The Perfect Gift by Helen Smith

The Perfect Gift
by Helen Smith
Summary: Set the universe of Quinn Thanatos and Ariel Pederson, it follows Family Values and takes place about three months after that one ends. You can read, and I hope, enjoy this one without reading the two previous ones (Hunting Season and Family Values), but you’ll get more out of this if you do.




December in the city. Slush, freezing rain, and every now and then a lone snowflake, zapped into oblivion a nanosecond after it triggered the car’s electronic protective windshield system.

The Mark 5 splashed through a lake at the curbside, causing several pedestrians to jump back and one to give it the finger. Great, thought the car’s only occupant, I’m spreading peace and joy everywhere I go.

Quinn Thanatos sighed and checked her watch. At least another 10 minutes until she reached her destination. Might as well find out what’s happening in the world, she thought, as she flipped on the infofeed.

The weather, it seemed was the lead story on the news. “Must be a slow news day,” grunted Quinn, as a grinning weatherman, wearing a snorkel reported “It’s going to continue to rain over our region for at least another three hours. But don’t lose hope, folks, ’cause colder temperatures are on the way, with the thermometer dropping well below freezing over night. This time tomorrow we’ll even have a coating of snow.”

Quinn snorted. “Yeah. Over the ice.” The security consultant lowered the volume as the weatherman threw the conversational ball to the news anchor who evidently intended to interview Mrs S. Claus about what she would insist her husband wear in the way of protective clothing, if the weather patterns they’d been seeing recently didn’t improve in time for Christmas. The interview droned on as the tall woman sat back and gazed at nothing.

She was on her way to a downtown hotel for a meeting about yet another celebrity client. In the three months since they’d nailed Scott, Ariel’s nephew, for a raft of offences including accessory to several murders, life had changed, and the jury was still out on whether it had been for the better. Sure, she was making more money. In fact, Thanatos Security’s bottom line had risen like a rocket and showed no signs of slowing. Quinn and her colleagues had provided more security for celebrities since the ‘big chase,’ as Kris Cavendish liked to term it, than she’d ever dreamed possible. And their other “product lines” – also a Cavendish expression – had not dropped off one little bit. They’d had to hire another person to keep up with all the work, but Quinn and her staff were still unbelievably busy.

So why was she so bummed out?

The big car turned another corner, and as it leveled out again, Quinn spotted a hotdog vendor on the sidewalk, huddled under a canopy that was coated in ice. As if on cue, her stomach growled, and since it was well past lunch time, she decided that she’d better do something to quell the raging beast before going to a meeting with people she was hoping to impress. Seeing no space near the curb, Quinn instructed the Mark 5 to double park, then hopped out to get a ’dog.

The hot dog seller greeted her with a grin. “I knew my luck would change if I stayed open a bit longer. What can I get ya, pretty lady?”

Quinn raised an eyebrow and quirked a small grin. “Two please. Hold the onions but pile on the sauerkraut.”

“You got it,” the seller replied, as he efficiently assembled the food.

“Can you spare some change, Ma’am?” a quiet female voice asked. Quinn turned. An elderly woman in a coat 20 years out of style stood behind her. Rain dripped off a plastic rain bonnet, soaking her shoulders. Nevertheless, she drew herself up and looked at the security consultant levelly.

“Sure.” Distracted by the wrapped and fragrantly steaming parcels the hotdog seller held out, the tall woman dug a bill out of her jeans pocket and absently handed it over to the woman, who whispered her thanks.

“That’s eight dollars even,” he said.

Quinn reached again into her pocket, while noting out of the corner of her eye the woman anxiously counting money. Pulling out a twenty, the security consultant said brusquely, “Here. Give her a couple too, then keep the change.”

“He-e-e-y! You got it pretty lady” said the man happily, almost drowning out the surprised “Thank you,” from the woman.

Quinn nodded, not making eye contact, slathered mustard on her dogs and quickly retreated to the waiting Mark 5. Back in the car, she gave it the command to proceed to her meeting, while she hurriedly wolfed down the food.

That was all part of the problem, she mused, after the food was gone. She had so much more money now than she was used to, she felt bad about it. And that’s a screwy attitude, but that’s the way I feel.


“Ok, do it just like I showed you.”

“Uh, Ok. Let’s see. I grab you like this . . .”

“Yes . . .”

“Step this way . . .”

“Uh huh . . .”

“Then I do this . . .”

“Ooof! I mean good. That’s right.” Vanessa bounced to her feet. “Ok, let’s try it again.”

“Beating up on your bodyguard?” asked a new voice.

Two heads swiveled toward the stairs. Ariel Pederson in cut off t-shirt and sweat shorts stepped down into her state-of-the-art basement workout room.

“Did you see me throw her Aunt A?”

Ariel grinned. “Yup. Do it again.” As the blond teenager took her position on the mat, then tossed her six-foot plus instructor cum bodyguard for a second time, Ariel reflected on what a difference the passage of three months had had on KC, her niece.

When the girl had first come to live with her and Quinn, Ariel had been terrified she was doing something that could destroy her own peace of mind along with her life with Quinn. At the same time, however, she didn’t know what else to do. The girl needed help, and Ariel was her only relative who was willing to give it to her. With Ariel’s income she could have rented the young woman an apartment and hired someone 24/7 to act as bodyguard, confidant and minder, keeping the kid at a distance so that she and Quinn could get on with her lives. But the writer felt strongly that what KC needed most was the love and support of a family, something she’d only ever had in name before. Ariel had been adamant that she wasn’t going to get the kid an apartment and an attendant and essentially give up on her before trying her damnedest first. And Quinn had backed her up.

Ariel smiled. Yes, they’d had ups and downs, and they still did on a regular basis. Privately, Ariel expected that that would be the status quo for years. But now, after three months of slow progress, she was cautiously letting out a long-held breath and beginning to believe she had made the right choice.

Ariel did some stretching to limber up, then decided she was ready to tackle the treadmill. Adjusting the speed to a walk, she watched the martial arts lesson continue. Thank the Goddess for Vanessa, she thought. A bodyguard for the teenager had been, in Quinn’s words, “a no-brainer.” KC was the principal witness against her brother and Jefferson Bennett, a serial killer, in their upcoming trials. Who knew what lowlife Scott might be able to bribe to eliminate the threat she posed. She was also likely the target of religious extremists directed by her mother, who might try to kidnap her daughter to brainwash her into changing her story so that Scott could go free. In summary, said Quinn, five would get you ten that someone out there wanted to do KC harm.

All the staff at Thanatos Security had been assigned at one time or another to guard the young woman, but Vanessa seemed to have the best rapport with her. Ariel adjusted the treadmill speed again as she mused on what Quinn had told her about asking Vanessa how she felt about becoming KC’s principal body guard.

The tall red head had grinned and replied “I thought I already was.” Then, becoming serious, she added “I like the kid. She reminds me of my little sister. I don’t get to see her much since she lives on the west coast with our dad, but hanging around with KC gives me a chance to act as somebody’s big sister for a while. I kinda like that.”

Dialing the treadmill up to jogging speed, Ariel reflected that she didn’t know of any big sisters who gave their little sisters martial arts training, but was sure that if she looked long enough, she would find some.

The martial arts lesson continued, with KC, and occasionally Vanessa, hitting the mat. As Ariel passed the two-mile mark, the lesson wrapped up.

“Ok, that’s it for today. Go shower and then get dressed while I talk to Ariel.” Vanessa watched the teenager sprint up the stairs before she turned to the writer. “The kid wants to go Christmas shopping. I was going to take her out tomorrow but Kelly phoned me a while ago to see if I’d like to hit the mall tonight to do a little shopping ourselves. We’d love to have KC come along, if you’re willing. We’d pick up a quick dinner somewhere then shop till we drop. Or at least Kelly and KC will. I’m just along for the ride. This is strictly off the clock, by the way.”

Ariel looked at her. “You’re sure? About lengthening your day?”

Vanessa waved a hand. “I’m always on the lookout for crazies, anyway. It’s no problem.”

“Ok. Thanks, Vanessa. When will you have her back?”

“10:30 at the latest.”

“Good. I’m sure she’ll love it!”

“Alright then, I better go get ready.” So saying, the tall woman picked up her duffle bag and headed upstairs. “Hey Munchkin,” Ariel heard her yell, a minute later, “we’re hitting the mall tonight. Get with it.”


Meeting over, contract signed, celebrity arriving in 22 days. Quinn leaned back in the seat as the Mark 5 negotiated rush hour traffic. And that was another part of the problem, she mused. I spend more and more time in meetings, and less and less doing the actual job.

The tall woman blew out a breath and looked out the car window as dusk changed to winter darkness. Street lights illuminated the bumper to bumper traffic and the pedestrians, trying vainly to stay dry, who were hurrying homeward.

The problem was also office space. She had to admit that in adding a new staff member so soon after hiring Jamie and Owen, the bungalow had finally outlived its usefulness. They needed to find new office space and quickly. Kris had been hunting for a couple of weeks, but had turned up nothing yet.

Quinn sat back and stared at the ceiling as the car finally gained the onramp to the freeway. Traffic was still heavy but moving a lot faster than on downtown streets.

And the problem, Quinn acknowledged, was also the season. Quinn used to love Christmas. Her grandmother had been a self-described “Christmas-bug,” and had passed the feeling along to Quinn. Helping Gram decorate the tree – always a real one, even though, as her grandmother said each year, “it cost the earth,” while carols or “The Christmas Song,” or even “Rocking around the Christmas Tree” played in the background had always been one of the season’s high points for her. Sometimes, after the decorating was done, they’d take a walk down the block and admire the Christmas lights on the houses on Gram’s street, or, on crisp, still nights just stand outside as snowflakes silently drifted down. Quinn shook her head and leaned over to switch on the Infofeed and dial in the oldies audio station. Simon and Garfunkel’s “Seven O’Clock News/Silent Night” rolled from the speakers.

Hmm. Music to suit my mood. She leaned back in her seat again as the Mark 5 glided around a manually driven car whose driver was relying on mere human ability to pilot him home in the slippery conditions.

Somewhere in the twenty something years since her grandmother’s death, she mused, Christmas had lost its specialness for her. Now it was just one more goddamned holiday. Everyone rushing around, grumpy. Stores a madhouse. Quinn irritably checked her watch. Yeah, hotshot and that’s a big part of your problem, isn’t it? All this new money coming in and you still have no clue what to buy for Ariel, the woman who has more money than god.

Quinn shifted in the seat as the car finally turned onto Rochester. “The Seven O’Clock News/Silent Night” had yielded the airwaves to “Santa Baby,” but the trite little song did nothing to lift Quinn’s gloom. Locking up and arming the car, which miraculously had found a parking spot directly opposite the front door of the home she shared with Ariel, Quinn picked her way across the road and up the stairs. The door swung open as she reached for the buzzer, and Vanessa stood back to let her in.

“Hi, Van. Everything Ok?”

“No problems Quinn. Just watching for Kelly.”

Quinn nodded and shucked her jacket, hanging it on the hall tree. “Where is everybody?” she asked.

“KC is in the living room. Ariel’s in the basement.

Quinn nodded again, and walked through the doorway into the living room. KC, at least was not contributing to her general unease. She’d had strong reservations about bringing the kid to live with them, but knew that Ariel had really wanted to see if they could make it work. And amazingly enough, it seemed to be. Sure, there’d been trouble at first, especially when KC realized that she was to have a bodyguard who would be with her from morning to night. The kid felt that she was trading one prison for another. But they’d worked that out, and now, although she knew that KC would rather go places without being guarded, she accepted that it was for her protection. Quinn shook her head. No. KC, at least, was not currently a problem.

The living room was illuminated only by the lights of the Christmas tree. She found the teenager lounging in the lazyboy, Hairy curled up in her lap, just soaking up the brightness, and colours, and the scent of a real, live, eight-foot tree.

“Hey KC. How are things?”

“Oh, hi Quinn. I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Yeah, well you were otherwise occupied.”

The teenager blushed. Quinn had been surprised at her fascination with the tree when they’d first put it up a couple of days before, but Ariel had explained later that Donna had not allowed any Christmas decorations at all. It was likely the first tree KC had had the opportunity to decorate or admire. The writer had confessed that she had felt the same when Donna had kicked her out of the house and she’d been taken in by Dawn Jamieson and her son, Tim. Growing up with her parents, she’d always had a tree, but the years she’d been forced to live under Donna’s roof after her parents had been killed in a plane crash had left her with the desire to surround herself each year with traditional Christmas trappings. Quinn mused that this was the second time she and Ariel would be together for Christmas, and, just like last year, the tree Ariel had ordered was big, bushy and picture perfect.

“Hey Quinn,” said KC, attempting to change the subject, “I’m on holiday. Dawn told me to take the rest of the year off. Likely ‘cause I got an “A” in my English paper,” she added offhandedly.

Quinn gave her what her grandmother would have called “an old-fashioned look.” “Uh huh. And this little vacation has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that Dawn would like a holiday herself.”

KC waved a hand negligently, a smile playing around her lips. “Nothing at all. Nope.”

Ri-i-ight.” Quinn ambled toward the door, then turned before exiting. “By the way. Nice going on the “A.”

A genuine smile greeted her. “Thanks!”

Quinn flashed the teenager an answering grin and went through the door toward the back of the house. When she’d moved in with them the kid hadn’t been ready to go back to school full time. And even if she had been, appointments with the prosecutors, a psychiatrist, and a variety of other professionals would have cut into her time pretty badly. Ariel, however, was adamant that she start catching up on some of the schooling she had missed. Although currently searching for a math tutor, once Ariel had told Dawn Jamieson KC’s story, she’d never had to look anywhere else for an English tutor. Dawn taught KC via vid chat everyday and the girl was making great progress.

Quinn chuckled to herself as she walked down the basement stairs. On balance, she decided, the only negative thing she could see about KC’s presence was that she and Ariel now had to confine their sexual activities to the bedroom. Quinn stepped down into the gym and sighed as her eyes beheld the woman of her dreams. When Ariel looked as incredibly sexy as she did right at that moment, it was a damn shame!

The writer completed a last rep on the slant board, and sat up. Quinn could see a light coating of sweat at her hairline and on her upper lip. A cut off t-shirt, currently revealing a nicely muscled abdomen, was also darkened with sweat, as was the waist band of her sweat shorts.

“Hey,” said Ariel, smiling as she reached for a towel. “You’re home early.”

Quinn flashed her a sexy grin, then strolled across the room, leaned down and kissed her lingeringly. “I was just thinking about the old days,” she said, after the kiss ended.

“The old days?”

“Yeah, you know,” said Quinn with a small smile as she nibbled the writer’s lips. “When sex wasn’t just a bedroom thing.”

“Ah. Those old days.” Ariel slipped her hands behind Quinn’s head and pulled her close for another kiss. “Well then, does that mean you’ve heard the news?”

Quinn eyed her. “News?”

Ariel smiled tantalizingly. “Vanessa and Kelly are taking KC out to shop. They won’t be back until 10:30.”

Quinn, who by now was straddling the bench facing the writer, hands resting on the shorter woman’s hips, murmured, “Vanessa definitely gets a big Christmas bonus.”

“My thought too,” smiled Ariel, leaning in again.

“Hey, guys,” called a voice from the top of the stairs, “Kelly’s here so we’re going now.”

Quinn, so close to Ariel’s lips she could feel her breath, pulled back, cleared her throat, and called out “Ok. See you at 10:30.”

“You got it, Quinn.”

The two women paused, until far off they heard the dull thump of the front door.

“Alone at last.”

“Mmm. Care to time travel back to the old days?”


Quinn adjusted the cushions behind her and leaned back with a contented sigh. “I like time travel,” she announced to the empty room.

“Yowrl,” replied a voice from behind her head, heralding the arrival of a sleek grey shape, which jumped down onto the couch beside her.

“Hi Gris. I didn’t see you come in.”

The half-grown cat replied by rubbing his head against her hand. Quinn stroked his fur idly, relaxed again and turned her attention to the tree. Other than the lights on its branches, the only illumination came from tea lights floating in bowls at either end of the sideboard, and either end of the fireplace mantel. In the kitchen she could hear Ariel cautioning one of the other cats – likely Charlotte – to get down, because nothing on the table was for her.

“Go away Charlotte,” Ariel said as she carried in a tray from the kitchen.

“Need some help?”

The writer put the tray down on the coffee table, while casting a glance at Quinn, loosely wrapped in a white robe, who was sprawled on the couch. “Nah. I’ll shoo her out and shut the door while we eat.”
Quinn leaned over, disturbing Gris, who decided there were better places to be. As she sniffed the delicious aromas appreciatively, she watched the cat run past Ariel, who was trying to beat Charlotte to the other door so that she could shut it as well.

“Mmm. Pasta fagioli soup, French bread, Brie, and a bottle of red wine. Smells heavenly. Have to send you to the kitchen for leftovers more often.”

The room secured from marauding felines, the writer returned to seat herself beside her now upright lover. “My part is done,” she said with a smile. “Over to you.”

“My pleasure. First, some mood music.” Quinn aimed the remote at the sound system and soft music began playing. Picking up the bottle, she poured a glass for each of them, handed one to Ariel then raised her own and began examining the colour critically. “I could say, we have here a wine of delightful contrasts. Shy, yet bold, sensuous, but modest, forward, but retiring. An amusing and at times impertinent wine, for your dining pleasure. But since I have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll just say, this particular wine is almost as good as a Guinness or a Kilkenny.”

Ariel chuckled. “A high accolade, indeed.”

Quinn shrugged. “You go with what you know.”

Ariel nodded and handed her a bowl. “Let’s eat before the soup gets cold.”

The next few moments were devoted to sating appetites. Then, glasses refilled, Ariel securely in her arms, Quinn leaned back with a sigh and relaxed. The lights of the tree glowed, highlighting the eclectic assortment of decorations with which it was laden.

“That’s interesting.”

“Mmm. What’s that?” asked Ariel, as she snuggled closer.

“Well, if we had a fire going, we’d be watching it. But I’ve never heard of anyone watching a Christmas tree. Some people admire them. KC basks in their glow. But I’ve never heard of anyone watching them.”

“The English language,” murmured Ariel.

“Yeah.” Quinn sipped her wine meditatively. She wished this moment could go on and on. Let the world continue to spin, she was happy, here, with her Ariel. Yeah, no more meetings, no more demanding clients. Yeah . . . . Of course, then you’d have to go back to scaring up chump change clients to pay the bills. Hmm, that was true. And the money’s nice, isn’t it? Yeah, it is. But . . . . But? But it’s not that simple. No? No. Why not? Silence. Hey Hotshot, you listening to me? Why not? Quinn shifted uncomfortably. “Ariel?”


“Oh . .Shut up. Shut up! . nothing.”

The writer shifted. “Quinn, what is it?”

“It’s nothing, Love. Forget I said anything.” Quinn felt the other woman tense, and mentally winced. Shit! Of all the things you could have said, that was singularly the most stupid.

“It’s not nothing.”

Quinn dropped a kiss on the writer’s hair. “Hmm. A double negative. What would Edward say?”

“He’d say I should kick your butt for trying to head me off. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.”

“Quinn, something’s bothering you. You might as well tell me because I’m not gonna rest until you do.”

“Ariel Pederson, interrogation expert.”


The security consultant sighed. “Ok. It’s the money.”

Ariel turned her head to look at her lover. “Money?”

“You know. All the money I’m making. For years at the company we went along, doing Ok, paying our bills, all of us making a decent salary. Now, suddenly, I’ve got all this money coming in, like I turned on a tap.” Quinn ran a hand through her hair. “Ariel, my days seem to consist principally of meetings. I iron out the details but I don’t do a lot of hands-on stuff anymore. Then the money rolls in and I feel like I didn’t earn it. That I’m really just a fraud. I don’t know how to cope with that.”

In the silence that followed, Quinn was suddenly aware that the sound system was now playing Christmas carols. She waited. Finally, Quinn felt Ariel draw a breath.

“When I received my first big advance,” she began, “I felt I hadn’t earned it. I hadn’t proved that I was worth this money. And when the royalties started rolling in, I really wanted to scream, STOP IT! I’m just Ariel Pederson! You have no reason to be giving me this!”

“So how did you handle it?”

“To a certain extent, you get used to it.”

“Uh huh.”

“It’s also why I give chunks of it away.” Ariel went silent. Quinn waited. The woman in her arms shifted so that she could look at her. “Quinn, I don’t know what I believe, whether there’s a Goddess, or a god or some combination or nothing at all. Maybe I’ve been given this money by some otherworldly power so that I can redistribute it to those who need it more, I don’t know. I do know, however, that I feel a sense of responsibility to my fellow creatures to help out where I can.” She paused. “I started to write because I had something to say, and I was good at it. Money has always been secondary. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a nice perk, but I don’t feel the need to have a gold plated bidet or whatever to prove to myself that I’m a success. I know I’m a good writer and that’s what matters to me. I also know I could be better, and that’s what I strive for everyday. The money makes me comfortable, but it doesn’t make me feel good or bad, it just is. If, however, I can use it to help others, that’s when it matters.”

Quinn nodded slowly. “Ok. Accept that the money comes with this new territory, do my job, and stop beating myself up?”

Ariel smiled. “Come to terms with it. You’re good at what you do Quinn. The meetings are trying, yes, but maybe Kris or John could start going to them to iron out the details, and you review things later.”

Quinn nodded again. “Ok. Yeah. Maybe.”

Ariel kissed her softly. “You’ll figure it out, eventually.”

Quinn’s response was interrupted by her phone. Leaning past Ariel she picked it up and flipped it open.


“Hi Quinn. Just thought I’d let you know we’re on our way back to your place. We’ll be there in about 30 minutes, I think, depending on how long it takes Kelly and KC to finish paying for the latest collection of stuff.”

“Vanessa. Hi. Thanks for the update.”

A knowing chuckle. “Thought you might appreciate a . . . heads up.”

“Trying to pad your Christmas bonus?” said Quinn, dryly.

Laughter greeted her. “See you soon Quinn.”


Quinn thought about what Ariel had said, off and on over the next few days. Thought about it, but came to no conclusions, whatsoever. Work was hectic. Christmas was creeping closer and she still didn’t know what to get for her lover. She’d picked up a few things. Some music recordings, a couple of movies they’d missed and wanted to see, and a tourmaline earring and pendant set in 18k gold that would compliment her lover’s green eyes beautifully. But she wanted to get something more, something that wasn’t just beautiful, but would mean something, that had lasting value that was more than monetary. But what? The question was still plaguing her on the afternoon of December 24, when she arrived back at the office after yet another meeting.

“Hey Boss Lady, I’m glad you’re here, ” said Kris, as she walked in the door.

“Uh huh,” replied Quinn, quickly shuffling through papers in her “in” box. “Need something signed?”

“Nope. I’ve just got a line on a new office. Actually it’s a building with offices rented out to a couple of other businesses. There’s a couple of apartments too, but both are currently vacant. One of us has got to go see it today, ’cause there’s already an offer in on it.”

“Ok, what’s the problem? I trust your judgement. If you think it’s right for us, go for it.”

“The problem is, since there’s no one else available one of us also has to serve this retraining order. I was just going out to do it when the real estate agent called.”

Quinn looked at the envelope. Process serving was one of Thanatos Security’s “product lines,” but wasn’t something she enjoyed. In fact, she couldn’t remember when she’d last served one. On the other hand, here was a hands-on opportunity, the kind she’d been longing for. Quinn sighed. “Crap. Ok. I’ll do it. Let me know about the office.”

“You got it.”


The Mark 5 pulled to the curb. Quinn checked the address. Yup, this was the place. 45 Alliston. Quinn got slowly out of the vehicle, and surveyed the dirty red brick building. “Soon to be a 20-storey Office and Condominium Complex” blared a large sign planted on what passed for a front lawn. Quinn sighed, climbed the stairs and pushed her way through filthy glass entry doors.

The security consultant glanced up and down the hall, noting both the graffiti decorating the walls and some apartment doors, and the once marble floors that hadn’t been cleaned in at least a decade. The apartment she was looking for was on the third floor. Stepping around some unidentifiable trash, she climbed the stairs.

At apartment 302, she listened at the door for a few seconds, then knocked. An infofeed inside was broadcasting canned laughter, but she heard none in response. After waiting a few seconds she knocked again.

“Who is it?” A man’s voice, hopefully her quarry, James L. Paulsen.

“Hi. Is that Jim? I’ve got something for you.”

The voice came closer. “Yeah? What’ve you got for me?”

Quinn leaned close to the doorjamb, but placed a hand over her mouth to deliberately muffle the first words: “{unintelligible} sent me. I don’t know what it is, ’cause it’s in an envelope and kinda thick. I think it might be money.”

Inside she could hear locks being released. “I’m Jim. Give it . . . Fuck! What the . . . a process server!” The man tried to slam the door but Quinn got her foot in.

“Goddamn it, I’m not taking that!”

Shit, this could be going better! thought Quinn as she struggled with the man, eventually stuffing the restraining order into his shirt pocket. As he slammed the door, she announced “Jimmie, you’ve just been served.”

“Fuck you.”

Ah well, another day, another dollar, she said to herself as she jogged down the stairs. Reaching the main floor and pushing through the glass doors, she suddenly realized that she was in a better mood than she had been all day. Maybe there is something to this hands-on stuff, she thought.

Just as Quinn emerged from the building, all inner conversation ceased, as her attention was caught and held by what was going on, on the sidewalk directly ahead of her.

“Gimme that, Bitch!”

“No! Let go!”

A elderly woman, one of the two figures struggling, was pushed to the ground as the other ran off clutching her property. Quinn gave chase, almost catching the kid, who wasn’t more than 10 years old, in the next block, until he threw the bag away and slipped through a kid-sized hole in the hoarding surrounding a demolition site. Quinn paused to catch her breath, picked up the cloth bag the kid had dropped and jogged back to the woman.

The security consultant was relieved to see the woman moving slowly around, picking up some things that had fallen out of a grocery bag during the struggle. Quinn retrieved two cans, which had found their way to the gutter.

“Oh thank you,” said the woman as Quinn handed her the bag and the cans.

“You Ok? I can drive you to the hospital, if you’d like. It would be no problem.”

“I’m fine, thank you,” replied the woman, then belied her statement by lurching badly and almost falling. Quinn caught her and eased her onto the step.

“Look,” she said, “let me take you to a hospital to get checked over.”

The woman waved her hand weakly. “No, no. I’ll be fine. I just need a cup of tea.

“You’re sure?”

“Really.” The woman took a breath . “I’m fine now. Thank you for getting my bag back. It’s got my money in it.”

“Can I at least see you to your home? We should also call the police . . .”

“No police, please. I doubt they’d come anyway. They’d just take down the facts over the phone and that would be that. I would like to take you up on your offer of an escort home, though. I just live in the next block but one.”

“We can drive there . . .”

“Actually, I think the walk would do me good.”

“Ok. Let me carry those groceries for you.” Quinn took the grocery bag and offered her arm to the old woman, who, now that she got a good look at her, seemed familiar. They walked slowly along, Quinn aware that the woman was limping slightly, but making no comment. Just as they got to the old woman’s apartment building, which also sported a “Soon to be a 20-storey Office and Condominium Complex” sign, Quinn’s phone buzzed.


“Hey Quinn, looks like we got us a new home away from home.”


“Yeah. As long as everything pans out, that is. But this place looks good. Three storey building. Lots of space for us, big room to meet with the clients, or for staff meetings. A doctor and a dentist are renting space and have longterm leases, and there’s a couple of apartments too. Everything looks clean and neat. It’s an estate sale, and apparently the late owner was big on maintenance.”

“Ok. Did you make an offer?”

“Yeah, I did. There didn’t appear to be anything hinky in the contract so I went ahead and signed it, and gave a down payment. The other deal that was pending that the agent told me about fell through, apparently. The other guys couldn’t get their financing, so we’re the only game in town. The widow is trying to wrap this up quick, so we should hear very shortly.”

“Great. Ok. Keep me informed.”

“Will do.”

Quinn closed her phone to find that she and the woman had arrived at her door.

“Would you like to come in for some tea? It’s the least I can do to thank you for your kindnesses to me.”

“Sure, I’d love to,” said Quinn, thinking that she could make sure the woman was really alright before she left her.

“Please make yourself at home while I get the tea started.”

Quinn smiled, nodded and sat down in one of the upholstered chairs that the woman indicated as she made her way down the hall to the kitchen. The apartment was tiny, and filled with old fashioned furniture, but neat and clean. Quinn noted a large bookshelf on one wall and wandered over to take a look. From the kitchen she could hear the sounds of water running into a kettle, and cupboards opening and closing.

The books were an eclectic collection. She noted several on marine life, a couple on architecture, and a quite a few books on history. She was surprised to discover three shelves packed with children’s books, and was just wondering about those when the woman returned carrying a tray with tea, mugs, milk and sugar, and a plate of home made cookies.

“Here we are. I’ll just let it steep for a minute or two,” she said, as she put it down on an end table. Quinn noted that she seemed to be moving Ok, so perhaps she didn’t need to be checked over at the hospital after all.

“You have a lovely apartment.”

“Thank you. I’ve lived here 40 years. Came here on my wedding day and never left. It was a nice area until about 15 years ago. Now, well, as you can see we’re being redeveloped.” She sighed. “But I’ve decided to look on it as a new beginning.”

“That’s a good attitude.”

The woman smiled as she started to pour the tea. “No use crying over spilt milk, as they used to say. Speaking of milk, what do you take in your tea?”

“Just a little milk, please, no sugar.”

The woman handed her a mug and offered her the cookie plate.

“Mmm! These are delicious!” said Quinn through a mouthful of cookie. “Pardon me for talking with my mouth full!”

The woman laughed. “They were always my daughter’s favourite.”

“A woman with good taste.”

The woman smiled again. “Actually,” she said, “I’m glad I ran into you again, if one can call it that. Just to thank you for your kindness last week.”

“Last week?” Then it clicked into place. “Oh! so that’s why you look familiar.” Quinn felt her ears turn pink. The woman from the hotdog stand.

“Yes. I don’t do that much, but my security cheque was late, and . . . well. Anyway, those hotdogs hit the spot. Please, have another cookie.”

“Thanks, I will,” said Quinn, still feeling uncomfortable. Just then, her phone buzzed.

“Thanatos,” said Quinn, glad of the interruption.

“Hey Quinn, the widow accepted the offer.”


“Uh huh. Closing at the end of January.”

“Ok, we’ll have to get moving then. Lessee. The firm Ariel uses handles real estate too. I’ll find out who and have them handle it. I guess there’s not much else we can do on that until we see a lawyer.”

“Nope. We’ll have to give some thought to property management, you realize, now that we’re going to have tenants.”

“Yeah.” A pause. “I’ve been thinking Kris, I know you’d like to get out from under the admin stuff, and so would I. Maybe we hire an office administrator with property management experience.”

“Sounds like a plan. The best one you’ve had in a while, Boss Lady.”

“Yeah, I think you’re right. Anyway, we can talk about that at the office on the 27th. Have a good Christmas, Kris. And give my best to Michelle.”

“You too, Quinn. And all the best to Ariel and KC from Michelle and me.”

Quinn clipped her phone to her belt with a smile on her face.

“You’re very busy.”

“Oh. Yeah, well we’ve been looking for a new office for a while and finally found one.”

The woman smiled. “Good.” Then lifting the teapot, she said, “there’s still tea here, if you’d like some.”

Quinn was anxious to get home, but didn’t want to leave too soon until she was sure the woman was really Ok. “I’d love some,” she said. As the woman poured, she added “you’ve got an interesting collection of books.”

The woman chuckled, and sat back with her own mug. “Some of them were my husband’s, and some my daughter’s. The history books were his, the children’s books hers.” She paused. “I miss them, so I like to keep their things around me.”

“You’ve been alone for a while?”

“John died thirty years ago. Lauren, 19 years ago last month. But every time I start to feel a bit lost, I sit down and look at their books and feel close to them again.”

Quinn nodded. “That’s a good attitude.”

“It gets me through.”

“I noticed that the children’s books are all classics.”

“Yes, my daughter loved to collect them.”

“Do you mind if I take a look? My partner is a writer and loves books, so it’s kinda rubbed off on me, I guess.”

“Certainly. Please do.”

Quinn crouched down in front of the shelves. She saw all the ones she expected and took note of a few surprises. “Hmm. Bows Against the Barons,” she said. “I remember my grandmother suggesting I might like to read that one.”

“Yes. Jeffrey Trease’s first book, I think. And you’ll also see Brother Dustyfeet by Rosemary Sutcliffe there. Lauren was ecstatic when she got those. They may be beaten up a bit but they’re both first editions.”

“Mmm,” said Quinn as she pulled another from the shelf. “Here’s another one I remember enjoying as a kid. Heinlein’s Red Planet.”

The woman laughed. “Yes. I re-read that one, every now and then. It never gets old, even though we know Mars is not at all like that.”

Quinn chuckled. “Yeah. Oh, here’s one Ariel, my partner, would kill for. Homeward Voyage. A first edition, I see. And . . .” Quinn paused, then looked up, stunned. “Your daughter Lauren, she was Lauren Wallace?”

The woman smiled. “Yes. She was so proud when she got her copies. I remember how her face lit up as she unwrapped the package. She grabbed a pen right then and autographed this one for me. Told me, ‘Mom, I couldn’t have done it without you.’ And that’s what she wrote, too.”

Quinn nodded silently. She remembered as a kid reading this book, thinking it was fantastic, wishing she were the hero, who triumphed over all odds and in the end, won through. She also remembered being very disappointed when no more books from this author were ever published. “What happened?” she asked. “I mean, this was so popular. Why didn’t she write any more?”

The woman rubbed her eyes and slumped a bit in her chair, the first sign of emotion Quinn had seen. When she spoke, however, she was in complete control. “Drunk driver. Over on Main. She was hurrying home. He didn’t believe in self-driven cars. They were just coming it at the time, of course. Anyway, he never saw her.” The woman straightened. “As far as why no more books, well, Lauren was a slow writer. She was only a third of the way through a second when . . . the accident. Anyway, she left no notes, so no one could finish it.”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Quinn said, quietly.

“Thank you.”

Quinn ran a hand through her hair. What great potential, cut short by one thoughtless individual, she thought. Suddenly she said, “I’m sorry, I never introduced myself. I’m Quinn Thanatos,” and stuck out a hand.

The woman smiled and shook it. “I’m Marie Wallace. And I know who you are, Ms. Thanatos, I watch the infofeed.”

Quinn blushed. That damn car chase again. “Call me Quinn. Listen, I know that my partner, Ariel, would love to meet you. Do you have plans for tomorrow? Would you like to come for dinner?”

“That’s very kind of you, but, it’s Christmas. That’s for family. I don’t want to intrude.”

Quinn waved her hand. “No intrusion, at all. Besides we’ll both give you the third degree about your daughter. You’ll pay for your meal, believe me.”

Marie smiled. “Well then, thank you, I’d love to.”

“Good.” Then a thought struck Quinn. It was amazingly brilliant, and the more she examined it, the better it appeared. “Marie, I also have a business proposal for you . . . ‘

“Oh?” Suddenly the woman went rigid. “NO! I won’t sell the book. No . . .”

“No! No!” said Quinn, trying to calm her. “I don’t want to buy it.”

“You don’t?”

“No. But I would like to rent it.”

“Rent it? How could you rent it? What kind of crazy idea is that?”

“Pretty crazy, I agree. But hear me out. You’re going to have to move out of here soon, aren’t you?”

“By the end of May.”

Quinn nodded, excited. “Ok, well that second call I took was about a new building we’re buying for our office.”

The woman nodded. “Go on.”

“Well, see, there’s a doctor and a dentist renting space in the building but there’s also a couple of apartments in the building. Both are empty right now and I need tenants.”

“I can’t afford much . . .”

“Yeah, but if you rent me access to the book for my partner, Ariel, she could come visit you whenever she needed a Lauren Wallace pick-me-up. We’d agree on a rent for the apartment that you could live with and everyone would be happy. I’ve been racking my brain to try to think of something special I could get her this Christmas, and this would be perfect. What do you say?”

Marie Wallace stared at her. “I’d say that you are the craziest person I’ve ever met, but that today has been one of the luckiest in my life. You have a deal. Anytime your Ariel wants to drop by she will be welcome.”

Quinn grinned, and hugged Marie. “I guarantee that if you feed her those cookies she’ll do anything for you.”


“Ariel Pederson”

“Hi Honey, I’m on my way home.”

“Quinn, I was beginning to wonder.”

“Wonder no more, my Sweet Baboo, I’ll soon be there with you.”

“Quinn, bad poetry? Have you been drinking?”

“Only two mugs of tea. And it was delicious. But the cookies were even better.”

“Cookies? Tea? I think you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.”

“Oh, I do.” Quinn sobered. “But you know the best part? I’ve come to terms with the money and the job and the whole damn world. I feel wonderful.”

“I’m so glad,” said Ariel softly. See you soon?”

“In about five minutes. I love you.”

“And I love you. Goddess, I love you! Hurry!”

“Your wish is my command.”

And so we leave them there.

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