Skin Deep II: The Dance
Chapter 4: Alone at the Dance
by Mark McDonald
©2002 Mark McDonald -- all rights reserved
Detective Marion Callahan, known by some of his compatriots as 'Dirty Mary', of the Rouston, Pennsylvania police department had found himself with a bit of time on his hands. In fact, those times when Marion didn't have the whole day at his desk were very rare these days. The force tried to make sure this man pushed as much paper across his desk and as many doughnuts past his teeth as possible.
Detective Callahan was undoubtedly the worst police office the force had seen in over two hundred years. He hadn't solved a case in over eight years, ever since the undiagnosed effects of advanced syphilis had begun to slowly eat away portions of the man's brain.
If given the chance, he would be the first to tell you that the man accused and widely believed to be the murderer of the victim of the case that brought his career to a screeching halt was in fact wrongly accused. Oh, he was more than likely a criminal. A career criminal at that Callahan believed. He was maybe even a murderer, but not guilty of this crime. Not as it had been recorded.
The chase in to the water at the Rouston shipyards had closed the case in everyone's mind but Callahan's. Never mind that they never found the body to prove that the man they had chased into the harbor that afternoon was in fact dead. That was irrelevant. No body meant the current had taken him away or the molecular displacement of the HOV's jet wash ripped him apart somehow underwater. The perp had never resurfaced either on the water or out of it. In the eyes of the public that was enough. The most dubious information was that not so much as a single piece of fiber evidence or fingerprint had ever turned up after his HOV went crashing in to the harbor during a spectacular chase west from the university that linked this man to Vello.
For Callahan, it was OK in his mind that a body had never been found in that murder case. He was convinced that there had been two distinct crimes, one a murder, the other afterward a cover-up. He believed the murderer was still at large and the robbery scene was a ruse.
He looked at the enlargements taken one day some nineteen years ago. Originally, there had been hundreds of them, but Callahan had singled out and neatly filed a dozen taken over a period of about twenty-four hours. Marked on each was a date and time of exposure. Most were color shots of a funny dressed girl with auburn colored hair.
In the first of the series, this girl, about eighteen or nineteen years old, was just making the turn from the street down an alley that led behind the dorm building of the victim. Callahan marvelled at the quality of the image. The photo had been taken at night, the subject stood bathed in the glow of a sodium vapor lamp on the sidewalk. It was clear she was turning to go in to the alley. The girl was in profile but every feature of her face could be seen clearly. She was beautiful beyond words. Her body was shapely, you could see that even under the sweater and skirt she wore. Her clothes were a bit miss-matched but that had really been the fashion of the day now hadn't been? Yes, Callahan thought, she was perfect. Certainly any testosterone pumped male would have fallen easily to her persuasiveness.
Would a man fall hard enough for this girl to commit murder? "Yes," he whispered the answer to his own question in the darkened office, a spark of sexual tension jumped in the old detectives pants. He rubbed himself as he thought about the girl.
Callahan was completely and utterly insane. His co-workers knew he was strange. They knew he had in fact been becoming exponentially stranger as time passed.
He had two more years to retirement, however; no one wanted to see him shoved out on the street without retirement, not in today's economic climate. You either had or you had not. The 'have-not's' literally had not a pot to piss in, no food, no means of getting quality, healthy food; only meat substitutes, bean curd representations of half remembered American staples, and healthy doses of rot gut waterale. When Callahan had been a young man, when bullets were still being used, he had taken a few. He had stood between a few officers younger than he and had 'taken one in the neck' so to speak. That could not be forgotten. If they had known about the state of his dementia, they would have rocketed him off the force quicker than a solar flare leaps off the face of the sun, but he would have taken none of the benefits he needed to take with him to survive today.
He knew who she was now. Had for quite a while in fact. Maybe he could show her that shmuck husband was a killer. Maybe she would see that he was the true hero. Fire grew between his old, fat wrinkled legs. Yes, perhaps she would see that he was a real man, not some pussy fry cook.
With his other sweaty hand he palmed the next photo. It showed the girl in the window of the victim's room drawing the shade. The next was an image of the girl emerging from the alley later the next day. The next, was a photo of her crossing the street and then out of site of the bank VID that had taken the images.
When the investigation had been conducted into Vello's disappearance, he had looked at the back window and had found pieces of flip flops similar to the ones the girl in the picture seemed to be wearing on the pavement beneath the window and stuck in rough surface of the bricks of the building. To Callahan what the images and the evidence suggested was clear -- Vello had been porking the girl.
The idea disgusted him. Filthy little rock and roll pukes always seemed able to con and deceive the pretty girls into bed with them. Callahan knew how they did it too, drugs. They drugged them. Why else would a beautiful woman want to sleep with a smelly, longhaired rock puke? All these rock and roll pukes secretly wanted to be women anyway.
A new series showed images of the man everyone considered to be perpetrator. This man was a large Native American, Callahan always referred to him as 'Injun Joe'. His contempt of this man was clear. Callahan felt there was no way he could have perpetrated this crime, the murder that is. No evidence had ever been found in the car that linked Vello and 'Injun Joe' at all. Yeah, he'd been seen in the apartment; but Vello was not dead at the point the witness that placed him there had seen him. Vello was on the bed; apparently ill. In Callahan's mind, he could dismiss the event as long as he could justify that Vello had still lived at that point. It didn't matter how suspicious the fact that that Sandy Cochran woman did not recognize this stranger or that no one that had known Vello could put a name to this man, suggesting that he was in fact an unknown person that shouldn't have been there. Forget the fact that this guy had motive, opportunity and was placed at the scene of the crime. Forget the fact that he had run from the police. No evidence had ever been found in the HOV when it was pulled from muck of the harbor sixteen weeks later from where it's displacement jets had buried it. The HOV's of that day ran low to the ground and couldn't sustain themselves over displaceable substances like water or mud. So the HOV had just continued to bury itself until the jets clogged and the thing shut off. Everyone thought the guy would be in the HOV when it was pulled up. He was not however, and the driver's side door was open. An escape attempt? Almost assuredly, yes, albeit a failed one. That one act had allowed the water from the harbor in to clean out the HOV of evidence too.
The fact there was no evidence, regardless of the circumstances, was what Callahan glommed onto. No evidence meant 'Injun Joe' was not the perp they were looking for. The perp was Gary Shipley. Anything else was a distraction from the truth that Shipley wanted hidden. That truth was that he had killed Vello.
What was his justification for that rationale? Her name was Michelle. She had been the motive and Callahan was convinced that she was still completely unaware of that. Oh 'Injun Joe' may have been guilty of robbery, but Shipley was guilty of murder.
The images of Michelle going into the alley way and leaving the next day proved in Callahan's mind that she had been seeing Vello. How did he come to that conclusion? She was now married to Vello's best friend, that's how. This other guy, there was no film or digital images of him entering the building. He had been there for a while. Probably waiting for the two of them to leave. She left the back way; there were pictures and physical evidence to that fact. Then as 'Injun Joe' left the building there was another entering, a boy that looked suspiciously like the Shipley kid, but his face was obscured by 'Injun Joe's' shoulder. Callahan knew it was Shipley and his gut told him he was going to confront Vello about this Donovan woman. He may have even found him incapacitated by 'Injun Joe' so he could rob him. If he did, Shipley may have just finished him off thinking, correctly too, that the public would have believed it to be someone else.
Callahan reflected on the fact that Vello's body had never been found. In the middle of the day, just what did everyone think 'Injun Joe' did with Vello's body? If that Cochran woman had seen the two of them together then what did he do with Vello's body in the middle of the day that the police had not been able to find it? The images from the bank were time stamped. 'Injun Joe' left the dorm building some time around 3:00 p.m. Cochran saw the pair at some time around 11:00 a.m. or so in the early after noon. There were no other witnesses, photos or other evidence to suggest he ever came back after leaving. It wasn't even found when the old dorm had been knocked down by the Shipley family themselves. No, it meant that Shipley disposed of the body. Not the native American friend 'Injun Joe'.
There were also none showing the kid that looked like Shipley leaving, but then no one had been looking for Shipley when these photos were pulled. The trail for that day was long since recycled, no other images existed. It was likely that Shipley killed Vello and waited until night-time to move and dispose of the body. It was clear that 'Injun Joe' didn't have it in his sock when he left.
There was one problem. Shipley's parents were rich and influential. There was a witness that could corroborate where Shipley had been and more witnesses that could verify that they the girl had been at the Shipley home
None of this made any sense, and in large part this is why all the findings from Callahan's portion of the investigation were ignored. Even the fiber and hair evidence he found in the Shipley home was never given serious consideration because of the wild theories. This evidence might very well have turned the tide against Gary and Michelle early on. Fabric fibers from Vello's home that matched fibers found in Shipley's residence showed that someone there had been in both places. Some of the fibers were traced back to clothing manufactured there in Rouston. They had come from a sweater that was a popular item with the women of that time period and fibers from a skirt. Others included fibers from a pair of jeans that were found to match those from a pair in Shipley's closet.
Nearly everyone felt Callahan was obsessed with the Donovan girl. They were right. He had been ever since his first interview with Shipley about five days after Vello had turned up missing in Vello's dorm room.
"Wow... I thought we had talked about that already. I saw him Thursday, Marcus Guildy can confirm that. He was at the bar drinking. He invited me to dinner at some fish and chips place and I told him I was having dinner at my folks' place."
"The Red Fish?" asked Callahan.
"That's right. Why do I have to answer the same question again and again?" You fucking pudgy bastard, you need to let me the fuck out of here, I've got to find Michelle.
"Because I'm waiting for you to fuck up so I can arrest you for the murder of your friend." Gary had laughed at him then. That had been a mistake, a bad mistake. Even the beat cop that had come with Callahan had known that. You didn't want to piss of this Detective. Even if his best days were behind him, he was a cop of the old school. You just didn't mess around with Callahan. Even the Feds didn't like fucking with this crazy bastard.
His best days would end this very day. That night Callahan took a hooker who would infect him with the syphilis that would cause him to become the laughing stock of the department and a charity case until the day he died. He would take this hooker because of a girl he was about to see that would spawn a desire in him he could not suppress. The circle was starting to close and no one was the wiser.
"Look, if you can charge me with something then do it. I've been here for over an hour voluntarily. I came down here to get some of Mike's things for his folks, they can't face this place. If you don't mind, this is as hard on me as it is on them. I think I want to take these things to Rose and Robert. If you're going to arrest me, then do it. I'm not afraid of you. I didn't kill Mike."
Callahan bent and got in Gary's face. "Your ass is mine. I can't prove it yet, but I will. I can promise you that. I will."
"Your breath stinks Callahan. A little personal hygiene wouldn't kill you." The other officer snickered he simply couldn't help himself.
Callahan grabbed Gary, hoisted him up and out of the chair; grabbed the box of DIGISTILS and personal items and slammed it into Gary's chest.
"Humph!" Gary expelled a gust of air as the box landed there.
"Get the Hell out of here. Next time I see you, you'll be behind bars asshole."
"Kind of optimistic aren't you?" Gary poked.
"Get out!" shouted Callahan.
Callahan watched as Gary bounded down the stairs and out of sight, but then Callahan heard voices. No one saw him part the shade just the least little bit. He stood there after he waved for Officer Jenkins to remain quiet... and listened.
There, outside the window, was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Shipley had knocked her down and was now talking to her. He felt he might go out there and help her get away from his clutches but... they seemed to know each other. Confusion crossed the Detective's face. How was that possible? How could this loser have anything to do with one so lovely? As he listened it was clear that he did know her and that he had spent the weekend with her. He had an alibi. This one fact made him boil where he stood.
Callahan listened for a loophole, a crack he could exploit to his advantage. He listened as Shipley confessed his love for her, argued when she told him it wouldn't work between the two of them. She wanted to leave and he didn't want her to. It was a tremendous tug of war between the two of them. Had she just said she had fallen in love with him? No!
Guys like Shipley represented everything he hated in the male youth. They were all wiseacres, smart-asses to the core. Not a one of them knew what was good for them. Not one ever listened to authority. Why the fuck did they think he had this stinking badge? They got everything. This shithead in particular had never appreciated how good he had it. Callahan had run into this guy a couple of times; had studied his file at the precinct and knew Shipley's parents. Nice enough people for spoiled rich assholes.
Now he had this girl too. Callahan had been tempted to draw his weapon and shoot the little fucker right then and there; tempted... but not compelled. He withdrew from the window. He did not see the embrace they shared but he did hear the cheering of the crowd outside. When he looked again, they were walking off together, talking, smiling.
Then the pictures had come in and Callahan knew... Shipley had stolen Vello's girl.
Callahan didn't see her for several months after that, until the funeral services for the Vello kid. She had attended on the arm of the man Callahan considered the prime suspect in the case. He believed that Shipley and this Donovan woman had fallen in love on the side and very quickly realized that Vello wasn't going to like it much. He could never get the proof of that he needed to close the case. It never occurred to him that there was simply no true evidence to gather. So he manufactured it. To his amazement, none of it, real or manufactured was given any credit. In fact it had the opposite effect on his commanders. It relegated him to a back seat in the investigation.
So he watched them and waited for something to happen.
"I'm coming Gary. I hope you're not as good at hiding clues as you seem to be at hiding bodies. I'm gonna put you in a steel box, boy!" Callahan said as he scanned the photos.
Callahan reached over and grabbed a half eaten jelly doughnut and shoved it in his mouth and smiled broadly at the idea of putting Shipley away. When he did, purple jelly ran out between his teeth making the detective look possessed.
His hard-on for Michelle was total. He would finally have her and she would want to be with him. He convulsed as he rubbed himself under his desk. He stopped once to look around after he heard a noise outside on the street below his office window. Then he forgot what he had stopped for when the image of Michelle's face drifted back into his mind and went back to rubbing himself.
_ _ _ _ (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) + (_) + (_) + (_) +
William heard them leave. He was alone in the house and he had never felt more alone in his life. Hell, he wasn't even there with himself. He was alone with a stranger and there was only one person in the house!
William sat and tried to be patient. He sat at the end of his large double, mahogany four-poster bed; it had a regal appearance to it and was very masculine as was the rest of William's room. It had been done at his request in the fashion of a Victorian Tudor style wood paneled room. In one corner was an overstuffed leather recliner and a small fire place that burned gas logs not far from it against the north wall of his bedroom. The room itself had a western exposure looking out over the business district of the city.
On the southern wall was a door to a common bathroom shared with Erin, but Erin had claimed that room long ago and usually kept it locked unless William complained. Even then it was not a room he wanted to use as it was scattered with feminine products and stunk with perfume. It used to amuse William that his rough around the edges sister wore perfume.
To the left of that door were William's books lined up like little soldiers neat and orderly in alphabetical order. Scattered in seemingly random fashion among the books were his sports trophies. Most were for baseball but there were a dozen or so for football and one or two for soccer. His bed was surrounded by the bookcases and sat on a large beige museum-quality Persian rug with ornate scrollwork woven deep into the fibers with purple, red, gold, and blue threads snaking their way around the edges of the rug.
On the east wall was his study module and VID Center, entertainment and study chips were stored there as well as his cheatchips and homework that he had gotten Randy and the girls in his class to do for him.
The surroundings of this room closed in on him. He was not comfortable here. These things didn't make him feel comfortable as they had before. Just yesterday, he had been able to sit in that overstuffed chair and let the room ease his trouble away. Now, not only didn't he want to sit in that chair, he found it ugly and grotesque. It was a monster that would swallow his now slight frame if he dared sit in it.
"Arrrrgggggghh!" screamed the girl; "God! I'm going crazy!" She pulled at her hair oblivious to the pain. Many strands of fine yellow golden hair came out in her fists as they fell away from her head. She wept, hyperventilated and once the feeling that she might pass out had gone, she wept again.
There was nothing she could do to escape the finality of her condition. Her mind was a whirl of thoughts and fears. She wanted to run, to hide, and to peel this thing off of her. The whole thing was too much like some freakish costume. But there was no zipper, no catch to release it. How many times now had she searched the thing only to find one contiguous piece of flesh?
Not fair! Not fair! This is not fucking fair. I'm not spending another minute as a girl!
But another minute passed and nothing had changed. She dropped to her knees in the middle of her room. I can't believe people pay to make this happen to them! At this point William was ready to embezzle all his parents' money to find someone, anyone who could get him out!
The mounds on her chest bounced and shook inside the sling her mother had put on her. She had long since stopped trying to make them stop. Passing in front of the mirror she looked, saw no one she recognized, and threw herself on the bed in shame and wept some more.
A terrible idea occurred to her. She lifted her head off the covers and said the evil thought out loud, "What if no one can help me?" The thought made her tremble. "How long would I have to live like this?" She knew the answer to that question and she refused to let that one see the light of day.
The clock on the mantel of the small fireplace clicked the seconds off into minutes. They passed without even so much as a hint of change for William. It was as if this girl always had been and would continue to be. The nauseating fear that had gripped the girl when the idea that no one might be able to help her manifested its self into a paralysed-doe-in-the-headlights panic. It was through this feeling that her bladder made it clear that her kidneys were fully functional and she slowly became aware that she was going to have to use the bathroom very soon.
The indignity of the prospect had not yet been realized however. She had made up her mind that she would refuse the urge to go. There was no way that she was ever going to touch this body, not for any reason, not beyond the fist pounding or physical abuse of hair pulling that she could inflict on her jailer. Yes, if she could hurt the girl that held her prisoner, would she not eventually release her? The unexpected drawback to this was that William in fact was the one experiencing the punishment, the pain of the beatings. It only added to her sense of helplessness.
She violently turned towards the mirror and screamed, "Let me go you bitch! You let me fucking go!" The water was back on now too. She covered her face and wept and once again slunk slowly to her knees and moaned, "Please... p-p-p-p-please let me go." Then she just sobbed.
As the minutes went by, so did another stage of urine urgency. It wasn't long before she understood that she was going to have to do this. One way or another, on the toilet or on the floor, she was going to pee. She bent against the pressure in her bladder, her forehead against the Persian carpet, her hands folded between her legs. God, if I could just get out of this thing before I have to pee, I would do just about anything. She waited for an answer to her prayer. None came. She moaned a pitiful moan and straightened to a kneeling position. "Oh... I'll go. If I have to, I'll go," she said begrudgingly.
William went to the door of the common bathroom he and Erin shared. It was littered with makeup and perfumes. There were baskets of crap everywhere. The void under the sink was piled with sanitary napkins, a bottle of douche three refills of birth control patches. There was crap in there he couldn't even identify. He rattled the door handle. It was locked.
"Crap!" screamed the girl. She pounded her hands on her legs under the peasant dress she wore in frustration.
She was going to have to use the one down by the media room at the end of the hall. She cracked the door open and peeked down both directions of the hall. No one there, not that it mattered if there was as her temper tantrum about the door being locked would have sent up enough signals to get her busted. She slammed the heel of her hand into her forehead at the act of stupidity.
Before long she could take it no longer. The pressure in her bladder was approaching pain. She didn't know if her current equipment was capable of holding in pee for long. If she didn't hurry she was afraid she was going to find out what that limit was.
She quietly tiptoed down the hall, paused when she got to Erin's room, and offered a sideways glance into her room. Empty! Whew! She slipped past Erin's door, down the hallway, and in to the bathroom. She eased the door closed easily.
The girl relaxed a little. Leaning against the door of the roomy bathroom she exhaled in a long drawn out breath. Then the pressure in her made itself known to her again. Her hands worked the skirt off and then the underwear. She stood fumbling for just a second for a penis that was no longer there. Up to now she had been careful to avoid touching the more sensitive parts of this alien body. These parts, after all were not hers to touch. It was too much like unwillingly being fondled by a stranger, but as she fumbled for what she now realized with a strangling horror had been taken from her she made contact with a strange appliance on her body. Something she had never felt there before. It was more than she was ready for. The fear that gripped her caused her bladder to let go.
"Oh shit!" Once she got going she couldn't turn off the water works, she had simply waited too long and her body was in rebellion over the abuse of being forced to wait to pee. She was peeing on the skirt and undies crumpled at her feet. She scooted over the bowl as best she could and tried to thrust her hips over the opening. "Crap! Crap! Crap! Crap! Crap! Crap!" The old 'thrust and scoot' just couldn't quite get the flow over the bowl. The skirt, now wet in places was lodged against the foot of the bowl preventing her from getting any further over the bowl. She stood peeing on the floor, finally in a last ditch effort to get some of it in the bowl, she put her fingers between her legs and tried to manipulate her lips to point to the bowl and wound up spraying her thighs, fingers and hands with urine. "Oh Goddddd!"
Eventually the flow stopped but the damage was done.
"This is fucking stupid!" She kicked off the skirt and panties in a frustrated huff and they landed in a corner of the bathroom with a splat. She felt wet between her legs and pulled off some paper from the roll and gingerly dabbed her self dry, she held the paper between thumb and forefinger afraid to get too close to the thing between her legs, as if it had teeth and might bite her. She shivered at the feeling of her missing member. The evidence of her eyes hadn't been enough. 'It's really gone!' was all she could come up with.
Once dried she washed her hands and then turned to try to find something to cover up with and once again, caught her image in the mirror, this time she was startled at the appearance of a stranger in the room with her. A stranger naked from the waist down at that! She jumped and squeaked slapping her hand over her mouth, partly out of fear, partly to keep the noise down. Then she recognized the girl starting back at her, also with her mouth covered but with the opposite hand. The girl once again sighed a sigh of relief.
"Holy shit, I peed again!" she said and laughed at the idea of being fooled at her own reflection. It's a phenomenon her mother could have told her much about. She acknowledged that it felt good to allow humor to sneak in.
Then, without warning, sadness filled her heart. A tear slipped from the corner of one eye, but she quickly wiped it away and refused to give in to the fear and the emotion. A line from a Frank Herbert novel came to mind, "I must not fear, fear is the mind killer". Yes, she couldn't give in to the fear. If she did she might as well just give up any hope of being William again. She would not be able to work on the problem if she panicked.
Soon the thoughts that if she couldn't get herself out of this; then who could, began to swallow all reason and fear over took her. She sat on the toilet, her face buried in her hands and wept. She cried as quietly as could. If she couldn't stave off the emotion she would wrestle with it for some level of control.
_ _ _ _ (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) + (_) + (_) + (_) +
Erin left the music supply store around 9:20 p.m. The store, Penn Music, was located on the north face of the park and split the difference in distance between the Shipley's building west and the Fenton's brownstone to the east. As she pushed open the old antique door, the chime above the door rung and the boy behind the counter looked, smiled, and said goodbye.
She stepped out into the dark cool Pennsylvania night. To the east, an ambulance and a fire rescue HOV were entering the square near where a crowd of people stood looking at something interesting on the ground; a mugging perhaps? There goes the neighborhood, Erin thought. She found she was actually pleased with the idea. Erin had nothing but contempt for the people that lived here.
"Fat rich bastards," she would call them when she was trying to be kind, the kind of people that success came easy to. What did any of the people know about what it was to struggle to get yourself recognized? Not her parents, that was for sure.
She clanked out into the night with her steel coated leather boots, black leggings, a black scarf shawl for a blouse a black leather collar, and unevenly cut died black hair. The padlocks on her boots rattled against the hard steel outer-coating as she trod along the street in the direction of her home.
Her contempt had once been a thing of awe and reverent respect. Her mother had been recording at that time, not making the band hang on her every whim and desire. She had been in the studio with her mother for a few of those days and had watched as her mother had recorded flawlessly eight songs, two against tracks that the band had put down the day before she arrived and six with the band it self. If there was a retake, it was because someone on instruments miscued. Her mother was flawless.
"Mom?" she asked during one of the breaks. "Don't you ever mess up?"
Michelle was a little embarrassed by the comment. "Of course I do baby..." she tried to whisper to her daughter. Her attempted failed however and the room was quickly filled with the sounds of raspberry's, Bronx Cheers, laughter and balls of wadded paper and balled up paper cups being thrown in her direction. Erin should have been frightened, but after only a few seconds she scooped up a wad of paper and tossed it at her mother.
"Wait!" Michelle pleaded. "I do mess up... all the time..." she cried shielding herself from the onslaught.
That only increased the fury of the paper cup attack. Michelle covered her head and squealed and cups and paper wads rained down upon her head.
"Stoooooooop!" she cried, but she couldn't keep from laughing.
Finally the cups stopped. She cautiously looked up and everyone was sitting around the mixing room staring at her. "Did you all get that out of your system?" she asked, straightening up.
Everyone looked over at Erin who had a silly, mischievous look on her face. Toby the bass guitarist asked, "Did we Erin?"
Her mother gave her a warning look. "Errrriiinnnn?"
"No!" and the cups flew again.
"Oh no -- stooooop! Please!" Michelle tried to cover up on the couch and wound up falling off the arm of the chair she had been sitting on. Erin raced over to her and tickled her mother as the cups pelted the both of them.
Already proficient at piano after many years, Erin was allowed to do a duet on the keyboards with Jimmy Satterwhite on the title track of the album. She was not given official credit; union regulations and Michelle didn't want her daughter joining the Recording Artists Union at the age of thirteen. That didn't really matter however as when the album when gold, Erin got an autographed copy of her own. She got one more when it went triple platinum. To this day they hung on her wall. Also encased within the frames were DigiStills of Erin and Satterwhite playing their duet.
It had been a good day with her mother. It seemed that the band's success would go on forever. It didn't. Her mother never really quit the band; and Island Records never allowed the band to replace her until recently. Everyone seemed to believe in the past that if Tidewater was going to do anything else it was going to need its meal ticket, Michelle Shipley.
From that moment on Erin knew what it was she wanted to do. She wanted to make music. She wanted to be important like her mother. She wanted for people to idolize her like they did her mother. To her, Michelle was a Goddess, some magical supernatural being from Greek lore. She could almost see her sitting upon a throne on a cloud overlooking Mt. Olympus.
It was her mother's own status that had driven the wedge between mother and daughter and poured the foundation for the house of resentment where Erin's heart now resided. She watched as, year after year, Michelle refused to tour, refused to go back to the studio. Instead, opting to work as a waitress in the restaurant, what she called the 'Family business'. But the family business was music, music! Why couldn't she see that?
Erin had learned guitar, drums, bass; she taught herself sitar and banjo, and then at the age of sixteen began recruiting members for a band. Unconsciously, she picked people with lesser talents than she. It was easier to direct their actions if they felt somehow inferior to her. Each band failed as a result. It was never a team effort but more an exercise in frustration for Erin. A never-ending exercise as Erin was never in short supply for band members. As she got older she discovered that almost anyone was willing to work with her, not because of her talents, but rather because of her lineage. She was the daughter of Michelle Shipley.
This further widened the gap between mother and daughter. Erin's desire was to make a name for herself and not ride in the hem of her mother's skirt. As she got older, it was becoming increasingly hard to escape her mother's shadow. There were expectations from prospective band members, studios where she proposed recording demos, and from agents she talked to about representation. Everyone wanted a piece of 'Michelle pie' as Erin very disrespectfully referred to this phenomenon.
Band members wanted to publicize the name to make bank on it. They wanted the perks that using the 'Michelle pie' would almost surely get them. Girls for the boys... boys for the girls... cyber drugs and electro-hypnotics that everyone was after but only the rich could afford.
Everyone else wanted to try go cash in on the name. It wasn't only dejecting that she couldn't get by on her talent; it wasn't bad enough that the band members didn't care about how they made it but this... leeching off her mother, no, she would have none of it. There may have been an ocean between them, but this was her mother's hard earned work... she wasn't about to go stealing from her own mother.
So in the end, she had changed her appearance, her hair and her attitude in an attempt to change the fact that she was her mother's daughter, that she idolized her mother so, and that her mother had been the inspiration behind what Erin wanted to be.
She clanked her way across Allison Ave, shoved her thumb in the security port and the door buzzed open.
Erin stomped upstairs. A light under the bathroom door caught her attention. William... Good the little turd finally figured out that my bathroom is off limits.
She threw her door open and tossed her guitar on her bed.
On her dresser was a copy of the Somebody Save Me resonance chip. It still had the original, tattered paper insert which was the cover for the album.. It was also the only cover her Mother had ever posed for. It featured Michelle standing on a group of three uneven pilings in the harbor between Rouston, PA and Easton, MD, the rest of the band members being swept out to sea in a rowboat on a huge wave. Michelle's pose was dramatic and silver-screenish in its campy exaggeration of a damsel in distress. Her mother had been dressed in a black lace skirt and blouse, barefoot on the pilings. She had been facing the east when the photo was taken, the sun setting behind her. Erin remembered the angry phone calls from her mother to the publicist. It seemed the DIGISTIL showed much too much of her body through the lace.
Erin had always guessed that this was also part of the reason within the last three years her mother had only decided to help the band out on a couple of covers and an album tentatively called History.
In the end the album went out as is. It was only a silhouette under the skirt, her father had argued. "Let them stare at you and drool. You're mine. I don't intend on letting you go, unless someone offers me the right amount of..."
There had been the sound of a light slap and a giggle as a thirteen-year-old Erin listened from the top of the stairs.
"OK... OK... No amount of money!" Her father quickly back peddled, then said in a serious tone, "But maybe an Island..."
"Gary!" her Mother had cried, but Erin could tell that her Mother was smiling.
"Just kidding baby..." she had heard her father say. The next sound she heard was her mother cooing in her father's arms... It was a gross and disgusting thing they did frequently. Grown ups, yuck! Erin went to bed and dreamed of being a star like her mother.
She touched the album's surface lovingly. Why did her mother turn her back on something Erin would have killed to have? No matter, her mother was a loser. That was the end of the story. Erin would show her how it was meant to be done; she would rise to the highest peak and rule there from on high.
If William's room was uncharacteristically clean for that of a teenage boy, Erin's room was on the other extreme of that spectrum. Her clothes hung out of drawers or were draped over furniture. Drafts of sheet music were dropped here and there. Clean socks, hose, and panties littered the floor where she had tossed and forgotten them in furious and hurried attempts to find just the right clubbing outfit. Now it was out of control and it had to be remedied.
She quietly went about cleaning. Her concentration was singular. When she was performing a task it consumed her, music, schoolwork, cooking and yes even cleaning were all acts of dedication to her. She did not hum or sing or whistle when she worked. She was silent and diligent.
Then there was a sound. It was a miracle she had heard it at all. It sounded like... weeping!
She stopped and cocked her head to listen more closely. It sounded a bit like a female voice weeping. Her Mom and Dad were not here. Dad was probably at The Red Fish deep in the menu for tonight's crowd; her mother was probably here doing her waitressing thing.
"I'm a hostess hon," Michelle had corrected the last time it came up.
"There is a difference, you know."
"As I said before, whatever." Erin turned and said, "Suppose for just a second I care. What would the difference be?"
"Well..." Michelle started, but Erin interrupted.
"I mean... do you even take their order?"
"No, but..." Michelle said, obviously being put on the defensive.
"So you just show then to their table and look good. Kind of like eye candy for the single male horn-dogs that come in with week long hard-on's, is that a fair description?"
"That's enough young lady. You don't have to be vulgar. I happen to like my work and my job is important to the business."
Erin stood there as if waiting for something. In time she indeed told Michelle that was exactly what she was doing, waiting on her to reply. "Yes?"
"What?" Michelle asked flustered.
"Your job is important... how?" Erin said with the worst attitude she could muster. She hoped it made her mother want to slap her and then instantly feel guilty, as if someone had accused her of being a bad or abusive mother.
For a long while they looked at each other, Michelle's silence the only answer she gave.
"I thought so. Look it's OK if you want to waste your life. It's still a free country; what's left of it anyway." Erin had left her mother beaten in and emotionally crushed in the kitchen. After that, Michelle no longer pressed for her to come to family night. Erin was always invited but after that exchange, she knew that her mother never expected her to come.
Her thoughts turned back to the sound of the crying. With her mother at The Red Fish as she suspected, she supposed that the crying was probably coming from the apartment above their two floors of flats. As she considered this idea the subtle sobbing stopped. Erin went about picking up pieces of sheet music here and there on the floor. She put the stuff in a pile on her dresser next to the door of her room. She had set the next pile of papers in the same place when a young blonde girl with a towel wrapped around her waist passed by right in front of her bedroom door.
_ _ _ _ (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) + (_) + (_) + (_) +
The girl with no real name or identity finally wrestled the fear back down and stopped crying. She took a towel from the rack next to the tub and wrapped it around her waist. Carefully she stuck her head out the door and looked around. The coast was clear. She moved off down the hall toward the room that belonged to the only male child of the household.
The more she thought about William Shipley, the more disconnected she began to feel. After only a few hours it was like thinking about someone else. That was a scary feeling. The idea came to her that this is what it must feel like to be possessed. To have someone swallow you but not kill you. You could only watch the world through the eyes of the one that had you trapped with in their body.
She shuddered at the idea of being held captive like this. What if she couldn't get this off, what then? She had felt she couldn't live like this but could she really commit suicide? If not, and if this for some reason couldn't be removed, that meant...
Her insides turned to soft warm mush. Surely that can't happen. But there are all those stories. Her mind whispered to her.
Stop it! Stop it right now!
She strolled past her sister's room.
It was the gasp of surprise that caught her attention so violently her blood ran cold. She ran off toward her room to hide. As she ran she chanted "Oh God... Oh God... Oh God..."
_ _ _ _ (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) + (_) + (_) + (_) +
Erin gasped with surprise and fright. When she did the girl's head snapped around and the two stared at each other for just a second, frozen in horror. Then each girl ran in opposite directions screaming at the tops of their vocal cords.
A light of reason clicked on that the intruder was just as frightened as intrudee and Erin turned, her massive metal boots slamming on the hard wood floors. It occurred to her that she should have unlocked them when she got home, oh well... too late now!
She pursued the stranger. Down the hall she could hear the blonde mumble "Oh God... Oh God..."
_ _ _ _ (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) + (_) + (_) + (_) +
Behind her the blonde headed girl could hear her sister yelling at her, "Hey you... Come back here. Hey!" those ridiculous steel boots slamming on the wood floor. The girl was afraid to look behind her, it sounded as if some sort of monster was after her. She knew that her sister was athletic. Even when she had been male her sister was capable of out running her and was getting closer. "Hey, I said to stop! Stop Goddamn it! I only want to talk..."
She rocked the door closed and quickly punched the key code to lock it. Now, behind the closed and locked door of her room she breathed hard, her breast heaving with the force of her lungs, her back against the door as if to ensure that her sister couldn't break in or defeat the lock on the door.
Safe for now, at least I'm safe for now.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
The sound of the explosive knocking was so sudden and shocking that the girl jumped and squeaked a little when it started. She could feel the vibrations of the poundings from the other side of the door resonate through her back.
"What are you doing in there?" came her sister's voice after the pounding on the door had stopped. "Come the hell out of there. What are you doing in my house?" A pause and then another assault, "Hey... I'm talking to you! Where the hell is my brother?"
Man, do I have to listen to that worn out song again? 'Where's William...' Spare me! "Go away!" she cried out.
"Go away? Oh... OK, why didn't you just say that to begin with?" there was a pause and then...
Bang! Bang! Bang!
"You come the Hell out here right now you bitch! William? You'd better not be in there. I can guarantee you this will not go well with Mom and Dad!"
"What the hell would you know about it Erin?" She slammed her hand over her mouth but of course it was too late for that now. On the other side of the door there was silence.
The girl understood the slip and muttered under her breath. "Shit, shit, shit!"
"How do you know my name?" came the quiet question from the hall.
"Please go away. I don't want to talk about it," the girl pleaded.
"Can't do that! Where is my brother?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"Is he hurt? You'd better not have hurt him."
Oh please! Like you really care if I were hurt or not. "Please Erin."
"Ok... I'm calling the cops."
"No! Oh God, don't do that!"
The girl opened the door a crack and Erin rushed it. The door flew open and flung the girl off the door and across the floor. She landed on her butt and she slid across the hardwood floor and only came to a stop when she hit the throw rug in the center of the room that the bed sat on.
"Where's William?" Erin asked. William noticed that she seemed much taller and so much more imposing than before.
The towel she had covered herself with hung loosely and was no longer secured around her waist but still covered her. She made no move to re-secure it satisfied that at least she was not exposed to the world.
"He's... not here!"
"Wrong answer! That's means you're trespassing."
"I'm not trespassing!"
Erin raised her eyebrows at that comment. "What do you call inviting yourself into a house that does not belong to you?"
The girl was starting to cry. "I can't keep doing this." She paused, wiped a tear away and said, "It's me Erin."
"It's me Erin who?" Erin demanded, hands on hips and a stern look on her face.
From behind her the sound of her Mother's voice, angry and upset, jolted her attention away from the crying girl on the floor.
"Mom, Dad! Thank God... This girl here broke in to our house. I caught her as she was..."
"She didn't break in," her father corrected.
"Huh?" Erin turned around in surprise and face Gary. "Dad, William isn't answering and I doubt he's here."
Michelle stepped between her daughter and husband and took over the conversation, sensitive to William's situation. "Take it into the hall. Gary," Michelle turned to her daughter, "You too young lady." She turned back to the child covered with the towel, "Hon, what happened to the skirt I gave you?" Gary took Erin by the elbow and moved her gently to the hall where he partially closed the door to William's room.
_ _ _ _ (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) + (_) + (_) + (_) +
Gary and Erin moved out into the hall where Erin began to protest again. "Daaaaaad..."
"Don't Erin. For once, please trust me when I say this is not something for you to be involved with. Nor do I want you to get involved in it."
"OK, then explain it to me and I'll leave it alone."
Michelle came out and closed the door behind her. "I have to get her some fresh clothes." She turned to Erin who gawked at her Mother. "Please, stay out of this one Erin."
Michelle moved off to her room and to get a fresh skirt and panties for William when Erin piped up. "There's a stranger in my our house and you two are playing this cloak and dagger espionage crap, and you want me to just say, 'OK, sure what ever you say is fine with me' and I have no clue about where this person came from or if they're safe or have you drugged or what? I have to know what's going on... I think that's in my best interest."
Michelle was about to turn around when she caught Gary's eye. He motioned her to go and do what she had to do and she left the hall. Gary then turned to his daughter, bent close to her and whispered, "There are things and situations in this world you really don't want to be exposed to, nor do you want too much information about. It makes you vulnerable. This is one of those situations."
Her father's dark insistence scared Erin like she had never been scared before. The stoic look and grave eyes of her father's face would have driven her mad if she had been forced to look at it much longer. It seemed to her that he had summoned some black knowledge from the Necronomicon itself. Were it not for seven years of typically bad teenage attitude she would have dropped the subject right there, but she felt compelled to save some face on this issue. She wouldn't protest or push the limits of the mandate right away, but she would, eventually, find a time to insert the dagger.
Michelle returned with a similar skirt similar to the one soiled in the bathroom and with fresh underwear, knocked on the door and waited. The door cracked open, a small, feminine hand came out, felt around, found the fabric and Poof, they were gone and the door was slammed shut again. Erin could hear the lock being set from the keypad inside.
Michelle turned to Erin, "I'm going to ask you to go to your room for now."
Erin's eyes narrowed and she looked annoyed with her mother. "Wait a minute. I try to protect our home and you're going to punish me?"
"Oh Erin," Michelle said, exasperated with Erin, "it's not punishment. Please just let us handle this."
From behind the door came the voice of the girl. "Yeah Erin, just let Mom and Dad handle it you idiot!" Erin latched on to the last part of the phrase because in her mind it seemed the oddest. That phrase was, 'Dad handle it...' Now why is this stranger calling my Dad, Dad? Erin though. There could only be one answer. Anger so thick it clogged her lungs began to rise in her.
The silence was so thick none of them could move through it. The three of them stood there looking at each other with blank faces and Michelle guessed that William, on the other side of the door, was frozen in a state of disbelief at what she'd just let slip out.
Then they all heard a whispered "Damn it!"
Finally Erin asked, "What did she say?" Her face was a study of accusation directed to her father.
Michelle could see where that was going right away, "It's not what you're thinking Erin."
"Mom, you don't have to defend him! If he really did this then there are things you can do." She turned on her father, "Like a divorce for instance! You have another daughter?"
"What?" Gary exclaimed. The look of shock in his eyes was only offset by the pain in Erin's.
"Oh Erin, I understand this is confusing but your Father did nothing wrong. Please... you're just making this harder. Please go to your room."
"No mom... how else do you explain..." it dawned on Erin that the girl had said 'Mom and Dad' not just Dad. Her accusation of infidelity collapsed and she felt ashamed. "What did she mean by Mom and Dad?"
The two of them stood side by side. The looked at each other and Michelle drew a deep breath. It was all but said now. Each shrugged and said at the same time, "The girl in that room is your brother William."
From the other side of the door came a whine. "That's what you call handling it? Jeezzzzzzze!"
Michelle pushed past her older daughter and went to the door. She pressed her face to the door and pleaded with her son. "William, we have to talk about a few things. Please understand that your Father and I are doing everything we can to make things right." A memory came to her, from long ago. It was comforting but it brought tears to her eyes to use it now. She had no choice. "We're trying to make things as right as we can, honey. Please come out. We have to talk."
Erin was staring at her Mother in stunned disbelief. Was she for real? Did her mother really expect Erin to believe such a tale? Surely not. It had to be a joke. But if her Mother was acting, she was doing a damned fine job of it. The very idea however, that this girl was indeed her brother William... No, she wasn't going to get sucked into this. They were trying to play her for a fool. Soon someone would break and they would all have a great laugh at her expense. She intended to deprive them of their good time. And to do that, she would pry the information out of her father. She looked at her father who showed no sign of giving the plot of this little act away. He looked as serious and stoic as she could ever remember seeing him. Turning back to the door as it was slowly cracked open she watched as the girl's eyes appeared behind the crack, peering out with trepidation.
"Mom?" the girl behind the door asked.
"Yes baby?" Michelle answered back.
"Did you find them?"
"No honey, they weren't home."
"We're working on it!" Michelle shouted through the door. The desperation for something positive for the girl was clear. She wanted to feel like she had offered the child something good.
"You guys are serious?" It was a question, not a statement, and it demanded an answer. Erin was in such disbelief that she couldn't approach the issue any other way, logic had flown out the window.
Her father touched her shoulder and said, "Do we look like we're joking?"
"Erin... This is a bad situation, please try to work with us."
OK, I'll help you play out your little fools drama... But I'm not going to be your fool. Instead, I think I'll make a fool of your hired help here. My... brother, yeah right!
She stopped and thought for a second. The she walked to the door of her brother's room. She took her Mother's wrist and gently moved her aside although she resisted at first before relenting with apprehension. "Billy?" Erin questioned through the door.
"Is that you Billy?"
After a pause she was about to ask again when the word "Yes," filtered though the door. A shiver went through Erin. "Why don't you come out?"
"No!" exclaimed the girl.
"Please, I don't know what's happened, but let me help."
"I know you Erin. You want to trick me."
"Really, let me try to help."
There was a pause and then the door opened again. "You won't make fun of me?"
"What's to make fun of? That you seem to be a girl? I'm a girl too if you hadn't noticed. I don't find it worthy of making fun of thank you very much." She looked intensely in to the eyes of the young girl. "Come on."
The door opened a bit more and then the girl was standing in full view of her family. She had dressed in the skirt Michelle had given her and acted shy and embarrassed to be standing there. Her movements were clumsy and she acted as if she didn't know what to do with her arms and hands. The girl tried crossing them over her chest; seemed self-conscious, and after some exasperation on her part she finally allowed her arms to flop at her sides.
"Come on out," Erin said and held out her hand.
The girl took it hesitantly and allowed her self to be lead out. Erin fumbled with the door lock keypad for a second and then closed the door to her brother's room grinning secretly to herself for just a second.
Michelle came over and hugged the child. Gary stood close by waiting if needed but clearly cautious and uncertain. Erin slipped up behind her brother and gave the girl a few pokes in the shoulder until William looked over at her confused and annoyed. Erin asked, "So that's really you under all that girl?"
Her brother burned her with a glare that would have turned a strong man to stone. Erin was nonplused by the attitude.
"OK Erin. Don't turn sour now." To Erin it was impossible to conceive that her parents were still trying to play such and elaborate joke on her. What could they be hoping to gain by getting her to believe such a wild story? She knew her parents never did anything without a reason. It just wasn't in their nature.
Erin turned to her Mom, "It's just impossible to believe. How do you expect me, or anyone for that fact, to believe that?" Then the light of realization spread over her face as she suddenly realized that maybe this was her brother, that there was a way it could be. He could be wearing a SKIN. Erin turned to William and with awe and wonder asked, "Where did you get it?"
William knew just what she was talking about. "I didn't get it. Someone, Carrie Fenton, did this to me."
"She did!" insisted the girl.
"She just wrestled you to the ground and put it on you, stripped you naked and slipped you inside it? Is that what you're expecting us to believe?"
The girl's lip was trembling. "No." She said pouting. "I don't remember what happened."
Erin snickered and smugly said, "Yeah right. Billy boy, if I had known you were a frustrated cross-dresser I would have gladly loaned you some of my clothes."
A pathetic embarrassed cry escaped the girl who turned and charged the door of her room. She grabbed the handle and forced her body against the door to open it and wound up hitting the door face first instead of going through the open door. The girl bounced back with a surprised wail of pain and anger, holding her face with one hand and trying to open the door with the other. The handle appeared to be locked from the inside.
"Erin!" shouted her Father. "You will leave your sister..."
"Dath!" came a muffled cry from the girl with her hand over her face.
"Brother... you will leave your brother alone. She's, err... he's going through a difficult time." Gary blushed a brighter shade of red with each vocal stumble.
"I just see this as an opportunity to get even for all the shit he's done to me just because he was bigger and stronger. I've got a lot of catching up to do dad."
"No. Do I have to remind you that the HOV you drive is registered to me? That in six weeks, I'm supposed to start paying rent for you on campus? Those things can go away."
"You wouldn't!" Erin glared at her father.
"No he probably wouldn't Erin, but I would!" her Mother said from behind her. "I honestly don't know what's gotten into you recently, but it stops here. William is in a dangerous situation here. We have to keep this quiet until your Father and I can figure out a way to remove this thing. If it gets out, then all of us are in danger... even Shelly."
They were serious. This was real. A new realization came to her of Shelly in a foster home. Shelly loved everyone and was the bright spot in her family for Erin. Her contempt of her family's success and her deeply hidden admiration of her mother's talents were all dwarfed by the great joy Shelly's innocence gave her when the young girl would appear at her door and want to listen to her play her guitar or make believe to have a tea party. A horrified sort of look came to Erin's eyes. She was realizing, maybe for the first time that now, as an adult with information she now no longer wanted but had pressed so hard for, she had been put in the squarely in the center of the fray. She had gotten exactly what she wanted, and the realization that she could never remove herself from that responsibility now caused the acid in her stomach to start working over time.
Gary looked at her. "Sometimes, knowledge isn't everything it's cracked up to be."
Erin narrowed her eyes at her father but only in a way that conveyed that she might be sick to her stomach.
_ _ _ _ (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) + (_) + (_) + (_) +
Gary helped the girl that had once been his son up from the floor, "How's your nose?" he asked and gently pulled away the girls hands. She resisted for just a second but then gave way to her Father's gentle touch. There was a small trickle of blood coming from one nostril. "There we go... It's not too bad. Erin, go get me some tissue please."
The gasp from behind him startled him. He turned around to see a panic stricken look on his wife's face. "It's not bad," he said holding up his hands. "Just a bump and a slight bloody nose."
"Oh God Gary, You're sure? How can you be sure Gary?"
"What is it Daddy?" asked the girl.
Daddy? It's happening, the genetic programming is taking over. He decided not to make a big deal of that either. "It's nothing honey. It's OK."
She looked at her Mom, "You sure look worried about something." She was too; and Gary knew what it was about. It was the reason Michelle was here now. Damage to the SKIN that could not be resolved by the patch code transmitter. The code for retransformation was a complicated algorithm of genetic information that, if it didn't match that which was stored as the map back, then the retransformation was aborted before it was begun and could not be restarted. Damage meant that the map back home was not readable.
"You know that your Mom worries too much," Gary said, getting the girl's attention again. "She's was just worried that you might have hurt yourself and would have to see a doctor, that's all. You know how she gets."
The girl shook her head violently... "No Dad... no Doctors. I don't want anyone else to see me like this."
Erin returned with a small scrap of tissue and handed it to her father. "Erin, could I now ask you, without an attitude, to please spend a bit of time in your room. We need to talk to William about a few things."
"I'll be down stairs with Shelly." She turned to her brother, "I'm sorry. I didn't understand. I'm not sure I do still, but I won't make it worse for you. If you need something..." she touched the blonde girl's hand. She turned and clomped off in her steel boots.
"Erin. Please get the keys to those awful things and take them off." Erin went to her room and the sound of jingling keys and padlocks snapping open could be heard. Then the clank of one boot being dropped on the floor and then the next was a reassuring sound that no more stomping from the steel princess would be heard in the house that night. "Thank God. I really hate those damned things."
William nodded as Erin reappeared from her room. "I meant that. If you want something or need something, even someone to talk to..." Erin nodded her head in the direction of her room. "I'm right next door."
"Thank you," was the only answer the girl offered.
Erin slowly marched off down the hall in the direction of the stairs and down to the living room.
William took the initiative hoping for the best. "We need to talk? I'm all ears."
Michelle looked at the girl. "I don't have good news." The girl deflated and looked toward the door of her room.
"Don't hide," Michelle cautioned. "It won't change anything. We have to decide on a good plan. So you and I and your Father have to sit down and talk about reality. We can't remove that tonight without the Fentons."
"And they're gone," William said miserably.
Gary stepped in. "It seems like they ran; but honestly, we don't know that for sure. We have a weekend to fix this, if we can. We have to plan for the possibility that it may last longer than the weekend."
William's eyes widened as he realized what that meant. "No! No way Daddy."
"We have to plan for it hon," Michelle said. "We have to think of Erin and Shelly. We live in a world where everyone wants to know where we are. If they find someone that can't be traced then they begin to look really closely at why they missed that person."
"But they don't even know I'm here! If I just stay inside, if I don't leave..."
"William is gone hon. Eventually someone will have to check into that."
"Make something up... Tell them I went away... I was supposed to go to Europe this summer, tell them I went early."
Gary shook his head. "And if you wanted to dig deeper, what questions would you ask?"
The girl looked as if she was trying to formulate a strong defense when her Father picked up the ball again. "Where are your jumpshuttle reservations?"
"Uh..." said the girl.
"How about the information on entry into the country you were supposed to be visiting?" he asked.
"Daddy?" she looked as if she was about ready to break down even though his questioning was gentle and compassionate.
"These are questions your Mother and I will have to have answers to if we say you left the country. Questions like, where can the authorities reach you to confirm you are still alive and well?"
"Oh God..." whispered the girl. The words shuddered out of her slight body as she trembled with the growing realization that hiding what she had become was going to be harder than she had ever dared imagine.
"Gary, please... stop," Michelle touched his arm but he did. He turned around and spoke to his beloved wife gently but firmly.
"You of all people know I'm right. I won't sacrifice Shelly or Erin or you or even William as he is for his pride. Michelle, if this is the worst thing that happens then I'm willing to accept it rather than risk exposure and arrest trying to find a solution to something that may not have a solution." William's eyes were wide with fear and comprehension of the moment. "We are a high profile family, people see what we do, and you and I have been in the press no less than six times this year. What happens when they come looking for a new story? No, I won't stop looking for a way to deactivate this thing but I won't sacrifice my family. I will not do that."
"But..." Michelle started but Gary continued.
"You know that if the wrong people find out this has happened, then they will take her away. Hell baby, they may take us all away just for the knowledge of the damned thing. Do you think they'll bother to get William out of this mess? In a word, no! They'll just take us all, separate us and then..." Gary trailed off finally hearing himself spreading gloom and doom and fear over the hearts of the girls that were listening to him. He had lost sight for just a moment that Michelle was in fact in the same predicament as their son. She was just now very used to playing the role she had been handed to play.
Michelle started to say something... then slammed her jaw closed. He was right. She knew it. As much as she hated it... she knew it. They had the weekend, but they would have to plan for a contingency for Monday. They would have to be ready to move with something in place by then even if they decided not to, they had to be ready and William had to understand what that meant for him.
"Your Father's right," she said as she massaged her forehead. This time the girl did break down. "I'm sorry honey." Michelle held the girl and she clutched back at her mother.
"Am I going to ever be me again?" she said as she trembled in her mother's arms.
Gary offered his sage wisdom. "Hon, you are still you... You will always be you."
"I'll take that to mean, you don't know."
Michelle looked up at Gary with an 'I guess she got us on that one' look. Gary felt horrible. All this truth was really sapping the strength from his system. He felt as if he were failing again, spinning out of control.
Michelle touched Gary's arm gently. "Baby, could you please check on the girls?"
The blonde in Michelle's arms started to giggle uncontrollably at the phrase "check on the girls" and Michelle had to coax her in to a calmer state.
Gary stroked his new daughter's hair. "We'll do the best we can do. We really will."
William looked up. "I know Daddy." She released her mother and embraced Gary. "I'm so sorry I caused such trouble."
"No regrets. We do our best to fix this thing and we move on." Michelle said.
Gary noticed that she was careful not to make definite commitments or promises. "Yes... that sounds like as much of a plan as we need for now."
The girl nodded.
Michelle looked at her wrist for a time display. It was now Saturday morning. "William, I want you to get some rest. We'll talk about a way to get you out of this after the sun comes up. It's my guess that the change took something out of you."
"You mean my scrotum, my penis maybe?"
"No William, that's not what I meant and being crude isn't helping, is it?"
"No Ma'am," William said shamefully.
Gary walked out and when he returned he had a bottle of red wine and a single glass. "Don't you want to be clear headed right now?" Michelle asked her husband.
Gary nodded and then poured a glass of wine. He handed it to William, "This will help you sleep." The girl took the glass gratefully and began to drink.
"Gary! She's not old enough."
William spoke up between sips. "She's going to be a lot more upset if you keep calling her she!"
Gary continued, seeming not to pay attention to William's protest. "William is eighteen years old. I can remember when we were young, we drank without supervision and at a much younger age."
"That makes this right?"
"No, but what I do think is that you're preaching to the choir. This isn't about wine or the legal drinking age. A couple of glasses of wine to help her sleep won't hurt her. Would you deny her assistance considering what she's been through or would you prefer a sleeping chip?"
"Not too much then, and I'll shut my mouth now."
_ _ _ _ (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) + (_) + (_) + (_) +
Michelle smiled as the girl sighed, the liquid would soon start to relax her. Then she got some bedclothes for the girl, a small supply of underwear, and a couple of bras. She explained to William that he could reuse the bras for more than just a day if they didn't get sweaty. She had been laying the clothes out on the top of the dresser when she turned around and saw William with a 'Too Much Information' look on her face.
"You can use the nightgown if you like or sleep in your underwear. We'll talk in the morning baby." She stepped up to the girl and kissed her cheek. "We'll think of something."
Gary stepped up. "Daddy, please don't kiss me on the forehead."
Gary looked embarrassed, "I won't." He rested his hand on the girl's head and she wrapped her arms around her father. She squeezed him and he returned the hug. They embraced like that for a few minutes.
Gary turned his head to face his wife. "Did Erin put Shelly in bed?"
Michelle looked as if she had been caught off guard. "Crap, Shelly... I'll go check on her. I'll see you in bed." She turned and left.
_ _ _ _ (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) + (_) + (_) + (_) +
Gary nodded his agreement and then he then kissed the girl on her golden blonde hair and said, "Ok, it's time for bed."
"You're going to keep referring to me as she and her aren't you?"
"We are going to get in some very deep water if we don't make this look as real as it is," he confided in her. "All it will take is for one person to hear one of us calling you him or refer to something of yours as his too often and they'll put it together."
The girl sighed.
"With any luck it won't last too long, but we'll talk about this in the morning, OK?"
"One more glass please." She held out an empty, red stained glass. Gary poured the wine, started out of the room, stopped and set the bottle on William's dresser and left without turning around or saying a word.
_ _ _ _ (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) + (_) + (_) + (_) +
When Michelle walked in, Gary was pressing his fists into the wall, trying with all his might to keep from pounding hole after hole in it. He attempted to regain his composure before she saw his state. Michelle did see however, but turned to close the door and allowed Gary the dignity to recompose himself with the illusion that she had been engaged in some other activity and indeed hadn't seen his frustration.
"So," Gary started as he stripped off his shirt. "Everything OK with Erin and Shelly?"
"Shelly's asleep in Erin's arms in her room. Erin is still awake. She looks concerned." It seemed that neither wanted to start the conversation that was boiling in the backs of their brains. As if they were afraid to say the words and bring the curse to bear on them.
"She should be concerned. I would be, knowing what I know now," Gary said. He shoved off his pants and was now down to his briefs.
"She doesn't know what you know, she doesn't need to know what you know either."
"I know that Michelle. I didn't mean to imply anything. It's just she's always so angry all the time."
Michelle said something that surprised him. "She's mad she doesn't own the world like we do."
"We don't own the world."
"In her eyes we do. I'm a recording artist, you own a successful restaurant chain, you have HOVs, homes, money, two boats..."
"So do they!" he defended himself. "This is a family isn't it? At least the last time I checked..."
"Don't take it personally," Michelle walked over to her husband, curled one slender arm around his waist and rested her head on his chest. He extended his arms around her in return. With her free hand she stroked his chest, feeling the mat of fine hair there. "She's jealous of us, we can't change that. She has to come to terms with her ability for success. She will. It just hasn't happened as fast as she wanted."
Gary sighed drawing in a deep breath as he did. Michelle's head rose and fell on his chest with that breath. "Gary?" she could feel him tense and was sorry it had to be started, but she needed to confirm what she was so afraid had already happened.
"Yes baby?" The sound of resignation in his voice said it all. She could have stopped right there, she could have let the thing die. God knows it would have been the safe thing to do. They had hidden Michelle's sudden appearance effectively enough and no one the wiser. No one got hurt right?
No, Michelle wouldn't have it. Not her son. No more for this family. She'd had enough. She was happy to be their mother and Gary's wife, but these assholes weren't going to take her son. Michelle had to have the details of what Gary was thinking. Michelle lived in the details as most women do.
"Do you have any ideas?" Gary bent to kiss the top of his wife's head. He offered no words. "There's nothing we can do?" Michelle asked
"This is not like before. We had hope, we at least had the God-damned box before."
"And you're saying that we blew it," she said.
"No. We made a mistake in regards to returning things to the way they were. We made something better out of the hand you were dealt."
Michelle smiled, though Gary could not see her do this and said. "We... we made something better from the hand we were dealt. You have a bad habit of giving me too much credit Gary."
"Yes my love, we were dealt. Now it looks like the hand we were dealt has come home to roost on our son. I don't know of a God-damned thing we can do it about either."
Michelle sat on the edge of their bed, Gary in front of her. She had been holding his hands in her thin delicate fingers when she untangled them and wrapped her slender arms around her husband's waist. Michelle was silent for a time. She was happy to draw from his strength, just as William had been only moments ago. Gary had always given of himself, even in his reckless years. Now however, he was selfless. If something needed getting done and Gary found out, he did it for you, taking on nearly all of the responsibility of the task at hand, whatever it happened to be.
It was Michelle that broke the silence, "We need to find Jason, don't we?"
"That's what I was thinking."
Michelle pulled away just a bit so she could look in Gary's eyes. "That could take months."
"Hell Michelle, we may never find him. You're assuming he stays inside UFS borders and uses his real name. If he gets out toward where old North or South Dakota were... he's in Canadian Territory, any further west than that and he's in the Free States Territories. You know as well as I do that Free State Territories only means that the living residents of those areas are free to loot, kill, rape and take from any one who's weaker than them. No one will ever find him out there. Hell, I wouldn't even follow him out there, even if it meant William never got free."
Michelle didn't react. She knew it was an exaggeration. But law by the Tazor was the rule of the day there. The old Wild West had been reborn from Washington State south to what had once been Mexico, and east through the desert to Nevada, New Mexico, Idaho and north to the Dakotas. The chances of Gary even getting out of there were remote at best. Somehow she just couldn't see Jason Fenton, computer programmer, at home in the Badlands.
"What do we do then?"
"I look for Jason anyway. He's our only hope." This statement surprised Michelle; it sent fear into her heart, especially after the thoughts that she had just finished thinking.
"Is that wise?"
"I have to try Michelle. Besides we can't hide this. William is in school. How long can we call him in sick before someone comes to find out how he is."
"But if you go..." she said considering this. Then she looked up at him with fear in her eyes. "Gary; I can't do this here alone. You have to be here to back me up." The idea that Gary would go traipsing off in search of the Holy Grail while William got caught by authorities scared the hell out of her.
"I'm not going anywhere just yet. We have to create an alibi for William and an identity for the girl that we now have living with us."
Michelle gasped. "Put her in the database? Gary No... We'll never get her out again. We won't be able to explain that."
"She could always run away. I see her coming from relatives in the easternmost Free States. Montana, say on the east side of the Rockies. It's not so rough there I hear, but rough enough that a family, cousins maybe, might be concerned for the safety of their daughter. Hell, Michelle, William himself gave us an alibi. With our contacts we can put William in Germany and won't need reservations or confirmation of his arrival until long after we get this thing solved. William could have seen this as an opportunity to go to Europe and tour the Safe Zone early."
"You're grasping at straws Gary. That won't work. We'd have to get her in school and William out. All of that planned over a weekend? They'll swoop down on us like engineered hawks."
"If you have a better plan, then I'm listening."
"We are in cover up mode again then?" she pulled away from him and turned with her back to him.
"Don't look at it like that Michelle."
"How should I see it Gary? God damn!" she said and pounded a fist into her leg. "It's happening all over again." She was furious. Somewhere, deep in her heart, she had been hoping for a solution. Now it appeared there would be none, at least not right away. She kicked the closet door closed and then was sorry she had done it. The slam of the door must have been heard through the entire building.
"Honey, this was just dumb luck."
"I don't know what your definition of luck is Gary, but I can assure you, this in no way resembles luck as I know it. In fact if I didn't know better, I'd say something else was up here." She lifted her sad eyes to his down turned face. "Tell me I'm wrong Gary, please. Make me believe it."
Gary rolled his eyes. "Michelle, I know you're a spiritual person, but I don't think there was any divine intervention in William getting in trouble like this. It was a jealous girlfriend. Frankly, William is lucky he didn't do something like that to a girl that was more mentally unbalanced. We might be identifying William's body at the hospital. Instead we have some chance, however small, of getting him out of this mess. We will, however, need time. To hear you talk about it someone might think your sister was behind all the accidents that occur with SKINs."
"Not all of them Gary. Just the ones that involve me or my family." Michelle sighed. Most of the time Gary made a great deal of sense. She backed down but that uneasy feeling that something else had the reins would not leave her. Gary would not have said so but he had the same creepy feeling as Michelle. He could not explain why, so he did his best to make up a reason and then used that rationale to dismiss the feeling as crap. He was in control here, not some phantom he could not see, talk to or reason with.
He undressed his wife and she allowed him to take total control. Once undressed down to her underwear she was guided to bed and Gary reached into the bureau, withdrew a SNS (Sleep Nerve Stimulator) and applied it to the back of her shoulder.
"Oh no... Gary..." she cried but it was too late, her arms were already too heavy to lift to remove the chip. "Please..." she yawned. "I need to... hear..." *Yawn* "What if... she..." *Yawn*.
"Shusssh. Lay down... I'll take the chip off in the morning. If it falls off in the night then you can wake me up and nag at me. For now, go to sleep." Michelle did as she was commanded. She had no choice and hit the pillows and was out.
_ _ _ _ (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) + (_) + (_) + (_) +
Michelle woke as the sun shone down on the western side of town from the east, causing the buildings to cast long shadows toward the west. She felt amazingly refreshed and rested and then remembered the SNS Gary had put on her shoulder last night. She looked and there on the pillow was the spent chip. Michelle picked it up and examined it. She had been very upset last night when he had slipped it on to her skin. This morning however she was grateful that he had done it. She could think clearly now. It may come to nothing but she had her facilities about her thanks to him.
She thought briefly about waking him, thought better of it and only bent and kissed him gently on the cheek. She rose, showered and dressed, intent on solving her son's problem today. She went downstairs to greet the children, feed them and get Erin and Shelly out of the house so Gary and she could focus on helping William.
As breakfast for the first two came to an uneventful end, Michelle gave Erin cash chips and a redemption card to take Shelly out for the day until they could figure out what to do about her brother. With Shelly out of earshot watching her favorite Saturday morning VID's, Erin couldn't help taking one shot at her brother.
"You mean sister don't you Mom?" Erin said with a sly grin.
"We are going to be troublesome are we Erin? I know that you and I haven't gotten along recently, I'm sorry about that. I'll take the blame, but please I really need your help for now. I'm begging you, can I count on that?"
Erin looked her flat in the eye, then shook her head. "I'm sorry Mom. I didn't figure there would be much harm in a quick joke before she woke up. Yeah, you can count on my help. I promise, no more jokes. I know you and Dad... and yes, even the turd, are under some pressure."
"Thanks Erin," Michelle said with a grateful smile.
"But I have to tell you, I think Carrie made pretty good improvement on the overall package and just think of it... no more wet toilet seats." Erin leaned in with a knowing look on her face. "I happen to know that Dad lifts the seat."
Michelle laughed at the idea, "That's not even funny," levelling her hand across the air in a cutting motion. "Interesting, yes, but funny no."
"You can't tell me that's not disgusting Mom... You can cure the problem right here and now."
"OK... enough now... go get your baby sister, I want you two to get out of here before William comes down. I want to try to avoid too many questions this morning from her."
"Right, one baby girl coming up..." Erin turned to get her sister.
"Oh hey... where are you two going to go today?"
"Hershey I think," Erin said with a grin.
"That's not fair Erin! You can't go there without me." Erin kept walking. "Erin? Are you listening to me?" Still no response. "You have to bring me some chocolate then, Erin?" But Erin was gone without saying a word.
Shaking her head, Michelle went to William's room as her other two daughters were getting read for the flight to Hershey. She found the same blonde headed girl from the night before sitting on the edge of the huge four poster bed, starting at the mirror with a long face. Picking up the wine bottle from the corner of the dresser, Michelle shook it. It was nearly empty. She thought about talking to Gary about it but looking back at the girl's face she understood that the wine had, in fact, only been used medicinally.
"Good morning?" Michelle asked in a meek voice.
"No it's not," insisted the girl. "I'd almost hoped it was all a dream..." The girl looked up at her mother. "It wasn't a dream."
"Come on down and eat something. I fixed breakfast."
"I'm not hungry."
Michelle crossed the distance to the bed and knelt beside it and touched the arm of the child sitting there. "Hon, you really should..." Michelle started when Gary poked his head inside the door.
"Anyone home?" he asked.
"Good morning my husband. I was just trying to coax William down for breakfast."
"Oh good, I'll go whip something up..." Gary looked like he was ready for the challenge. After all these years, have I missed something here? Michelle thought, Does he cook to relieve stress?
"I've already thrown something... together. Besides we've talked about this remember? The house is mine, the stores are yours."
Gary looked deflated and sighed with resignation. William was unimpressed and Michelle simply wanted to know what to do. "Do we have a plan of action Gary?"
"Well," he swallowed, "We do. It's not a perfect plan, far from it. And I've only just now begun to throw this thing together but it's a place to start. A few things have to happen before we can reverse this, so for now... " Gary paused before continuing. "William, you're going to have to join the family as you are."
The girl leaped to her feet. "What are you talking about?" Michelle held the child's hand but William snatched it from her mothers grip.
"It's necessary, we have to at the very least have an explanation in place when Shelly gets home tonight. She can not be involved in the knowledge of this thing for obvious reasons."
"You can't be serious! You're going to keep me like this?"
"No... not keep you like that. You have to understand. If we could have gotten you out of this mess we would have done it last night. Why do you think these things are so feared and covert? It's because they are dangerous, not only for the people in power that fear they may be used against them, but for the person that wears them. There's only one way to get deactivate it William. There's a control box that comes with these things. I have to find it to get it off."
William was thunderstruck.
The silence was horrible. "William," Michelle said. "Please say something."
"I want to die. Please someone kill me now," William said miserably. It sounded like a very serious request.
Gary took the reigns, "You need to calm down."
"It's not that bad honey. Really if you just hang..."
"Not that bad? Why don't you try it then?" William shot back glaring at his mother.
Michelle sighed a weary sigh from the floor where she knelt next to the girl. It had not yet been twenty-four hours and they were already defeated. She felt deep in her heart they would not find the patch code transmitter, nor would they find Jason or Carrie.
"What if you can't find it Daddy? What then? It's only March; I have two more months of school left. I'm going to European SZ this summer. I can't spend my summer like this!" the girl threw her hands down her woman's body in disgust.
"We'll find the box William. I feel confident we'll find an answer to this problem." He looked at Michelle as if to say, Ok now, I need your support with this one. "We have a bigger problem."
"What could possibly be a bigger problem?" asked William in a sarcastic tone.
"We have to figure out what to do with this girl while William is in Germany."
"Oh no Daddy, you can't possibly begin to understand just how awful it is being a girl. I just can't go on another minute like this!"
"Your Mother here does just fine as a woman. You sisters don't seem to find anything wrong with being girls. I don't think that a day or two or even three or four will kill you..."
"No! I won't do it. I hate being this way. I'm a freak!"
Michelle tried to jump into the conversation, "Hold on now..." she said struggling to her feet.
Gary cut her off however. "You apologize to your mother!"
"For what?" demanded the girl
"That woman at your feet is more than just your Mother! She is my best friend; my wife and she's here of her own free will. She never had to be any of those things and you're not going to stand there and insult her because of her sex. She means more to this family than I do. She's here for you and your sisters all the time. She gave up a singing career to do that. I happen to know, that when we were teenagers, a singer in a successful band was all she ever dreamt of being. She gave you life and you will not walk on her like she was some sort of welcome mat just because she's here at home for you when you need her to be. If you have to spend a few days as a girl to learn that 'you're not all that' just because you were a man before, then perhaps this will be a good lesson for you. I'm sorry son but that's the way it is. Your mother and I can't just wave our hand and make it different for you. Being upset doesn't give you license to hurt those that care most for you."
William was shocked into silence. "I'm... sorry," William said shamefully, the statement was clearly directed to his Mother.
"You're upset hon. I understand," Michelle said hiding the hurt she felt.
"Are you ready to be a part of this family again?"
"Yes Daddy. But please, don't be mad at me. I'm sorry. I'm confused, I feel strange. If I get upset... Well, I'll try not to get upset. How's that?"
Gary nodded. "I'm sorry too, for losing my patience. I know this is not going to be easy and all of us are going to feel like yelling again at some point. We have to remember that yelling at each other isn't going to help. I'll try not to get upset too." He went over and took the girl that was about to become his niece in his arms and hugged her. "It will be especially hard for you but we'll be there. I need you to understand that. We'll be there trying to solve this problem."
They both looked at Michelle who was now standing. "What?" she asked as she looked back.
"Aren't you going to promise to try not to get upset too?" Gary prodded.
"I didn't get upset!"
"Mother. You're either working with the team or against it," the girl said with a very serious tone.
"I'm telling you, I didn't get upset!"
"See," William said looking at her father. Gary nodded back with a very serious look on his face.
"Oh whatever," Michelle said and poked both in the stomach with her finger making them both giggle. The mood was lighter now.
As she started crying ever so softly, William asked: "I'm to understand then... that you want me to start calling myself by some other name? I mean, I guess you can't call me William in front of Shelly, not if I'm going to be a member of this family as I am."
Gary only asked, "Is there something you would like us to call you for now?"
"William," she said. "But I don't suppose that will work will it?" she looked up at her Father. Gary simply nodded. She buried her face back in his chest.
"How about something short. Something close to Bill?" Michelle asked.
"Like what Hon?"
"I kind of like Beth. She looks like a Beth to me."
Upon hearing that, the girl moaned a painful moan. She felt as if she might vomit. Her head swam, What's in a name? her mind asked. A rose by any other name would still smell just as sweet. But it was this name in particular that held such dread for her and she felt she should remember why but she could not.
"Well?" her father asked.
They went down stairs and talked about the rest of the plan. Gary had every intension of searching the Fenton household for the patch code transmitter. If the device could not be found there, he would take a day and stake out the factory where Jason worked as a programmer. If that turned up nothing then he would hire a detective and pay any amount of money to find out where they were.
In Gary's mind, however his real hopes of finding the device before elaborate measures would have to be taken were slim. He understood that William was probably going to have to take off for Europe early leaving a slot for his cousin; long lost sister; whatever. A trip to the SZ in Europe could explain his absence. William could come back any time. If the transmitter were found soon he could come back as fast as he wanted. For now, it was as far as he could think. Any more would be to give in to defeat.