Legal disclaimers: No leather clad warrior or multi-outfitted bard will be found here. These characters are now no longer just a figment of my imagination.
Love/Sex: This is a story of two women in love which leads to sex. If this bothers you, or is illegal where you live, then may I suggest a vacation? How about a trip down De Nile because it is also a beautiful river in Egypt.
Language/Violence: Yes to both, but nothing more than you would see on the news.
This is my first shot at an uber story, any and all constructive feedback will be appreciated: firstname.lastname@example.org
By KM Brown
No part of this text may be reproduced in whole, or in part, without the express consent of the author
Sela Ruggiero put the phone back down on its cradle. She hated getting phone calls from the FBI, they always acted like whatever they needed was the most important thing on the earth at that very moment. But, she did owe a favor to her old friend Jack Gilpin and she couldn't refuse setting up the appointment. She and Jack had kept in touch ever since they had graduated from George Washington University. Neither of them had left the Washington, D.C. area after graduating as they had both been recruited immediately out of college by government agencies. Jack had been chosen by the Bureau since his emphasis was in Criminal Law and she had been picked up by the IRS with her accounting/finance degree. That was years ago and both had moved up the ranks in their respective careers. The phone call today from Jack's assistant had been a bit unsettling, and she wondered why Jack chose such a formal approach rather than call her himself. She figured she'd find out soon enough as the man had insisted on a meeting this afternoon. She had just two hours to do the research on the name given to her and she wanted to be prepared for whatever Jack was cooking up in that brilliant mind of his.
Sela turned from her desk in her chair to the computer table behind her. She picked up the note she had scribbled when the call had come in and looked at the information written there. Tapping her mouse she brought the computer out of its sleep mode and waited for it to restore a screen. She made a few selections with the mouse and keyed in the right letters and numbers. Within a few seconds the machine was sorting through the database that kept track of all tax paying citizens in the country. Multiple screen choices appeared and she chose to look at the tax payer history first.
"Well," she said out loud, "there doesn't seem to be anything strange about these returns. Average consultant income, write offs are in line...estimated quarterly taxes paid right on time. She seems clean." Printing out the reports she moved to another screen. "Okay, let's look at your credit rating." She had a habit of talking aloud to herself, which had been a part of her personality since she was a child. The only good thing about that was that if and when she did become senile, no one would notice. The rating came up and Sela read through it carefully. "Oh, this is what Jack wanted me to see. How do you pay off a $300,000 home in less than three years?" She clicked a few more keys and brought up a pass code protected database to find all assets listed for this young woman. More pages flashed up and Sela sucked in her breath. "Well, well Ms. Phillips, what do we have here? Three online trading accounts with over $200,000 in stocks and mutual funds, savings and checking accounts with lots of cash, and...," she selected one more key and read the display aloud again. "You registered a new $25,000 Miata two weeks ago, but there is no record of a loan, so you must have written a check for that. How does a young woman, who is supposedly an educational consultant with an income under $60,000 accomplish all this?" She printed out everything she had read onscreen and put a manila folder together with all the information. Looking at her watch she realized she would have just about thirty minutes to get over to Jack's office.
Sela put on her coat as she left the building. The air was brisk, but it was late winter and even though it was cold, the sky was clear. She decided to walk the few blocks to the Federal building downtown. When she had first come to this city from her hometown in the Pacific Northwest she had been thrilled by the bustling city with all its political power and mystery. Now as she made her way to her appointment, that original rush she used to feel as she walked the streets of downtown DC was replaced by something that bordered on resentment if not all out animosity. She despised this city now and was looking for a way out. It wasn't easy to just leave everything behind, especially now that she owned a home and a lifestyle that was being funded by a job she had come to hate. She loved crunching numbers, loved the game of discovering what she could from a return she was investigating. Numbers were her passion, her life. That had all changed when she had been promoted to the Special Investigative Department and she now seemed to be crunching people and their lives, not just the numbers that defined them to the government. The longer she worked for the IRS the more she realized that the people in her country were being taxed into either paralysis or, in the eyes of her government, something far worse. Increased taxation was turning industrious people into criminals. The first group of people comprised of about eighty percent of the population. They went to work everyday like sheep and as long as they had a few bucks and few beers by the weekend they were satisfied. They didn't even believe anymore that the money that was taken out of their paycheck before they ever saw it was even theirs. The latter group were the innovators, the entrepreneurs who had to scheme and find loopholes just to keep a small portion of the income they were working their guts out to make. It was a lousy system and she didn't believe in it anymore. Nevertheless, she had a job to do and as long as she was employed by the IRS she would continue to perform.
Once inside the building Sela headed directly for the elevator and began her ascent. She stopped at the fourth floor and made her way to Jack's office. She knocked on the outer door and waited to be asked in.
Jack heard her approaching footsteps and called out, "Come on in Sela."
Sela entered and Jack stood up and came around his desk, arms held out for a quick hug. "Hey Jack, it's good to see you again. It's been a while." She returned his hug and then took the seat offered to her. Jack resumed his chair and smiled at her. She had always been attractive when she was younger, but she had definitely matured into a beautiful woman. Time had been more than generous to her and her athletic physique was still evident beneath the suit. "So, I see you must still be rowing. You look wonderful Sela," he smiled at her again, the sincerity reaching his eyes.
"Yes, I belong to a club in Georgetown. It's really convenient to where I'm living and I can walk to my scull in the morning and get a good workout on the river. I don't race much anymore, though." She added this with a short laugh. "The years have been good to me, but they have been years nonetheless. I just can't compete against the young crop of women nowadays, but I am considering entering a senior race in the Regatta next month."
"I am sure you will kick butt like you always did Sela."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence. Now Jack, I am curious...why am I here and why didn't you call me personally?"
Jack shifted a bit uncomfortably in his seat, tidied up a pile of papers on his desk and then cleared his throat. "You never were one for small talk were you?," he questioned affectionately. "Well I have an interesting case that came across my desk yesterday," he scooted the Sheridan case file across the desk and then waited while Sela read the contents. When she finished she looked up puzzled.
"This is all very interesting but how do I figure into the soup?" She asked putting the folder back on the desk.
"The second young girl that was there during the kidnapping, Sara Beryll, is actually Sara Phillips." He let out a breath as he said this and waited for her reaction.
Sela sat up a bit straighter in her chair and brought a hand to her forehead and began tugging on her eyebrow. Jack smiled at the familiar gesture that he had watched Sela perform a hundred times while she was studying or in deep thought. "Does she know that this woman Corbin Sheridan is running a casino in Vegas?" He shook his head. "So what do you want me to do besides bring her in for obvious tax evasion? And, why her?"
"Katherine Corbin Sheridan has been missing for eighteen years, ten of which her whereabouts were unknown and she was assumed dead. Eight years ago she surfaces with not much activity that we can find other than we dug deep and found that she spent some time in Italy and Greece. We got that info through airline records on our history search. Then five years ago she turns up in Vegas with unlimited funding and builds the Mount Olympus Casino which we know is backed by the Lucchesi family. She is now a owner/operator of that very business. It was fairly well accepted that Angelo Lucchesi was actually responsible for her kidnapping, for which he was never charged, and now here she is working with him."
"Okay Jack I get all the historical and current implications, but what do you want me to do?"
"I want you to work with me in bringing down this poor excuse for humanity Angelo Lucchesi!" He looked across the table and Sela nodded for him to continue. "Here is what I have planned. I want to put the squeeze on this Sara Phillips, you know, leverage her alliance to us with the threat of an IRS investigation so she will work with"
Sela cut him off, frustrated. "I don't understand. Why go through all this? Why don't you just put in your own guy?"
"Sela you have no idea how complicated that is. It would take weeks to get the project approved, the funding, etc...then we have to try and build a bullet proof identity, which is very difficult because these people have technology just like we do. If our insert were to be discovered, in all probability they would be terminated. Just disappear most likely. It is incredibly dangerous dealing with a family like the Lucchesi's and sometime the powers that be just won't risk an agent." He blew out a frustrated breath.
"But you are willing to risk the life of a young woman instead?" She asked in disbelief.
"It's not like that Sela, not really. She will have a bullet proof identity. When she is checked out by them she will come up clean. She is a gambler, possibly a cheat, and will fit in no problem in that environment. She spends half her time in Vegas anyway. I have a package put together that I want you to present to her with me." He picked up another folder and opened it. "In return for her compliance in gaining access to any Lucchesi information, we will bury the fact that she owes thousands of dollars in back taxes not to mention the fact that she would be looking at jail time for her obvious knowledge of what she has been doing. It will work. And I need your help to convince her that it will be in her best interest."
"What's in it for me?" She had finally asked a question that indicated to Jack that she was interested.
"Well, how would you like to have your name attached to the team that brought down the Lucchesi syndicate? I mean, how much tax evasion is going on in that realm?" He watched the telltale hand go to her eyebrow and begin its tugging.
The tugging stopped and Sela looked up. "One last question. How is Sara Phillips going to just waltz into this casino and gain access to the inner circle of this syndicate?"
"Our ace in the hole is Deano Lucchesi...the self proclaimed Romeo of the Strip, and Angelo Lucchesi's son. He is a sucker for a beautiful blonde," once again he reached for his desk and produced another folder and withdrew a color photograph and tossed it across the desk to Sela. She picked it up and brought it to eye level.
"Wow. She is adorable and what a body! I guess if you needed bait you couldn't do much better than this." She waved the picture at him. The picture had been taken that very day by one of their agents in Vegas. Electronic data had shown that Sara Phillips was staying at Treasure Island and the agent had gotten a picture of her in front of her car in the valet area of the hotel. The digital email had been retrieved just an hour before Sela arrived.
"Are you going to inform her that her childhood friend is actually running the casino where she will be focusing her efforts?"
"No, odds are they won't even run into each other; rumor has it that Corbin Sheridan and Deano Lucchesi despise each other, but if that happens, I doubt they would even recognize each other after all those years. Besides, everyone involved in that kidnapping believed that Katherine Corbin Sheridan is dead. I am sure Sara Philips believed that too...it's fool proof." He concluded, almost convincing himself that it would work.
"Okay Jack," Sela breathed out a stream of air and continued slowly as if she was still not convinced but was willing to go ahead with the plan. "I will do this...please make copies of all these files for me and I will go clear it with the head of my department." Noticing his hesitation she raised a hand to stave him off. "Don't worry, it will fly...I can tell you right now that my boss would love to take responsibility for bringing down the Lucchesi's. Remember Capone? They finally got him on tax evasion and the IRS has been chomping at the bit for another coup like that." She stood and straightened out her suit skirt, then moved toward the door.
"When do we leave?"
Relieved that he had found his ally, Jack reached into his desk drawer and pulled out two tickets. He tossed one to her. "Our flight leaves tomorrow at 9 a.m. for Palm Springs. Don't forget to pack your bikini." He wiggled his eyebrows at her just like he used to when they hung out in college.
Sela looked down at the ticket and smirked. "You're pretty sure of yourself aren't you?"
His answer came quickly, with passion. "I want this Sela, and I know we can do this. Hopefully we will succeed and keep Sara Phillips from any harm. It's not my intention to put her in danger, you know. This is just the only way I believe we can pull this off. We need to stop these people. They get away with too much and hurt too many people."
"Alright Jack...I agree with you. Send a car for me tomorrow morning at 7 a.m., that should give us plenty of time. Now I got some 'splaining to do," she said in her best Ricky Ricardo accent. This last quip brought a smile once again to Jack's face. Just like old times, he thought.
Corbin Sheridan opened her right eye only, and then quickly shut it again. "Jesus," she swore under her breath. She had forgotten to drop the electronic blinds last night before she and Lisa had made it to the bed. Her hand flailed around the night stand feeling for the remote control. Finding it she pointed it toward the window and the blinds lowered and shut out the offending morning sunlight. Rolling over, her arm came to rest on a soft naked body next to hers. She drew her fingertip down the back along the spine sending shivers across the exposed flesh. "So responsive," she whispered to the air not even sure if the young waitress was awake yet. What a night it had been, too bad it would be only once. Corbin never slept with the same woman twice...it always got too personal and then the questions would start and she just could not tolerate that. Well technically the morning after was not twice in her rulebook, she justified, so she scooted closer to the woman and put her lips on a slim shoulder. She kissed it slowly, lovingly, moving her full lips in an intricate pattern that involved tongue and teeth. She added her hands to the equation, running them slowly, firmly over the taut abdomen and up to caress full breasts.
Within moments Lisa began to respond, purring whenever her shoulder was grazed by the teeth of the dark woman behind her. "Ooh that is so nice. Your mouth should be considered a dangerous weapon and your hands should be illegal," she squirmed and inched back further into the warm body that was increasing it movements against her back.
"Roll over," Corbin husked this command into the blonde's ear and admired the rapid response to her voice as the young woman complied. "Now put your hands above your head and don't move them until I tell you...if you do, then I'll take this dangerous weapon elsewhere. Be a good girl and I will definitely give you a treat." Corbin resumed her gentle assault on the body beneath her, encouraged by the increasing frequency and urgency of the moaning...
Three hours later Corbin was seated at her desk in her private suite of offices. Reports on the casino's earnings littered her desk and she carefully read her way through them. Twenty-nine million people visited Las Vegas every year and from the looks of their quarterly projections they were getting their fair share of that traffic through Mount Olympus. Now she was trying to come up with a hook, a pull, to gain more traffic, more profit. Originally the idea of the casino had come from her love of the time she had spent in Italy and Greece. She was enthralled by the architecture, the detail of those ancient buildings and cities. In addition, she had been captured by the stories of the Greek and Roman gods, mythical entities that controlled human existence. The stories of those very gods and goddesses had taken her into a world that she craved when she had been taken from her family. She had spent hours reading during those years. Now, in her casino, those mythical characters came to life through replication and costume. She loved the fantasy she had created.
Her latest endeavor, in fact it was under construction right now, was an exact replica of the Acropolis in Greece. It was a phenomenal undertaking, but not impossible. After all, hadn't New York City, Paris, Egypt and Venice all been brought to her very doorstep right here in Las Vegas? Why not Greece? The project had started two years ago and was scheduled for completion in six months. The crews were working around the clock on three eight hour shifts. The expense was immense, but the amount of additional traffic that it would create would pay for it all within a matter of years. In addition to the monumental structures, she was adding another thousand rooms and eight more high roller penthouses that would all overlook the Parthenon and other famous monuments she was having recreated.
She had battled with Angelo about the additional expense of those high roller suites, each one costing in excess of two million dollars. However, her research was accurate and she knew that although less than five percent of gamblers were in that league, that five percent brought in forty percent of the income. At $10,000 per night, the price of the suites were pocket change to her clients and she wanted them comfortable. Her goal was to attract as many whales as possible, the big fish who would drop between one and five million dollars per visit. There were only two hundred fifty whales traversing the globe in search of a home to exercise their vice and she wanted that home to be in her casino. She remembered one whale that had paid off a dealer's mortgage as a tip after a particularly successful run at a Black Jack table. The whales were good for everyone, so she did what she had to do to bring them here.
Her own penthouse living quarters which she had originally chosen to be situated on the back side of the casino with a view of the desert, would now also have a view of her new creation. She couldn't wait to wake up in the mornings, or sip a glass of wine at night, and look out upon the wondrous monuments that had always thrilled her when she had lived in Athens. She knew that the opportunity to see one of the greatest historical sites in the world precisely replicated in the Nevada desert would bring people from all over the country. She was already planning the incredible opening day celebration party that would kick off the new attraction and the hotel was already booked solid for that week. This event made it impossible to miss her target date for completion and she had attached a huge bonus for the architect, design firm and general contractor for finishing on schedule.
Corbin finished with the files and picked up the phone hitting the extension number to the Concierge office that handled the reservations for the high rollers. She needed to check on the arrival of a Japanese party coming in from Tokyo. She knew that her manager of Asian Relations, Gina Oniki, would have everything prepared, but she had a few changes she wanted to make. As usual Gina picked up Corbin's private line on the first ring.
"Hello Gina, it's Corbin. Do we have an arrival time on the Yamada party?"
She heard papers rustling through the phone and was answered promptly, "Yes, Ms. Sheridan. The Yamada's are set to arrive at 2 p.m. We have a limo on its way right now."
"Great, will you call me when they arrive? I want to greet them myself. What suite have you made available to them?"
"We have scheduled them in The Apollo Suite. Is that okay with you?"
Corbin thought for a minute. "Actually, I would like to see them in The Titan Suite, and would you please call Hospitality and have them double the usual amount of champagne, caviar and flowers? This is the Yamada's first visit and I want to make sure that everything is perfect."
"That is not a problem Ms. Sheridan, I will make the adjustment immediately. Is there anything else I can do for you?" She asked.
"Yes, I am not sure if they are bringing an interpreter with them and I don't want to be caught without one. Can you accompany me at the reception area when they arrive?" Corbin knew that Gina would agree but she asked anyway.
"Of course Ms. Sheridan. I will call you personally when they arrive and then meet you down there. Is there anything else?" She asked again.
"No. Thank you Gina. See you in an hour or so." Corbin reset the phone in its cradle and grabbed her cell phone. She stood, straightening her dark blue silk suit and then left her office. Once in the elevator she made a decision to visit the surveillance room and check on Tucker and his crew.
Sara grabbed her gym bag out of her locker and made her way out of her fitness club. Hopping in her Miata she started the engine and steered herself out of the parking lot. It had been a good workout, especially since she had slept in until 10 am, which was a bit unusual for her. She made a quick stop at the health food store for soy milk, protein powder and fruit. She was craving a blended smoothie after her intense lower body workout and she wanted to feed her body something healthy. She was catching up on her sleep, exercise and nutrition now that she was back home from her last trip to Las Vegas. The one thing she hated about the way she made her living was the environment that she was forced to be in for days on end. The casinos were smoky, the food was greasy and since there were never any clocks in the casinos, her Circadian rhythm always seemed a bit off kilter. The passion Sara had for card playing was only rivaled by her obsession for keeping her body toned and healthy.
Back at her house, she didn't bother changing out of her jog bra and lycra shorts. She went straight to the kitchen to begin making what she called her Great Concoction. Removing the blender from the pantry she started by pouring in eight ounces of vanilla soy milk and some ice cubes and started blending. Next she added a scoop of fiber and a banana, then several scoops of a soy/whey protein combo powder. She let it continue to blend and thicken. She was just about to pour herself a healthy portion when the door bell rang.
Thinking that it was probably just a neighbor, and feeling safe within her gated community, Sara didn't hesitate in opening the front door. The couple standing before her were not neighbors. Recovering from her surprise and finding her voice she asked questioningly, "Is there something I can help you with?"
The man stepped forward flashing a badge in front of her face. "Ms. Phillips...My name is Jack Gilpin from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and this is my associate Sela Ruggiero from the Internal Revenue Service. May we speak with you please?"
Although the mention of the IRS struck terror in her heart and sent a trimmer of fear coursing through her body, years of playing poker had trained her in not showing her emotion. Without missing a beat she smiled and asked, "May I please see your identification again?" At her request both individuals brought their badges out for inspection and Sara studied them each for a moment. Satisfied that this was not some scam, she stepped aside and invited them in.
The first sight that came into Sela's view was the huge wall of sliding glass doors directly opposite the entry that looked onto the pool and spa area. Walking through the open glass door she came to within a few inches of the side of the pool and bent down and ran her fingers through the water. It was warm, satiny. "What a lovely home you have Sara...do you live here alone?" As if wanting to answer the question himself, Puccini came through the open sliding glass door off the master bedroom and began rubbing himself against Sela's legs. She reached down and began a slow stroking under his chin.
Watching the exchange between woman and cat, Sara answered, "Well, I am the only human that lives here, but Puccini is gracious enough to share his home with me." Sara chuckled sweetly and Sela caught herself staring open mouthed at the beautiful young woman. God what a package, she mused to herself. She allowed herself to take in the form of the woman in front of her, noticing immediately the small intricate tattoo that circled Sara's belly button, and the gold bar that pierced the skin there. She had obviously just finished a workout and the residual flush to the skin only enhanced the healthy tone of her light tan, her green eyes shown bright and vibrant.
Sela stood, taking in the whole effect of the environment. Everything was perfectly designed, creamy travertine floors and matching granite slab countertops in the kitchen, taupe colored walls and matching muted colors on all the furniture. She noted the soft background of an opera coming through the speakers located in the ceiling and watched as a gentle breeze floated through all the open sliding glass doors and gently moved the sheer curtains that hung from iron rods. Sela soaked in the whole microcosm in front of her: the beautiful and quiet home, the affectionate feline, the muted and soft colors, the soft music and lastly, the attractive woman who obviously took great care of herself. The effect was inescapable, this woman had carved out an existence that was purposeful, yet peaceful. Curiously, Sela found herself drawn to the young beauty and was beginning to question her decision to help Jack by using Sara Phillips. Does the end always justify the means?, she questioned herself. And in her heart, she knew the answer was no. In that split second Sela vowed to do whatever she could to help this woman who had unknowingly been brought into a dangerous web of deceit and corruption.
Realizing that she had just been standing there watching the older Italian woman appraise her openly, Sara finally found her voice. "So , why don't you come in and tell me why I rate so high as to deserve a personal visit from both of you...we can go in the kitchen while I finish my breakfast."
She led them into the kitchen area and made her way around the granite slab island to retrieve her drink from the blender. Grabbing her favorite glass from the cupboard she lifted the glass pitcher from the blender base and poured herself a frothy serving. Opening another cupboard she proceeded to pull out vitamin bottles, one by one, taking a few from each. When she was finished she put the substantial handful in her mouth and began to chew them. Noticing the surprised look on the faces of her two visitors, she motioned them to sit down on the stools and continued chewing.
When at last she had swallowed the vitamins, she spoke. "I can't swallow pills, so I either go without the supplements that I know by body needs, or I chew. I choose to chew...may I get you something to drink?" They each immediately shook their heads, neither feeling adventurous enough to try whatever was in that blender. Sara flashed them a radiant smile.
Sela found the whole exchange charming, and smiled back. Jack cleared his throat, noting not for the first time that his partner seemed to have forgotten he was in the room.
Taking her cue from Jack, Sela decided to get right to the point. "Ms. Phillips we are here to offer you a deal...maybe we should sit down, can we move to the living room?"
Confused, Sara acquiesced and walked them into the other room seating herself on the couch. The two visitors each took a seat opposite her in two fluffy chairs.
Jack let a breath he hadn't realized he had been holding.Not quite sure where to begin, he decided to start with the IRS investigation and then direct the conversation towards his own purposes. "Ms. Phillips...Sela is here because she has discovered some discrepancies between what you have reported as income for the past few years and the amount of money we find in your savings, checking and trading accounts, not to mention that you own this house outright and recently paid cash for your new car." Having finished, he observed carefully the healthy pink flush disappear from Sara's face to be replaced with an ashen white hue.
Regretting her part in this whole mess, Sela chimed in, "Sara, we have a proposal to make to you. I want you to hear me out completely before you make your decision. My research has shown that you owe approximately $150,000 in back taxes, if not more to the IRS. Because we know that you have deliberately lied about your income on your tax returns, in all likelihood you would also have to serve some time in jail for tax evasion. Even if you had the most incredible of attorneys, the IRS is merciless to those who would steal from the government. You would end up owing legal fees, back taxes, penalties and going to jail. You would lose everything. Now, as much as I don't believe in what you have done, I don't want that to happen to you, so we have another option for you."
Sara was barely understanding what was happening. Her world, her peace, was tumbling down around her and she was helpless to stop it. Her breath was coming in hitching gasps, she couldn't get enough oxygen to her brain. Sela moved immediately to the couch and put a hand on her shoulder. "Sara, take it easy. Come on breath...I told you that is not going to happen." Why am I so concerned about a woman I have just met?, Sela questioned herself.
Sara was regaining her control. "So...so what is it you want me to do?" She stammered, and then added. "What would happen to Pucci?"
It was almost a whisper and Sela felt a tug on her heart, thinking, That damn cat is probably the only thing she has in her life to love her. "Sara, Jack is going to fill you in on what we are doing and how you are going to help us. If everything goes as planned, nothing will happen to you or Pucci."
Sara wiped her eyes and raised them to look at Jack, "Okay, I will listen."
"Good," he began, unfolding the whole situation and the role she would play. One hour later, Sara sat in her chair, staring at them both in disbelief.
"You have got to be kidding...tell me this is all some kind of joke." Both visitors shook their heads. "There is a hidden camera somewhere right?" She prayed that was it, and again they both shook their heads. Giving one more hopeful shot she added, "Alan Funt is outside waiting for you to give him his clue to come in and tell me this is Candid Camera?" Once again they both shook their heads and Sara put her head in her hands and groaned, "Shit, shit, shit."
Digesting all she had just heard Sara still couldn't believe that something this crazy was happening in her life. It was the Twilight Zone and she was some character in a bad episode at 2 a.m. and she couldn't turn the damn television off.
She was angry, frustrated. "So what your telling me is that if I go along with this crazy scheme, then you will forget what you have discovered about my...creative financial plan and I would have complete immunity from any prosecution?" Finally she had gotten a nod from them both. "Well, it's not like you have left me much of a choice here...how does this all begin?"
"I-" Jack started to explain, but Sela cut him off mid-sentence.
"Jack has to get back to the hotel to make some calls and take care of a few things, " If either Sela or Sara noticed Jack's surprised look, neither of them let on and Sela continued, oblivious to the fact that Jack had just excused himself to set about using the bathroom he'd seen off the entry when they had first arrived, "and obviously you have had quite an afternoon. Why don't you and I go get some dinner and I'll fill you in on some more of the details."
Caught off guard at this unexpected turn of the conversation, and the way in which her visitor's voice had dropped several octaves, Sara's eyes flashed in anger at the woman seated across from her. It had not gone unnoticed, either, the way this woman had appraised her earlier when she was standing by the swimming pool. "Ms. Rugero, I hardly think that I am in any mood to turn this meeting into a social call."
This girl has fire, Sela mused to herself. "It's Ruggiero...but please call me Sela." She continued to appraise Sara while debating how to continue. Deciding her course, she explained. "Ms. Phillips, I am sorry if I offended you, it was not my intention...I just thought that since we would be working closely together it would have been a chance for us to get to know each other better. I know a lot about you, where you workout, where you shop, what you like to eat, where you bought your new car, even what magazines you subscribe to," at that she raised her eyebrow and flashed a wry grin, "I have to admit that your subscription to Martha Stewart Living caught me off guard," she pause a moment to chuckle and noticed Sara was not amused. She cleared her throat, "but I digress. I apologize if you feel I was out of line. It will not happen again."
Sara listened to these last words, almost regretting her previous harshness. The IRS investigator definitely seemed like a nice woman, someone she could trust...then she remembered again why this woman was sitting in her living room and her anger returned. "Well, Ms. Ruggiero, if the circumstances had been different, I won't deny that having dinner with you would have been something I would have enjoyed," Picking up steam, she added more with sarcasm, "call me crazy, but as the situation stands, I just can't see myself becoming friends with the woman who has come here to threaten me with going to jail and then blackmailing me into doing her dirty work."
Sela could understand the young woman's anger, so she decided to let the sharp remark slide. "I get the point Ms. Phillips, and for what it is worth, I feel badly about this whole situation. However, you do not want to make enemies out of me or Jack. We will need to work as a team to pull this off. But the good news is that you do have some fire in you and, believe me, you are going to need it."
Jack chose at that moment to make his reappearance, "Did I just hear my name mentioned?," he asked.
"Yes, Jack," Sela answered. "Ms. Phillips and I were just getting to know each other a bit better," she smiled at Jack, "and I think we should set a meeting time in the morning. We need to get our game plan in action and then book our flights to Las Vegas."
Sara held up a hand to interrupt the discussion, "I will be driving my own car to Vegas."
Sela initially was about to object, then thought better of it, a few hours in the car with Sara might prove to soothe the poor start to their relationship. "All right, then I will be riding with you and I can answer any questions that will come up about how this whole deal effects you on our way out there."
"Right," Jack agreed. "Ms. Phillips, we will be back tomorrow morning at nine. Pack for a minimum of five days. Have a good evening." Having had the feeling that he had interrupted something earlier, he turned to Sela, "You finish up here, and I will go start the car," and to Sara he said, "I can see myself out."
Sela stood up to leave with Jack, but not before Sara caught her arm. "Sela, you are right. I don't want to be enemies, and I know that you are just doing your job." Sara's voice dropped lower as she finished, "and I apologize for being so rude. I will need your help to survive this..." Sara's sentence lingered in the air as the she caught a sob that threatened to escape from her throat, all her previous strength seemed to be draining from her body.
Noticing the hesitation and the fear in the green eyes, Sela once again felt herself being pulled toward this young beauty. What can I possibly say to make this better?, she silently questioned. Fishing around for some comforting words Sela gave it her best parting effort, "Ms. Phillips, you do not need to apologize...Jack and I are in this with you one hundred and fifty percent. Our goal is not to see you hurt, but to put these criminals in jail where they belong. We will not let anything happen to you. I promise." Sela turned to go and join her partner when once again a hand on her arm stopped her. "What is it Ms. Phillips?"
The back of Sara's hand came up to swipe against her own nose and she inhaled through her nostrils to stay the impending release of emotion that was just on the edge of sliding through her full force. Taking one more look at the older woman, Sara extended one last peace offering, "Please, call me Sara."
The door closed firmly after the two government agents, and Sara just stood there, hands hanging at her sides, her head leaning against the wood slab. The sobs finally came now that she was alone and her body wracked with emotion as shallow breaths hitched from her throat. Many minutes passed until she finally turned, sliding her back down the door until she was sitting, legs crossed, head hung, on the cool travertine floor. Her world had just collapsed and she was at a loss...for...anything. What am I going to do?, she asked herself. I could run...but where would I go that they would not find me? She continued thinking, agonizing over her limited options, unsure of her next step. If I run, I'll be running forever. She lifted her head when Puccini walked up and began rubbing his chin and neck against her knee. No, I can't run, she looked out the big sliding glass doors to the spa and pool, then raised her eyes to the mountains that loomed above her home. No, I will not run. Iıll fight this and win. I have no other choice. Feeling better now that she had a least decided her course of action, Sara rose to her feet, bringing Puccini up with her. He purred his pleasure and snuggled in close to his mistress, relishing the feel of her gentle hands playing in his fur.
"Well Pucci, Iıve done it again. But, Iım not going to let them take you, or anything else, away from me. I will figure a way through this." Hearing her own words seemed to strengthen her resolve so Sara decided to go into her bedroom and begin packing.
Severed - Part 3
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