To Make the Circle Whole

This is a piece of fiction I have always wanted to write. I have written bits of it as plots in other stories and bits of interactive fiction. I want the whole story from beginning to end (???) in one place. That is why I am setting up this blog. This blog now has an archives. It is here, but please use the navigation table. Blogs aren't all that well suited for fiction. Live and learn.

Then get ready to for a wild ride. The place is Columbus, Georgia on the border of Alabama and along the banks of the Chattahoochee. The time is approximately a hundred years in the future, but it is possible to lose your way through history, and history after all is just stories told in a way to help the teller of the tale make whole the circle of what is happeing to them. So it is with this tale. Scroll down and read on....

Eileen H. Kramer

Navigating the Circle

The story starts here. Chapters 1 through 8 Chapters 9 through 14
Chapters 15 and 16 Chapters 17 through 20 Please email the author.
Chapters 21 and 24 Chapters 25 through 29 Chapters 30 through 35
Chapters 36 through ??

To return to Unfettered Soul's main page pleease click on the link. To return to the main page at please click on the link.

Chapter 36 -- Sketches

Once the community center is painted, the work on it becomes too skilled for Jonathan and also Jimmy though he makes a pretense of helping and learning. Francoise finds another job for Jonathan. His job is to take Gayla for walks. Conversation is enough of a motivation for her to take the turns she needs even though she prefers to take them late at night when she gets done assembling, tables, stock car track, built in shelves etc...

Jonathan and she both find this agreeable and I admire Jonathan's patience, since Gayla still needs a cane to walk. She's down to only one now. Jonathan and Gayla do at least three turns of the park each night and sometimes five. Francoise waits up for him. I know this because she wakes me yelling at Jonathan like the mother who has abandoned him. Yes, it is the same mother as Frederick has, Frederick who lays like a baby in my arms. I try not to think of Roxanne.

"Jonathan, you need to take a shower. Jonathan, do your hair before you go to sleep. Jonathan, you need to wash your things. Put them in the machine and I'll fix you a bite to eat." I wonder when and if Jonathan sleeps at all. He is up with the rest of us in the morning eating toast and jam sandwiches, often with a book as his breakfast companion. Morning talk when it happens is about algebra which Francoise started teaching him.

One evening Jonathan shows up at the community center with his keepsake, a big sketch diary/pad and some charcoals and pencils. Gayla shows up a night or two later with a big sack in which are several coffee table art books. Jonathan spends his evenings either drawing or reading about art and looking at images. Then he and Gayla go for their turns. I wonder if they discuss art. I wonder what Jonathan draws. He never shows the pictures to anybody. Somehow I don't feel it is my place to ask.

"What are you drawing?" a gentle female voice asks Jonathan. Francoise who is helping to varnish a book shelf along with Gayla, slams down both fists into the sticky varnish. "Easy there," Gayla counters. Bree and her husband, Allen stand in the community center door. We have nothing to hide so I let them in. Bree asks about slot cars and Gayla explains all the different kinds that will be raced: regular, modified, custom built, and tractor pull. Tractor pull is slot cars eighted down or pulling loads. It's her favorite these days. "Speed only goes so far," Gayla explains.

Bree nods gravely. "What about outdoor sports?" Allen asks. "We'll have basketballs, soccer balls, and all that kind of stuff on loan as soon as we can buy it. Want to make a donation?" I ask. "I'll think about it," Allen says. He looks the place over. "This is quite a rennovation."

"We want to make kids feel good even if they are not placed," I explain. Feeling good and having good community facilities will take off some of the pressure to place kids locally. Why bribe a barnboss one neighborhood over if your kid gets taken care of right here.

"And this is going to be the library," I explain to Allen. He smiles and says my Ed Branch background is showing. That is no problem. Ed and T branch children and teens need not to feel isolated from the community that spawned them. "And what about plans for doctors and nurses?" Allen's eyes meet mine for the first time since he came in. I say that we'll be using one of the stores next door in January. Allen folds his arms. He tells Bree it is time to go and they head out together, but pop right back inside a minute later. "My wife would like to help out here," he says. I agree she is welcome. Why not. Then they are gone.

"I'd like to sketch that woman's portrait," says Jonathan meaning Bree. "She's very beautiful."

"You really think so," asks Francoise.

"Even I think she's beautiful," Gayla chimes in.

I wish I didn't know she was initiated at sixteen. Beauty is in large part as beauty does and Bree has her secrets. Are secrets always ugly? As a volunteer Bree is energetic and talented. She is patient at finishing furniture and helping to lay carpeting.

"Sometimes," says Bree, " I would rather work with wood and nails than people. You know the feeling."

"I think I do," Jonathan answers. "I took the bus to Disney World/Universal my first taking. Mom told me where to wait and said that I had to wait there."

"That's supposed to show you are leadership material," Gayla laughs.

"That was how I found the artist. He'd sketch people like lightening. I sat and watched and he asked if I wanted my portrait painted. I told him I wanted to learn how to draw like that. My next taking, I wasn't on the bus to Disney World any more, not even the shed building. I ended up in Athens [Georgia home of University of Georgia] in what was a dormitory for students. I knew I had made a real wrong turn."

"Really," coaxes Gayla.

"Not really," Jonathan continues. "There were mostly girls but there were six of us boys and the counselors put us together. They took us into town and we bought supplies and this sketch book. I had to keep it hidden in the attic at Laure's so she wouldn't burn it. When Jimmy came back, he'd sneak it out for me. I remember the six of us boys sitting in a classroom with big tables and stools. The counselor said we didn't have to be ashamed to start drawing before and that we could be come real artists if we wanted to."

Jonathan grabs his sketch book and opens it to the first few pages. The paper is yellowed and the edges and the pencil lines a bit faded but I see a great tree with arching branches and a swing that hangs empt. The tree is full of tiny leaves individually sketched. There is another sketch on the next page of a house with a porch like the ones around the park. I recognize Aaron and Roxanne's house.

"These are beautiful," says Gayla.

"You are quite an artist," praises Bree.

"Art is faggy" groans Jimmy.

"No it's not!" Gayla protests.

"I only got to go to the artists camp for the first three or four takings," Jonathan said. "When I was eight, mom placed me in Harmony House." Jonathan falls silent. &qout;You always remember those first takings though. What was your first taking like?" Jonthan asks everyone and no one.

I tell Jonathan the story of my academic branch taking and my coffee table book of the Galapagos and later my nautilus shell.

Francoise tells of her ed branch taking in Mobile and the tour all the children had of Mo-Acc and the tour of Oakleigh historical house which is now about two hundred years old.

Jimmy tells about how the big boys hogged the baseball batting cages at the grey building that serves as the jumping off point for DisneyWorld. He and some other boys looked around for more batting cages and instead found their way to the tennis courts. "We stole a tennis racket and a ball and we played base tennis all night. We had enough guys for two teams after a few takings. There was an empty field beyond the tennis courts that was just left alone. When we got tired we walked to see what was at the other side of the field and found this old white house where they had cookies and milk and what not. The house was our special place. The counselors there were nosy and asked what games we liked. I told them about all the make up games you have. I remember being told I could help set up some playing fields and soon there would be more boys at the white house and we'd play games each night. It never happened...."

"What about you?" Jimmy asks Bree. Bree blinkd. "I don't remember my first taking," she says. And there it stays.

Not remembering one's first taking is strange but so too is getting initiated at sixteen, still there are far stranger things going on at present. By mid-July Jonathan starts to become ill. Francoise thinks it is only nerves. She makes for Jonathan whatever he asks for in the hopes he will eat it; for he has no appetite and an unhappy habit of vomiting or food going through him like water through a pipe.

I take Jonathan to a doctor who runs a battery of tests. Francoise is probably right about the nerves. I remember Francoise peeling ears of corn; for corn on the cob is one of the few things that appeals to Jonathan. &qout;Come on," I hear late at night. "Get yourself cleaned up and I'll make you an ear of corn."

At night Jonathan still draws and reads and walks Gayla around the park. By late July she no longer needs a cane at all. "Jonathan is so good for my health" she boasts. "It will be so sad again to plan another taking. I wish this could go on forever." If only you could give your good health to Jonathan, I think, but I keep the thoughts to myself.

On July 25, Sebastien comes to eat dinner with us. Jonathan manages to eat a part of a plate of food. Jonathan wants the gentle Sebastien for his own mentor and it looks like that dream may come true.

"How's Jonathan been doing on the practice exams?" Sebastien asks me. I say Francoise knows and she tells Sebastien his latest scores. Sebastien smiles. "You're going to make it," he tells Jonathan. "I hope so," Jonathan answers.

At 8am on August the first, Ezra Larken comes to the barn boss house to proctor Jonathan's exam. The study door is locked; for the exam is in confidential mode. It goes on for two hours with a midmorning break. Then there are two hours more. Francoise and I are in the kitchen. Francoise takes the corn out of the refridgerator and we go to the yard and stand in the hot sun as Francoise rips the green husks from the ears and pulls away the silk.

"I bet you'll be glad never to see another ear of corn again," I tell her.

"Nah," answers Francoise. "It's the least I can do."

At 1pm, a teacher from River Academy arrives. He is my old eighth grade algebra teacher. With him is an English teacher I don't recognize. I wish we had cake to offer, but ears of corn are it today. The teachers enter the pantry. I hook up the comm phone to Atlanta and Jonathan and Ezra exit the study. Jonathan wants to go upstairs while Ezra sits in the kitchen. "We never had to go through any of this," he says.

"We took a lot of tests," Francoise says back.

"Yes, but not this high stakes," sighs Ezra. "My father would have approved."

It takes forty-five long minutes to grade Jonathan's exam and the graders come out smiling. Jonathan not only passed the entrance exam for T-Acc/River Academy but did so with scores in the 95th percentile in mathematics and off the test (above the 99th percentile) verbally. I see the scores. "That boy is going to go far," says one of the teachers.

"I'll go upstairs and tell him the good news," I say. The teachers follow as does Ezra. That is where we find Jonathan. He does not snore and we can barely hear his breathing. He has stripped down to his underpants and his ribs are skinny and pale. His back still shows bloody scars and welts that a skin transplant will one day correct. His face is hidden in his hands. His knees are drawn up to his chest. He lies on the spare guestroom bed without a blanket or pillow. The pillow has fallen to the floor.

"Let's not wake him," I say. I get the summer counterpane and gently cover the sleeping boy. In a few days this boy will be an initiate with a new name and we will share a mentor. In a few days, this boy will be a student at River Academy. Jonathan, I think. You will not have to suffer any more.

written by ZOIDRubashov on Wednesday, December 31, 2003.

Chapter 35 -- "What Do You Want?"

I have a pressing problem that has not made the pages of this story because it seemed too pedestrian but in the light of what I learned at Wednesday night's barnboss meeting, I think that's changed. At the northern end of the park is the Park Row Deli, not open enough hours, poorly stocked to the point of being picked over and just dismal. I call the place the Inconvenience Store and often walked to either Veteran's Parkway or to Macon Road to find a convenience store or to patronize Publix.

The Inconvenience Store has sat empty since the taking. Its manager, a woman named Angie, has made no attempt to restock it or reopen it. I have left Angie half a dozen comm phone voicemail messages but received none back. Thursday morning I call MetzCorp for which Angie works. I get the runaround through several secretaries and low level managers. Finally the Regional Manager for West Georgia picks up.

After apologizing for bothering him and explaining that if Angie had gotten in touch with me I would not be speaking to him, I explain the problem of a store left abandoned and derelict. He replies: "This was not Angie's decision. We have chosen not to run the store in Weyracoba Park. We do not consider the neighborhood stable enough."

I guess that remark is supposed to make me flinch and quail. Instead I ask for the lease back. The regional manager asks if I intend to run the store myself. I tell him I plan to use the building as a community center. He says he'll fax me the lease from Atlanta and fifteen minutes later, the Inconvenience Store is mine or rather the neighborhood's.

Francoise is tutoring so I walk over to the store and using keys that have been stick zapped to me, open the place up. I half expect ghosts jump out at me, but instead I see only a few tables, some abandoned computer cable, a counter and some garbage that escaped a good sweeping up and carting out. I stare through the windows that are half way to being mirrored glass, having been left to casually unstick themselves.

Through the muddy silvery glass Ezra Larken's face appears distorted. I invite him inside and apologize for any bad memories this place might bring. He says it has none. He says that kindof thing is superstition. He glances around. He is still using a cane and has to walk slowly. He asks me about the community center. I let him know what I have planned.

"I think I know someone who can help you," he tells me.

"Who?" I ask.

"Gayla, she's supposed to be away from a desk for half a day to help rebuild her nerves but she always says she is too tired to walk and she can't move aimlessly. If you could put her to work here, she'd get the exercise she needs and she is very good, especially with slot cars."

I can't suppress my grin from ear to ear. I follow Ezra home to his house on Hilton. Gayla is hard at work designing something on a big computer screen. In one box she tests proportions and angles. In another box there is raw code. In a third box is the result changing in real time. "That's the cloth sculpture for the next taking. October 15th in the mall on Manchester Expressway." Gayla smiles but the smile is lopsided. She is much more nerve damaged than Ezra. It takes her too canes to hobble. Walk is too kind a word.

Ezra and I explain the community center and then we ask if Gayla wants to help out. She smiles again, and this time the smile is almost even. She asks when she is needed. I would love to say now, but I have office hours this afternoon. We'll have to start tonight.

Office hours feature a family whose daughter went to technical nationals in Ohio. The girl has a slide rule as a keep sake and a big braid down the back. I explain about late initiation and academic takings. The parents feel reassured. They have made the decision already not to stand in their daughter's way. I show them some of the local and interior houses that would take a t-branch influenced girl. I can't guarantee she'll get into any of those houses. We discuss how it might feel to have a child placed a distance away from home or whether if it came to it the parents and the girl herself would prefer an interior placement.

The family has no preferences. "We never thought about it that way," the mother says. I explain that some choice will be possible and it is for the girl and the family to articulate that choice. Other than that, everything seems on the right road. I feel good after the office hours which take longer than I think. I come late to dinner and I'm off again afterwards.

Oddly enough, Francoise wants to tag along as well as Jonathan whom she is sort of dragging. Frederick comes along so as not to be lonely, I suspect. We meet Gayla who is leaning tiredly against the wall. I let everybody in. Gayla removes a sack from over her shoulder and extracts a tape measure. She and Francoise begin taking measurements and then looking for studs and electrical connections. She asks me if I can find a schematic. I offer to go back to the house and get one. Frederick follows me. He asks what happened. I tell him about the surrendered lease.

"Shit you're really going to get me those slot cars like you promised," he says.

"I'm getting them for Gayla as well as you. Did you see her?"

"I try not to think about that."

"You guys are making a party out of it."

I smile. I print off the schematic on oversize paper, roll it up, and take it back to the store. Frederick follows me again. Gayla rises slowly using her hands to help raise herself to a standing position and takes the schematic and then squats down again to examine it. She points out where the wiring is behind the walls. She points this out to Jonathan who watches avidly. Gayla talks about adding additional wiring. She takes more measurements.

"I think this place needs to be painted," says Frederick.

"We'll paint it after the cabling is laid," Gayla corrects him.

"Who is the we?" asks Frederick.

"It could be you," I remind him. He only works half days.

Frederick snorts and Francoise says the "we" includes her and Jonathan.

"Good luck on that," Frederick laughs.

The we also includes me. I need to run errands to buy components and wire that Gayla writes down in a barely legible hand. Most of the work on the store is in the evening when Jonathan's studies and Francoise' other duties are through. I help out and sometimes Frederick, but we are useless with technical things. Francoise and Jonathan and even Jimmy are willing to learn. Jimmy is the most willing. Francoise is also enthusiastic though grimly so. Jonathan has been dragged.

Sometimes Gayla gets irritated with the boy. "Jonathan," she snaps. "I'd appreciate it if you paid attention."

"Francoise is making him come here," Frederick defends his younger brother.

"If you don't have [physical] discipline what do you expect," quips an unguarded Jimmy.

"Jonathan I'm making you work here for a reason," Francoise explains. "If you don't do something besides study, something with your body and your hands you'll make yourself sick and fail the exam."

That apparently is enough and oddly enough, I'm behind Francoise. Things in the store get better by the weekend. I spend most of Saturday helping flesh out profiles for two young children from Sears Woods who are to be placed without the aid of bribes. I arrive at the store at 5pm to find the painting beginning. Gayla shows Jonathan how to use a mini roller on a long stick. Jimmy finds painting boring but Jonathan is quiet tonight. Frederick does not want to get involved and just watches which is OK.

"So how did you learn to do all this stuff?" Jonathan asks Gayla as the two of them paint together.

"I always wanted to know," Gayla begins. "I liked putting things together and taking them apart to see how they worked. My father is a machinist. When I was five he gave an old alarm clock and a screw driver. It hurt to take it apart and not be able to put it back together again.

"Then I found the slot car track on my second taking. I remember crawling under the table and getting yelled at. I wanted to see all the wiring. I watched Peter who set up slot cars test out the equipment and the track. I got behind the repair screen that weekend and one of Peter's helpers showed me how the control box worked and he gave me several defective slot cars to play around with and take apart and a book on slot cars.

"I couldn't understand half of what was in that book. I knew it was a grownup book and I was only seven, but I read well. It was the numbers in the book, the mathematics, the ratios and decimals that stumped me. We had math in school but mostly used calculators. I showed the book to one of my teachers and she found old math books for me. Those were my keepsakes, that and the broken slot cars which I learned how to fix. I would have beat up any kid who put my slot cars in the sand."

Frederick laughs nervous. Gayla dips her brush into the can of paint; for she is doing edges, and continues: "I studied the math on my own. My dad could help me a little but mostly I got help from Mr. Clyde on my lunch break. It started to come together.

"Then my parents wanted me placed. Yeah...the first thing the nice lady in the 'Class A' local house told me was that I wouldn't have time to study so much and I should give her my math books and that I was too big to play with broken toys. I told her the books were for school and I was fixing the slot cars. I was very polite but I was firm. She said finally I had to give up the books and the cars or she would call my mom and dad. I told her to go ahead. She didn't want to call my parents right away.

"Instead she said we would have to go down to the basement if I did not give her my books and cars. I said fine. These were precious to me. I was scaird. From the way she said it, going down to the basement was a bad thing...."

Jonathan holds his paint roller in mid air. Gayla instructs him to keep painting. "The basement was kind of fascinating," Gayla continued. " There were leather loops in the wall and there were all these awful sticks and ropes and whips hanging from a rack. There was an old chair too and it wasn't for anyone to sit upon comfortably.

"I started to pray. I told God that the world was supposed to be a good and just place. Now I was going to lose the thing I most loved and have the crap beaten out of me. This was not fair and I begged him in my head that if I could go home to my mom and dad with my cars and books, I would take being beaten until the blood flowed."

"Please," begs Jonathan whose face is white as a sheet. "You asked for it," Gayla reminds him. "I begged the house manager to send me home to my parents. I told her I did not want to be here if she was going to take my stuff.

"She answered that I would never be anything but a failure if I did not learn to obey authority and that she would teach me that and then I would become a good girl again. I told her I wanted my cars back and I wanted to leave now. She said she would give me something to cry about. I remembered what I had prayed and I prayed it again. I prayed it as they tied my hands down on the loop and talked about taking my t-shirt off. They decided to leave it on. I felt relieved. Maybe that meant they would not beat me too hard.

"I was wrong. The sharp leather strap would cut my shirt to ribbons. I remember the first blow coming and how it knocked me almost senseless, but my eyes were open and what I saw were all those other little kids knowing it could be them. Then the house manager asked me if I wanted to go home. I remembered what I had prayed. I told her I wanted to go home with my cars. She laughed and said there was no one to hear me but I knew God had heard me because he is everywhere.

"She beat me again and asked the same question. I gave the same answer. I gave it through tears that began to taste bitter. She gave me several more blows and then when I kept giving her the same answer. I figured that she wouldn't stop beating me and if I was going to be beaten I wanted to go home even more. After a few more blows she gave up asking me and just kept hitting me. I got lost in the pain I cried I wimpered. I couldn't stand up when they untied me.

"They put me in my bed and I couldn't sleep on my back. After a few hours when I had almost fallen asleep, the house manager came in to me and asked if I wanted to go home to my parents and if I wanted my cars back. I wondered if she would beat me again. I remembered my prayers. I could want what I wanted even if God didn't give it to me. I told myself it was night and she wouldn't let me go until morning. They wouldn't wake up all the little kids to see me beaten again. I told her yes, I wanted to go home and I wanted my cars and my books back.

"The next day I got no breakfast. Around noon, my mother came and got me. The next day we went to the Barnboss. The BarnBoss and my mother talked for a long time. Then she talked to me. Jasmine [the BarnBoss] said that I had behaved very badly in the house and that she and my mother had worked hard to get me in there. Now she had to get a release for me. I owed my mother and she an apology for the way I was acting. I was a selfish and nasty little girl.

"Then she asked if I had anything to say for myself. I told her that I wanted my cars and my books back. The house manager had forgotten to give them to my mommy. The BarnBoss said they had been thrown in the garbage. I asked if we could go through the garbage and get them out. It was only one day.

"After that the BarnBoss talked to my mother again and then my mother took me over to the old house where I had a release and she talked to Nancy [the mentor] and Nancy gave me back my books and my cars. She also had stern and ugly words for my mother.

"I went out on the next taking and this time found myself on one of the small vans instead of on the bus going to the building with ths slot cars. I did not know what had happened but for the first time I was scaird. I was a bad girl now. Good girls don't get beaten over books and slot cars. It seemed cruel to be robbed of what I wanted even after I had been beaten for it.

"We went to the suburbs outside Atlanta and a small building. This was Tech Branch. I was now encouraged. I remember being given math puzzles to do and helping smaller kids with an erector set. Then after dinner, I got sent to the big building with the slot cars and I helped out Peter at the track. I came back to the tech house where the kids learning to read electrical diagrams and fell into class. They would let me special snacks in the kitchen. Takings would exhaust me but I loved them. I felt wanted and needed and I was really learning about slot cars. I had a repair shop in my bedroom. I used to wire lamps for neighbor ladies.

"I got put in the academic track at Comprehensive. I would have been bored to tears at River Academy. I had a custom program that included wood and metal shop. I wrote an essay for English about how to make blocks for children and all the tools you use and all the mathematical proportions. The essay won a prize and the teacher said it was one of the most unusual she ever read. She made phone calls to Atlanta.

"A young man from Tech Branch came out to make sure I had enough clothes plus my first pair of safety shoes and coveralls. My days in the slot car house were through. I was going to Nationals."

"Which Nationals?" I ask. Frederick snorts.

Gayla smiles. "The big one held in Berkely and and Ithaca alternate years. We did the egg drop, the spaghetti bridge, the chem demos. It was great camp. We never slept. You never saw the inside of the cyclotron, Kohana. A cyclotron is where they smash subatomic particles and use special equipment to take their pictures.

"At thirteen I was initiated and found myself in a tech/service house in New York City. That was where I went to high school. I did college in New York State too. I became a civil engineer though I thought about doing landscape architecture. I liked working with my hands as much as with my head. I liked making practical things work. That was me. That was what was important.

"I was surprised when Men-tech was interested. Apparently large scale stick work needs a physical component and someone who can design structures and spaces that are physically sound. What I did not know of stick code I could teach myself. That was what Ezra said. He took me on and I've been doing design for takings ever since. Of course I still love slot cars. Getting back to getting my hands dirty is good for me."

Frederick kicks a dust mote across the floor. Talking has left Gayla spent. Jonathan says nothing. "I just want to get into an academic house," he says.

"Why?" asks Gayla.

"Because academics are gentle. They don't beat people. Besides you get to go to college at eighteen and prep sucks."

"That's not very good reasons for doing anything," answers Gayla.

"They're his reasons not yours," answers Francoise.

"You forget I'm no stranger to physical discipline," Gayla snaps back.

"It's not a question of that. There are many motivations."

"Yes, but some are better than others. You have to want something, not just want to be safe and sit there. That's too simple. It's too simple for you."

I think of Frederick who is staring at the floor. What about just being happy and comfortable, I think. What about those who forget to pray not to lose sight of their dreams. I also remember that my own dreams had been simple, to go to T-Acc and stay close to home, to have both my studies and my family. Who was I closest too, Frederick and Jonathan or Gayla?

written by ZOIDRubashov on Friday, December 26, 2003.

Chapter 34 -- Vengance and the Littlest Eagle

Jaqui's place is sumptuous, even for a barn boss house, which are usually fairly nice. I recognize some friends of Peter, Anna from North Columbus, Jaqui of course, and Tobias. He has greyish hair like Sebastien and of course Peter. It is scraggly though with streaks of grey. Tobias wears a brown polo shirt. "Well I never imagined we would meet as colleagues...surely you remember, Kohana. You weren't Kohana then."

No, I wasn't. I was twelve. My parents took me to Tobias to see if another barn boss could do for me what Oona could not. Tobias and I had a nice long frank talk but in the end he refused to do anything which was fine with me, I realize now. True, I got stuck in Mara's but I got out of Mara's so I am here now.

"How does it feel to be a barn boss now?" Jaqui asks me.

I say it's exciting. "I'll say," she laughs. " Two take downs for physical discipline in less than three months. I believe that is a record."

"The take downs were for abuse," I counter.

"Let her alone," comments Tobias.

"You know," Jaqui intimates. "Barn bosses need to cooperate with each other."

I am not sure what Jaqui means. I don't have much to do with my colleagues, but then again I've had my hands full. "What do you need?" I ask.

"Well, parents are going to come to us...." Anna begins.

"Er uh...Anna," says Hilary who is a barn boss near Pine Mountain "I think you need to explain everything to Kohana. Peter took her on because she had no interest. That made her a great assistant but she is honestly quite ignorant, are you not?"

Quite frankly, I am not sure I want to know, but I can't say that. "Please enlighten me," I say instead.

"OK," says Tobias. "You for all kinds of reasons that have to do with your history more than aything else, are running an absolutely by the books operation. It's a smart operation."

Anna and Hilary snort. Jaqui shakes her head. "You're wrong!" Tobias chides his colleagues. "I don't know what Kohana knows but she lashed her houses down so tight that any payments become visible. That effectively forces the whole neighborhood to run by the books. She even asked for a budget reconciliation plan with Atlanta. Very slick move, Kohana and I mean that.

Tobias switches on his study computer. He brings up budgets for several of his houses. They are modestly in debt. Then he reaches into his desk and removes a detachable hard drive. "We'll need to take this computer offline. You know how to do this don't you. Portable hard drives are fairly safe, but one can never be too careful with this information. Peter, as I recalled even kept his records on paper. This is what a real house budget looks like. We change the computer records that others can see. A bit of debt explains lavish living, but you need to know what is going on, because mentors can unfortunately get greedy."

I swallow. I feel sick. I wish I didn't feel that way. "In your neighborhood," Tobias explains. "All the mentors knew you were Peter's assistant and likely to inherit. Given your ed branch background, you were likely to be unpredictable at best and at worst, you proved every one of their expectations right. Eliminating Peter would have put you in charge and no mentor who did well with Peter even if she thought it not well enough would want to deal with you.

"That is the way it is, Kohana. Now none of us can really stop you from running a by the books operation if that is what you want to do. It's your neighborhood."

Anna and Jaqui make noises. "No," answers Tobias. "Interference is dirty. It is likely Kohana will go to Atlanta. We don't need that and besides, there is no reason Kohana won't cooperate. "

"What if she has blood on her hands?" asks Hilary.

"She does not," Tobias says catergorically.

"She lived with those books for two years and did not make a squeak, did you Kohana?" Jaqui comes to my rescue.

"So now you are barn boss and you play by the books. You don't care about poverty or low wages. You dream of a world where the interior is the norm. You try and bring that dream to fruition and maybe your revolution will succeed. It's your turn and your neighborhood, but there are parents who won't go along with your dream.

"They will seek outside the neighborhood and funds will change hands. You will impoverish your own mentors but their loss is our gain. You need to let this happen and not interfere."

I'm not sure how I can interfere. I agree and Tobias continues: "In turn we have parents here who don't want to play by the rules. Sometimes they have too many children and not enough funds. Sometimes they had internal placements or branch placements and consider that the right thing for their children. Sometimes, a child refuses to play the game." Tobias grunts.

"All children can take a good placement," Hilary corrects Tobias.

Tobias shakes his head. "Kohana was the classic example. When she came into my office she had an oddly textured pea green shirt on. I remember the color and the swirls. I asked her about the shirt. It was some kind of sea creature. She had the shirt made solid and textured so she could wear it with plaid pants. She wanted to handle a stick, native code. She was a scholar with a wild eye and three trips to Nationals, the big nationals that are held alternate years on alternate coast. Athens [Georgia] might have been a possiblity, but probably even Atlanta was beneath her. She had made her choices and she wanted no others..."

"A child's will can be bent," says Hilary.

"Kohana was already twelve," answers Tobias.

"If they had started earlier," Jaqui replies.

"Maybe," says Tobias, "But physical discipline is a distasteful process to some parents and it is not a hundred percent effective. Every now and again we need to get a release for a child as we all know."

I think of Treva who is now in Opaleika. "And in Kohana's case it was not an option. Kohana, how long has it been since you saw your father?"

"About a month," I answer. I wonder what this has to do with anything. My father is a quiet man. He handles files and computer entry. He works in something akin to human resources but mainly he handles the accounts that are part of benefits. It is a quiet job. My mother was the disciplinarian. She was the big person because she could get pregnant every year or two.

My father stayed in the background. He could not even play sports with my brothers because he limps. He wears a brace on his right leg below the knee. With the brace off, his foot hangs loose like a useless foot. He also gets back aches. I think of my father sitting in his recliner. I remember his sad eyes when I went away to Dartmouth. "Do you have to go so far away?" he asked. I told him it was time. I was eighteen. That did not satisfy him. I wrote to him sometimes from school.

"Did you ever look at your father's records?" asks Tobias. I shake my head. "You can," says Tobias. "You are a barn boss." That doesn't matter. My father is in the past.

I watch Tobias bring up my father's childhood records. My father came from Virginia. I know that because he mentioned it from time to time. At age seven he was placed in a class A local house, not unlike White Star or the now defunct Harmony. That is not the house to which my father is loyal though. "My father was a Little Eagle," I say.

"It's right here," answers Tobias. At age eleven, my father had a new placement here in Columbs in a grade C small local house that is still in business and a decent sort of place but not for a wild eyed ed branch type. "My father is a very proud Little Eagle," I say.

"That is good," answers Tobias who switches to my father's medical records. That is how I see the photographs and the X-rays. Being a low end house, no one bothered with neural regeneration for my father's injuries. A swatting on a bench not unlike the one in Laure's broke a bone in my father's lower back causing partial paralysis in his right leg. Somewhere, somehow, someone got a release for my father thogh Tobias says that the mentor of that house in Virginia simply had had enough of him and threw him out. The beatings had not worked.

I stare stunned at the photos that went with the X-rays of my father's young back. I remember Michael's back and the scars on my father's back seem angrier and worse but I remember no such scars. "Your mother's family and TSYS got plastic surgery for your father right after he married. They couldn't do anything to fix the limp though. That is permanent, I'm afraid."

Tobias switches the computer from Tobias' records to my own childhood profile. It is long and extensive with many images of customized clothing patterns and stick designs and extensive comments on school transcripts. It is a pretty place to wander, but that is not the part we zero in on. Tobias brings up the part labeled Parent Comments. I read. "The father insists that NO PHYSICAL DISCIPLINE WHATSOEVER be used."

I rest my hands in my face. The room swims. The quiet little grey man who could not make head nor tail of my school work but knew it kept me out of trouble and congratulated me on finding a fine and quiet pursuit was more than that. I think of my father taking me to the tame and early takings when I was eight and nine years old. I remember him standing alone in winter parking lots, not even a cup of coffee to keep him warm. He had nothing in common with many of the other parents who knew the cup of scholarship and were glad their daughters and sons were drinking. My father had just known I was out of trouble and my back was smooth and I lived with joy and without fear, not fear of being hurt any way. I did not even know that fear. My father had spared me. I had spat on his gift of a local placement but his real true gift was mine and taken for granted.

"Stop shaking Kohana," Tobias counsels me.

I listen to the sound of my teeth chattering. "My father did the right thing," is all I can manage to say.

The rest of the meeting is a blur. I don't go to sleep when I come home. I walk the neighborhood and stare at the sleeping houses. Parents and mentors. Parents still have the power. Sure I must cooperate with Tobias and Hilary but parents do not have to. They can do as my father did. It is up to me to teach them that they can.

written by ZOIDRubashov on Tuesday, December 23, 2003.

Chapter 33 -- "Defeat Does Not Become You"

"You have way more than three suspects," explains Francoise.

"How do you figure that?" I ask. Francoise takes a bite of her toast with butter and pineapple preserves (Thankyou Frederick). "Easy," she answers. "Just because you have children does not mean you can't leave them in someone else' care or by themselves at the taking while you walk across the street and visit the inconvenience store."

"I'm not the police,&qout; I sigh. How am I going to question eleven suspects. "You just told me my find at the party was useless!"

"No, Kohana, your find is wonderful. There's another way to narrow down the list. Remember I made two cheese breads. I gave one to Mara and took the other to Sonnie's house as a gift for taking a new member off our hands. I left the cheesebread with Sonnie. Some time on Saturday the cheesebread vanished. Someone took it from the sideboard in Sonnie's dining room. Whoever tried to poison Ezra had to have some form of access to Sonnie's house.

"They also needed access to Mara's to frame me, but of course Mara could have done that out of spite." Francoise smiles. Outside grey clouds vie with the sun. It is going to rain when work for those on the day shift is over. Our weather is somewhat stuck all the time. I am cold even in the warm sunlight. I shiver in Peter's yellow and blue dress shirt that I am wearing like an oversize blouse.

Sonnie is superintending the bathing of a paralyzed teenager. She does this in the living room. Crippled children and even adults have no privacy. The boy is lucky to live in a house in the neighborhood and not be locked away in his family's attic or an institution so he is lucky. I try not to look. Sonnie greets me with a smile.

We go into her office and I show her my paperwork I printed off at Ezra's house Sunday night. She leafs through it. "I don't hire outside help,&qout; she says. "It's all volunteer. I can give you two names, Adrienne Soule and Bree Crowe. I don't know if that can help you. I can't picture Bree stealing food."

"What about Adrienne?" I ask.

"She wouldn't be a thief either. Both women were very dedicated in their own way. Bree has a heart of gold. She is the soul of compassion." Sonnie smiles at her own overblown language. "Adrienne was interested in becoming a registered nurse, I believe they call it. She had an LPN when she worked here. She was getting back into the field after having a child. She was way too professional ever to steal anything. As for the other....."

Neither of us says anything. I have to shoe Jonathan, Jimmy, and Francoise from the study when I return. This is going to be confidential. That is how I find that Bree has no listing in the community service database that indicates she ever worked for Sonnie. Adirenne worked for Sonnie for six months but has not worked at her house in two years. A further check of Adrienne's file indicates that she is seven months into a pregnancy and has a nine year old and a four year old. She is currently not working because she prefers to care for her own children.

I glance at Bree's records again. I wonder if her arrangement with Sonnie was an informal one and why that was so. I can't come up with any reason. Maybe Mara will help clear things up. Anyway, it's my job to get lunch today. Francoise sends a grumpy Jonathan into the kitchen to help me. We say nothing. Jonathan has been keeping to himself lately. He looks pale and almost grey beneath the skin. He avoids my eyes as we work together. The scheduled date for his test is August first. This test will decide his future. As we work together, I notice Jonathan's hair is dirty. I ask him when he washed it last. He said it just gets dirty quickly. I let it go.

I'm glad when lunch is over. I walk to Mara's house. I watch the storm clouds gather in the west. Mara receives me with a fat pasty smile. We head for her office and she smiles even more widely. I think her whole face is going to split. She closes the office door and keeps smiling.

"I'm not fucking telling you anything," she says and nearly starts laughing. I can't put my finger on why Mara reminds me of Jimmy. "You have to learn to cooperate Kohana the barn boss. You cooperate with me and I cooperate with you." and with that she flings open the office door and I know it is best that I be gone.

From what I can check of Mara's household expense records (Yes, I'm in confidential mode again) she does not use volunteers but hires all sorts of paid help to deal with menial tasks such as laundry, housekeeping, and at times even cooking. Having Francoise as a steward was nothing new except a steward holds a position of authority and is far more than a mere drudge. I feel a gentle satisfaction as I hear the sounds of dinner getting made in the kitchen. I will miss Francoise when she leaves.

I check Mara's household records and I check Bree's employment record. There is no listing of either Mara hiring Bree or of Bree ever working for Mara. In fact the records list Bree having worked at a clothing store called Now Fashions in the far north mall since she was seventeen until January of this year. I check Now Fashions and sure enough find Bree's employment record. She works twenty hours per week.

I print off the record and then begin a routine search of the in and out clock. Often this is the record that tells the truth. That is how I find there are no in and out clock records for Bree. Actually in Bree's case it would be a time clock and time clocks..... I print out what I have and power down the computer. I think of Peter's books. Peter was not exactly computerphobic but close to it. Peter's books were always private. Peter said he couldn't keep everything in his head so he chose to write it down. He said he did not even trust local hard drives. In a network environment, it is definitely possible to tamper with one from afar and then there of course is the network we all share and the common databases and....

"Where are you going?" asks Francoise.

"To the North Mall," I answer. "I want to look at clothes. I'm sick of wearing Peter's old things."

Francoise laughs. I start my car. This is an exercise in futility. This is stupid. Still, I want to finish it out. I stomp into the North Mall and find Now Fashions. It is not a custom store. The clothes are cheap. Teens from less fancy houses buy them, new initiates who do not have to wear a uniform. I think of Laure. I wonder if she will ever go to trial. I wonder if someone will tamper with the records for her case.

The manager of Now Fashions is cordial. We sit in her office and she offers me soda to drink. There is no Bree Crowe who has ever worked for her, or for her predecssor. She shows me files of paper records and says I can look through them. She also shows me local files she keeps on a detachable hard drive. She also combs through the tax database where I didn't look.

Someone has obliterated and replaced Bree's employment history and volunteer history with a false one. Why? Who? The air is thick and hot and the first fat rain drops fall making big spatters on the sidewalk. I think of Bree that night in the park before the taking. Bree so frightened she ran past a security fence. Bree sitting half seeing me on Sonnie's porch as Sonnie tried to comfort her. Could someone be hiding that Bree has been too sick to work and why was Bree initiated at sixteen?Fourteen as pretty much the latest age for initiations?

I wonder what Mara knows, but I've burned my bridges with Mara. I guess having a grudge will do that for you. Mara though does not have the power to alter records. I have some of that power and the folks in Human Resources or high ranking executives in the TSYS Castle can probably rewrite someone's history if they see fit.

"Kohana!" a voice calls out. "Kohana, don't you recognize me?"

The woman is tall and her hair is luxuriant and black and flows straight over her shoulders like a river. She wears a pink robe with an empire waist and flowered trim and a big sun hat that is now drooping in the early rain.

"Jaqui," I say. Jaqui is the barn boss over in Sears Farm on the east side of Columbus.

"Yes, and I'm wondering if you can do a favor for me. "

"It depends what it is."

"I have a family that is actually interested in an interior placement for their daughter. You are good with those. Can you give them some advice?"

I nod numbly. "Also we have our monthly meeting on Wednesday night. Don't forget... It's at my house. By the way, you had a great taking.... Congratulations on your first." Jaqui breezes into the rainy parking lot to find her car. I stop standing around and drive home. This will be the first Barn Boss Meeting since Peter's suicide. Of course as an assistant I never went to such things. Peter considered it unseemly. That was OK. I am not much of a person for meetings. Now I find I have to go. I also have other projects. Maybe it is time to work on those.

written by ZOIDRubashov on Monday, December 15, 2003.

Chapter 32 -- Two Deals at Least

"That cake is a thing of beauty," admires Frederick. Golden late morning sun filters in through the screen door. The chocolate graham cracker torte has been liberated from its spring form pan and placed on the bottom of the cake safe and transporter. It's dark brown chocolate coating has been festooned with crushed walnuts and the top decorated with thin mango and kiwi slices. It is indeed a finer came than one can buy in most bakeries here in Columbus.

Perhaps Frederick is sincere. "Go, look in the pantry Koie," he urges. There on the shelf is a sixteen ounce jar of pineapple preserves. I get out the bread to make toast and jelly sandwiches to enjoy with the morning's tea. I've slept in, my sleep rolling like clouds. We made love last night. This is the first time I've ever made love without precautions. I feel light and free and a little scaird though I know it will be many weeks before chance deals me the blow I promised Roxanne.

Hopefully by then Frederick will be somewhere elese, somewhere of his own choosing, and somewhere good. Frederick does not eat the toast and preserves but instead munches a doughnut. He asks why I don't even eat jelly doughnuts. I tell him the preserves from a jar is many times better than the stuff put in a jelly doughnut's greasey center. I give him a small spoon and ask him to try some of what he bought for me. He takes a taste and shrugs.

"Jimmy's taking the big rig to be serviced," announces Frederick as if this were earth shattering news. Jimmy will of course get to watch the mechanics at their work. Jimmy has a whole world of choice ahead of him.

It is a lovely quiet late June morning in the lovliest and quietest time after a taking. In the next day or two children and teens will return home. There will be talk of encouragements, alternate placements, and marks. All of that can wait today. I ask Frederick if he would like to go to the museum. He agrees. It is not his thing but he likes the old pictures. It is a small museum and centuries old. We can do it in a couple of hours so that we end up sitting in the Frederick (Yes another Frederick) Law Olmstead garden and watching the fountain and feeling the hot sun on our shoulders.

"I'd like to take you somewhere for lunch," Frederick speaks up. "Where do you want to go?" I ask. We are going to be having a large late dinner tonight. We settle on an Italian sub shop on the north side. Frederick pays with credit. I notice and wish I didn't. "I really do like you," he says. "I know you don't believe me. Maybe you can't." We stare down at our subs.

"I'm just the only choice you have," I say. I wish I hadn't said that but I say it anyway.

Frederick shakes his head. "You're not the only choice...You're the best one."

"I....don't follow you."

"I talked with my mother while you were sleeping. I don't like the alternate deal she has. The original is better and you are willing to live with me and not throw me out and....I've watched you, Koie. You really care about your work. You enjoy it. You are good at heart. No, I don't always understand you but I'm going to try. Is that so hard?"

"What did your mother offer you?" I wish I didn't have to ask Frederick all this.

"Atlanta... Regular human resource pool. Full time. I'll die working in an office like that. I'd much rather be with you and work half days."

I want to laugh but...."Frederick, I stopped using contraception."

The words go by him.

"Frederick, I stopped using contraception. Any time we make love, we could conceive a child."

Frederick is still mute.

"Frederick, children aren't supposed to happen by fate. You're supposed to want them. Not all the women get adequate medical care." I stop. I think of Alan's wife who died in eclampsia convulsions on the living room floor when I was junior at Dartmouth. Frederick understands none of that. I have to begin explaining from day one. I also explain that I'll need another patch and that we can't make love for a week until the patch has taken effect.

"You want to make it easy for me," says Frederick.

"No for both of us. This is not a world for children."

"But you're a barn boss!

"Do you want your son or daughter in a taking?"

Frederick rests his chin in his hands. "You know somewhere somehow Koie, you understand. You speak a different language half the time but you still understand. OK, we'll wait until your medical stuff is straightened out. You're the best thing I've got. I mean that, Koie."

I think Frederick does mean that. We shower together. Francoise hs fixed an early dinner of marinated chicken cutlets and some kind of very fancy salad and rice with mushrooms for Jimmy, Jonanthan and herself. For some reason, Jonathan, does not want to live home with his parents. I wish Frederick had more than two choices. Two choices is still very very few.

I'm thinking like this as the sky turns golden and then grey. Francoise follows us with the cake safe as we walk to Hilton Ave. Ezra Larkin's house is all lit up with golden lights that make the gazania and marigolds blaze in the artificial glow. Inside the furniture is flowered and ornate and there are lovely house plants and a smell of green leaves mingling with the odor of food. There are assorted exotic pizzas, canapes, two salads, and a cake that glows orange. The orange bundt cake looks like a poor relation next to Francoise torte. On the drink bar there is cream soda as well as coke and sweet and unsweet tea.

Ezra sits in a tall chair drinking sweet tea. Gayla has a stock car catalog and she invites Frederick to look at it. He laughs. She frowns and beckons him to have a seat. "You don't have to be afraid," she tells him. Germaine, Ezra's daughter, and her two younger sisters hog the couch. Germaine drinks coke to chase away her exhaustion.

"You know girls," Ezra says to his daughters. "I remember my first winter in Michigan. It was much colder than the week you spent in Maine."

"The cold didn't bother me," Germaine replies.

"Didn't you miss mommy?" the youngest sister asks.

I am listening to all of this and feeling profoundly nostalgic when I feel someone behind me. I turn and look and see Benjamin Crowe, the CEO who warned me not to grovel. I stare at his white tipped black hair that forms a beard and close cropped crew cut, his smooth light brown skin and his big six foot plus frame.

He wants to take me aside. I feel the bottom drop out of my stomach. "I'd like to know if you've learned anything new?" he asks me. He does not have to say what I have not learned anything about. I tell him no. Then he asks: "So you and Frederick Smythe are still together."

"He loves me," I say.

"Lying does not become you."

"He loves me as much as he can love given his choices. I have to respect those choices. Frederick is a good man. I like him well enough. Besides, what business is it of yours?"

"I'm the CEO at the Castle," answers Mr. Crowe. "What have you learned?"

"Only what we know already," I say. "Francoise is innocent." I swallow. "All the rest is conjecture."

"Tell me about it anyway."

"Francoise suspects an organized resistance."

"No one would be foolish enough to attempt such a thing."

The other option is that the killer has been driven crazy by grief or having his or her children taken. That happened when I was six you know."

"I was fourteen then," answers Mr. Crowe. "I read about it in the papers. Which of the two do you think it is?"

"I don't think it matters which it is," I say "until we can catch a person who's involved."

Mr. Crowe chews on his lip. Just then, Shakti, Ezra's wife comes by. She's slightly overweight with curly auburn hair and a pointed chin. She offers all of us a tour. Mr. Crowe is impressed by Shakti's work with female employees. Many supervisors are afraid to hire them, but Shakti addresses female employees "special personnel needs" quite well. "She does especially well with female engineers whom we all know are a breed apart. When they become pregnant she puts them in touch with a midwife who keeps them in fine fettle so they can work during their pregnancies and return to work soon after their babies are born. For the babies, we have a female employee nursery, right here in this house."

"Through that door there," says Shakti leading the two of us down a hall in the back of the house. On one side of the hall, a red door leads into a series of rooms that have been converted into a facility to care for infants and small children. "Comfy isn't it?" Shakti boasts. "The babies and little ones are quite happy here and their mothers know just where they are. Of course there is no shortage of volunteers and even paid help to work with the kids. Many mothers feel the little ones here are somehow disadvantaged." Shakti sighs.

We head out of the nursery. I am thinking of the unprotected sex I had with Frederick last night. It was just once. I'm probably OK. The nursery is not the worst thing out there, but if I'm less than lucky I'm going to be a customer for it. Across from the red door that leads into the nursery rooms is a white door.

"Where does that go?" I ask idly.

"That's the emergency door," explains Shakti undoing its big emergency lock. "It leads to the outside. It's for fires and things of that nature." Shakti closes the emergency door after a small puff of blue night air has come inside. I watch her redo the locks. "Day care and infant care used to be quite common about a century ago," Shakti explains. "The Big Five and the wars drove women out of the workforce. It is good to see them come back. I'm sure you'll agree."

"I like female employees. They are often more productive then men," chuckles Mr. Crowe.

"Of course when a female employee becomes pregnant, she is often scaird. She has no working role models. She may be afraid we won't take good care of the baby." Shakti leads us down to the end of the hall with the red door to the nursery and into an office of sorts. There is tan grass cloth wall paper and a wide desk and a bulletin board as well as children's toys scattered about and an empty play pen. On the wall is a bulletin board covered with photographs. "This shows our staff interacting with the little ones. It's the first thing I show many female employees when they come on a tour. Here I am showing it to you last."

I stare at the photos and try to picture myself in them. I feel my stomach tighten into a knot and drop out and then I see something familiar that is like a float in the ocean. I grab on to the familiar face. "That's Bree," I say.

"Oh yes it is," laughs Shakti. "What was her last name?"

"Crowe," I volunteer. "Just like Benjamin's."

"Strange conicidence," says Shakti.

"So Bree worked here," says Mr. Crowe.

"Briefly," answers Shakti.

"What happened to her?" I ask.

"She found a better position," Shakti smiles.

We exit the office, come back down the nursery hallway, and return to the party.

No one has what they want to know. I watch Germaine tell her younger sisters all about nationals in Maine. I listen to her boasting and the sweetness of it makes me want to forget....forget what.... something Ezra said as he lay recovering from nearly being poisoned to death. "Whoever tried to kill me had to know my personal habits."

I get up and head down the hall towards the nursery and into the unlocked office. I stare at the women nursery workers. Only Bree's face stands out and she did not work here long. I power up the computer sitting on the office desk and access my central account. I also remember to close the office door. I am in barn boss mode again and this is confidential.

I bring up the name of all the nursery workers in the female employee nursery in the last eight years. Bree is on the list but the list only gives dates of employment. That is all that is listed for nearly every other employee. This is a dead end.

Just then the office door opens and in walks a chagrined Shakti. "This is confidential," I say.

"That is my computer."

"I didn't touch your files. This is my network log in."

"What do you want that you have to use my computer without permission."

"The person who almost killed your husband."

Shakti sighs. "You think she worked here."

"She had to know Ezra's habits, that he liked cream soda." Shakti says nothing. I print off a list of names and begin searching them. Two are deceased. Five no longer live in the area. That leaves eleven names.

Of these, eight now have children old enough to be taken. That leaves three. I get addresses and print them off.

I then go looking for Benjamin Crowe. I find him with Frederick. "You must realize that she cares for you too....It's a funny thing when love is mixed with other things, but in the end those other things leave and it's the love that shows." I stare at the floor. I try not to think about this morning. I ask Mr. Crowe if we can talk in private.

He glances at my printout. "Good detective work," is all he says, and then he returns to the party. I stand holding my sheets. Anna Frye, Bree Crowe, Justine Malkovitch. Those are the three women who knew Ezra well enough to poison his soda, but what could any of them have to do with Peter and his suicide. Nothing still makes sense.

I am slumped on a couch in a corner of the sun porch studying my printouts when I feel a large muscular hand on my shoulder. "You need a back rub," says Frederick. You have to treat the best deal you can find very well.

written by ZOIDRubashov on Friday, December 12, 2003.

Chapter 31 -- The Card at the Bottom of the Deck

You are probably going to wonder why I did not do this sooner. If you don't wonder why I did not do this sooner you are going to say "Koie thinks like a barn boss." I guess I do think like a barn boss. Things with deadlines have to come first. Things that can wait a couple of days can wait.

Of course Frederick is not a thing and I have been thinking about him quite a bit. He is a good man, and a caring one, even when that caring is a duty. He is kind, gentle, helpful. I care for him. I'm not sure I can love him, not after what he confessed.

My Frederick sold himself and he did it cheaply. Maybe all selling oneself is cheap. I'm not sure. I know if Frederick is ever to love me, he must be free of that loathesome deal he made, and if he walks because I opened the door so be it. I am better off alone than with companionship bought the way Frederick's has been.

I forget though that Frederick has lost the ability to sleep in. I find him coming down the stairs on Saturday morning. He wants doughnuts and is going to use the comm phone to call in for them or maybe he already has and is waiting their delivery or maybe he is going out to fetch them. I have asked him not to, but he is a Class A Human Resources trainee and he can do what he wants.

I put the counterpane over the computer screen.

"Confidential this morning?" Frederick asks.

I grunt a yes. Frederick pads off into the kitchen. I hear the engine of the big rig start. He does not ask if he can get me anything because the answer is "no!" My first searches yield nothing. There is nothing making Frederick's job officially half time and no written trace of the odious agreement that binds him to me. One should expect that, but as barn boss I have fairly good access to computer records and can check the in and out clock at Frederick's job. This is not formally a time clock but it runs for building security and sure enough, it shows that Frederick only works mornings. What he does with his afternoons is anyone's guess, and something I can find by tracing his spending through his credit chit. Frederick has not learned to draw cash money from his salary. Cash money once drawn leaves no trail, but credit transactions do. There are numerous tiny ones made in the afternoons, gas for the car, drinks in a bar, tokens to play virtual reality games in an arcade, long hours wasted, no not waste, spent being happy and comfortable. Frederick knows nothing else, I tell myself sadly as I make my print outs.

I power down the computer and cover it again with the counterpane. Francoise is in the kitchen crushing graham crackers for a chocolate graham cracker torte she is making for Germaine's return party tomorrow. Jonathan takes a turn with the rolling pin. Jimmy sips black coffee as he hunches over a math book that is different from the one he has used before. He sucks on his lips as he works. "I miss Michael," Francoise greets me. I check to see if the tea kettle is still hot. I realize I don't really want tea. I pour the water anyway and set a cup of tea to steep. Habits die hard.

While the tea steeps, I slip back upstairs and hide the printout. I wonder if Roxanne sleeps in. I make the bed and lay out my clothes for today. For some reason I think it is a good idea to wear a skirt. I wash, dress, and return downstairs. My tea is not only steeped but cool enough to drink. Jonathan is helping Francoise measure a spring form pan for the torte. She lets him try the mechanism. Even Jimmy watches, looking up balefully from his book.

I push my tea to the back of the counter. I decide I'm better off proceeding on foot. I hold the papers close against my body. Roxanne is fixing bacon and eggs for breakfast and the smell nauseates me. I try to think of where Roxanne learned to cook. What lessons did you have to unlearn, Roxanne?

"You seem perturbed this morning, Kohana...." Roxanne begins.

Well I damn well ought to be. I glance at Aaron who waits for his breakfast. What role does he play in all this? "We need to talk in private," I tell Roxanne.

She heads into the office she sometimes uses with patients. I take out the papers and lay them on the table. "Frederick told me, Thursday night," I say.

"Told you what?" asks Roxanne.

"That he gets his afteroons off and a job with Value Added if he sleeps with me and stays close to me and reports back to the Parents' Association."

"That's perposterous!"

"I have the records to back up the confession," I begin to explain about the in and out clock and the spending record.

"Computer records can be altered," answers Roxanne.

"True which is why I have a hard copy. Roxanne, Frederick needs a way out of this arrangement. If he leaves me he has no job and none of the future he worked so hard for. You need to fix the mess you made so he can leave gracefully."

"There is no mess."

"Fine," I push back the sleeve of my t-shirt. "How would you like to be a grandmother?" I ask. "And how would you like the child to have my genes and be raised by me with my outlook? That's where this game you are playing with your son leads you know."

Roxanne says nothing. I reach for the contraceptive patch warn near my arm pit. It has about twenty good days on it. I take it gingerly. I loosened it while I was dressing. Sometimes it is good to have a few days to think about things. I rip it off and throw it on Roxanne's desk.

"Throw that soiled thing away!" Roxanne snaps.

I transfer the patch to the garbage. "It will be a matter of time before I conceive a child with Frederick and if he does not sleep with me, I will throw him out." With that I turn and leave.

I'm not really ready to have a baby. Maybe I will never be, but if I do, I won't raise him the way Roxanne raised her boys. I gulp fresh air as I emerge from Aaron and Roxanne's. The small patch of skin near my right armpit feels unusually cool and naked. I stare across the park. Part of me sees last week's taking. Part of me sees that other taking long ago, my first taking. Part of me sees a third taking yet to happen. How does it feel to walk a child to the taking ride, half crazed by subtle stick changes? Maybe when one starts there, it is easy to end up where Roxanne is this morning.

Francoise doesn't begin baking the chocolate graham cracker torte until well into the afternoon. Frederick and I walk to the cemetary and then down on to the river. We visit Peter's grave and stare out at the water. We walk through the municipal docks and back toward the historic park. We don't say much. We don't have all that much to talk about. Frederick holds my hand and squeezes it just right.

"Did you ever have any one else before me?" he asks.

I nod.

"His name was Cody. His father was a CEO. His mother did not work. I met him in my sociology lecture my first term at Dartmouth. He was a bit shorter than you and reddish blond with hair that never stayed put. He had blue eyes, really deep ones. Maybe they were modified.

"We fell in love. He was my first. It was the way I always imagined it would be. Thanksgiving Cody took me home for Thanksgiving. There were lots of talks behind closed doors. Shortly before the end of my first term, Cody broke it off. His parents had told him I was 'not right for him.'

"I asked why and he told me I came from 'people down there.' That's what he called it. I was not upper class," I laugh with a laugh so painful it smarts. "My interior house and ed branch background had nothing to do with it. Ironic isn't it?"

"And there's never been any one until me?" asks Frederick.

"I was too wary to try again. There were too many kids from rich families at a place like Dartmouth, too much chance of rejection."

"It must tickle you pink to talk to Mr. Crowe [Benjamin Crowe the CEO] or Ezra Larkin," says Frederick.

"Sometimes it does. Other times, it's part of the job."

We let the conversation fade. We head back down to the river and walk up by way of River Academy. Someone has already hung up a big banner. It says "WELCOME BACK STUDENTS!" That makes me feel sweet inside.

"What could I get you in the morning for breakfast?" asks Frederick.

"I just like bread or toast," I reply.

"OK, what about something to put on that toast...."

"Pineapple preserves," I answer.

"You've got 'em," Fredrick smiles a big sweet smile. "I'm not like that Cody character at Dartmouth. You'll see that."

"What part of this is being paid for by a post with Value Added and afternoons off?" I wonder.

written by ZOIDRubashov on Monday, December 08, 2003.

Chapter 30 -- Wounded Animals

I admire Ezra for his courage, and yes a part of me understands him. We, and yes it is we, were responsible for a smooth and pleasant taking. Ezra's daughter is away at nationals. He is a good parent and a clever stick engineer. And someone out there who wants to kill him would probably want to kill both of us. After all, a barn boss is part of the same system. Ezra, though he outranks and out classes me is very much a colleague.

"I wish I were as brave as you," I tell Ezra. "What makes you think you're not?" he asks back.

I know myself. "Kohana, people like us have no where to run, and if we could flee who would take over in our place?" Ezra's question makes sense, but it only makes me feel worse. Somebody out there wants to get us. Somebody almost killed Ezra. Somebody also drove Peter to suicide or is it the same somebody.

Ezra says he needs to go home for his nap, and it is nearly lunch time anyway. Francoise and I fix cheese sandwiches topped with fancy greens stolen from the greens for tonight's salad. I spin the greens after washing them. Johnathan watches this wide eyed. Kitchen work is not scholarly but it is something scholars all seem to know, a kind of vernacular of hands and senses. Jonathan asks if we should add the slivered almonds to tonight's salad. Francoise tells him no. Michael is out eating lunch with his mother. He won't see a lot of his family for a while after tomorrow. I think I will miss Michael.

"Why no tomatoes?" asks Jonathan to Francoise.

"No one asked for them," she answered. "I sometimes get them and sometimes don't." She shrugs.

"It's easier if you just get a catering plan," explains Jimmy. "There are even custom ones."

"No one has the bucks for that. Besides cooking is fun," Francoise smiles. Jimmy becomes as blank as a wall. "I need a drink." he tells no one. I glance at the clock. I am not the booze policeman. I wonder what would be good this time of day. Jimmy goes for his bottle of white lightening and pours himself a shot. He stares at it for a while before downing it. Francoise reminds him politely he has work to do before he can crawl off into drunken sleep.

"The question," Francoise begins, "is where do you go after you're fucked?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" asks Jimmy.

"It's what you need to be working on," Francoise quips back.

"Fuck that," groans Jimmy.

"My program was fucking defunded in May! Fifteen years of hard schooling, education down the drain. Useless unless I want to teach high school and get treated like a servant, and know half the kids buy their results or else their house managers keep files of last year's answers which you're not supposed to change."

"No one gives a fuck about school," Jimmy explains.

"I did."

"Well then it's your own dumb stupid fucking fault."

"And you went back to a house where they beat children. You knew they beat people. You'd tied hands and held them down. You watched and did nothing." I keep thinking Francoise is going to ask Jimmy why he never thought of becoming a cop or a prison guard, but she doesn't.

"Laure's was home," answered Jimmy. "Besides it was a good house."

"Class A local house," I can't resist sing-songing.

"None of you fucking understand." Jimmy pounds his fist on to the kitchen table making the plates and glasses rattle.

"Then enlighten us," Francoise glares at Jimmy.

"You're too fucking stupid," groans Jimmy, "but I'll tell you anyway. Stripes and swats are nothing. Yeah, you don't fucking believe me. I got plenty of them. It was how they keep you in line. You have to keep people in line. That's the way the world works. Employers and employees, State and barn bosses, it's all the same. Sooner or later you rise to the top and then you're the one who gives them. Those are the only people, people respect. You go down to the TSYS castle and half those guys laid it on at some point. No they just didn't tie hands, they held the goddamned paddle." Jimmy pounds the table again. "That's why people respect them."

"Is that what they told you when you came back from College Prep?" asks Francoise.

"I didn't have to be told. In prep I was just one more dummy struggling to make it and pretending to like what I was doing. What bullshit. At Laure's I was, well at least Laure's was a top flight house right here in a class A neighborhood. At prep I was just....I knew when I went back to Lare's I'd be one of the adults helping out. That was good. The stripes are just part of life. The best people give stripes.

"Then that fucking loser, Michael had to ruin everything. Now I'm just stuck here, but I'm not in prep. I'll have to go to college but maybe that's better than prep. I hope so." Jimmy is spent.

I can feel an odd sort of lump in my throat. "Laure lied to you," says Jonathan before I can open mouth.

"And what makes you think so?" Jimmy breaks into song. "We are special, precious and alone," he sneers as much as sings.

"There are other ways of doing things," answers Jonathan. "Look at Kohana. She's barn boss. Sebastien never beat her."

"Bullshit!" growls Jimmy.

"And what about those student nurses at Sonnie's. Sonnie doesn't beat her kids."

"Her kids are fucking retards."

"Not the ones who do caregiving. There's lots of different ways. Not everybody lays on stripes or swats. Laure had a swell head. She was a bitch. I'm glad she's going to jail. I'm glad her house is dead."

"Jimmy," I say as gently as I can. "I want to show you something, but you have to promise me one thing..."

"What are you going to show me?" asks Jimmy.

"The kind of houses where the big people in the castle [TSYS Castle] grew up," I answer.

"What do I have to promise?" asks Jimmy.

"Not to get drunk afterwards," I reply. Jimmy shrugs. We finish lunch and Jimmy and I head out in my car. We drive in silence all the way to Pine Mountain in Harris County. I know what roads to turn off of. I have the location map memorized, or at least this part of it.

The house we find is half a farm half a mansion. It has its own barn full of horses and even a school room on the premises. Children and teens here don't go to regular public or Christian schools. Instead, the house hires tutors for them. There is horse back riding and regular stick trips. The children from what we can see [My barn boss credential allows me this observational tour] wear no uniforms. They are way too relaxed and undisciplined according to Jimmy.

Jimmy and I tour two more houses. One has its own swimming pool where kids horse around and splash. At another special house, kids make kites. We return to the barn boss house in the shank of the afternoon. Jonathan has finished his studies and he is helping Francoise scoop the seeds out of musk mellons and cut the mellons into wedges for tonight's appetizer. I close the kitchen door.

The last part of our tour takes place on the computer. The houses Jimmy and I toured are called special houses. They do not appear on lists of houses that do takings. To get in one, your family has to know the right people. I bring up membership lists and trace the children back to their parents. CEO's, high level state and national officials, politicians, judges on high courts, famous athletes and actors appear. Jimmy whistles. "Fuckin' A" he says to no one. I close down the database and open the door between the kitchen and the pantry.

"You're going to hate me," confesses Jimmy, "but I really need a drink bad."

"Just one," I warn him. He pours himself a shot and returns the bottle dutifully to the pantry. He sits in silence while his younger brother scoops the seeds out from the mellons. Then he disappears upstairs. At least he does not have enough liquor in him to sleep it off, but maybe it would have been better if Francoise and I had encouraged him to drink himself into a stupor. Having Jimmy awake and at his finest will hardly help the party atmosphere.

The party begins at six pm. We have a sixteen guests. The kitchen table and dining room table both have extra leaves in them. Frederick, Jimmy, and Jonathan all wear clean white shirts. Michael's mother wears a teal colored satin brocade dress that makes her look uncomfortable. Other mothers sit with heads bowed and faces blank. Benjamin Crowe arrives and makes speech about how houses that abuse their children have no place in the neighborhood. Sebastien toasts his new prospective charge, Jonathan. Jonathan smiles, worried he will not get a high enough score on the high school entrance exam he needs to take for acceptance both into my old mentor's house and into T-Ac. Ezra and Gayla are there too, looking tired.

After the speeches no one has much to say. Finally Benjamin Crowe says to Michael: "I bet it's a long time before you see a home cooked meal like this again...."

"It doesn't matter," Michael answers. "There's more important things than food."

"Here here....I wish I could have answered it that way at your age," smiles Mr. Crowe indulgently. "When I was your age, I would have died and killed for a candy bar; four our mentor did not allow sweets except on special occasions. No fiscal management classes for me and no monthly stipend. You scholars have it easy."

"Not everyone can be a scholar," answers Michael. Jimmy stares at his plate as if it is the most interesting thing in the world. In the kitchen doorway, Francoise toys with a dish towel, "but at least scholars don't get beaten and get treats. They need treats if they're inside."

"I suppose you can look at it that way," Mr. Crowe smiles.

"The rest of the kids are on they're own. If adults think a house is good, it doesn't matter what happens there. Laure's house was twenty-two years old. There are grownups walking around who work in the castle who remember. There are teachers who must know because we don't always wear makeup [on or backs], but nobody did anything.

"They tell you that once you lay on the stripes and swats you will be a big man and people will respect you. I knew once I held the whip I would never be able to get to Montana. That was what I wanted. I knew we had a barn boss who ran all the way to Atlanta to get her house. I knew she was ed branch. I've heard scholars don't beat kids. I thought she might understand...." Michael stops.

"I am a very selfish person. I wanted to go to Montana. That was all I wanted, but it took a kid like me, not some grownup who is supposed to be responsible to take down Laure's house. That's not the way it should be.

"I remember the last time I was beaten. It was the day before the taking. They brought Sue-Ann in for having her toys out on the bed. You can't do that at Laure's house. She said they were her gifts not her toys. Jimmy threw her toys in the garbage and then we all went down to the basement.....

"Jimmy said 'Michael, it's your turn.' I said 'no.' I wouldn't move. Jimmy said I had to do it. Laure was there. He looked at her. Laure said that if I did not tie down Sue-Ann's hands, I would have to take her place. I pulled off my shirt and walked to the post. I said there was no need to tie my hands to the ring. Sue-Ann was white as a sheet. She was shaking. I'd stopped shaking. I knew I could die because next time it might be swats and swats can break your spine. I knew I might end up crippled. I decided I was better off dead then living the life I had.

"I closed my eyes. I did not want to see Jimmy because he was the one Laure would ask. She would ask and he would do it. Jimmy liked giving stripes and swats. Laure said I needed to be taught a lesson. She told Jimmy to lay them on good. I tried to count the stripes. I gave up at fifteen. There were a lot more. How many were there, Jimmy?"

"I didn't fucking count them," Jimmy growls back. He has pushed his plate of beef tips and mushrooms over rice aside.

"Sixty-two stripes," answers Jonathan. "I kept count. I always counted them."

"Thankyou," answers Michael.

Jimmy pushes his chair back and bolts up the stairs. I wait a few minutes than quietly slip up after him. Francoise is already upstairs. When I see the two of them talking quietly, I only catch a moment's glimpse before Francoise shuts the bedroom door.

Later Francoise emerges and says the Jimmy will be all right. Later, after the party breaks up, Jimmy comes downstairs and asks to help with the dishes. We wash dishes for a long time. Jonathan is studying. Michael has gone home with his mother. No one has much of anything to say. Frederick sits at the kitchen table and glowers. I think the scene at the party tonight sickened him.

At one point, Jimmy goes into the pantry. He gets out the bottle of rot gut and carries it outside. I hope he does not plan to get behind the wheel drunk. Instead, I see him out by the garbage cans. He picks up the bottle of white lightening and wielding it like a clug smashes it on the rim of the metal garbage can. I give him the dust pan and brush. He cleans up the shards of glass in silence. I see Frederick's face in the screen door.

"Some performance," he says to Jimmy.

"No more fucking drinking," Jimmy growls back.

"Michael is a fucking loser. You know that," Frederick says.

"So are all the rest of us," Jimmy replies. "We've all been used."

"The fuck we have. Speak for yourself. If you'd stuck with prep."

"Fuck prep and fuck college too. I just would have gone on for a life time of being used and lied to. No more....I'm getting the fuck out."

"Good luck," sing songs Frederick.

"You can't go anywhere until Laure's trial," Francoise reminds Jimmy.

"Laure's going to get out of it somehow," says Jimmy.

"Fine until they drop charges then," answers an undaunted Francoise.

"What the fuck are you going to do?" asks Frederick.

"I'm not going to college and I'm not going to fucking work for the Company," Jimmy answers.

"But what about mom?"

"She knew about Laure's house," answers Jimmy. "Michael was right. He as a whiner and he was a selfish prick but boy....he was right about no one paying attention. No more.... no more working for people like that or going to school to work for people like that."

"So what the fuck will you do?"

"Work for cash money. I'll probably start out by driving a cab. You get tips. When I have enough for a rent deposit, I'll move to Atlanta. From there...who knows... "

"That sounds like a plan," chirps Francoise.

"Mother will kill you," says Frederick.

"Let her. You know what Michael said about being better off dead. He was fucking right. I'm better off dead then working for the Company."

"This is so fucked up," groans Frederick. "And you," Frederick rails at Francoise and me. "You're supposed to love going to school!"

"I'm still going to tutor Jimmy," Francoise answers.

"What for?"

"The skills he'll need to survive without the Company: handling money without a calculator, reading a map or a compass, budgeting, horticulture. It would be good to have someone teach him auto mechanics and other similar arts, not well enough to fix cars for other people but enough to understand simple machines if they break. He may also need to help grow food and work on a farm somewhere. He'll also need to learn to cook. No more catering services." Francoise smiles.

Frederick flushes red with anger.

"When my department was defunded, several of my colleagues went off the grid as we called it. They did not have mentoring houses that would take them back or they did not want to go back or.... they felt they were better off underground. It happens more than you think. Not everybody is happy working for the company.

"They're destroying our link with the past. I know that doesn't mean much to you, but I'm a historian. They rule by fear, ask Kohana. She had their Leadership Training but she also has training in sociology at a school that recognizes real academics. They're destroying our culture....That's why some of us went underground. They felt they'd have a better chance of preserving what was left and....."

"And what," prompts Frederick.

"Some of us hoped there was an organized resistance out there."

"A what?" asks Frederick.

"You heard me, an organized resistance. People working together in small or large groups to destroy the company."

Frederick laughs.

"It might be doable," says Francoise.

Frederick keeps laughing. "You ed branch fucks are so stupid."

"Ever hear of terrorism?" asks Francoise.

"I thought terrorism was defeated," says Francoise. "Terrorists are the world's biggest losers."

"How else would you fight the company?" asks Francoise.

"You don't," answers Frederick. "No one would be that stupid."

"Then how do you account for what is happening in this neighborhod?"

"What do you mean?" asks Frederick.

"One barn boss driven to suicide and the local head of Men-Tech nearly poisoned. Someone is trying very hard to keep takings from happening. Mentoring Services is the most hated part of the company. Of course a bomb under the inconvenience store would have worked better, but still two blows in less than two months and one of them successful is nothing to sneeze at. What do you think?"

"I think real terrorists would use bombs and wouldn't just hope a barn boss kills himself," I say.

"Well one can hope can't one," sighs Francoise. "It's either an organized resistance out to get Mentoring Services or we have a wounded animal."

"A what?" asks Frederick.

"I'm speaking metaphorically. A wounded animal is the most dangerous, the most likely to snap at anything. When you make a world ruled by fear, the time comes when someone just has enough and starts lashing out. You told me about that crazy engineer that tried to kill the robes, but they killed him instead. You even saw it didn't you?"

I nod thinking of that other Michael long ago. "Well that was a wounded animal," explains Francoise. "This one is just a lot sneakier and a lot more successful."

"I hope and pray it's an organized resistance instead," Francoise adds. "I'm an optimist that way."

"You're fucking crazy," answers Frederick who leaves the kitchen in disgust.

I'm surprised that Frederick does not quit my bed that night, but orders are orders I suppose. I could send him downstairs to sleep next to Jonathan. "You're friend Francoise is looney tunes," groans Frederick.

"No," I answer. "She's a wounded animal herself. The company took her lifelong ambition when it defunded her department....and six months before they burned down the Bartlow."

"The what?"

"The Bartlow Archives, the largest collection of twentieth and twenty-first century archives and artifacts in the world. The fire was probably arson. For some reason, the fire department waited most of the night before putting it out. When you wipe out written records, you wipe out history. When you wipe out a link with the can make up any story you want about it. Anyway, the company burned the Bartlow."

"So Francoise hopes there are terrorists out there taking revenge," laughs Frederick.

"Yes," I answer and I think of Francoise black and blue in jail. Francoise, the optimist, unwilling to betray those who might be fighting her enemy.

"You know if Francoise is right, they'll come after you too," says Frederick.

"I hope I'm not here long enough," I reply though I see no way out of being a barn boss, though come tomorrow who knows.

written by ZOIDRubashov on Friday, December 05, 2003.


I just updated the template so that all chapters are accessible in the archives. Read and enjoy!

written by ZOIDRubashov on


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