so,” she replied. ” It’s never good for a senior barrister to turn up at the Accident and Emergency.”
Gareth finished with the bowl. He lay back down, closing his eyes, as Sarah removed it.
Logan followed Sarah into the kitchen.
“How are you doing?” she asked.
“Fine,” she said. “It was lucky for us you happened along.”
“Ah,” said Logan. “Maybe lucky is not the right word. I followed you from the club.”
“So you knew about the raid?”
“Not exactly. I was trying to find you. I saw Gareth take the call.”
“Gareth is a Crown Prosecutor. One of his cop friends tipped him off about the raid.”
Logan considered this. “It was cutting it a bit fine, wasn’t it? Usually those things are planned hours in advance.”
“I guess so.” Sarah wasn’t particularly interested. “Why were you looking for me? I’m guessing it wasn’t to apologise.”
“That wasn’t the only reason,” Logan agreed.
Sarah pretended surprise. “But it was ONE of the reasons. My, I’m flattered.”
Logan gritted her teeth. ‘Face it, Kendrick, you deserve this.’
Seeing the pained look on Logan’s face, Sarah relented. “I’m sorry, Logan. I’m just still a little shaken. What do you want?”
Logan searched for a way to start. Sarah moved through to the living room. “Let me just check on Gareth. Make yourself comfortable.”
The dark woman walked over to the window. Atlas House looked south over what passed for Wellington’s red light district. Over to her right, she could see the blue flashing lights outside Claire’s. Briefly she wondered whether Frith was all right. She missed her gentle presence already.
“Fancy a drink?” Sarah asked, interrupting her reverie.
“Sure. Whatever you’ve got.”
Sarah poured a couple of brandies and they sat on the couch.
Logan couldn’t think of any subtle way to start, so she just launched right in.
“I’m taking a risk coming to you. Frankly, I don’t know how deeply involved you are, but if you are, then I am making a big, big mistake. But …” she looked Sarah in the eye. “But I didn’t give you or us a chance before. I treated you badly and I’m sorry.”
Sarah’s eyes filled. “You don’t know how much it means to me to hear you say that. I … trusted you. I had always believed in my ability to judge people, but you fooled me.”
Logan went on. “After you tossed me out, I …. I had a very bad experience. Three months ago. Another story went wrong. I was …. nearly killed.”
“That World Charities thing?” asked Sarah.
“Yes,” replied Logan tersely. She looked away for a while before she could continue. “I have been doing some serious thinking about my life since then. I’m not sure if I can go back to how I was, to the work I did. But you were one of the things I regretted most.”
She started at the touch of a hand on her arm. They sat like that for a few moments, before Sarah drew her into a hug.
Logan inhaled her scent deeply. She had always found the physical presence of this woman mesmerising. Memories of their vibrant sexual relationship flooded her mind. Pulling her head back a little, she looked Sarah directly in the eyes. As Sarah smiled, she closed her eyes and Logan eased forward and kissed her. The kiss deepened. She tried to convey her inchoate feelings. As the kiss lingered, the two woman reconnected.
The recent events with Frith had made Logan more sensitive. Physically sensitive. Sensually sensitive. She felt again the gut pull of sexual attraction to Sarah that had been present right from the start. From Sarah’s responsiveness, she was feeling it too.
Sarah drew back, her breathing a little laboured.
“Oooh yes,” she said. “The sex was always good.”
She laughed. “If only we had met somewhere else, some when else. I know, I know…. I threw myself at you. Even when I thought you were on the catering staff, I fancied you. Maybe it was the uniform.”
The two women pulled slightly apart, Sarah’s hand still curled around Logan’s arm.
Logan smiled too. “And now it’s Gareth?”
“Yes. He’s rather a sweetie. And I think the world of him.”
“Your one month anniversary? Sounds serious.”
“You heard that? Yes, I think it might be.” She stood up and poured herself another drink. Logan shook her head at the offer.
“So. What is this big mistake you might be making with me?”
This was crunch time. Logan had little more than her feelings to rely on. No evidence. No corroboration. No gossip. No data. Just a guess. It all came down to this.
“I think Tall Trees is attempting to covertly smuggle biological organisms into New Zealand. The purpose is to test a new hybrid organism in local conditions and on a local population, with the end goal of introducing it to the United States. I am not sure exactly what the effect of the organism is – it could be a vector for a human disease, or it could be a threat to an agricultural crop. Either way, someone in the Department of Security is facilitating the entry of this material.”
During her tale, Logan had keenly watched Sarah’s face.
“And you think that …. I guess you don’t think I’m involved then? That’s the risk, huh?” Sarah asked.
“Yes.” She waited.
“Is there more?”
“But you’re not sure you can trust me?”
“Is Alan involved?”
“Why do you say that?” asked Logan.
“He’s been having meetings recently, excluding me. He’s had a guy coming to see him, John Fraser, an Australian I think.”
Logan stiffened. John Fraser was a name that Jack McKechnie had used in the past.
Sarah continued. “And he’s been jumpy.” She considered Logan’s story for a moment. “What evidence do you have?”
“What was the security lock-down that you organised down at Solaris Consulting today?”
“Solaris? Oh! The delightful Ms Buchanan and her little boss, Willy Kale. That was Alan’s doing. He was on the phone to Head Office this morning and they announced a complete company wide lock-down. Something about testing security protocols in the system administration. Didn’t make much sense to me, but then Head Office can be like that.”
“Do you know anything about the Tricomi Laboratories in Texas?”
“No, can’t say as I have.”
“What about Kapiti Horticultural?”
“Nope. Anything else?”
Logan was silent. She had a story, but no proof. One last throw of the dice.
“I’m looking for something that was in Darryl Booth’s possession. You know, the ex-director of Greenpeace.”
“Darryl? That loser? What on earth could he have to do with it? He’s been in the loony farm for over a year, hasn’t he?”
“Did you know he had been blackmailing someone at TTL?”
“No. Good lord, was he? And you knew? Were you investigating him?”
“Yes, but we thought it was kick-backs to hold off a Greenpeace campaign. When we got a bit too close, he flipped. And has stayed flipped.”
“So, you can’t help me, then.”
“Doesn’t sound like it, darling. But you said you had been in trouble – the World Charities scandal?”
Logan went rigid. It suddenly seemed to Sarah that her hand on Logan’s arm was holding a block of wood.
“Logan? Are you all right?”
Suddenly Logan was trembling violently. Tears sprang to her eyes and she could not remain seated on the couch.
Jumping up, she stammered, “I gotta …. ”
Sarah stood up and went to touch her, but Logan shrugged her off. Striding to the apartment door, she flung it open and disappeared into the hallway. Sarah rushed after her, but only in time to see the dark woman vanish through the stairwell door.
She called after her. “Logan! Thank you for ….” But it was too late. Her rescuer was gone.
Frith, Wiremu and Brian were well and truly, thoroughly and with no mistake, bored. The police had been unfailingly polite. Several patrons had been carted off in the paddy wagon, mostly people scoring in the restrooms, Frith assumed. But an hour at least passed before the three friends found themselves outside Claire’s. It had been names and addresses. Frith got the odd feeling they were perfunctory rather than urgent.
About twenty people were milling outside in Cuba Street. Frith looked up and down the street, but there was no sign of her lover. It was now about two and Frith was fading. The long, intense day was catching up to her and she suddenly wanted nothing more than to be home in her bed. Alone? Perhaps she did need a bit of space to think about what was happening in her life.
They walked along Cuba Street to Ghuznee Street, turning left towards the Flipp carpark, where her car was parked. Once there, Brian and Wiremu bid her goodnight.
“Ring me tomorrow,” urged Wiremu. “Not too early mind. We’re out for brunch at a G.A.P. function at about eleven, so the gossip will be as good as the machiato.”
Wiremu was a stalwart of the local Gay Association of Professionals and their dedication to coffee and chat was legendary. Frith knew that several pieces of work had come to Solaris from his contacts there.
“Sure thing,” Frith replied. “Otherwise I’ll see you Monday.”
“Just come in for the staff meeting if you like. Maybe there’ll be some more work for you.” He stopped awkwardly, not wanting to ask again about the Tall Trees work.
She patted him on the arm and gave them both quick kisses goodnight.
Once in the little Suzuki, she drove along Oriental Parade towards the road which would take her up the hill to Roseneath. As she passed the Freyberg Pools, perched between the Parade and the water, she stood on the brakes, bringing the 4-wheel-drive to a sudden, juddering stop. There, seated on a bench under a lamp, looking out over the water, was Logan. The dark-haired woman had her head in her hands and her feet propped up on the low seawall in front of her.
Frith left her car double-parked – there was not much traffic around at this time of the morning. She walked towards the bench and, not wanting to startle Logan, she said quietly, “Hey there!”
Logan turned slowly. The look on her face was enough to wring Frith’s heart. It spoke of despair and pain. She stood beside her and put her arms around Logan’s shoulders. With a soft kiss to her forehead she asked, “Want to talk about it?”
“No,” came the brief answer. But Logan seemed to accept the hug and the caress, so Frith felt emboldened.
“Well, at least come home with me, before …. ” Before what? ‘Before disappearing out of my life, before leaving me alone again?’ Frith was apprehensive about what she actually wanted from Logan. She focused herself firmly on the here and now.
Not waiting for an answer, she grabbed Logan’s hand. “C’mon. Ups-a-daisy.”
Logan offered no physical resistance. Once in the car, Frith finally asked, “So … did you find Sarah?”
“Yes,” came another brief answer. Frith waited again. She sighed silently. This was like pulling teeth. But Logan was staring out the window at the city lights which came into view as Frith navigated the twisting turning roads up to her house. She stole a couple of glances at her passenger, but the driving demanded most of her attention. She pulled into her carpark on its wooden platform. Parking in Wellington was so scarce that in the hilly suburbs like Roseneath, little platforms with enough room for two or three cars were commonly built, jutting out over steep bush-clad drops.
To her relief she didn’t need to urge Logan out of the car, but the tall woman lagged behind her up the path. As they came into view of the house, Frith stopped dead. Logan blindly bumped into her.
In a strange voice, Frith asked, “Uh… Logan ….. you didn’t leave those lights on, did you?” Logan finally raised her head. Every light in the house was blazing brightly.
With an oath, she moved in front of Frith, placing herself between the short woman and any possible threat.
She turned her head slightly, speaking so that only Frith would be able to hear her.
“Go back to the car.”
“What do you mean, no?” Logan couldn’t believe her ears.
“I mean, whatever’s going on here is as much my business as yours. I’ll stick close to you. I won’t get in your way, I promise.”
Logan turned more fully, about to remonstrate with this foolhardy idea, when the lights suddenly went out. The two women froze. Breathing was suspended. Logan debated briefly the sense of a stealthy approach. They had probably been heard and Frith would more easily tag-along. All guns blazing it was.
Whirling, she broke away from Frith’s grasping hands and ran up the steps. With one kick, the front door was open. Immediately inside, she remembered, the fuse box was high on the wall. Reaching up, she found, as she had suspected, that the mains switch had been turned off.
She flipped the power back on. All the lights came on, instantly. Behind her came a crash. She spun around.
“Frith! Frith! Are you all right?”
There was no reply. Stepping back on to the front porch, the outside lights had come on, but there was no sign of Frith. Had she gone back to the car? Unlikely. Logan growled in frustration. A noise from the rear of the house caught her attention. It was the sound of the back-door being shut. She turned again and raced down the hall, through the kitchen and into the back porch. Sure enough, the back door was unlocked. As she went to open it, the door swung forcefully at her. She stumbled backwards but not quickly enough to avoid its arc. She crashed back into the kitchen, landing with a thud on the floor.
She heard the sound of a person running along the back path. Springing to her feet, she dashed out the back door, in time to see a shadowy figure disappearing up to the back of the section, into the trees. Without hesitation she ran after him.
She could more easily hear the intruder than see him. Crashing through the trees and brush, he ran into a neighbour’s section and then veered uphill, towards the town-belt. Wellington’s town-belt was a girdle of mature trees, five hundred to a thousand meters wide, which surrounded the inner city. It went for perhaps fifteen kilometers from Roseneath in the east, via Mt Cook and Brooklyn in the south, to Kelburn, Tinakori Hill and Khandallah in the west. In some places, houses had infiltrated its edges.
The belt of trees, mostly imported pines, cedars and cypresses, was criss-crossed by dozens of paths. If the intruder made it there, he could easily disappear. No doubt he had parked somewhere in a street near the town-belt and had walked to Frith’s house.
She increased her pace, trying to catch him. The man, or woman she supposed, was finding the running uphill tough going. Both of them stumbled occasionally, but Logan thought she was gaining. Within a minute, they were on one of the town-belt paths, the Southern Walkway. Like all the town-belt it was unpaved and unlit. The dirt track was covered with pine needles and twigs, but it was flat and traversed the slope. Her quarry was now able to sprint, but Logan was hard on his heels. The path sloped downwards and the pace increased. Abruptly, the path forked. He chose the down fork, but Logan chose the upper one. She knew that the path soon rejoined and that she might have a brief advantage – if he stayed on the path at all. It was a calculated risk.
She was right. He slowed slightly, wondering perhaps where she had gone. Obviously he didn’t know the Walkway very well. She was now nearly level with him and about ten feet above him. With a shout, she leaped on him from behind, tackling him to the ground. They rolled together over the edge of the track, down a steep slope of about another ten feet and crashed violently into a large monterey cypress.
Logan lay stunned and breathless against the tree. Struggling to regain her wind, she saw the man get up and stagger off. Reaching for anything, she picked up a small branch and hurled it at his halting figure. She struggled to her feet, but her legs buckled under her. By the time she had levered herself upright, he had clambered over a fence leading to a road. As she went to give chase, she heard a high-performance car squeal around a corner and into the street. As she reached the fence, she was in time to see a tall man get into the passenger side of a dark Subaru, illuminated by a solitary street lamp. Even before he was completely in, the car was thrown into reverse, back the way it had come. Logan strained, but could not make out the driver or his passenger. At the corner, the car spun and powered away, out of sight.
She had lost him.
Breathing heavily, Logan turned and scrambled up to the path. Limping slightly, she ran back along the walkway. Frith! What had happened to Frith?
Frith watched Logan disappear into the house. As the lights came back on, a noise around the side of the house drew her attention. Cautiously walking around the corner, Frith endeavoured to pierce the gloom. Nothing, as far as she could make out. A louder noise, almost a crash, down the path made her jump. Suddenly frightened, she shrank against the weatherboards. A tall figure appeared.
“Logan?” she whispered.
Instead of answering, the figure lunged at her, taking her by surprise. A large hand covered her mouth before she could make a sound, long arms pinning her arms to her side and lifting her bodily off the ground. She struggled and lashed out with her legs, connecting violently with the legs of her assailant, causing grunts of pain to erupt from his mouth. But Frith was unable to break free. As she continued to squirm, he smacked her heavily in the temple and she subsided.
The powerful man carried Frith down the path, towards the road. At the bottom of the path he paused, checking for pedestrians or cars. At this point the road was barely wide enough for two cars to pass, and with the parked cars along one side, barely wide enough for one. Across the road and downhill about twenty meters was Frith’s car and those of her neighbours, on the platform. He hesitated further. Was he waiting for someone?
The waiting continued. He paced, still holding the now limp woman. Frith was also waiting, waiting for an opportunity to break free. Several times it seemed he was about to stride down the street, but it was obvious to Frith that this was a rendezvous point. Eventually the sound of a high revving car speeding up Palliser Road could be heard. Her abductor seemed to relax, as if this was what he was expecting. But then he tensed again, as a woman’s voice came floating down from the house.
“Frith! Frith! Where are you? Frith!”
The voice came closer. So was the car.
This was it. Frith struggled again. This time she managed to get an arm free. Poking her fingers in his eyes, he shouted with surprise and pain. Clutching at his face with both hands, he dropped Frith on the pavement with a thud. Clambering to her feet, she darted on to the platform, putting her Suzuki between the man and herself. She could now see him clearly. He was tall, solidly built, dressed in plain black track clothing. A fairly nondescript face, distorted by pain and irritation.
As he advanced around one side of the Samurai, Frith inched the other way. The car finally arrived and screeched to a halt, blocking Frith’s escape from the parking space. At the same moment, Logan appeared down the path, limping and bleeding. Time slowed. The man advanced again on Frith. She backed away, hands in front of her to ward off the assault.
She caught sight of Logan across the road. The man caught her change of focus and turned to see what she was staring at. He saw the tall woman stumbling towards him with murder in her eyes. He whirled and made one last attempt to grab Frith. With only one way to go, Frith went it. She turned and jumped off the edge of the platform into space.
He cried out in anger and frustration, thwarted. As Logan started across the road towards the car, he dived headfirst into the open back door. The car rocketed away in a cloud of burning rubber, leaving Logan collapsed on her knees in shock.
The stone chips in the asphalt dug into Logan’s palms. Half of her mind was in shock and denial of the vision of Frith disappearing into the dark void beyond the platform. The other half wanted to follow her over the edge.
The bruising pain in her hands and her knees inched its way through her consciousness, clearing a path along the fissure between despair and madness. For a long moment, it seemed as if the world stilled, traffic noise faded, the wind ceased its breath. Into that nothingness, a small sound crept. It was a whisper, a whimper, a murmur. Logan… Logan …
“Logan? Logan? Are you up there?”
She was abruptly filled with self-mocking amusement. Twisting and sinking on to the road, she threw her head back and roared with laughter. The bellow of relief and release echoed around the empty street. She lay on her back, giggling slightly hysterically.
As her chuckles died away, the plaintive cry came again. This time it had a distinct undertone of annoyance.
“Logan! For god’s sake, get down here and help me!”
With a whoosh of exhaled breath, she sat up.
“Right!” she called back. “One rescue-the-maiden coming up,” she muttered to herself.
Once on the platform, she edged past the cars to the rim. Peering down, she could see a pale form about fifteen feet below her.
“How do I get down?” she called.
“Same way as me, you idiot.”
“But I’d land on you. Seriously.”
“Go down to number 51. Their path goes right past here.”
“Are you okay?”
“Sure. Us ex-Greenpeace types are tough, you know. I’m just a bit stuck.”
“Hang on, then.”
Logan walked slowly down the road to letterbox for number 51. Her body was stiffening up a little, now that the adrenaline was ebbing away. The path was thankfully obvious and easy to follow. Once she was under the platform, Logan was puzzled that she couldn’t see Frith.
“Where are you?” she asked.
Frith’s voice surprised her. It was right beside her ear.
“Here. In the … compost bin.”
A hand flopped over the edge of a concrete bin and hit Logan on the shoulder.
“Hold on, princess…. let’s get you out of there….”
A few moments of effort and Frith was out – along with some wilted cabbage and a dead rose she had to untangle of from her hair.
“I swear I’m getting it cut off one day,” she muttered.
“How the hell did you manage to …. I thought you ….” Logan couldn’t quite frame the question.
“What? Land in the crap – so to speak? I dropped my keys off the platform one day – don’t ask – and had to rummage around in something a lot worse than cabbage and roses. Amazing what spring’s to mind in a crisis.” Frith was conscious she was blethering, but if she stopped talking she would start thinking about the man who had just attempted to kidnap her. She wanted desperately to ask Logan what it was all about, but she knew, she knew anyway. She had started down this path and now the shit was about to hit the fan. But Logan … she hadn’t counted on Logan.
Abruptly she turned away from Logan and trotted across the road and up her pathway. Logan stared after her, puzzled. Then she hurried after her.
Scant minutes later the two women approached the brightly lit house again. This time Logan strode straight in, checking each room quickly. Apparently safe. Frith went directly to the bathroom and stripped out of her clothes. They lay in a disconsolate pile on the floor while she ran a shower.
Logan felt her body slowly seizing up. Her ribs and stomach throbbed from where she had hit the tree and her hands were scraped from the road. She leaned against the doorframe of the bathroom, wanting nothing more than for this day to be over and to crawl back under her rock. She had come down off her adrenaline high with a real thump and it was all she could do not to slump down against the wall and curl up into a miserable ball.
But she held off, keeping watch until Frith was finished in the shower. She collected Frith’s smelly dress and jacket and dumped them in the tub in the laundry. Out of sight, out of mind was her motto for dirty clothes. In an effort to stay awake and focused, she looked around for something else to do.
The front door lock had broken when she kicked it in, but miraculously the latch still worked. At least the possums and hedgehogs wouldn’t have free access to the house tonight. She pulled the door closed, realising it was not a good idea for Frith to stay here. Logan didn’t think they – whoever they were – would come back tonight, but she was feeling somewhat risk averse.
What had they been after? And who were they? Logan had some definite suspicions on that score. And judging by the lack of questions from Frith, so did she.
A cloud of steam issued out of the bathroom door as Frith finished her shower and came out. Her hair and body wrapped in white towels, she grinned slightly at Logan as she wandered into her bedroom.
“Silver lining and all that,” she said. “At least I don’t have to open any closets to see what I’ve got to wear.” Logan peered into the young woman’s bedroom.
“And I thought I was messy,” she cracked.
Every drawer, cupboard and closet had been emptied on to the floor and bed. Frith plucked some trackpants and a sweater from the tangle and dressed. Logan stood, leaning against the bedroom doorjamb, watching. She couldn’t keep her eyes off Frith’s trim body, yet the desire which had flamed in her was now curiously absent. It was like her mind and body were playing different pages in the songbook. She could rationally think Frith was a beautiful, desirable woman, but her emotions and body were numb.
As Frith toweled her hair dry, she became aware of Logan’s regard. Turning, she assessed the tall woman’s condition.
“You manage to look beautiful and like death warmed up all at once,” she sighed. “Go on, have a shower. I guess one of my jerseys will fit you, if those pants are still in good enough shape.”
“I should go. And you should go to a hotel for the night. It’s not safe here.”
“A hotel?” Frith’s face fell. “What about you? I want to be with you.”
She could have bitten her tongue. She hadn’t meant to state her need for Logan quite so bluntly. Not yet. But a hotel room did not appeal to her in the least. Perhaps this was the opening she had been waiting for.
“Why don’t we head up the Coast to your place? Or maybe go to …” she broke off.
Logan shot her a look. And not a pleasant one.
“Go to? Go to where?”
“My – ”
“Well, yes. You know a lot about me, Logan, but I know almost nothing about you.”
Putting her arms around Logan’s bare waist, she gave it a gentle, friendly squeeze.
“C’mon, sailor. Take me home.”
Logan’s sharp intake of breath alerted Frith. Taking a closer look, she could see the bruises starting to form and the scrapes starting to bleed. Glancing up into Logan’s face, she asked gently, “Logan, do you need to get those taken care of?”
A half-grin answered her.
“Nope.” Logan echoed Frith’s earlier words. “Us defenders of free-speech are tough, you know.”
She returned the pressure of Frith’s embrace, kissing the top of her head lightly.
“But we should check out what is missing, then head off.”
“Okay,” came the doubtful answer. “What could they have been after?”
In the living room, the two surveyed the mess. Cushions were removed from the couches, paintings were askew on the wall, CD’s were scattered over the floor, books tossed in every direction. Frith crouched down to mournfully gather the broken pieces of a glass vase that had not survived the maelstrom. The carnations she had put in the vase – was it only yesterday morning? – were scattered around the room, their fragrance dissipated in the violence.
Logan knelt down beside her, gently touching her shoulder. Frith turned, conscious of the tears filling her eyes. She repeated her forlorn question, not really expecting an answer. Not an answer that would give her peace of mind, anyway.
“I think they were looking for whatever Darryl had,” said Logan, watching Frith’s reaction closely. Frith looked at her blankly.
“Darryl? How does he figure in this?”
“Jack said he thought Darryl had something tangible. Something easily hidden. And he thought Darryl had given it ….”
“You mean, I am involved in this more than I thought?”
She surveyed the mess again.
“I can’t even tell what’s missing that I know I had. How can I figure out what has gone that I didn’t know I had?” Her head ached slightly with the logic of it. “Darryl never gave me …. well, it wasn’t that kind of relationship.” She coloured slightly, as if admitting to an ex-lover who was so unlike her current … whatever … was an admission of weakness or inconsistency. Not that Logan had given her anything yet. Well, nothing tangible, at least.
Logan regarded her thoughtfully, wanting to poke this particular wound until it bled, yet not wanting to hurt Frith. Jealousy. It was Logan’s wound to bear.
“Fair enough,” she replied. “Have a look around anyway, see what you can see.”
Frith’s shoulders slumped. “Do I have to now? Can’t we come back tomorrow, when it’s light?”
Logan felt the throbbing in her side echo Frith’s plea. Oh, to sink into a warm bath and keep the world at bay. Safe and secure, with her arms around Frith…..
“Okay,” she said finally. “Let’s go.”
Pausing only for Frith to grab another jacket and to secure the front door as best they could, they left. This time Logan went ahead down the path. Near the road she halted, looking intently up and down the dimly lit road, listening for any hint of an unusual presence.
It seemed all clear. The wind had died down in the pre-dawn lull and Logan could hear the faint noise of machinery from the port across the bay.
“You follow me and -” said Logan.
“No,” interrupted Frith. “I’d rather come with you.”
Logan considered it. Her initial response, which she bit back, was to keep Frith at arms length. To deny her stated need to be near Logan. Was she over-reacting to Frith’s desire to know her better? Did it really matter if she came home? Where was her home these days? These embryonic thoughts could not gain more than a tenuous foothold in Logan’s consciousness. She was too tired, tired of being alone.
Logan shook her head, She was a little disturbed how easily her mind was slipping into these small periods of introspection. It seemed her capacity to focus had not yet fully returned to her. WIth an effort, she said, “Sure. Jump in.”
They drove down the hill away from the city, towards Evans Bay and the airport. Logan was cautious enough to not take the most direct route to Island Bay, so she followed the shore-line past the airport and along the south coast. It was still dark, but a string of bright lights off the coast indicated the squid-fishing fleet was active in the straits. The boats may have been ten miles or more away, but the brilliant lights, which lured squid from the depths of the ocean to waiting death, were still clearly visible.
The after-effects of the strenuous day had caught up with Frith and she was dozing in the passenger seat, despite the rattle of the heater and the reverberation of the engine.
The slight bump as the car left the road and crossed the footpath jostled her awake.
“We there yet?” she mumbled.
The Mazda had climbed steadily upwards, the driveway seeming to wind on interminably. Somewhere high above the ocean it finally came to an end.
Logan’s house was silhouetted against the deep blue of the night sky, a jumble of geometric planes, a modernist cube deconstructed for a post-modern age. Glass, steel, concrete and stone seamlessly melded by clever design, maximising privacy from. the road.
The car juddered to a halt outside the garage doors. A security light had come on, illuminating a tiled courtyard.
Logan was suddenly apprehensive. She had not been here since that ruinous day over three months ago. After Jack dropped her off at the clinic and disappeared, she had been physically patched up and given the name of a counselor. Leaving the clinic, she walked directly to an ATM and took out $2,000. Two streets over, she had plunked down $1,500 for the Mazda and driven to the house on the Kapiti Coast.
This was the first time since then she had been home.
“Come on, baby. Let’s get inside.” Frith seemed to realise that Logan had reached the end of her energy. Taking the key from Logan’s hand, she unlocked and opened the door. She turned, took the tall woman by the hand and led her inside.
In the entranceway, Frith felt around for the light switch. Flooding the space with warm light, Frith could only stare around herself in amazement. Huge windows provided views of the ocean and the wild southern coast line. Living spaces tumbled over multiple levels, furnished sparsely but expensively, furniture classic pieces which transcended fashion.
‘So this is how journalists live these days?’ she thought.
Putting aside her reaction to the house, she turned her attention back to Logan. Awareness was slowly returning to the blue eyes.
Once again Frith’s quiet voice brought her back from wherever she had drifted off to.
Mentally shaking herself, she seemed to take stock of Frith and herself.
“Right. I need a shower, maybe a bath. Let me show you to a bedroom. Down this way…” and she led Frith down into the lounge and along a glass-walled passageway. Two doors along, she entered what was clearly the guest bedroom. The rooms were surprisingly warm – passive solar heating, Frith guessed.
She stood awkwardly as Logan acted like a realtor, showing her the features of the room. Inside thirty seconds, Logan had made her excuses and gone, leaving her alone.
This was not the way this moment should have gone. She could just crawl into bed and try and sleep, but dammit, she was not going to be treated like a guest forced to stay the night because her car had broken down. Logan was clearly not firing on all cylinders, so she should take the initiative. Right.
Acting with a confidence she didn’t feel, Frith went back towards the front door. Sure enough, on the other side of the lobby was a kitchen and dining room. Maybe a cup of tea would do the trick. They had seemed so … connected earlier in the evening. What had happened to cause Logan to retreat? She had been sullen and withdrawn when Frith had found her sitting on Oriental Bay.
Whatever it was, Frith was determined that she would not let this embryonic friendship falter at the first hurdle.
In the time-honoured New Zealand response to any emotional or physical stress, Frith put the jug on. The electric kettle was sitting on the bench top in plain sight. As it boiled, Frith looked through the cupboards and found cups and teapot and tea. In the fridge, the milk was clearly off. With a grimace, she poured it down the sink, washing it away. Black tea would have to do. How had Logan made her tea at Kapiti? Was it only two days ago she had sat at Logan’s kitchen table in that tiny house?
As she waited for the tea to draw, her thoughts turned to the connection she and the tall woman had forged so quickly. It had been so physical that she would have been able, not willing but able, to write it off as a one night stand. She had almost fled the beach house early that morning, not wanting to see rejection or indifference in Logan’s face. But those thoughts had all been swept aside when she looked into those blue eyes and that dazzling smile in the Solaris office. ‘She came for me’ was all the blonde woman could hear in her mind. Since that moment in her office when they hugged, they had been getting closer and closer. Dinner had been a pleasant revelation, Logan proving a witty and sweet companion.
But after that, after being separated at the nightclub, walls had been flung up. ‘Time to tear them down,’ she thought.
The tea made, she went in search of Logan. Past the bedroom Logan had deposited her in, was a bathroom. Unused. Frith turned back to the entranceway. There, to the left, was a staircase. At the top of the stairs and down another hallway, a door led into what was obviously the master bedroom. Frith saw steam wafting out of the ensuite bathroom and she tentatively made her way in, careful not to spill any of the tea on the plain cream carpet. The bath was empty, though one of the taps was still running, feeding hot water into the tub. The sweatshirt Logan had borrowed from Frith was lying on the floor. Putting the tea down by the handbasin, Frith turned the faucet off.
With a sigh, she set off in again.
Opposite the bedroom, Frith saw a glass-door. Opening it, she found herself outside on a balcony or walkway. The sound of the southerly swell far below came clearly to her ears, rolling waves breaking on the rocky shore.
A shadow spoke, barely audible above the surf.
“What do you want?”
Frith felt a sharp contraction in her heart. This had not been a good idea. Somehow Logan had been jolted into a frame of reference which did not include Frith, and Frith could not allow that. Intuitively she realised that words, usually her ally, would not suffice.
Reaching toward the darker shape, she gently touched Logan’s face. The pre-dawn dark was giving way to the pale gray of the new day and she could now see more clearly as her eyes adjusted to the gloom. Logan flinched away, but not before Frith had felt the tears on her face.
She felt her own tears welling up in sympathy. Moving forward, she put her arms around Logan, seeking as well as offering comfort. No flinch this time. Instead, a tremor shook the tall woman in her arms. With an effort she controlled herself, a cough sounding suspiciously like a sob.
Again, Frith took the initiative. Sliding her arms inside the torn silk overshirt Logan was still wearing, she hugged her. The hug was solid, yet gentle – trying to persuade Logan, using some body to body talk, to let her in. Again. When Logan made a move away, Frith held on tight. Somehow … somehow she had to convey what she was feeling. Compassion. Admiration. Caring.
Still holding tight, she pressed her lips against Logan’s collar-bone. The skin there was smooth and sweet. It led her inevitably to Logan’s throat, where the sensation of mouth on skin brought a sigh in response from the tall woman.
Frith slid her hands up Logan’s arms and under the silk shirt pushing it off strong shoulders. Frith trailed her tongue over a curved collar-bone, hands now kneading tense muscles in Logan’s back. She decided to lighten the mood, to back off anything too dangerous, to concentrate on bringing Logan back – not pushing her over another brink.
“Jesus, your muscles are so tight,” she looked up into Logan’s dark eyes. “Those bruises must be painful. How about we go inside and I give you the Frith Buchanan special?” Frith’s easy tone, gentle smile and soothing hands were a persuasive combination and Logan felt her mood lighten a little.
“Got any massage oil?”
Wrapping her arms around the smaller woman’s body, Logan nodded. Her first attempt to speak failed, but she coughed to clear her throat and tried again.
“I think there is some in the bathroom cabinet,” she said.
Adding, as her body reacted to a small hand cupping her breast, “Do you do ‘extras’?”
“Only for very special clients. Come on.”
Frith took Logan’s hand and led her back inside into the bedroom, sitting her down on the edge of the bed. Lowering her head, she kissed the dark woman gently, cradling her face between soft hands.
“Beautiful.” Green eyes drank in the smooth curves and planes of Logan’s face.
“Is it okay if I go into the bathroom and get that oil?”
Logan nodded. Another gentle smile from Frith.
“Why don’t you get out of those clothes? I’ll be right back.”
Logan shook her head slightly as Frith went into the bathroom. She couldn’t quite believe that Frith was here, in her house, a space hitherto kept totally private. She stood, wincing slightly as her scrapes made their presence felt and stripped off her clothes.
“Now that is a sight for sore eyes.”
Frith reappeared from the bathroom with an armful of towels and the bottle of massage oil. She dumped the towels and bottle of oil on the bed and moved into Logan’s arms.
“Do you have any idea what you do to me?” Frith’s hands wove a simple pattern over Logan’s bare skin. Logan, content to hold the smaller woman and give herself over the the sensations, didn’t feel capable of a sensible answer.
“Right…” Frith took a deep breath, calming herself a little. “Let’s get this massage underway before I think of other things I would rather be doing to you.”
She quickly pulled the duvet off the bed and spread a large fluffy towel over the sheet. Crossing the room she dimmed the light and turned the temperature up a little on the thermostat of the central heating.
“Go on, lie down, sweetheart.”
Logan, unusually passive, did as Frith suggested, stretching out face down on the bed. Frith stripped off her clothes but left her knickers on. The thought of being totally naked and near the woman lying on the bed was too distracting, rendering the likelihood of giving a reasonable massage very small indeed.
Frith got onto the bed and straddled Logan’s hips.
“Mmmm ..” came a muffled reply from Logan her, head buried in her arms.
Frith poured a little of the oil into her hands, warming it between them, then leaning forward she began a series of long smooth strokes, tracing the contours of Logan’s back.
She worked purposefully for twenty minutes, stroking and kneading tired and tense muscles and as Logan’s physical stresses were soothed, so too were many of her emotional ones. Slowly, the woman relaxed.
“God, that feels good. You have hidden talents.”
“I have many skills you don’t know about,” Frith bragged a little. “Feeling sleepy?”
Logan shook her head slightly. “Nope, I think I’m beyond sleep.”
The surface beneath Frith suddenly shifted as Logan turned over under her. Frith swallowed as she found herself staring down into intense blue eyes from her position still astride the tall woman’s body.
The two women regarded each other in silence for several moments as something in the air shifted and the calm atmosphere that had prevailed during the massage was replaced with the rising tension of sexual attraction.
Logan ran her hands over Frith’s thighs sliding her thumbs under the elastic leg of Frith’s underwear.
“You wanna get rid of these?”
“Uh huh, soon.” Frith leaned forward and stretched herself out along Logan’s body. Threading her arms underneath Logan’s shoulders, she moved in and kissed her gently.
The two women were content to linger over the kiss, a soft exploration, a reintroduction of sorts. Then the tenderness too became more urgent as Frith again took the initiative. Raising herself on all fours she looked down at Logan. “I want to bury my face in your cunt.” Wasting no time she retreated down the bed. Before she could settle herself, Logan spoke.
“Me too, what?”
“I want to taste you too. Take your knickers off and turn yourself around. Two can play this game.” A slight grin came from Logan as again the mood in the room shifted and lightened.
“Oh… okay… who am I to refuse that sort of an offer?”
It took Frith all of four seconds, to get off the bed, take her underwear off and resettle next to Logan.
The women curled into each other, legs parting and heads were lowered simultaneously as tongues began tasting.
Frith immersed her face in Logan’s cunt, reveling in the moistness, rubbing her nose, her cheeks, her chin over slick full flesh. Wrapping one arm around Logan’s left thigh in order to maximise her closeness, with her other hand she began firmly massaging Logan’s buttocks. She was dimly aware of the sensations of Logan’s tongue circling her clitoris, but for the moment she was too intent on bringing Logan pleasure. Frith slowly slid her hand down Logan’s crack, her fingers lubricated by the massage oil. Two fingers rested at the entrance to Logan’s anus. She raised her head a little.
“Is this ok?” lightly massaging the tight opening to underpin the question.
“Oh yeah.” The answer was quick and certain from Logan, her backside thrusting back a little to meet the welcome pressure.
Frith smiled to herself and bent her head again to taste the slick flesh on offer, then slowly and persistently pressed her fingers forward.
“Oh fuck!” the exclamation came from Logan as she involuntarily raised her head, the sensations registering in her brain.
Much as Logan wanted to continue her exploration of the space between Frith’s legs, her concentration was shot. Frith’s, on the other hand, was not. She fucked Logan slowly, intently relishing the feeling of the circle of tight muscle around her fingers. The slow, solid thrusting of her hand was counterpointed by her tongue, a series of light strokes over Logan’s hyper-sensitive flesh.
“Please Frith – harder, fuck me harder.”
Frith was happy to oblige, even if her hand was beginning to ache a little from maintaining the tension required to meet Logan’s vigorous thrusting.
And soon, the fullness created by the magic fingers in her arse and the tension in her belly, wound slowly tighter and tighter by Frith’s educated tongue and seemed all the sensation Logan could take. But even then, somehow, Frith managed to free her other hand and thrust a thumb deep into Logan’s cunt. As wave upon wave of orgasm began rolling over her, Logan was strangely quiet, uttering only a single exclamation of Frith’s name as her body succumbed to the intense feelings.
Finally, the crisis was over and Frith raised her head, kissing Logan gently on her belly as she slowly withdrew her fingers. Frith turned herself around and crawled up Logan’s body, their sweaty skin sliding together smoothly.
Propping herself up on an elbow, Frith looked down at Logan, her fingers running over heated skin. Logan moaned slightly, her eyes hidden from Frith’s view by an crooked arm.
Slowly the arm was lowered and Logan looked up into Frith’s concerned face.
“You okay, sweetheart?”
A small nod.
“Good.” Frith lay down again and wrapped her arms around Logan and kissed her on the forehead.
“You know how we have known each other for only three days?”
Another mute nod from Logan.
“Do you think its possible to fall in love in that time?”
No reaction this time and Frith mentally kicked herself for blowing it, for giving in to the sense of heightened emotion, when slowly Logan nodded for a third time.
The lovers lay curled together on the bed, watching the sun rise over Palliser Heads. Once again, the acts of love had brought them close together. Frith was determined to make full use of this closeness and not let the past and its memories drive them apart. In order to keep Logan in the present, she needed to know and understand Logan’s past. All of it. Or as much of it as Logan could share.
Frith desperately wanted to know about whatever trauma was keeping Logan off-balance. But perhaps it was not the right place to start, just yet.
“Tell me …. ” she started. Logan stiffened, almost imperceptibly. Frith continued, “Tell me about … what you were like at school. Where were you brought up?”
“Up the Coast,” Logan replied.
“We lived in Waikanae, even though Dad worked in Wellington. He was determined to live a country life-style on a city salary.”
“What did he do?” Frith asked.
“He was a lawyer, for an intellectual property firm. Patents and all that. I went to Kapiti College, until my seventh form year. Then I took the train into Wellington to Wellington Girl’s High. They had an English teacher who had been a journalist, and Mum and Dad thought … well, if I was serious about journalism that I should get a head-start.”
“Did you enjoy school?”
“Kinda. It was like waiting for life to start. Sometimes I couldn’t wait to get out and into the real world. Sometimes I hid there – trying to avoid growing up.”
“Were you an achiever even then?”
Logan smiled at Frith. “Even then? So I’m an achiever now?” Without waiting for an answer she went on. “Yes. Enough to realise early on that if I chose, I could make a difference. But there were distractions….”
“No. Not until I went to university. And got away from home. It wasn’t really safe to be … um …. unconventional at home. How did you manage? With girls at school?”
Logan laughed. “At first there was lots of sublimation. Sport. But I soon realised the double-edged sword of team games. Hockey and softball were a lot of fun, but there were a lot of cute girls. So I tried judo.”
“I had wondered where you got your … ”
“Fighting skills? Or wildly aggressive nature? Judo was supposed to train and channel that. But the local sensei was a git. He saw the martial arts as primarily a way to pull chicks.”
“Pull chicks? How seventies. Were you …. one of them?”
“Nah. He had me pegged straight away. But once I was traveling into Wellington everyday, I found a kenpo dojo near Courtney Place. It was near the bus-stop. And there were a few women there. Quite a few. I sometimes used to stay with my aunt in Mt Victoria. And that made it easy for me to be unsupervised in town…. so I took advantage of that.”
“First girlfriend, huh?”
“Yeah. I’d just pick a night Mum was out and leave a message on the phone that I was staying with Aunt Kathleen. She usually got in late, so she never rang to check up.”
“Who was your first?”
“Anne. She was a student up at Victoria University. She was at the dojo, too.”
Suddenly, Frith did not want to hear all the details of Logan’s love life. Not even the early stories. She was sure that Logan’s sexual experience far outstripped hers and knew that she could be quite jealous, unreasonably so at times.
“Did you go straight to journalism school?”
“No. It’s a post-graduate degree, so I started off at Victoria. But after my second year, Dad got a chance to work in New York, with the New Zealand Trade Development Board. So we packed up and went with him. I enrolled at Columbia and finished my degree there.”
“That must have been exciting,” said Frith. “Why did you come back and not do a journalism course there?”
“I missed home too much. I knew the MA programme down in Christchurch was well regarded, and I had made some contacts in New York anyway. They all wanted to come to New Zealand for the skiing during the summer break.”
“Did your parents come back, too?”
“No. They … were in a …. an accident. A car crash …. in Arizona. At the Grand Canyon of all places. A tourist came around a blind corner on the wrong side of the road,” Logan said. “They were DOA at the Flagstaff Regional Medical Center.”
Frith leaned across Logan’s torso and gently squeezed her. “So you didn’t even get to say goodbye?”
“Nope. But that’s all in the past now.”
“The past can still hurt us. Even if we move on and change.”
Logan fell silent.
Frith tried another tack.
“So what do you do for fun? Apart from win awards, that is?”
“And beating people up? I’ll show you around later and you can see for yourself. You could even give me a hand, if you like,” she finished shyly.
“Later?” Frith took a deep breath. “So, what are your plans for the rest of the day?”
Logan considered the question. It seemed she could no longer pretend she was just playing. Even if she turned tail and fled – again – the forces at work would search her out. With the assault at Frith’s house, it had suddenly become personal. Logan had committed the cardinal sin of all journalists and gotten emotionally involved.
Time to get some ideas straight between her and Frith.
“I think I need to get into Tall Trees,” she started, quietly. “And the best way to do that is to get Sarah to help me.”
“So it was useful, seeing her last night? What happened?”
Logan levered herself up and off the bed. “I’ll tell you all about it – but we have to get a move on,” she announced. Frith saw the half-hidden wince on the reporter’s face.
“Oh, Logan!” she started. “Your body -”
“Yeah, it’s a bit sore,” Logan said. “Could you help me with a bandaid or two?”
Logan went to the bathroom cupboard and pulled out a first-aid kit. Frith joined her and looked critically up and down the tall frame. Nothing was bleeding. But a couple of the scrapes looked very raw. Moving Logan’s bangs aside, Frith could see a bruise forming near her temple.
“Oh, great,” she said. “We’ve got matching bumps. How did you get this one?”
Logan outlined the events in Glover Park with Sarah and Gareth. As she talked, Frith smeared antiseptic cream gently on to the scrapes. Two required some gauze padding and tape, but the others got covered up with the sticking plasters.
“You carried him how far?”
“Well,” Logan got defensive, “he wasn’t that big. And it was only a couple of blocks.”
Frith laughed. “Don’t worry. I’m just teasing. It sounds very heroic. Did it cut any ice with the spurned ex?”
“She didn’t slice my throat, if that’s what you mean. But yeah, I apologised for being a bitch. And we talked … about Tall Trees and stuff.”
“So, what triggered it?”
Frith’s quiet question took Logan by surprise.
“Logan, since last night you’ve been vague and spaced-out. There’s something bothering you – more than just a scuffle with some shit-heads in the park.”
Logan turned away jerkily. In hindsight, Logan herself was puzzled by her behaviour the previous night. She had thought her three months in therapy had put her mind to rest. Suddenly, she was close to tears.
“Damn. I’m sorry, Logan.” Frith regretted her question, but she really wanted to know. She cast around for a way to get the answers she craved, without scaring Logan back into her shell.
“I hate this,” Logan stammered. “I hate not being able … crying … I don’t want … it’s not….” As Frith looked on helplessly, unable to fathom what was happening inside Logan’s head, Logan slowly controlled herself. Arms tucked tightly around her body, head down, muttering fiercely. After a couple of minutes, though it seemed like an hour, she raised her head and was able to look Frith in the eye, wiping the moisture from her face.
Frith just sat there, barely daring to breathe. Whatever was coming was going to be serious.
With a deep breath, Logan said, “My therapist told me I might have some reaction, but I didn’t believe her.”
Frith was stunned. Of all the things she had been dreading, the revelation that Logan Kendrick, of all people, had a therapist, was almost unbelievable.
“Reaction to what?” she asked, faintly.
“The fancy term is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Not coping is what my mother would have called it. But I have been fine until now. I thought I was fine.”
“Can you tell me about it?”
Logan hesitated. She knew she should be able to, that it was the healthy thing to do. If she was fixed, truly all right, she would tell Frith and it wouldn’t matter, it wouldn’t hurt. But a part of her suspected that it would hurt and it would matter. How could Frith love her if Logan was not strong? How could she love Frith if she wasn’t in control? Of herself, at the very least.
“Okay. But …” she sought some temporary respite. “Let’s go down to the beach. I always feel better down there.”
Frith acquiesced, determined to hear this story and not let the opportunity slip away.
The two women dressed quietly and Logan lead the way down the narrow path at the front of the house to the rocky beach. The south coast of Wellington faced directly into the southern ocean currents, the same currents which brought the squid and the sperm whales up the Kaikoura Coast and through the Strait. There was no sand here, unlike the Kapiti Coast. This was rugged rock.
They picked their way along the rocks until they found a spot where they could both sit down. The breeze was pleasant, brisk enough to ruffle hair. The early morning sun was warm on Logan’s back as she leaned down and picked up a handful of small rocks. She tossed them one after another into the swell. Sea-gulls swooped low overhead, hovering in the wind.
The two women sat companionably, throwing rocks into the water. A little competition started, trying to land the next stone within the ripple circle of the previous one. After a few minutes, Logan stopped.
If she waited any longer, she would lose her nerve. ‘C’mon Kendrick, it’s the healthy thing to do.’
“He was …. he was crazy. But I didn’t know it. I thought he was just another bullshit artist, taking good citizen’s money and blowing smoke in everyone’s eyes. And taking the lord’s name in vain. But he thought he was special. The New Business Age was keen to nail him – their first really high profile international target. The kind of expose that would put New Zealand, the NBA and me on the world stage.”
“How did it all start? How did you know there was something screwy?” asked Frith, as Logan paused.
Logan gathered her thoughts.
“A snitch. It’s often the way. Someone on the inside gets sickened by the scam, or doesn’t get enough of a cut, not their fair share,” the cynicism in Logan’s voice was unmistakable. “A flunky of David Cartwright’s. Julia Fitzroy was her name. She had been down here on holiday the summer before and seen my by-line. She thought that talking to me would be harder for Cartwright to trace. And harder for the US authorities to catch her. So she thought.
“She told me nearly everything. Every detail of how the scam worked. How it tied in to Cartwright’s television evangelist appeals, how he siphoned off nearly 60%, how he hid it from the IRS – everything. With that level of detail, checking facts becomes a lot easier. You can ask smaller, more specific, less suspicious questions. In fact, Jack got a counterpart in the US Treasury Department to start digging.”
“So you and Jack often worked together?”
“We did. I could do the dodgier things he couldn’t. But he could get me information that would take days to get otherwise. By the time I was ready to publish my story, the authorities were nearly ready to arrest him. And then, the unexpected happened. He came here. Of all the places to come on vacation, David frigging Cartwright came to New Zealand.”
Logan shook her head, still somehow disbelieving the strange twist events had taken.
“And like every frigging tourist since 1997, he came to Wellington to visit Te Papa. Why does everybody want to see the new museum? Why don’t they just stick to mudpools in Rotorua and mozzies in Milford Sound?
“So there I am, writing the final copy for the article which will rip open his slimy little scheme, and he walks past a cafe and claps eyes on Julia Fitzroy drinking a fucking latte. I guess she panicked, because it seems she told him everything.”
Logan’s voice became remote. This was the hard part, but it was only the past, right?
“I was working at home on the final version. Just the last polishing. The boss had planned to publish it that week. And he rang me. That little son of a bitch rang me.”
Frith moved over on to the same rock as Logan. Not touching, but close.
“He rang me and asked to meet. Said he had an offer I couldn’t refuse. I … I thought it would make a good ending to the story. A last attempt to bribe his way out of trouble. The noble, incorruptible reporter. Jesus, what a fool. It was like a rush of blood to the head – I just forgot everything I had learnt about him.
“So I said yes. He suggested the entrance to the seal colony at Red Rocks. I agreed.”
Red Rocks seal colony was a little further along the road in Island Bay from Logan’s house. The road, or more accurately, walking track, hugged the bottom of the cliffs for three kilometers, passing through a gravel quarry and some old World War 2 gun installations.
“I wasn’t a complete idiot. I rang Jack and he agreed to be my back-up. From that point, everything went wrong.”
Now, the low voice faltered. Frith simply put her hand on Logan’s arm, resting it there. Blue eyes tracked to green, but Logan couldn’t hold the contact and she looked away.
Frith stayed silent, letting her touch do the talking.
A deep, shuddering breath.
“He hadn’t gone all the way to the seals. He was waiting for me at the quarry. I couldn’t see his car, I thought he had parked it at the entrance and walked. As I got out of the car, he pulled a gun.”
The memory of that awful morning was playing in Logan’s mind like a film. She closed her eyes. She could smell the salt air, the dust of the quarry, hear the quiet surf and the cry of gulls. The sounds of the present melded seamlessly into those of the past.
“He didn’t even really talk to me. Just tossed a pair of handcuffs at me and told me to cuff myself to the passenger side door. I laughed. God help me I laughed and told him my editor already had the final copy. And I knew that Jack was on the way.”
Logan’s voice was a mere croak.
“He … he walked off … I figured he was just playing a stupid spiteful trick…. but he had his rental car parked out of sight behind one of the quarry buildings. When he drove it around, he had his wife and kid with him in the car. I figured he was gonna give me the fingers and bugger off, but I was wrong. He -”
Her voice was failing her. She had to go on, but her body was rebelling. Her frame shook.
Frith wrapped her arms around the tall woman and held her tight. She poured all her feelings into the physical link, trying to give Logan the courage, the strength to go on.
“He dragged them out of the car. I could the fear in their eyes. They knew. And when I saw the terror in her face, I knew too. He was going to kill them. And me too,” Logan stopped. She was now gasping for breath.
“I couldn’t help them. She looked right at me. I pulled and pulled, but the car wouldn’t budge. I broke my left wrist trying to …. he had it all planned out. He kept saying things, awful things, like it was all my fault and that they would die because of me, because of my story.
“He had a knife. He …. took it … and … he butchered them…. the boy first, then the woman… across the neck… and I … I …”
Frith now was cradling Logan’s head against her breast, murmuring words of comfort.
“It’s all right, you’re all right, I’ve got you.”
“He said … he said …. and then….”
With a superhuman effort she controlled herself.
“He shot himself. The bastard walked right up to me and shot himself.”
Frith cried out with the horror of it. It was almost too much to bear, just listening to it.
There was a long pause.
With a shuddering breath, she continued.
“He died in my arms. I had his brains all over me.”
Her voice was remote now, as if the repressed emotions had built a transparent, tough layer somewhere in her psyche.
“I don’t know how long I was there before Jack arrived, maybe ten minutes. By the time he got there I was out of my head. He got me out of there before the cops arrived. The article went to press as planned – the editor wrote the ending, fronted the publicity. I disappeared.”
“Where did you go?” asked Frith.
“Jack took me to a private clinic. I was there a week and they would only release me if I saw a therapist. I found one in Waikanae, near the beach house.”
“And you’ve been there since then?”
“Until you. Until you came along.”
“I’m glad I did, then,” said Frith.
For a long moment, they sat together silently, staring out to sea. Frith had sat down again, next to Logan, softly holding her hand. She did not know what to say. Surely there was nothing to say. But a key had been handed to her. As with all keys, it would not open every door and she had to be careful she did not attribute too many of Logan’s quirks to this trauma. She knew almost nothing about post traumatic stress disorder. Didn’t Vietnam vets have it years later? Or rape or abuse survivors? Was it fixable?
Would talking about it make things worse? Or better? Frith was no therapist. What could she offer? Perhaps Logan needed a friend as much as a counselor. ‘I could be your friend,’ she thought.
“I’d like that,” said Logan, quietly.
Frith started. She hadn’t realised she had spoken aloud.
“If you want …. to,” Logan continued.
Frith was silent.
Logan lead the way back up the track to the house. In the daylight and from the front, Frith could further appreciate its beauty.
“Did you build it yourself?” she asked, half-way up.
“No,” replied the tall woman. By mutual unspoken agreement, they paused.
“I saw it in an architectural magazine one day and promised myself if I ever had the money I would buy it. And with the last couple of years at the paper I could. But I had to persuade the owners to sell.”
“It’s stunning.” Turning, Frith looked east toward Cape Palliser. “And a great view.”‘
The winter sun, still harsh, shone on the barren hills across the entrance to the harbour. The reef guarding the harbour lay brown and menacing in the bright blue sea – it had claimed many lives during the century, with large ships tossed on to the rocks by southerly storms.
“Does the wind bother you?”
East over Island Bay towards Cape Palliser
“Only in a southerly. But then, every house on the south coast battens down the hatches.”
They continued up the path and around the back of the house. The battered yellow Mazda was still parked in the courtyard. Logan went to the side of the garage and, entering a code, opened the garage door.
The double garage had only one car in it – a fire-engine red sports car. Logan stood uncomfortably, half proud, half embarrassed.
Frith grinned at her. “So this is the real love story, huh?”
Logan smiled back.
“Yeah. My baby.”
Frith traced the letters on the front. T-R-I-U-M-P-H. And walked around it to where the model name was revealed. SPITFIRE MK 3.
“You doing the work yourself?”
Frith could clearly see this car was being lovingly restored. One bucket seat was ripped, but the other had been patched. The soft-top material was lying on a bench nearby and the windscreen wipers were sitting on the bonnet.
“I’ve done about as much as I can with the engine. Now I’m sending bits and pieces off to experts.”
Frith closed her eyes as she suddenly visualised Logan, hot, sweaty, with a grease smear across her face, wearing a white tanktop and overalls tied around the waist. She came up behind Logan as she bent over the engine sliding her hands underneath the tight shirt there was no bra and pulling the pants down she placed one hand on the hood and one down the back of Logan’s long leg stroking and caressing and pushing gently up between her legs until she felt the wet warmth of an aroused woman the clatter as a spanner fell to the concrete floor the groan and shudder as Logan gripped the windshield tightly bracing herself as Frith’s mouth touched the base of her spine kissing down to the top of ….
“Frith? You okay?”
Frith swallowed and opened her eyes. Logan’s clear blue eyes were mere inches away, as she looked closely at Frith’s face.
“Sure. Just maybe need something to drink. Cool myself off….”
“All right,” said Logan, doubtfully. “Let’s see what’s still in the kitchen. Maybe you need some breakfast, too?”
“Right. Breakfast. That should help.”
Back in the kitchen, Logan glanced in the fridge, dismissing the contents. Investigating the freezer, she pulled out some frozen croissants and defrosted them before putting them in the oven to heat.
“Tea okay? Frith?”
Frith had collapsed into a chair at the kitchen table and was poking desultorily through the papers on it. Someone had obviously been clearing Logan’s letterbox during her absence. But on top of the pile was a familiar looking envelope. It was the documents they had nicked from the hydroponics place.
A large glass of water appeared at her elbow. She drank most of it down in one long swallow. When she looked up, Logan had the envelope in her hands, regarding it thoughtfully.
“Let’s see what’s in here, shall we?”
“Where did you get that? I ha- ” Frith broke off as she realised she was just about to admit to purloining it from Logan’s beach house.
“I picked it at your house last night. Let’s see what that hydroponics farm is up to. And then, I think, a visit to Tall Trees is in order.”
“Tall Trees? How will you get in there?”
Logan smiled grimly. “Someone I know there owes me a favour. I just saved her boyfriend’s life.”
Frith was appalled at the calculated thought processes that had led Logan to that statement.
“And if she doesn’t?”
“Well, there are other ways to skin that particular cat.”
Early Saturday morning found Alan Gadsby, Chief Executive of Tall Trees (NZ) Ltd, down at the marina in Oriental Bay, spending some quality time with his significant other – the sloop Jezebel.
The previous weekend he had had the engineers down, completing her annual mechanical overhaul. Now he was just relaxing, doing some minor painting and tidying up the deck. ‘Next week,’ he mused, ‘I might take her over to the Sounds. Give her a good run across Cook Strait.’
The weather was finally coming right after a windy spring. The temperatures were slowly inching up as the daylight hours slowly increased.
Most of the boats at the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club were also sail-boats, yachts and sloops mostly. There was a small smattering of what Wellingtonians scornfully called gin palaces, more common in Auckland where ‘being out on the water’ was less of a challenge and more conducive to partying. Or, at least, that was the southern perception. The disdain between the two major cities filtered into every facet of New Zealand life.
Marina in the foreground, Mt Victoria and town-belt behind
Alan found sailing his boat challenging enough, the perfect distraction from business.
He put down the small paint-brush – he was painting the trim around the hatches and port-holes a cheerful royal blue – and looked out across the busy harbour. The usual contingent of kayakers, rowers and dragon-boat racers were also taking advantage of the pleasant day and relatively calm wind. When the wind came up, as it inevitably did, these craft would scurry for shelter and be replaced by the larger, wind-dependent sailing boats.
The sound of a firm tread on the jetty behind him alerted him to the presence mere seconds before a shadow fell across him. A tall shadow.
“You’re late,” he said.
“Well,” came the reply, “I’ve had a busy night.”
Not for the first time, Alan wandered what it would be like to be at ease in the night. He preferred the daylight.
Jack McKechnie stepped on to the boat, his weight causing it to move gently against the dockside.
Alan looked up, squinting against the light at the tall man. Jack was dressed in warm-up gear, track pants and a striped Canterbury jersey, looking for all the world like he was on his way to play rugby. He crouched down, bringing his eyes level to the sitting man.
“Gidday, Mr. Gadsby,” he said, politely but it sounded almost like a sneer. “You’re up early. Busy getting a jump on all the other CEO’s out polishing their little toys?”
‘Crap,’ thought Alan, ‘I am nearly up to here with his bullshit.’
Out loud he said, “That’s the advantage of being at the top of the tree, Jack. I get both the toys and the time to play.”
“Aaah, but the top of which tree? Well, it’s a moot point. We’re both playing in the same tree at the moment.”
Alan concentrated again on his painting – taking a small cloth and wiping away a trace of blue which had trespassed on to the white of the deck. After a careful few moments, he spoke again.
“So, have you anything to report?”
Jack had looked away, allowing the seated man his illusion of control.
“I am getting closer to the information. Logan is leading me to what we need.”
Alan reflected, again, on the wisdom – or folly – of involving Logan Kendrick at any level in this enterprise. She had cut her teeth on substantial stories, no mere neophyte.
When McKechnie had reported her re-emergence, Alan had felt a momentary flicker of concern. Logan had seemed to be out of the picture after the incident at the quarry, isolated and removed in that god-forsaken bach up the Coast. The therapist’s need for a new porch (or whatever it was therapists spent their money on) outweighed her professional integrity. She had reported, perhaps informed was more accurate, on Logan’s mental state every week for the previous 3 months.
“Depressed”, “Mentally confused”, “Unsure of herself” and “Desperate” were terms which had regularly occurred.
Until Logan finally failed to turn up two weeks in a row.
Jack seemed to read Alan’s thoughts. After all, they had had this argument several times already. Both men thought that they knew what made Logan Kendrick tick, Jack from years of working together, Alan from his romantic overtures.
“Don’t worry. I have a source close to her. Very close. She and Buchanan think they’re some kind of dynamic duo, but they are traveling down a path I have laid out for them.”
“Do I need to know the details?” asked Alan. “What if I run into her now she’s back in town? Has she been to Sarah Harris? And who’s the source?”
“No. Fake it. Yes. You don’t want to know.” Jack laughed quietly. “I need them to find whatever Baxter stole. He was so smug, that little prick. Until his wife decided she really couldn’t overlook one last infidelity.”
Jack was both proud and irritated with Baxter’s wife. She had played her part perfectly in destabilising the man. But Darryl had proven too mentally fragile. Who’d have thought he was that close to the edge?
“Is Sarah going to be a problem?” Alan continued. “Losing a lover is hard enough – but to lose my Communications Manager…. Well, that’s the kind of event which makes the business papers.”
“It’s not long now. Just keep things on a steady, even keel and we’ll be fine.”
“But the – ?”
“I would know if she found it. Therefore, she hasn’t found it yet. And I will know the moment she does.”
Alan grimaced unconsciously. He ran his hand through his dark hair and tugged on his fringe.
“I hate loose ends,” he muttered. “Especially unknown quantities. It may be nothing, it may be everything.”
He stood abruptly. He was only slightly shorter than Jack, but the other man’s erect stance made him seem bigger.
“Keep her in sight. Let me know as soon as anything happens. Get on with the preparations.”
“Right, boss,” replied Jack. “Tomorrow at 6pm, then?”
Logan was uneasy, but couldn’t pinpoint a reason for it. She wanted to let down her guard and discuss this matter freely with Frith, but something was wrong. Was it Frith? Was she afraid of her feelings for the gentle woman? Or were her journalistic instincts trying to tell her something?
Frith picked up on her unease. As they shuffled through the papers Logan had purloined from the hydroponics place, she glanced as often at Logan’s face as at the documents.
Noticing that the blue eyes had finally stopped reading the words on the page, Frith sighed in exasperation.
“What the heck is it, Logan?” she asked.
The blue eyes turned to hers.
“I dunno,” she replied thoughtfully. “Something is bugging me. My brain can’t figure it out.”
“Are you trying too hard? Sometimes when I’m looking for errors in code or flaws in a design, the harder I try the harder it is to find the problem.”
Logan smiled across the kitchen table. “So what’s your technique? With problem solving that is?”
The blonde woman blushed, then grinned. “You liked my technique?” She stood and walked around the table, trailing her fingers up Logan’s arm and along her shoulder to her neck. Leaning down she replaced her fingers with her lips. Sucking gently, her hand wandered down the front of Logan’s shirt, slipping inside her bra.
As the tall woman’s breathing shortened, she grinned to herself. “So your technique would be ….?”
“Distraction.” Frith breathed the word into Logan’s ear. “Take one last thought about your problem.” She removed her mouth and her hand stilled.
“Now,” she murmured, “Stop thinking, stop willing, stop worrying, stop desiring …”
“Stop talking,” suggested Logan, as Frith’s mouth covered hers. Frith pushed Logan and the chair away from the table, sliding on to Logan’s lap and continuing the kiss with some vigour. Long arms snaked around her waist, pulling her close, deep into the embrace. Hands went automatically to the waistband of the track-pants, but Frith eased them away. The same hands then worked their way up Frith’s back, beneath her shirt, under her bra. Frith squirmed, trying to dissuade her lover from unhooking it.
Logan smiled against Frith’s throat as she recognised the game. Tease your lover to distraction. Two could play that game, she thought, as Frith’s teeth nipped her ear-lobe. She tried the pants again, but Frith was ready. This time she pulled Frith’s shirt up, exposing her pale cream-pink torso. She leaned Frith backwards and bent her head to the smooth skin. But instead of kissing, licking or biting, she blew a loud raspberry right above the belly-button. Frith erupted in giggles and the tickle fight was on.
Four rooms, a sofa, the stairs and a spare bed later, Frith had been divested of shirt, bra and pants, while Logan was still in possession of her jeans. Her shirt and bra had been sacrificed somewhere in the ground floor hallway.
Logan was laughing so hard, she failed to notice Frith slip behind the door to her bedroom. By the time she calmed down and realised the blonde woman was nowhere to be seen, she was also feeling some side-effects of the chase. Her breath was slowing, but the thrill of the chase was not yet gone.
“Frith….. Fri-ith! Where are you?”
“Oh baby, don’t you like that game?” she laughed.
“I know another one we could play….” As she trailed off, she spotted Frith’s toes peeping out from the bottom of the doorway.
“Damn it,” she said. “I’ll just have to play it by myself.”
She walked into the bedroom, ignoring the door. She was sure Frith could see her. As she went past the disheveled bed, Logan put an element of … well, it was half swagger, half sashay into her walk. Standing at the floor-to-ceiling glass doors, she faced out of the room and slowly removed her jeans. Legs astride, Logan ran her hands from her thighs, up her body, across her chest, lingering on her breasts and then down again, continuing down her thighs, bending to reach her ankles. As she let herself relax and her calf and thigh muscles stretch out, she was sure she could hear Frith’s breathing quicken.
She straightened and turned towards the bed, trying hard not to let her eyes flicker towards the door, and sat down on the edge. Lying on her back, she swiveled so her long body was completely on it. She pulled the sheet partially over her, feeling rather than hearing the slight sigh of disappointment. Her hands, long and slender, disappeared under the cover, but it was clear where they were headed. Logan smiled to herself and closed her eyes.
With a quick yank, she pulled her knickers off and tossed them towards the end of the bed. Hands wandering up again, they pulled down the sheet exposing Logan’s breasts and belly. One hand caressed her breasts, the other touching her hair, face, lips. One long finger slipped from her mouth and trailed down her body, under the sheet. As she pressed her fingers against her mound, she heard Frith leave her position behind the door and steal to the foot of the bed. A rush of heat to her groin had her legs moving restlessly. As they opened wide, she slid her fingers into her cunt. She groaned aloud at the wetness there. A faint sound echoed.
The thought of Frith standing there, watching her, increased the heat. Quickly her fingers found her clit, playing with it, bringing more moisture up from her vulva, then finding and maintaining a rhythm. She felt Frith clamber on to the bed, kneeling just out of reach of her legs. As her fingers continued, she murmured, “Top drawer on the left.”
Frith scooted across the bed. She could barely wrench her eyes off Logan. As she fumbled with the drawer indicated, her eyes grew large and she fell off the bed entirely.
In the drawer was a double-headed dildo and harness.
“You want to use this on me?” came out in a strangled squeak.
Logan slowed, opened her eyes and leaned over towards Frith, hand still buried in her cunt.
“No,” she said in a low voice, “I want you to use it on me. Will you?”
Frith swallowed convulsively. Her hand reached out to touch the silicon toy. It was smooth and cool.
“How does it go on?” she asked, taking it out of its container.
“I’ll help you,” whispered Logan, as she slithered across to Frith. Still half tangled in the sheet, she reached around Frith, caressing her breasts and kissing the back of her neck. One hand wandered down to Frith’s cunt, finding a wet warmth. The other reached for the dildo, lightly dragging the shorter end down Frith’s stomach and pressing just the very end of it against the curls.
“This okay?” she asked.
Frith stared at the toy, mesmerised.
Logan’s spare hand reached past Frith into the drawer and pulled out a tube of lube. Flicking the top, she squeezed some on to both ends of the dildo. She turned Frith to face her.
“Bend your knees a little,” she whispered.
Frith did as instructed. Logan slid the lubricated dildo against her cunt, letting it rub against Frith’s clitoris for a few seconds. She then placed the other end against her own cunt, murmuring aloud with the pleasure of it. She lay back on the bed, Frith standing between her legs, and slowly slid the dildo into herself.
Frith’s breathing nearly matched Logan’s now. Panting slightly, she moved forward and took the dildo in her own hand. Logan’s legs spread to accommodate Frith’s thighs. Frith bent her knees again to allow the shorter end of the dildo enter her. The lubricant was cool and sensual. As it gently penetrated her, she lowered herself slowly on top of Logan.
“Okay?” Logan asked again. Feeling the nod of Frith’s head, Logan reached down behind Frith’s buttocks and, fumbling a little, fastened the harness in place. Drawing Frith’s face down to hers, she ignited the heightened sensation between them with a kiss. As the kiss deepened, the dildo eased its way further into both women.
As Logan moved back on to the bed, Frith was drawn with her. The pressure of the dildo inside her was unusual, smaller than a man’s, but with the extra bonus of a clit tickler. Slightly startled by the tickler, she thrust forward into Logan. A loud groan rewarded her, which also served to reduce Frith’s self-consciousness. Raising herself on her hands, she gazed at the beautiful woman writhing beneath her. Logan’s hands were at Frith’s hips, pulling Frith and the dildo deeper into herself – releasing her only to pull her closer. The blue eyes were fluttering shut, lips parted, panting, tongue licking lips, head turning from side to side, black hair tumbled on the pillow.
Frith had a momentary twinge that she could be any anonymous woman, or man, fucking Logan. But then Logan’s eyes flickered open and fixed themselves on her green ones.
“Frith,” she sighed. Then stronger. “Frith! God you feel good… Frith!”
With a grin, Frith applied herself to the task. She had never done this before…. never even really fantasized about it…. but now it seemed the most natural, exciting thing in the world. With her hands resting on the bed, and Logan’s hands roaming from her hips to her breasts, she moved with short thrusts, then long slower strokes. As Logan’s excitement built, so did hers. She liked the sensation of leaning back and away from the woman she was fucking – looking at Logan from a slight distance, then being able to lean closer to lick the sweat off her collarbone and bite her nipples. She felt in control and she liked it.
Frith slipped her fingers between their groins and quickly found Logan’s clitoris. Rubbing it in tandem with her thrusts, she was rewarded by Logan exploding almost immediately. With a wild cry, the tall woman shuddered upwards, clinging to Frith’s naked body, nearly sobbing with the force of her release.
The sudden change of angle of the shorter end of the toy nearly took Frith to the brink, but not quite.
As Logan came back to herself, hers eye opened and she assessed Frith’s progress. With a smile, she lay back down and her hands again went to the shorter woman’s hips. She carefully brought her own legs together as Frith’s naturally opened to straddle her. This time the rhythm was different. Logan was controlling the thrusts and strokes as Frith rode her. Hands were more focussed, caressing Frith’s breasts, waist, back, lips, thighs, breasts ….. Her tongue ached to be involved, but Frith was too upright. She took one of Frith’s hands and sucked and licked the fingers, one by one and then together in her mouth. Frith was now deep in the new rhythm, striving for completion, yet wanting to draw out the sensations created by the magical woman underneath her.
All too soon, it seemed, Frith came. As she shook in her orgasm, Logan felt it deep within her own cunt. For a moment she wanted nothing more than to pull Frith’s fingers or tongue to her cunt again and immerse herself in sensuality, but the beautiful sight of Frith after orgasm moved her to unexpected tenderness. Carefully she rolled their joined bodies over on their sides, slipping off the long end of the dildo and removing the harness from Frith.
Frith’s breathing calmed down and she nuzzled closer to Logan. As they relaxed together, Frith’s mind tossed up a thought.
“So,” she murmured, “what were you trying to figure out?”
In the post-orgasmic haze, Logan heard her own voice respond. “How did Jack know we went to the nightclub?”
Yawning, Frith casually replied, “He bugged the phone….”
Two pairs of eyes popped wide open.
A minute later Logan had dragged Frith into the bathroom and turned on the shower. Frith looked hopefully at the water but noticed that the setting was on cold. I’m hot, but not THAT hot, she thought.
Logan leaned close to the shorter woman, mouth close to her ear.
“If he bugged your phone, he may have bugged a lot of places. Including other rooms in your house – ”
Frith blushed with the thought of what the big man may have been listening to.
” – and maybe this house too.”
At that statement, Frith fought the urge to spin around and search every nook and cranny until she found something.
“What should we do?” she muttered into Logan’s ear.
“Be very, very paranoid. I have seen Jack’s surveillance in action. He is very thorough and has access to state of the art equipment. His favourite is listening devices coupled with long-distance video cameras. He probably has a remote device watching this place now. Maybe taking and transmitting an image every five minutes.”
“What can we do? Won’t he notice if we suddenly …. um … I dunno …. start talking outside and not inside? Or something?”
Logan thought. Thought about what SHE would do if she was in Jack’s position.
“He probably has someone else monitoring us. He will only be notified if something interesting happens. And no – ” she continued in response to Frith’s violent colouring, “Not that kind of interesting. Let’s have a shower and head off, act like it’s a normal Saturday or something.”
“Right” said Frith. “Into the shower …. and all in the name of duty!”
As she adjusted the temperature of the water, she turned and confided, “I’m not going to enjoy this, you realise….”
An hour later, the little red sports car was bumping its way down Logan’s long driveway. Logan had rejected the Mazda – “bugged or tracked” – and after ten minutes spent struggling with a recalcitrant windscreen wiper, the car was ready for the road.
Frith privately wondered if the road was ready for the car. It was so close to the surface that she thought she could quite possibly reach out of the passenger-side window and touch the tarseal.
Once in motion, they briefly discussed their next step. Talk? Sarah? Frith’s house?
“Your place will be bugged. No doubt he has Sarah under surveillance. But I want her security access card.”
“Would she meet us somewhere? For lunch?”
“Without Jack being alerted?”
Logan pondered the situation and thought of the slight man she had carried last night. Dialling 018 on her cell-phone, she asked Directory for Gareth Wong’s phone number and was connected. Fortunately Gareth had left it on and even more fortunately Sarah answered it.
The conversation was brief and to the point.
“Right,” said Logan. “First, your house for a quick tidy-up and look-see. Then that café down by the marina at 1pm.”
“What will we be looking for?”
“Whatever Darryl had, that he gave to you, that you don’t know you have, that has Jack in a lather.”
“Oh,” replied Frith. “That old thing….”
It was a performance worthy of an award. The two women cleaned and tidied up Frith’s place, looking at any item for a double meaning, communicating with glances and signs. Logan’s neck was crawling with the thought of Jack’s surveillance watching them. She wanted desperately to touch the young woman who was coming to mean a great deal to her, but kept her hands strictly to herself. Until, that is, they both chanced to be in the kitchen, away from the visible windows, and Frith took Logan in her arms and gave her an enormous hug.
Frith was still at a loss to identify any item Darryl had given her. Theirs had been a clandestine affair, the young idealist and the older powerful activist, with the thrill and secrecy taking the place of gifts and tokens.
After an hour or so sifting through the trashed rooms, Logan picked up a handful of compact disk covers. The top one was Grace Jones and the dark woman was temporarily returned through time and space to the previous evening when she had held Frith in her arms and they had swayed to the slow seductive rhythms.
“Isn’t this a bit before your time?” she asked.
Frith looked over from the books she was putting back on the shelf.
“Ah…. not mine, I’m afraid. I think Serena left it behind after some party she threw. You know, one of those retro things.” She looked at the cover as Logan held it our towards her. Her brow wrinkled. There had been something ….
“Uh, Logan? Is there a disk in there?”
Logan flipped open the cover.
“Nope,” she said loudly, closing the cover and slipping the CD into her jacket pocket. She got up off the floor, stretching her aching limbs. God, she needed to do more regular work-outs. The strenuous activity of the last few days had drawn heavily on the fitness work she had been doing, but she had not been to a dojo for more than three months and some muscles were seriously protesting.
“Ready for lunch?” she inquired.
Frith cast a quizzical look at her lover. A dark eyebrow twitched.
“Um, okay, sure. Wanna eat here or head out? It’s a nice day.” She glanced sideways out the window, half expecting to see Jack peering at her.
“Out. Then I have to head back up the coast. Check my email. Do some shopping, take a library book back.”
“Right. Let’s go, then.” And in a matter of minutes the two women were climbing into the Spitfire and zipping down Palliser Road.
The Parade Café was a popular eating place on the waterfront, crowded all year round with Wellingtonians eager to be as outdoorsy as the climate would allow. Across the road, joggers, roller-bladers, walkers and people just hanging out created a endless stream of people to watch. Opposite the café was the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club, home to an exclusive group of the rich and privileged.
The café was busy, the high counter with pastries and cakes was crowded, forcing the blonde, cheerful-looking woman to squeeze rather intimately past a couple of dykes fussing around a stroller.
“Oops! Sorry darlings ….” She murmured as she searched for her quarry. Tall, dark and sexy was not immediately apparent, so she went through into the restaurant. Nothing.
Inching past the crammed tables, Sarah shaded her eyes as she entered the bright courtyard. With the breeze keeping the temperature cool, the outside tables were more sparsely populated. However there was still no sign of Logan. Checking her watch again, Sarah ventured back inside. As she stood by the daily newspapers, trying to stay out of the way, a low voice tickled her ear. It took all her significant will-power not to squawk like a great galah.
“Keep looking out the window,” said the voice.
Sarah sighed melodramatically.
“Really, darling. You are straight out of a thriller sometimes.”
This engendered a tiny, muffled giggle somewhere behind her. Her blonde eyebrows rose. That did not sound like Logan.
The voice in her ear sounded patient and slightly long-suffering. “Ye-es. But I’d still like you to continue looking out the window. Please.”
“Of course. I shall. What do you want Logan?”
“I want you to lose your handbag. Just for five minutes. Come back when you get to your car. It will be at the counter.”
Sarah considered for a moment.
“What we talked about last night?”
“Yes,” came the terse reply.
She picked up a newspaper and flicked it open.
“Gareth’s feeling a bit under the weather, but he’s all right really” she remarked conversationally. When there was no reply, she folded up the paper and made her way out the narrow glass front door.
The small red sports car pulled into the car-park just behind the cycle shop on Willis Street. Two women sat there for a few moments, probably discussing which shops to check out first before heading for a leisurely lunch. Across the road loomed the bulk of the Majestic Centre, a construct of the 80’s building boom, built on the site of Wellington’s old Majestic Theatre.
Majestic Centre, corner Willis and Boulcott Streets
The discussion looked to be heated. A casual passer-by could have assumed the argument over Mischief Shoes versus Plimmer Shoes was proving too difficult to resolve.
“But what about the security cameras? They’ll catch us on film, won’t they?”
“That’s half the point, Frith. We find out what they’re doing and then they know we know.”
“And then we tell. Or they stop it.”
“Or they stop us. Logan, I’m scared. I’ve … never done anything like this before. What if I freeze and …” her voice trailed off. She sat there flushed and looking miserable.
Logan glanced sideways at her companion.
“What if you what?” she asked.
“What if I … I … can’t keep up? Or fuck up really, really badly?” Frith was near tears, whether of nerves or something else Logan couldn’t tell. She gently took the small woman’s hand in hers.
“Look, Frith, here’s the plan …. we use Sarah’s card to get into the building. Alan’s office is the best bet to find out what the hell is going on. When I was working for him I came across a few internal systems that could be useful.”
“And then what? Who are we going to tell? Who will believe us?”
Logan looked thoughtful. She had some possible scenarios floating around in her head, but which one eventuated would depend on the nature of the answers they were hunting.
“We have options, Frith. But they only kick-in if we find something. If we come away from this with nothing, then we are no better off – Jack will still want it, whatever it is.”
Frith fumbled in her pocket for a tissue and gave her nose a good blow. The simple action gave her a moment to steady herself. Taking a deep breath she looked out the car window at the tall building across the street. Wellington was full of office buildings, equally full of public servants and corporate head offices drawn by access to the country’s politicians. The Majestic Centre was one of the newest and tallest at thirty-five stories. It housed a couple of embassies and a few corporate tenants, TTL being the largest with fifteen levels.
“So we just mosey in the front door? And how do we get out? What if we set off alarms? What if we get split up?”
Logan smiled at Frith’s new-found grit.
“Yes. Same way. The card should be cool. There are cameras in the stairwells and the lobby and at each lift area on each floor. Nothing in the individual offices. If we get separated, head for the north floor stairwell, level six, okay?”
“There’s a service exit which opens on to the roof of the next door building. If you need to use it without me, don’t come back to the car. Go right along Boulcott Street, down Plimmer Steps and find a taxi outside the Parkroyal Hotel.”
Logan’s mouth tightened. She didn’t want to consider some of the possibilities which loomed large in her thoughts.
“We’ll have two rendezvous points and times. The first at … ” she glanced at her watch, “six o’clock at Sarah’s place. That’s Atlas House on Ghuznee. Flat seven.”
“Okay. And the second?”
“If I’m not there, things will be seriously wrong. So let’s make it tomorrow at the marina by the Freyberg Pools, between two and four. If I still don’t turn up, plan to leave Wellington for a while. Go back to Nelson or visit your parents in Milan or Manhatten. I’ll find you.”
Frith stared at her, aghast.
“What do you mean, seriously wrong?”
Logan sighed. “That’s the point of contingency plans, sometimes you just don’t know what can go wrong so it’s sensible to plan for the worst.”
She glanced at her watch again. “C’mon. It’s time.” And with that, the tall woman levered herself out of the tiny car.
Logan lead the way across the steep road to the side entrance. On a Saturday there was a likelihood that the concierge desk was unmanned. She trotted up the marble steps and swiped Sarah’s access card. The light immediately turned green and with a quiet sigh of relief, Logan ushered Frith inside. Moving purposively, she walked across the lobby to the tower lifts and pressed the button.
She could not bring herself to look at Frith. She was not used to having someone else with her – Jack had been less a field operative than a backroom boy. She was afraid that if she looked at Frith she might lose her nerve completely.
Fortunately a lift arrived promptly. Once inside, she pushed the button for the 30th floor. Alan’s and Sarah’s office were on the same floor so the access card should be okay. The two women stood in silence, both acutely aware of the security camera in the corner. Frith found herself counting off the floors as the light changed for each floor. It was like some inexorable countdown, but she reminded herself that the damage was already done. They were now immortalised by TTL’s security cameras.
The lift slowed gently as it neared the 30th floor. Frith inched closer to Logan, hoping to draw some stoicism at least from the journalist. The doors eased open, revealing a plush carpet (‘Nice colour,’ Frith thought inanely) with a rimu timber and brushed metal reception desk, with the words TALL TREES carved within a Maori motif.
They stepped out on to the floor, Logan in the lead. The lights were off, only the natural sunlight filtering in through open office doors lit the internal space. The floor appeared to be deserted. She glanced towards the left – Alan’s office had the prime north-east corner with it’s views over Wellington and the harbour. She turned right, however, walking briskly down a corridor leading towards the diagonally opposite corner. Frith trotted behind her, internally cursing her short legs.
Logan walked confidently into the south-west corner office and waited for Frith to catch up. Once the blonde woman was inside, she shut the door behind her.As she sat down at the workstation, she flicked on the computer screen and reached into her jacket pocket.
“This is Sarah’s office,” she said. “And this …. this is a CD that was in the Grace Jones CD cover.” She held up the data CD for Frith. Frith nodded in agreement, remembering the previous evening. Her eyes grew large as the implication of what Logan was suggesting hit home.
She slipped in disk into the CD reader in the machine and stood up.
“Here, you sit. Copy the files to the hard-drive. Then bring the CD to me in Alan’s office. It’s the opposite corner. Then come back here and write the files to another disk.”
She rummaged in Sarah’s drawers, finally finding a blank CD still encased in its plastic wrapping.
Frith settled herself at the desk. “So it’s a CD-writer? No problem. I’ll see you in five.”
“Don’t go back the way we came. Keep going.”
Logan left Frith to do her bit and continued on around the floor, avoiding the cameras at the lift area as she slid into Alan’s office. Closing the door behind her, she quickly sat at Alan’s PC. Unlike Sarah, Alan usually logged off when he left work. A few moments passed as the box fired up. Logan had taken her previous work for Alan seriously, even to the point of doing some simple hacking. And standing behind Alan at least twice when he had logged on had given her a good look at his username and password.
She smirked. Why oh why do people not change their password more often? Five months later it was still the same. Well, at least it wasn’t p-a-s-s-w-o-r-d.
She opened Windows Explorer. The company’s shared drives were not likely to be useful. The document management system usually excluded any documents being kept that weren’t open to corporate scrutiny. His personal drive was her first bet, followed by email and then the C drive.
The personal drive was empty. Outlook open easily and she had just started looking at his mail folders when Frith opened the door. She had the CD in her hand.
“Anything?” asked Logan.
“Oh yeah. About ten files, maybe five meg,” replied Frith.
Running the CD was simple. Frith was right, there were nearly a dozen files. Two were spreadsheets, two were txt files, two were Word docs, the rest htmls.
Opening the files, Logan and Frith read through what seemed to be a business case and a record of a project. The project was name “Burn” which rang no bells with either of the women. It wasn’t until she opened the first html file that Logan glimpsed the shape of Alan’s scheme.
It was an article from a recent New Scientist magazine, outlining the risk to American agriculture from rogue genetically engineered bio-entities. Not a plague like anthrax, as she had at first feared, but less deadly ones like wheat rust. An infected crop would significantly lower production and if bad enough would force a fallow period and quarantine.
Flicking back to the spreadsheets, the codes now made more sense.
RUST | ILL | Qual. Bakers | $500,000
Another html file was for the Tricomi Laboratories in Austin, Texas, another for Quality Bakers in Champaign, Illinois.
The text files were saved emails. From Jack.
The shape was solidifying. Jack and Alan were conspiring to infect crops in the US. The main questions now were motive and scale. Was it espionage? Had they stumbled into an international terrorist attack on America’s agricultural sector? Or was it motivated by money? Was the figure of $500,000 a cost or an extortion amount? Was the Department of Security, Jack’s current employers, a player or just coincidence? Why was Jack visiting her Managing Editor last night? Who could they trust? What to do next?
As she turned to Frith, ready to say it all out loud, she froze. Outside Alan’s office, through the glass panel surrounding the door, she saw the light indicating the arrival of the lift flash on.
“There’s someone else here!” she whispered urgently.
Frith turned an interesting shade of white as she saw a security guard leave the lift. He paused, then turned right, heading along to Sarah’s office.
“The disk!” she hissed in Logan’s ears. “It was still writing….”
Logan ejected the original disk and pocketed it.
“Follow him around and nip into to her office and grab it. I’ll meet you in the north stairwell.”
Frith walked as normally as she could past the cameras by the lifts. She paused rounding the corner, watching the guard pace solidly past Sarah’s office. She tiptoed into the Communication Manager’s office and crouched down by the PC. The disk had finished writing and had ejected itself. She quickly shut down the machine and slid the disk into her jacket.
As she crept to the door, ready to again follow the guard around the floor until she found the north stairwell door, a loud shout sounded. Oh god, it was the guard. He must have spotted Logan! Frith abandoned stealth and raced towards the sound. She came up short behind the guard who had his gun drawn facing her lover.
He was fumbling with his radio as Logan gestured with her eyes for Frith to take the stairwell door she was now right beside. Frith shook her head and prepared to charge the man from behind. Logan was horrifed.
“No!” she shouted. The guard, mistaking her shout as aimed at him, gestured with his gun more forcefully.
“For christ’s sake just shut the fuck up! Yeah, Charlie, I got an intruder on the 30th. Send up the sweepers, see who else is in the building. Check with the video monitoring as well.
Frith had hesitated. The pleading look in Logan’s eyes was enough for her. She gently opened the stairwell door and slipped through. Where had Logan said to go? Sixth floor and out over the next door building.
Inside the stairwell it was gloomy, the lights normally on during the working day turned off to save energy. Frith started cautiously down the stairs. She was on the 30th and Logan had said the 6th. At the 29th she easily made out the floor number on the door. Good, she wouldn’t miss the right door. Her thoughts turned to Logan and the guard. She had no doubt that Logan would be all right. After all, hadn’t she fought off Gareth’s attackers in the park? But she then remembered the scrapes and bruises on Logan’s torso. What if she couldn’t get away? What if the guards called the police? Or didn’t call the police and just called Alan Gadsby? Alan would call Jack and they – Her thoughts were interrupted by a noise in the stairwell below her. Holy jesus fucking christ! Someone was coming up the stairs towards her, and they were on this side of the 6th floor. She was trapped!
Logan looked at the guard, her gaze never faltering as Frith slipped through the stairwell door. She was safe! For now, anyway.
The guard’s name was written on a name tag, so she played her only real card.
“Hey, no need to do that John! I’m Logan Kendrick – I was doing some work for your boss. Remember, about four – five months ago? That insider-trading stuff that made all the papers?”
The guard paused, looking at the tall woman more closely.
“Where’s your photo-id then?” he asked. “I know everyone who’s allowed access to this floor out of work hours, and lady, believe me, I’d remember you.”
Logan reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out her wallet.
“It’s in here, somewhere,” she muttered, struggling to pull out a card. John instinctively moved forward to help her as she juggled the wallet and its contents. As they dropped to the floor between them, his eyes followed them down. She lashed out with both hands in a double round-house punch, catching the hapless guard in the temple and smashing his head against the wall. He fell without a sound, unconscious before reaching the carpet.
Logan knelt to gather up her things. She could hear another lift on it’s way, no doubt back-up if they were sticking to SOP. She hooked her hands under John’s armpits and dragged him into Alan’s office. Closing the door, she went to the same stairwell door that Frith had gone through just minutes before. As she opened it, she caught sight of Frith coming up the stairs two at a time.
“What the fuck are you doing?” she asked in a harsh whisper. Frith’s breath was coming in gasps – she had just sprinted up eight floors in sheer terror. She clutched at Logan’s jacket.
“There’s a man coming up the stairs. He was already on this side of the sixth floor.”
Logan frowned. “He didn’t go into any of the floors?” She peered over the balustrade, looking through the gloom for any sign. There! A figure was climbing, about eigth floors below them, although it was difficult to judge.
She turned back to Frith. “Right, let’s go up.”
Frith’s eyes goggled at her. Then she gathered her wits and her breath. She felt better being with Logan anyway.
Logan led the way up. The roof was six floors above them. This had to be Plan C. Two minutes later she carefully opened the door out on to the roof. Closing it, she grabbed open the cupboard for the fire hose and jammed the nozzle between the handle and door surrounds. That should hold it for a few minutes.
Frith had gone to the side of the tall building, looking over the side for any way of escape. Although it was the tallest building in Wellington, the proximity of Kelburn Hill always made it look like a small building – until you needed to jump off the roof, Frith thought.
Logan ran over to the north edge and looked over. There it was – the window cleaning car, sitting just over the edge of the building above the window line of the 35th floor. She beckoned Frith over, then bodily lifted her up and into the car. Clambering in after her, she looked at the simple control panel, trying to figure out how to get this thing moving.
The green button seemed the best bet. Pressing it, the car lurched into life, jolting Frith off her feet. Logan held the button down and the car steadily descended, much too slowly for Logan’s taste.
They had passed the 30th floor when they heard a shout above them. Two guards appeared over the roof edge, then jerked back out of sight as Logan aimed at them as if she had a gun. When no shots eventuated, they peered over again.
One of them shouted for them to stop, but Logan held that green button down. He then aimed his gun at the car, firing a shot which glanced off the metal scurity cage. His fellow guard grabbed his arm and shouted at him to knock it off.
Shouting instructions to his buddy to call out the ground floor guys, the second guard clambered over the balustrade and prepared to rappel down the car’s cables. He hooked himself on to the safety harness, then grasped the cables and started sliding down towards the two women.
By now the car was down to the 20th floor and Logan thought it would be a close thing.
The sixth floor was not far away, the next building was her old stamping ground of Wellington Newspapers, which she knew well. If they could just get on to that roof with a few seconds lead from their pursuers, they might have a chance. Frith was hanging on for dear life, staring at the building coming up to meet them, willing the car to go faster. At the 10th floor, the car jerked to a halt. Someone had finally found the roof-top master control panel and over-ridden Logan’s control.
The man coming down the cable let out a whoop of triumph. Logan grabbed the safety harness within the car – would it hold both their weights? Probably as the safety limit was usually around 150 – 200 kilograms. She looped the harness around Frith before the shorter woman had a chance to protest.
“I’ll lower you down then come down it myself, okay? Go! Go! Go!”
Frith found herself half falling, half being lowered the remaining four floors. As she hit the roof with a thud, she looked up to see the guard leap into the car, knocking Logan out of her sight.
Logan had tried to prepare herself for the guard’s arrival, but his momentum overwhelmed her stance. As they fell to the floor of the cart, she grabbed him by the jacket and gave him a sweetly vicious Liverpool kiss, breaking his nose with her headbutt and causing blood to spurt everywhere. He screamed with the pain and surprise – he had expected the woman to give up straight away. He grabbed for her throat and they struggled up to their feet, grappling for an advantage, looking for enough space to throw a knock-out punch.
She felt his hands around her throat squeeze the breath from her and she knew if she didn’t take him down soon, she would pass out. She forced him back along to one end of the car, then fell backwards. Her grip on his jacket and his grip around her neck meant he went right along with her. As they fell, she managed to get one foot up on his chest, breaking his chokehold and propelling him over her head. He landed with a thud and slid underneath the bottom guard-rail. He threw up an arm to catch the rail, managing to break the slide half on and half off the car. The car tilted as Logan staggered over to him. She reached down and dragged him up and back into the car. A palm heel strike to his face knocked him out cold. As he folded in her arms, Logan lowered him to the floor of the cart. She rummaged in his pockets, taking his security card.
Looking over the side of the car she could not see Frith. Hopefully she had found her way down to the street and was following Plan B. Hopefully.
Logan threw her leg over the railing and rappelled down the line left behind by Frith. In moments she was on the roof of Wellington Newspapers. Frith was nowhere to be seen. Logan jogged to the edge of the roof, prepared to clamber down to Boulcott Street. As she checked to see that the street was clear, a muffled cry made her whirl around. Her head swam as she saw her worst nightmare. The blonde woman was grasped firmly in the large arms of Jack McKechnie with a gun held to her temple.
Instinctively she surged forward, but Jack tightened his grip on Frith and pointed the gun at Logan’s head.
“Stay back!” he roared.
Logan held up her hands in a gesture of submission and backed towards the edge of the building.
“Don’t hurt her!”
Jack grinned sardonically as the gun was aimed at Frith’s head again.
“Oh, how the mighty are fallen,” he laughed bitterly. “The ice-queen Logan Kendrick is in L-O-V-E. And with this little scrap of nothing! Therapy has really done you a fat lot of good.”
He pointed the gun at Logan again.
“Give me what you found. Now.”
The tall woman could hardly concentrate on what Jack was saying. She was willing Frith to do something while the gun was aimed at her. She remembered Frith stamping her instep just two days beforehand and her own leg was twitching as if to communicate telepathically with Frith’s leg.
Frith was staring in dread fascination at the gun. Her gaze then flicked to Logan who was shaking like a leaf, legs trembling.
“What do you mean?” Logan asked Jack. “I haven’t found anything.”
“Don’t give me that bullshit,” he replied. “I know you were in Alan’s office. I know you accessed his computer. Give me what you fou-”
His voice screeched to a halt as Frith finally bought a clue and jammed her boot down on Jack’s foot with considerable power. At the same moment, she swung her elbow with as much force as she could at his solar plexus.
He doubled over with a huge exhalation but grimly held on to his trump card. The gun however went scattering across the roof-top and Logan dived after it. It landed near the bottom of the Majestic Tower and she scooped it up with a shout of triumph. Before she could use it, the gun was knocked from her hand by a security guard opening the sixth floor fire exit. As she turned to face this new foe, she heard Frith yelling and screaming behind her. A low thud cut off the shouting woman and she knew that Jack had silenced her. Logan spun around to see Jack hobbling towards the far side of the roof of the newspaper building. Sirens were sounding and someone had obviously called the police. He dragged Frith’s unconscious body with him and dumped her over the side of a low balustrade before clambering over himself.
Logan started after them but was tackled from behind by the TTL guard. As she struggled to break free, two more guards poured out the exit and piled on to the pair, attempting to subdue her by sheer numbers.
With a huge effort Logan found her feet and erupted skywards, the guards tumbling away. She bounced over one of them after Jack and Frith. As she neared the balustrade, she heard the engine of a car start up and a dark blue Subaru roared out of the next-door building’s driveway. As it passed her, Logan leaped from the building and landed with a thud on the roof of the car.
She tried desperately to cling to the top of the vehicle but Jack swerved the car around the corner and she came adrift, thumping on to the asphalt and tumbling until her head thwacked the gutter and she was out like a light. Her last memory was of the wail of sirens.
The smell of the sea was the first thing Frith noticed. Her eyelids seemed glued shut and her mouth was a dry as if she had a hangover. Groaning, she reached for her head but her hands would not obey her. Trying again, she realised they were tied behind her back and in fact they hurt like buggery.
Her eyes would not obey her either. So she was blind or blindfolded, hopefully the latter. A pressure over her mouth and she guessed she was gagged as well. In short, she was trussed like a pig about to be spit roasted. With this thought came a wave of panic. She was aware of herself whimpering and struggling vainly against her bonds – for long minutes Frith’s conscious mind was helpless in a tide of terror.
Slowly she wrenched her thoughts and emotions under control. Utilising all the new age meditative techniques she had ever tried, Frith gradually slowed her breathing and with that, achieved some measure of calm.
Think. She needed to think.
What would Logan do? She listened intently and could hear the gentle sound of water lapping. Wherever she was, it was rocking slightly. Putting two and two together, she figured she was in a boat at a marina. If they were at sea the motion would have been more pronounced.
There were really only two marinas in Wellington. The Chaffer Street marina just across the road from the cafe where they had rendezvoused with Sarah earlier and the Evans Bay marina over the hill.
Easy to get to and from – once she had freed herself. She wiggled her wrists, trying to free her hands. ‘Just keep trying, Frith,’ she thought. ‘Logan will be coming for you. You have to be ready when she does.’
Logan’s first conscious moments were a little more data rich than Frith’s. She was in an ambulance which was swaying dangerously as it negotiated one of Wellington’s tighter corners. A woman was seated next to her, holding an IV in place on her arm and watching a monitor strapped to a gurney.
A flicker of eyes her way and then a closer scrutiny.
“Aaah, you’re awake. Good. How do you feel?”
Logan blinked at her slowly.
“Okaaaay,” she muttered.
“What’s your name?” the medic inquired.
Logan blinked again. The world was in some kind of slow motion as she considered the question.
It didn’t seem quite safe to say her name. What if the wrong person found out? For some reason, that possibility seemed likely and highly undesirable. She would have to think about it some more. She closed her eyes. Think about it. Think …..
She drifted back into consciousness about ten minutes later, this time to a sharper awareness of her surroundings and understanding of her circumstances.
Now she was in a hospital. It looked shiny and new and could therefore only be Wellington Public’s new Accident and Emergency Room. She was lying on a gurney behind closed curtains and she became aware of a murmuring just out of comprehension. She strained and the words grew sharper.
“…. yes Sergeant, I appreciate that. But she’s still unconscious.”
“I want to leave an officer here, if that’s okay?”
“Sure, no worries. But he’ll have to wait in the public area. Otherwise he’ll just get underfoot.”
“Let him know when she regains consciousness, will you? She didn’t give a name at all?”
“No. And no ID either, which is unusual.”
A rustle of curtains alerted her and Logan closed her eyes quickly.
“Anything on her?”
“Just this and some cash.”
Logan knew without opening her eyes that it was the CD. She chanted silently, ‘leave it, leave it, leave it, leave it’ and some minor goddess must have been listening as the CD cover clattered on the bench.
“Make sure this goes with her.”
“Sure. When will your man get here?”
“About ten minutes.”
Footsteps receded and the curtain swished closed.
Blue eyes flicked open again, this time sharply assessing the room for options. She had been stripped and lay in a hospital gown. Her clothes lay in a pile on a metal chair nearby. Time to go!
Her first attempt to lever herself upright was not a success. Her head whirled and she felt sick to her stomach. A few moments later she tried again and this time forced the nausea back. Fortunately her clothes were intact and had only a few spots of blood on her jacket. As she dressed herself, she frowned. Surely she had had her wallet with her? She remembered showing it to the security guard on the 30th floor.
She rummaged through her pockets. There was $35 in notes but no wallet. A mystery. The ambos would have left everything.
Twitching the curtain aside, she peered carefully out along the corridor. Fortunately for her it was now late-ish Saturday afternoon. In every New Zealand emergency room that meant only one thing – rugby injuries. Sure enough the waiting room and examining rooms were full of brawny young men and some brawny young women dressed in striped rugby shirts, patiently awaiting treatment. The staff were busy and no-one paid attention to the young woman carefully walking to to main entrance. Once safely outside A&E Logan sat down and gathered her breath and her thoughts.
First things first. The disk. It was not much use to her if she lost it. Frith needed her and she might easily lose it.
One name sprang to mind as she considered her options. Brian Cowley. Wiremu Kale’s boyfriend worked at the Dominion newspaper. Ordinarily she would have just called a colleague at the New Business Age, but seeing Jack with her Managing Editor the other night had spooked her. It seemed that the NBA was compromised as far as this story was concerned.
Looking around she saw the sign pointing towards the Post Shop. Following the signs, she was surprised to find it was open, probably because it was a hospital and needed to operate outside the normal five-days-a-week constraints of most businesses.
Logan picked up a courier bag and jotted a short note on the back of a postal form. She addressed the bag to Brian care of the Dominion. At the counter she asked if there was a same day service.
The young woman, ‘Sheree’ according to her name badge, said there was only overnight at this time of day. Logan swore under her breath.
Sheree looked at her watch. “Where’s it going?” she asked. “The Dom? I’m going into town after work, in about 15 minutes. I could drop it off for you. If you like,” she shyly added.
Logan looked at the girl. She seemed no more than 17 and entirely guileless.
“Okay, that would be very kind of you,” she replied. “I only have $20 – would that be enough?”
The girl leaned over the counter and said quietly, “Only if I can have an autographed copy of your next article.”
Logan recoiled as if stung. If this kid had recognised her, how come the ambo and the cop hadn’t?
Sheree laughed happily. “I’m studying to become a journalist. You are on our recommended reading list.” She looked closely at Logan. “Are you undercover?”
Logan smiled in relief. “Yes, I am. But I need to get this quickly to Brian. And without anyone knowing. Could you do that?”
Another giggle. “Hold on a second.” She poked her head out the STAFF ONLY door and talked to someone out of Logan’s sight.
“I can go now. Frank can take over early. Do you need a lift into town too?”
Logan considered her next move. Frith. Where would Jack have taken her?
“If you could drop me off near Ghuznee Street, that would be good,” she eventually replied.
“Right. Let’s go.”
Ghuznee Street on a Saturday afternoon was bustling, despite the light drizzle. The tall dark woman sat on a low wall trying to get her head to stop aching. The pain from the lump on the outside was echoed by the pain within. Worse was her indecisiveness, which was completely unlike her. She had no idea of where to find Frith. Sitting outside Sarah’s apartment building had been her only idea so far.
Staring fixedly at the front door across the road, she almost failed to notice the dark blue Japanese car slow to a crawl as it passed her. It was the Subaru Impreza. But Jack was not driving it and she did not recognise the driver. But surely it was….. It was trying to attract her attention? Having done so, the driver – male, caucasian, blond hair, 90 kilograms, blue eyes – grinned at her and floored it. As it disappeared down the road, Logan memorised its number plate. ‘Sometimes,’ she thought,’ I should have been a cop’.
Galvanised by this event, she threaded her way through the cars and across the wet street to Atlas House.
Sarah answered the door to her apartment.
“Logan! What are you doing here?”
“I need your help. Again. Sorry.”
“Oh don’t be silly. Get in here.” And with that she pulled Logan inside. Gareth was reclining on the couch in the livingroom. He glanced up as the energy level of the room rose noticeably.
“I don’t believe you two have been properly introduced,” Sarah smiled. “Gareth Wong, QC, this is Logan Kendrick, ace reporter.”
“Logan, nice to meet you at last,” said Gareth. “I believe I owe you a rather large debt of gratitude.”
“You’re welcome,” Logan replied forthrightly as she shrugged. “Right time, right place, I guess.”
“Sit, sit,” said Sarah, pulling piles of magazines and cushions off the rooms other sofa. “Tea or something stronger. Not you, sweetheart.”
“Tea for me, thanks,” said Logan. “I’m off the booze at the moment.” She didn’t mention the lump hidden by her bangs.
Sarah busied herself in the kitchen making the tea.
Logan set herself on the couch, coiled like a spring.
Gareth looked at her quizzically, but forebore from questioning her. Instead he quietly said, “Sarah tells me you you fought off a small army the other night. They knocked me out right at the beginning I think.”
The dark woman forced herself to visibly relax. Leaning back in her chair, she proffered the comment, “Well, it’s a pretty dangerous place to be at that time of night. But you could hardly stay in the nightclub, could you?” With a half smile.
He grinned back at her. “Queen’s Counsel’s aren’t supposed to rave it up on a Friday night. Especially during a drugs bust. But having friends in the ranks of the boys in blue sometimes pays off.”
She frowned slightly, remembering. “The warning was cutting it a bit fine, wasn’t it?”
Gareth shot her a more direct questioning look.
“I was looking for Sarah and saw you take the call.”
“Talking about me already?” asked Sarah, as she came bustling in with a tray. “Nothing good or true I hope!”
After pouring three cups and seating herself in an armchair, Sarah said casually, “And how did it go today?”
Logan admired the technique. A ‘Fine, thank you’ in reply would not alert Gareth too much.
But she needed more help now. At the least she needed to get an outside perspective on everything that had happened and Gareth’s position within the New Zealand judicial system indicated she could trust him.
Putting aside her natural inclination for secrecy and distrust, she placed her problem openly on the table, leaving out any mention of the disk she had sent to Brian. That was her ace in the hole.
Gareth and Sarah listened enthralled to the whole sorry saga. Even in Logan’s terse style, the story was compelling. At the end, Sarah leaned forward and asked, “What can we do? How can we help?”
At this, Logan finally put her head in her hands. “I don’t know where he has taken Frith,” came the muffled statement. “I need to …..” She could not continue.
Sarah frowned. “With the amount of money you suggest is involved, her life is certainly in danger. And yours, too.”
Gareth had been listening quietly. Now he joined the discussion. “Surely not necessarily. All you have, Logan, is circumstantial evidence.”
She started at this, but the slight barrister held up his hand.
“Wait, hear me out. Electronic documents such as those you describe were on Darryl’s CD are pretty low in the evidential value hierarchy. A judge, or indeed the police, would need more evidence to even proceed with an investigation.
“However, that is for the bigger picture. On the more immediate scale, Mr McKechnie has put himeself in an awkward position. Up until kidnapping Ms Buchanan, he could have argued that YOU were the transgressor.”
Logan sat still, processing this new angle.
Gareth turned to his lover. “Sarah, you work with Alan closely. What’s your assessment of his likely involvement?”
Sarah looked thoughtful. “A lot of small things start to add up … if I look at them a certain way. He has become more secretive recently, but in a large company like Tall Trees you never know if that’s just office politics.”
“Were you ever present at any meeting between Alan and this John Fraser also known as Jack McKechnie?” he continued.
“Noooo. And that in itself is odd. Tall Trees has a company policy of keeping Communications people in the loop – generally so we can lie more convincingly. I think I assumed it was more personal business between the two of them.”
“Why did you think that?” interjected Logan.
“They met a few times in Alan’s office, but then I saw them together twice out of work. Once just in a coffee shop in Willis Street, once down on Alan’s yacht.”
“So, let’s take a worst case scenario,” said Gareth.
“Alan the insider, Jack with access to security service resources, Tricomi the laboratory making the biological bombs,” replied Logan promptly.
“And the transit mechanism? Between the US and here?”
“Diplomatic bag, perhaps?”
“Yes, that would do it. And what about within the US? Maybe a simple single person courier or a series of blind couriers? How close does the modified material need to be released to the crops?”
“Those are the questions I have been asking myself,” said Logan. “And, how can we prove it, or put a stop to it?”
Sarah coughed slightly to get their attention. “Does John know about you and Ms Buchanan?”
Logan coloured faintly. “He’s been bugging her house – and mine,” she muttered.
“Your house?” Sarah’s voice rose in disbelief. “Good heavens Logan, it must be serious!”
The tall woman blushed a little more. “Well…. yeah ….”
Suddenly she thought of the blue Impreza’s odd behaviour on the street.
“I think he’s laying a trap for me – with Frith as the bait. He thinks I will know where he’s holding her.”
“And where is that?” asked Sarah.
“Could be anywhere,” she replied.
Gareth suggested diffidently, “He must have picked a place that he thought you would think of. Like his house or a meeting place you two had or ….”
“Or the Jezebel?” said Sarah.
Logan looked at her sharply. “Yes, that’s worth a look. Maybe I’ll check it out now. God knows I don’t have any other ideas.”
Gareth and Sarah looked at each other with concern.
“And what about some back-up?” he asked.
“Police are out – Jack will have his buddies covered there. Same for the Secret Service. My paper – well I saw Jack meeting with my editor a couple of days ago. And I don’t want to get the two of you in any trouble,” said Logan.
“So what CAN we do, that doesn’t involve us or them?” pushed Gareth.
“Perhaps the Harbour Police …. and the television media,” Logan was thinking out loud.
Sarah laughed lightly. “You mean blow up the Jezebel and get TV reporters to cover that? And get Alan arrested for kidnapping?”
Logan looked grimly at her. “That could well be the ticket. Can I use your bathroom?”
An hour later, Logan was feeling much better for a shower and a rest. Thinking more clearly she realised she probably had a slight concussion, which would account for the muzziness and the sense of stupidity.
Sarah hovered unhappily at the door as Logan left. None of her arguments could sway the tall journalist. With a laconic, “It’s time” Logan disappeared down the spiral staircase.
Saturday afternoon had become early evening. The winter sun had set behind the western hills and cars were putting on their headlights. As Logan walked quickly down the Wellington streets towards the marina the city lights flickered into orange life above her head.
She crossed the still-busy waterfront road and emerged on the docks at Te Papa, the national museum. The large modern ediface hovered on it’s harbour frontage, separating parks and the port from the Chaffer Street marina. Logan had hoped she could check out the marina and surrounds without getting too close, but as she lounged against the museum wall she was forcibly reminded of Wellington’s geography. Anyone could be keeping the Jezebel under surveillance from a hundred houses or pathways in the Town Belt. She had no chance of seeing the trap before springing it. She would have to rely on brute force plus her unlikely allies to work together to thwart Jack and Alan’s plan.
Using the small binoculars she had taken from Sarah, used probably for watching cricket or the opera, Logan scanned what she could see of the marina. It sat near the large wharf which housed the Overseas Terminal, built in the early 70’s just in time for the last surge of British immigration by boat. There was a slight swell gently disturbing the several hundred boats that occupied the marina. She fixed the location of the entrance in her mind and turned quickly away and jogged away towards Frank Kitts Park.
Within ten minutes, Logan was paddling across the harbour towards the marina.
The breeze and rain had eased to a halt as the light of day ebbed from the harbour. People heading home from a day on the water mingled with those taking advantage of the quiet water. The kayakers and rowers and dragon-boaters cheerfully lowered their craft into the lagoon and made their way into the inner harbour. Beside them, tiny jet boats with coaches and their bullhorns shouted instructions and exhortations.
Several of the kayaks headed across the harbour towards the fountain that sat 100 metres off shore from the yacht club on the opposite side. As they passed the entrance to the marina, one of the boats slowed to a halt and, after a pause while his mates took their leave, paddled slowly into the marina.
Logan welcomed the steady physical effort of kayaking. Her headache had receded before the onslaught of the painkillers she had taken at Sarah’s flat. Now she focused on the rhythm necessary to propel the boat through the water. It gave the woman a chance to test stretched ligaments and bruised muscles and to ease her mind into an empty readiness.
She did not know where in the marina the Jezebel was moored. If necessary she would search the whole complex. Coming across the bay she had steadily appraised what she could see of the marina. At one point a flash of white from one of the boats had made her nerves leap, but it had not been repeated. Now as the light was starting to fade, Logan realised she would still need to evade whatever trap Jack and Alan may have set for her.
There had been not much of a chance for a reconnaissance, just the dash across the inner harbour to the marina. Above her the houses high in Oriental Bay were still bathed in light, but the shore itself and the marina were caught in the shadow of Tinakori Hill. She assumed Jack had left surveillance around the entrance to the marina that would alert him when she made an entrance. She also thought that Jack would have Frith there, so that even if she evaded her foes, she would still be slowed down in making an escape.
The kayak edged its way under the entrance to the marina. Logan maneuvered under the first pontoon and crawled out of the boat. Peeking over the top of the steps, she searched for the Jezebel. She remembered it was a white sloop with perhaps a blue trim, so she ignored the single-masted yachts and larger pleasure boats. Where was she?
Frith found the lack of sight to be the most disturbing feature of her incarceration. She had tried scraping the edge of the duct tape from her forehead against what must have been the galley bench, but all that did was give her a bruise and what seemed to be a small scrape that had decided to bleed.
She realised if she had her hands in front of her she could perhaps remove the blindfold. Frith had seen heroes on cop shows get their bound hands in front of them by stepping through it. She thought she was limber enough to try it – all that yoga had to pay off sometime.
She had already fallen off the seating she had woken to find herself on and reminded herself wryly that she couldn’t fall off the floor.
Straining to elongate her arms, she gradually worked her bound hands, now in agony, under her buttocks. Exhausted by the effort, she rested awhile. The pain did not ease, but her breathing slowed down again.
Then with a sudden spurt, she dragged her hands to behind her knees. Nearly there. Her shoulders now chimed in with complaints. Drawing her knees up to her face, she wiggled her feet over her wrists and she was done. Frith did not wait for her aches to subside, she was too eager to regain her sight and get the hell out of here.
Bending her arms slowly, she soon realised her hands were virtually useless. They were like blocks of ice-cold meat attached to the end of someone else’s arms. And until they were untied, there wasn’t much she could do about that. But she needed her sight. With a final effort she made her thumb and forefinger grab the edge of the duct tape from her temple and pulled.
The pain of pulling out hair and what can only have been eyelashes made the blonde woman squeak with the hurt. Worse than the sticking plasters on her scraped knees as a child. But the triumph of her achievement made up for it.
The cabin she was in was dimly lit, but definitely luxuriously furnished. She could see the galley drawers in which a knife was most likely to be found, if she could only reach it. Sighing as she realised much more effort was necessary, Frith levered herself up against the galley bench and opened the first drawer. Bingo. Kitchen knives. Clutching a vegetable knife between the palms of her hands, she sawed at the ropes binding her ankles. In less than a minute the rope was cut and she sat down abruptly on the cabin seat to recover herself. Only the hands remained.
Once her feet had recovered from indignity, she managed to grasp the knife firmly between. Sawing carefully, she sliced the ropes around her wrists with only a few small cuts suffered.
Finally free, she coaxed her hands back into painful life by massaging them together. Still stiff and sore, Frith sat on the cabin seat near a window and slowly opened the curtain. Outside she could see it was early evening and she could also see the central city buildings across the bay. A boat was leaving the port opposite, headed out to sea. She was in the Chaffer Street marina.
Buoyed by this discovery, she closed the curtain and, climbing gingerly up the ladder, tried the door out on to the deck. It was locked. As she looked to see how it unlocked from the inside, she heard the sound of footsteps coming along the jetty. Voices in conservation sounded like a distant muttering. For a moment she was seized with the feeling of Logan near her, and she nearly shouted out. But the voices were male and one … as they came closer she could tell one was Jack’s.
“I don’t know what’s keeping her. But don’t worry Mr. Gadsby, she’ll come.”
“Are you sure your men are prepared?”
“They know what to do.”
“And why am I here?”
“Because I have what she found, but I’m sure it was a copy. She still has it.”
“So you need to make the trade. Her girlfriend for the disk – the original disk. She won’t talk to me.”
“Let’s wait on board then.”
“No. We’ll let them both be trapped together on the Jezebel. Then make a deal. One she can’t refuse.”
“Why not just kill them both and dump the bodies in Cook Strait?”
“Well, that’s our fallback position.”
“You still have feelings for her, huh?”
“Shut your face Mr. Gadsby. Or I’ll shut it for you.”
A different quality of silence.
“No need to get shirty. We’ll clear this up and get back on schedule. When’s the next shipment due to leave?”
“Thursday. For Oklahoma this one.”
“Well, we better make sure it does. Now, we are we going to wait?”
“There. The Buttercup. The ugly yellow boat.”
Logan had seen the two men walking along the jetty. They stopped for few minutes alongside a white sloop and talked, before scrambling on to a yellow-hulled boat two berths along. She expelled a breath in frustration. Was Frith on the Jezebel or the yellow boat? Her gaze was drawn to a figure lounging inside the pedestrian entrance to the marina. And another sitting quietly on the deck of a boat by the gas pump. And yet a third desultorily poking at the engine under the hood of a dark blue car on the next wharf.
All armed, she guessed. And there were probably more.
Well, first things first.
The tall woman slipped into the water below the steps and breaststroked her way to the side of the Jezebel furthest from the yellow boat. As she rested alongside the white hull, she heard faint stirrings on board. She tapped gently on the hull, hoping that it was Frith on board and that she was able to respond. As she listened intently for a reply, a commotion at the entrance to the marina drew her attention. She inched around the boat to witness an unexpected sight.
Police cars were pulling up to the entrance, with people in dark jumpsuits leaping out and swarming into the marina. The man guarding the entrance let out a shout of warning, before he was forced down on to the wooden jetty.
Jack and Alan came above deck on the Buttercup just in time for a dark figure to point at them across the forty or so boats separating the Jezebel from the entrance.
The executive stood staring, quietly swearing under his breath as he considered his options.
“Right!” he barked. “I’m taking the Jezebel out. Coming?”
“Nope,” replied Jack. “I’ll take my chances on shore. We’re blown then?”
There was no answer as Alan scrambled off the Buttercup and along to the Jezebel. Jack took off along the jetty, aiming to get as far away from the police as possible. His car was sitting on a neighbouring wharf at the old Overseas Terminal. The fleeing figure attracted the cops’ attention and they changed direction to chase him.
Alan jumped on to the Jezebel and quickly let loose the mooring ropes. The engine of the graceful boat quickly started and within seconds he was pulling away from the mooring.
As he looked towards the harbour entrance of the marina, a dripping dark shape from his nightmares loomed up in front of his face.
Before he could react beyond a paralysed shock, the figure drew back and punched him squarely in the face. He stumbled to his knees, preparing to sell his life or freedom dearly, but the assailant rushed past, shoving him again to the deck. The figure wrenched open the door to the cabin and disappeared inside.
Alan struggled back to the helm of the Jezebel as the boat neared the entrance to the harbour. Hauling the wheel over, he managed to avoid colliding with the bollard on the south side.
There was a roar of anger from inside the cabin and Alan braced himself for further assault. Out hurtled Logan.
“Where is she, you bastard?” she yelled.
Alan froze. “She’s not there?” was all he could squeak.
A spotlight suddenly illuminated his tall frame. Ahead of the slender sloop a Coast Guard vessel materialized off his starboard bow.
“STAND TO JEZEBEL. THIS IS THE COAST GUARD. PREPARE TO BE BOARDED.”
Logan paid no attention. Her eyes swept the water line, looking for Frith. With immense relief she saw a slight form being helped from the water by two men.
Jack had reached the Subaru without being intercepted. His man had fled.
‘Typical,’ he snorted to himself. ‘Easy help for the easy bucks.’
He opened the passenger side door and reached for the mechanism lying on the seat.
As the pursuers came close, they skidded to a halt, fearing the perpetrator was reaching for a gun. Alan turned around triumphantly and pointed the antenna towards the Jezebel.
Their eyes widened as the two police officers realised what was about to happen. One, a woman, even turned and shouted as if to warn the occupants of the distant boat. As Alan pressed the trigger, the other officer leapt at him. Too late. The Jezebel erupted into a fireball, lighting the entire marina in a flickering glow.
Frith found herself being hauled out of the water by two men. She had crawled out one of the sloop’s windows when Alan had come aboard and slipped into the water as the boat took off from its mooring.
Choking and spluttering, she held on to her helpers’ arms as she turned to watch the Coast Guard vessel attempt to intercept the Jezebel.
With horror she had to shield her face as the boat exploded into a flaming mass.
“Oh god!” she cried and struggled to free herself from the restraining arms.
“Hey, hey, hey!” said a familiar voice.
“Brian?” she shouted.
“And me,” chimed in Wiremu. “Calm down babe … c’mon now…” He put his arms around her.
“But Logan was on that boat!” she cried.
“Really? Fuck it! Brian, go and tell those cops to get a search party into the water.”
Brian raced off towards the police cars. Wiremu and Frith went past the other boats towards the marina entrance, looking in the water for any signs of Logan.
“What was she wearing, Frith?”
“I don’t know,” replied Frith distractedly. “Dark, blue, something.”
“Shit – hard to see in the dark then.”
A police officer had run along the jetty to their position. “Can you see her?” he asked.
“No,” they said in unison.
He raised his radio. “Negative, Warrior. No sign of her here. Over.”
Over the radio came a scratchy voice. “We’ll put an inflatable in right away. We have to wait before searching the boat. Keep looking your end. Out.”
Wiremu grasped Frith firmly as her legs seemed to give way.
“It’ll be all right Frith. Let’s keep looking.”
Unable to look at the flaming wreckage, Frith nodded.
“Until we find her,” she said, firmly.
Frith, Wiremu and Brian sat on a bench seat, watching as the Warrior pulled away from the marina. They had been searching for over two hours. The flames on the Jezebel had long since died down and the coast guard had quickly searched the sloop. Alan’s body had been retrieved, what was left of it. But no sign of Logan.
Brian tried convincing Frith that this was a positive sign. But all the small blonde woman could reiterate was, “She would come for me.” Brian really had no argument for that.
Finally tearing her eyes away from the water, she looked curiously at Brian.
“So, what are you guys doing here?”
Brian related his tale. How the disk and a note had arrived on his desk on a quiet afternoon. How easily he had put two and two together. The later phone call from the Communications Manager of Tall Trees. The initial disbelief of the local Police Commander. The intervention of a Crown Prosecutor.
“And here we are,” he concluded. “Riding to the rescue.”
He stopped abruptly has he realised the rescue had not been entirely successful.
Wiremu took her by the hand.
“Come home with us, Frith. Let’s clean you up and get you into some dry and clean clothes. We’ll go down to the cop shop tomorrow and see what’s what.”
Frith could not argue, though her soul ached to think of abandoning her vigil.
They stopped and told one of the officer’s where they were off to and gave her their contact details. Frith was to present herself to Detective Inspector Scott at twelve noon for an interview.
Frith insisted on going back to her house. It was closer to the harbour and she could see the water from the verandah.
The vivacious blonde was not paying any attention to the slight dark haired man sitting beside her. Despite his brown skin he looked pale and wan, perhaps getting over a winter flu or convalescence. She was staring out the window of the Parade Café at the main building of the yacht club, obviously trying to will a particular face to come into view.
Leaning forward, he murmured, “She’ll come.”
Distracted, Sarah frowned. “But what if she’s held up with the police? Maybe I should just find her on Monday?”
“Logan said today. Between 2pm and 4pm.” The unspoken corollary, which they both remembered vividly, “or not at all”, remained unspoken.
Another impatient glance at her watch told Sarah it was 3.45pm.
Gareth stiffened, his gaze caught by a blonde woman running hell for leather along Oriental Parade.
“There’s one,” he said triumphantly.
Frith had thought she was going to be charged with obstructing justice. She looked at her watch so often that the detective finally invited her to take it off and put it on the table in front of her.
Her story had taken a while to tell. Her mind, however, was on the 2-hour period that Logan had designated as their second rendezvous times. The policeman, D.I. Scott, had been almost as interested in Logan’s current whereabouts as in her story. But although Frith was worried, she had an unreasoning faith in the journalist’s ability to survive.
As soon as the lengthy interview was concluded, with an injunction not to leave the country, Frith had walked briskly out of the police station on Hunter Street and made her way past Te Papa along the harbour-side walkway towards the Freyberg Pools.
At the entrance to the Marina she gave up all pretence of walking and ran like the devil towards the pools.
At the main entrance to Freyberg, she paused and looked around. The Sunday crowd was still out in full force, the roller-bladers somewhat in the ascendant at the moment.
She spent the next ten minutes pacing deliberately between the pools and the marina. Across the road, in the window seats of the Parade Café, Sarah and Gareth watched carefully.
At 4pm Frith sat down on the low brick seawall that separated the old part of the yacht club from the street. She stared despondently down at her feet, trying to keep her fears under control.
She could not be this close to happiness to have it whistled away. Logan must be alive and watching her somehow. Perhaps she had thought it was too dangerous to actually meet up with Frith.
The fact that Jack had not been captured had been sobering.
She looked up to see two people standing, arms crossed, about three metres away. She leaped to her feet, recognising Sarah right away.
The shock of disappointment pierced her chest like a physical pain. Her eyes filled with tears and she swallowed hard to keep sobs from coming up past her throat.
Sarah threw off her attitude and ran to the young woman. Putting her arm around Frith, she led her back to the seawall.
The small kindness unblocked Frith’s staunch resolve and she cried for long moments as Sarah and Gareth huddled around, trying to shield her from the curious stares of strangers.
Soon crisis was past and she blew her nose and wiped her face on a hanky proffered by Gareth.
“What’s happened?” asked Sarah, unable to hold back any longer. “Where’s Logan?”
Frith remembered that news of last night’s events had not rated more than a quick notice on the local radio news and had not made the Sunday papers at all.
“The Jezebel was blown up,” she said. “With Alan Gadsby on board.”
The pair exchanged startled glances.
“Who …?” Sarah could hardly frame the question.
“Not Logan,” Frith said immediately. “It was Jack McKechnie or Jack Wilson or John Fraser or whatever the fuck his name was. Is.”
Jack had eluded capture by the rather simple expedient of diving into the harbour and taking one of the police officers with him. That had dissuaded any keen officer from firing into the black darkness of the water. A quick blow to the head of the cop and a shout for help had turned their attention to rescuing their own colleague. Jack, it was surmised, had disappeared rather easily.
His fate, as much as Logan’s, was of intense interest to the police.
Looking up at the pair, Frith was suddenly struck by a question.
“Why are you here? Do you know where Logan is?” she asked feverishly.
Gareth and Sarah looked at each other, asking a silent question. It was Sarah who broke the short silence.
“No, we don’t. We were expecting her to be here between 2pm and 4pm as well. She told us she would be here. And if she wasn’t …” she faltered briefly. “If she wasn’t and you were, I was to give you this.”
She nodded at Gareth and he produced a white envelope from his overcoat pocket.
The pair had argued the previous evening about opening the envelope. Sarah had been of the ‘of course!’ school. Gareth had been more circumspect about what an officer of the court should and should not expose himself to.
“Better for us and her if we don’t know, darling,” he had persuaded her.
“But what if she …?” Sarah had cried inarticulately.
“I know you cared a great deal for her,” Gareth said gently. “But she has a new future now. One where we can help by doing as she asks.”
Sarah had acquiesced. But she would try again with Logan’s new lover.
All attention was now focused on the plain white envelope.
Frith looked at the envelope painfully, aware of the amount of pain that could well be hidden inside. She turned slightly aware from Sarah and Gareth, giving herself some small modicum of privacy. She carefully opened the flap and looked at the white enclosure. Drawing it slowly out, she opened the sheet and read.
Dearest Frith I am in a hurry and unsure of how events will go this evening. If I cannot be with you at our rendezvous, then either I am dead or under arrest. I will not let Jack have the satisfaction of destroying me or us. If you think there is a third likelihood, then have faith in me. Meet me at Zurich Airport on the last Sunday in July. Take the afternoon flight from Charles de Gaulle. I will be in the Diners Club Lounge. Give this note to Gareth. I love you. Logan
Frith was half smiling half weeping as she read. Crumpling the envelope, she stuck it into her jacket pocket. She kissed the note, turned and gave it directly to Gareth. Unable to resist, he glanced at this contents and could not stop a groan. He knew what he was bound by law to do.
Hand it over to the police.
It didn’t matter to Frith. The physical letter mean little. What meant much was the declaration she had longed to hear from Logan’s lips. And she would hear from Logan herself within a few short weeks.
She knew Logan was alive.
The Diners Club at Zurich Airport was busy as usual in the early Sunday evening. The urbane young man who staffed it glanced over to the flowers sitting behind the service counter. It was the first time in his brief tenure in the position that a bouquet had been left waiting for a passenger in transit. Privately he wondered how the recipient was going to take them on the plane with them, but reassured himself that first class could deal with anything.
A person arrived at the desk in front of him.
“Guten abend! Kann ich Sie helfen?”
“I am looking for a Fraulein Logan Kendrick. She is expecting me.”
“Ahh, Fraulein Kendrick. Ja, I have something for you she left.”
He looked over at the flowers and reached to pick them up. Women sending flowers? He was all for it. The tall man did not look very pleased as the assistant presented him with the arrangement.
“This is it?” he barked.
Günter’s face fell. Obviously not what the Englischer was expecting.
“Ja, mein Herr,” he replied.
Jack McKechnie turned abruptly and left the lounge. Once outside the door he extracted the note from the bouquet and threw the flowers angrily into a rubbish bin.
He had risked much in connecting with his contacts within Wellington CID. But the payoff had seemed immediate as the note Gareth had handed to D.I. Scott, or a photocopy of it, had been left in one of his drop boxes.
He opened the note. It was a plain square of paper, obviously written by the Tele-florist and not in Logan’s handwriting. It was succinct.
Frith clutched the grimy envelope. Once it had been white.
Written on the inside of the flap were now indecipherable words. It didn’t matter, Frith had them long memorised.
29/7. Sitka. Finn Alley Inn.
It hadn’t taken Frith long to figure it out and arrange the trip. Sitka was a small town in southeast Alaska. Formerly a Russian provincial capital, it rested on the ocean-side of the islands that stretched up the coast from Seattle. The boat had left from Bellingham near Seattle and taken two days to reach Sitka, passing the entire Pacific Coast of Canada. The ferry, or Alaska Marine Highway as it was more commonly known, only ran to Sitka once a week on Fridays during winter.
It was almost as obscure a place you could get into within the US. And still be below the Artic Circle.
She had booked the flight to Zurich via Los Angeles, New York and Paris. At LA she had taken another flight to Seattle. The bus to Bellingham left at midday, which had only given her 45 minutes from the shuttle flight to get into the Greyhound station. She had made it with at least 15 minutes to spare.
The MV Kennicot had left promptly, powering north past Vancouver and Victoria Island towards Alaska. Two days later she was standing on the bow of the ferry, watching as the Russian-style buildings of Sitka hove into view.
She would find the hotel and find Logan and begin to find her new life.
As the boat began the docking approach, she scanned the half dozen people waiting on the wharf. A tall person stepped out of the small group. Tall. Long dark hair. A smile Frith could see from a hundred metres.
She was found.