Monday, LAX Los Angeles, CA 1025 Local
The plane stopped moving and Edwina McKlellan unbuckled her seatbelt. She remained in her seat, content to let the other passengers get off first. She was in no hurry to reach her destination. Throughout the entire flight, she'd been pondering her decision. There was an inevitability about it that was somewhat unnerving. If she went through with this, her life would irrevocably change and she was ambivalent as to whether that was a good thing or not. Shaking her head, she realized the last of the passengers was filing past. Not wanting to be noticed, Edwina stood up, slinging her purse over her shoulder and retrieved her briefcase from the overhead. Joining the end of the line, she nodded automatically to the flight crew and entered the skyway. Once inside the concourse, she turned and followed the crowd towards the baggage claim.
After pulling out her suitcase, Edwina turned towards the gaggle of drivers holding up signs. She frowned when she saw her name on not one but two of the placards. She'd engaged a limo service before leaving for LA, who else was sending a car? She'd hadn't told anyone she was coming out to the west coast and had waited until only two days ago to make her arrangements. A tiny mixture of anger and fear began to grow, who the hell was watching her? Straightening up slightly, she marched up to the two men. She'd be damned if she'd let anyone see her rattled. After identifying the driver she hired, Edwina turned to the other man and raised an eyebrow, "Who sent you?"
He tipped his head, "I'm sorry, ma'am. I was told was to tell you that coming with me would answer your questions. I don't know anything else."
Edwina folded her arms, "If you don't know anything else, how do you know where to take me?"
The man flushed as the other limo driver sniggered quietly. Edwina stood silently, her face impassive. "Ma'am, I misspoke. I received my instructions from my supervisor. If you agree, I'm to take you to a meeting location and after that, I will take you anywhere you wish to go."
He fell silent while Edwina thought it over. Finally she nodded slowly, "All right." Turning to the other driver, she pulled out her wallet and extracted a fifty-dollar bill, "Sorry for wasting your time." After he left, Edwina gestured to the remaining driver, "Let's go." He nodded and picked up her suitcase, leading the way out of the terminal. They didn't speak again as he drove into LA.
Edwina sat back, watching the scenery while trying to decide if she'd taken complete leave of her senses. Maybe it was the California air that had made her so reckless. For all she knew, the driver could be some sort of homicidal maniac who preyed on single, wealthy women. He could be planning how to slit her throat at this very moment. Edwina shifted uncomfortably, clutching her purse a bit tighter. Thanks to the damn air travel regulations, about the only items she had to defend herself with were a pen and a hairbrush. She had a concealed carry permit and ordinarily carried a small but lethal derringer.
Her feelings of anxiety lessened a bit as they drove towards the downtown area. Surely this guy wouldn't head for a crowded area of the city if he was intent on violence. As the fear diminished, the matter of who was keeping an eye on her rose to the forefront of her thoughts. She was cautious by nature and she'd been extra careful about this trip. Not even her family was aware of exactly where she was, they only knew she was traveling. Edwina frowned thoughtfully as she continued to stare out the window. She'd made her hotel and flight reservations online so someone had to have hacked into her computer even though she was up-to-date on her computer security. She'd paid one of her father's top IT experts to design her firewall so whoever it was had to be damn good. Could it be the Feds?
Edwina shook her head a moment later. If it had been the FBI, more than likely she would have seen Special Agent Eppes and that was a meeting for which she wasn't quite ready. As far as she was concerned, the LA FBI was right up there with JAG and her dysfunctional family as the cause of Bradley's death. She didn't know if she could have kept her composure if she'd had to deal with the surprise of seeing Eppes. The limo slowing brought her attention back to the present. They were stopping in front of a nondescript restaurant occupying a storefront in the middle of the block. Signs on the windows boldly declared their tofu burgers to be the best in the world. Edwina couldn't help wrinkling her nose. She was a Texas girl, born and bred. Steak and barbecue were the staples she'd grown up with. She looked towards the driver to find him watching her in the rearview mirror. Raising an eyebrow, she asked in a dry tone, "I assume this is the place?"
He nodded and tipped his head towards the restaurant, "Yes ma'am. You're supposed to go in and tell them Robert sent you."
Edwina swallowed the snide comment hovering at her lips. It wasn't the driver's fault that whoever this was liked pretending they were in some cheesy spy movie. She waited for the driver to open the door and then strode confidently into the restaurant. A twenty-something woman, in a green t-shirt that proclaimed the wearer to be 100% organic, walked over with a wide smile, "Party of one?"
"Robert sent me." Edwina watched the woman's eyes widen slightly and dart to the left. Following her gaze, Edwina saw a dark-haired woman sitting in a booth, sipping a cup of tea. Following the hostess over to the booth, Edwina stood silently while the woman babbled on about their server being with them shortly. The hostess lasted a few more moments before fleeing back to her post. Edwina continued to stand and stare at the dark-haired woman.
Margery Threetrails took another sip of her tea. Edwina McKlellan wasn't quite what she expected. Oh, she'd had photos of the woman but pictures could only tell you so much. Edwina was handsome rather than beautiful - not someone who would turn a man's head - but the type of woman who would age gracefully and gradually. However, she'd also been described as shy and retiring. There didn't seem to be anything shy about this woman. Finally, Margery looked up, "Sit down, Ms. McKlellan, and have some tea. It's quite good."
Edwina slid into the booth, her expression cold, "I don't like being spied upon, Ms. Threetrails. You will call off your surveillance." She smiled slightly at the lightning quick look of surprise, "Yes, I know who you are. I'd be a fool not to recognize the protege of the man who ordered my brother's death."
Margery leaned back in her seat, both hands wrapped around the teacup, "Then you have more knowledge than I. I have no idea what happened to your brother."
Edwina refused to let her temper get the better of her, "So you're denying that Carson Bander had my brother kidnapped?"
"No," Margery eyed Edwina, "I'm saying I have no personal knowledge of what happened to your brother. That died with Mr. Bander." She leaned forward, her manner intent, "I wanted to meet with you, Ms. McKlellan, because we have something in common."
"And that would be?" Edwina raised an eyebrow.
"We both have a death to avenge." Margery sat back again, eyeing the other woman. Saying what she had out loud was a calculated risk but she'd decided it was worth it. Getting McKlellan to work with her would be an advantage, not the least of which would be keeping the woman from interfering in Margery's own plans.
Looking coolly amused, Edwina tipped her head to the side, "You want to join forces? Really? You think I should help you avenge Bander's death - the man directly responsible for Bradley's death? I don't know what's in that tea, but maybe you should stop drinking it."
"We have enemies in common as well," Margery persisted, unperturbed by Edwina's response. She hadn't expected it to be easy. "None of this would have happened if JAG hadn't tried to turn your brother and make him betray his partners. Mr. Bander was forced into his decision because of their actions."
Edwina kept her face expressionless even as her stomach lurched. Here was proof positive that Braddie had committed treason. She'd seen the official reports from both the FBI and JAG. There wasn't much her father couldn't get his hands on and she'd had no problem getting a look at them. Despite that, she'd still been able to hold on to her belief that her brother hadn't crossed that line. After all, it had all been allegations and suppositions. They'd never gotten to the point of interrogating Bradley - because of Bander. Concentrating on keeping her hand from shaking, Edwina finally took a long sip of her tea. Glaring at Margery, she growled, "If it was JAG's fault, why didn't Bander kill MacKenzie when he had her? Instead, he killed my brother." She leaned in, letting more of her anger show, "You're right that JAG and FBI hold some of the blame but most of it lands squarely on Carson Bander - and you. It will be a cold day in hell before I help you with anything."
"And yet you've already made the attempt," Margery countered. "I know about the men you hired to attack the Rabbs' family and home."
Edwina sat up straighter, "You don't know what you're talking about."
"Don't I? I know it wasn't my people. Ezekiel and his men are dead. That leaves you or your family. I highly doubt your father would get involved after the treason talk died down. He's not that stupid and your grandfather's not that bold." Margery smiled slightly, taking another sip of tea.
"And you can't prove - " Edwina blinked and shook her head. She felt funny. She looked down at the teacup and her eyes widened in horror. The dizziness grew worse and Edwina forced her head up to stare at Margery, "You bitch… " She sagged sideways into the booth.
Margery stood up and leaned over the table, deftly spilling the rest of the tea. The hostess came hurrying over, looking anxious, "Oh dear, what happened? Is she sick? I can call the paramedics for you."
Margery moved over to Edwina's side of the booth, "No, no, that won't be necessary." She glanced around and lowered her voice, "My friend, I'm afraid she drinks a bit. I don't want to make a scene in public - she just got out of rehab and her family has been embarrassed enough."
The hostess nodded, glancing around the restaurant, "I understand. What do you want to do?"
Margery nodded towards the door, "Her driver should be out front. Would you get him, please? We'll take her to her apartment and let her sleep it off." She heaved a sigh, "And then I'll see if I can talk her into going back to rehab. It obviously didn't take the first time."
"Yes, ma'am. You're a good friend." The hostess took one more look at Edwina, shaking her head before heading out the front door. She was back in less than a minute with the driver.
It didn't take any time at all for Margery and the driver to get Edwina up and half-walk, half-drag her to the limo. The hostess helpfully held open doors for them and wished them good luck as they drove away. "Where to?" the driver glanced in the rearview mirror.
"Our place in Chino for now," Margery answered as she checked to make sure McKlellan was out.
"Are you sure this is a good idea, Mosi?" Daniel Threetrails frowned slightly. When Margery became the head of Liwanu, she'd asked him to join her as her executive assistant. It hadn't been a hard decision to quit his job in Reno. Margery had been looking out for him since they were little. Now it was his turn to help his big sister. In the cutthroat corporate world, she needed someone she could trust at her side.
"It's necessary," Margery leaned back in her seat. "She wasn't going to be reasonable. I can't have her jeopardizing my efforts."
"But won't her family come searching for her?" Daniel knew Margery had been hoping to convince McKlellan to join them. She hadn't said what she'd planned to do if the woman proved stubborn. He knew she could be audacious when she felt it worth the risk. He wasn't sure how ruthless she'd become over the years.
Margery smiled, "Paranoia is wonderful thing. She made all the reservations herself. According to my sources, all her family knows is that she's traveling. No one will miss her for at least several weeks. We should have plenty of time."
"To do what?" Daniel eyed his sister carefully. He didn't like the thought of murder.
Margery chuckled, "Remember that old movie, 'The Manchurian Candidate'? David Oldtree has promised me that in less than a month's time, Ms. Edwina McKlellan will be our secret weapon - and she won't have any idea."
Daniel snorted, "Mosi, if I remember correctly, the guy in that movie failed. You're taking a helluva chance. Can't we just dump her at her hotel and let it go? There has to be another way."
"This will work," Margery frowned. "I've researched his methods very carefully. He focuses on the pain and pleasure areas of the brain and uses a combination of drugs and stimuli to condition a reward and punishment response. When she responds correctly to a trigger, she'll feel a rush of endorphins as a reward. If she fails, the experience will be much less pleasant. Once that's embedded in her subconscious, she'll essentially be training herself. According to David, the key is multiple triggers. One will be something innocuous like drinking a glass of water to reinforce the endorphin reward. If she can't or won't drink the water, her mind will force her to relive the pain. The beauty of this is the longer it goes on, the more ingrained the correct response becomes. It will become a reflex and when the time finally comes to exact our revenge, she won't even realize what she's doing - only the great feeling afterwards."
Daniel just shook his head, "You're in charge, but I think I'll believe it when I see it."
"That's fine, Danny," Margery smiled. "You will see. The Rabbs and the others won't know what hit them." The pieces of her plan were slowly coming together. The disaster with Ezekiel/Trask had run its course without any significant damage and she'd learned a valuable lesson as well. Eventually and inevitably, the Bear's death would be avenged.
Well, that's it - finally. Thank you to all who stuck it out. A couple of side notes: I lost my fencing coach of nearly thirty years to cancer last month. He was one of a kind and I thought he'd live forever. He was buried in his fencing club warmups, the flower arrangement on his coffin had swords in it and his wife found a funeral home with a mediaeval style room for his send-off. He'd have loved it.
The horsehair in the plaster was courtesy of an old house in my parents' neighborhood. It was stone and mortar, built at the beginning of the 19th century by slaves. The exterior walls were two feet thick and each room had its own fireplace. The one in the main room had a front that was made of open geodes. The house was surrounded by cedar trees nearly as old as it was. The couple who owned it, after their kids were grown and gone, tried to get the Missouri Historical Society to buy it and were refused because the house had been too 'modernized'; i.e., it now had plumbing, bathrooms and electricity. A developer bought the property and knocked the house and trees down. Most of the neighborhood scavenged the stones, myself included. I also found chunks of the plaster. You can see the horsehair and bits of grass in it and, surprisingly, the grass was still green and you could tell the color of the hair that was used.
On one last odd note, my company has added several new customer service reps and one's last name is Dzurick.