Something Feels Strange - 52

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Something Feels Strange…

By Tiffany B. Quinn

Mrs. Harrison gives me a tight hug before turning to the rest and nodding her readiness to get back to the meeting. They return to the conference room to continue whatever planning they are doing. Dr. Quinn smiles and winks at me as he returns with the group. I’m pretty sure that he knew what my answer would be. He knows me too well.

Now, I only have to await the decision.

It’s going to be a long afternoon——

Chapter 52: We're Not Done Yet

"Hello?" Mrs. Lang answers the phone.

“Hi, Mrs. Lang,” I greet her.

“Tina?” she sounds genuinely surprised, “Andy told me that you had gone.”

“Not yet.” I can’t keep the smile from my face or voice, “I’ve been permitted to stay longer. I’m wondering if I could come by to talk with you and Andy?”

“I’d love that, Tina,” she responds, “Have you had dinner yet? You’re welcome to join us, sweetheart.”

“I can be there in half an hour,” I tell her, “Is that too late?”

“That’d be great, Tina,” she replies. “I’ll tell Andy you’re coming. It’ll make his day.”

---<>---

“Caitlin, guess what?” I ask excitedly when she answers her cell phone. “I get to stay for a couple more weeks!”

“That’s great, Tina.” She sounds as excited as I am. “Are you coming running tonight? I’m just heading over to the school.”

“Sorry, Caitlin,” I really am—I could use a good run right now, “but I have something I need to do.”

“Did Andy ever call you back?” she asks.

“Yeah,” I reply, “I’ll tell you about it later, but things are cool again, I think. Are you coming camping with us?”

“Sorry, Tina,” she sounds a dejected. “Dad won’t let me go. He says that I need to spend some time helping around the house. Really I think the problem is that he’s concerned for my safety when I’m around you. He told us last night about how he knew what you were up to.  He didn’t realize until after Ben’s accident how much danger you’re exposed to. He doesn’t want to risk exposing me to any further physical danger by hanging around with you. It’s not that he doesn’t like you, Tina, it’s just that he wants me to be safe.”

“Well, I am a target still,” I admit with a sigh, “so he’s probably right. I’ll probably have to keep away from the running team too until we resolve the threat. It’ll be up to you to inspire the team, girl.”

“I’ll do my best, Tina,” she responds, “but I’m not you. We’ll have to find some time to get together soon. I’m missing you already.”

“I love you too, Caitlin,” I close the conversation, “bye for now.”

---<>---

“Are you sure about that?” Mrs. Lang asks incredulously.

“That’s what I’ve been told,” I respond to her question. We’re enjoying a quiet dinner in their dining room and I just broke the news about her husband’s offshore account. I figured that I might as well as everyone seems to know about my activities anyway.

I think Andy has forgiven me. The wonderful toe-curling kiss at the door was the first clue. Now he’s sitting so close to me that I might as well crawl on to his lap.

“I wonder why the FBI didn’t tell me about that?” she ponders. “This does explain their persistent questions about hidden assets. My lawyer was wondering about that too.”

Apparently, she called her divorce lawyer when the FBI came calling. He’s the only lawyer she thought to call. Even though he doesn’t regularly practice criminal law, he came running when called. I bet he’s becoming an expert fast. There should be a healthy fee in this one and it’s a lot more interesting than divorce law. Apparently he sat in on most of the FBI visit—voice recorder in hand.

“Five million, you say?” she looks at me in wonder. “That’s a lot of money. I really don’t want any of it as it’s traitor’s money, but he has enough that he needn’t fight me over anything here.”

“Five million is a lot of money,” Andy comments. “He shouldn’t have to worry about finances for the rest of his life. I bet that right now he’s sitting on the sunny veranda of some tropical resort, sipping some kind of exotic tropical drink.”

“Yeah,” Mrs. Lang continues the vision sourly, “with a cute, exotic young floozy sitting on his lap.” The vision brings a certain fire to her eyes. “Do you know where it is?”

“Yes,” I reply. “It’s in a numbered account: I’ve got the information on the USB drive in my purse.”

“I’d like to see this for myself,” she says with a funny determination. “Do you mind?”

I shrug my shoulders; “It’s your right I suppose, since you’re still his wife.”

We leave the dinner sitting on the table and go to her home office where I provide her with the needed information. Fortunately, he hasn’t changed his password and we’re able to access his account easily. The balance is now a tad over five and a half million dollars. We all just sit there and stare at the screen for a long time.

Andy is the first to speak; “Five million plus. He didn’t get that from the Lab.”

“We need to record this,” Mrs. Lang looks very determined.  She captures screen shots and saves them to her computer. She also downloads statements for the last few months. “A half million was deposited yesterday,” she observes. “And here’s a withdrawal of $100,000 made today. That was transferred to another bank.”

Isn’t the internet a wonderful thing? We quickly discovered the other bank is located in Manila. Another quick check finds that the Philippines doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the U.S. He’s safe for now if that’s where he really is.

“I wonder how long that bastard would last without money?” Mrs. Lang muses—I can almost hear the cogs turning in her head. It’s pretty clear that we could clean out the account as long as the password doesn’t change. Heck, we could just change the password ourselves. I wonder if it’s legal for her to do that since, technically, they’re still married.

“I think I’ll chat with my lawyer and the FBI about this tomorrow,” she finally says. “That FBI woman left me her card.” She waves it at us.

Looking at the card, my suspicions are confirmed: it was Steph.

“Do you know her?” Andy asks when he sees my smile.

“Yeah,” I admit, “she’s an interesting one. I’ll talk with her too. As a matter of fact, why don’t I call her right now? Heck she might be just outside as one of my bodyguards.” She’s on speed dial on my phone.

“You’ve got bodyguards?” Mrs. Lang asks with surprise.

“Sure,” I grin at her, “How do you think the kidnapping was foiled? There’s a team outside right now.” The FBI rejoined the royal protection detail after it was decided to continue the game.

I think we interrupted something, but she gives me her undivided attention. It’s not her turn to watch me tonight. We spend the next twenty minutes or so discussing what would happen if Mrs. Lang moved the money. The FBI can’t legally do that but they’d love to. Steph gets pretty excited about this. She cautions that if it gets to the US it’s likely to be seized. Mrs. Lang seems okay with this as she doesn’t see it as her money anyway. Steph promises to check into it with the legal department tomorrow to see what she can and can’t do. In the mean time, it would help Mrs. Lang’s case to have this listed as part of her husband’s assets in the divorce proceedings.

After finishing cleaning up from dinner, Andy and I work on getting him ready for our campout. His family has not spent much time out of doors but we are able to find an adequate sleeping bag, some fishing supplies, and such stashed in his garage. He doesn’t really need that much because the Quinns are well outfitted and will loan him whatever he needs. I call over to Mom Quinn for my daily check in and confirm that there’s a tent and sleeping pad he can use. We’re not planning a backpack trip, so he can put his stuff in any old duffel bag.

Back in his room—with the door open, of course—we look through his clothes finding suitable things for him to bring along. When it comes to underwear, he blushes and says he can deal with that later.

“Nonsense,” I say while randomly opening drawers in his dresser until I find the required items tossed willy-nilly in a drawer. “I think five pairs should be sufficient.”

All that’s in there are Y-front jockey shorts—the staple of almost every male in America. Picking up a pair I hold them up for the whole world to see and turn them about examining them—much to Andy’s embarrassment. It’s seems like forever since I last saw a pair of these. Soon, I tell myself, I’ll be seeing a lot more. The thought is not all that appealing. I’m coming to love the variety of colors, textures, and styles available to women even if some styles aren’t all that comfortable.

“Pretty plain,” I observe with a touch of disapproval in my voice while neatly folding five pairs and handing them to him. He’s more than happy to put those in his bag and move on to other items.

---<>---

I can’t stay very long so I have Andy give me ride home before it gets too late. He’s constantly looking in his mirrors for a tail and he’s pretty sure he’s found one.

“This is cool,” he excitedly says. “Just like in the movies.”

Walking me to the door he looks cautiously around. “Is it safe to kiss you?”

“It’s probably safer than not kissing me,” I warn him good naturedly. “I think it’s somewhere in my spy contract that a hunky handsome wonderful guy is to kiss me before bedtime.”

He steps up to fill the role. He’s getting much better at it.

“Good night, Tina,” he softly says, “I’m sorry about being such a jerk about this. It’s going to hurt to let you go.”

“I know,” I sigh in reply, “but let’s not think about it just yet.”

He grants me one more kiss before, reluctantly, he leaves. I can’t help get misty-eyed as I watch his car disappear around the corner. I really am going to miss him terribly. I resist the temptation to wave at the car Spud is sitting in down the street. Fortunately there are no newshounds still hanging about.

Inside the house, I find Laurie and her mother waiting for me.

“I hear that you’ll be with us a little longer,” Laurie comments with a smile.

“Looks that way, cousin,” I reply happily, giving her a big hug. “Are you ready for some camping?”

She rolls her eyes. While not exactly a mall rat, she’s only mildly interested in the outdoors lifestyle.

“You mean sleeping on the hard ground in the cold mountain air after eating raw meat warmed over a smoky open campfire and while being eaten by mosquitoes and bears?” She complains mockingly, “Sure, I’m up for a little torture.”

“Give me a break,” I give her a friendly shove on the shoulder, “You’re tough. Not to mention that Mom says the girls get the motor home. The boys get the tent. It won’t exactly be roughing it. The beast even has a microwave and a shower.”

“It sounds crowded to me,” Aunt Jen adds. “Five teen, or nearly teen, girls and two mothers all in one space.”

“Drop one girl,” I inform her sadly, “Caitlin won’t be coming. It seems her father thinks it’s not safe to be around me right now. Also, I think Mom is going to be sharing a tent with Dad. That just leaves five females in one motor home. That should work.”

“He’s got a point there,” Laurie admits, referring to Dr. Sommers restriction. “Look what happened to Ben. Maybe the bears are the least of my worries.”

“You didn’t have to remind me of that,” I get somber. “I really need to go see him again.” I resolve to do that tomorrow.

“Anything new on the investigation front?” I ask.

Jen tells us that the FBI is pretty sure that Dr. Lang is in the Philippines—something I already knew, but keep to myself—and there’s no sign of Rana. The current plan is to have Mrs. Lang’s lawyer notify Dr. Lang’s new divorce lawyer, in accordance with the separation agreement, of the plan for Andy to go camping with Tina this weekend. It’s hoped that this information finds its way to Rana via Dr. Lang.  The FBI is also sending signals that would indicate that they’re standing down from actively protecting me because they think that the threat is past. The FBI hopes that this’ll be just the bait Rana needs to move quickly.

In reality, the royal protection detail will be there in force. A preliminary team is going in the morning to scout the area around the lake and set up a base—posing as motor home campers in the Forest Service campground there. The main body will be going up later in the day. Apparently there are enough open spaces available without canceling someone’s reservation, but they have convinced the Forest Service to shuffle some folks around come the weekend. We’re basically taking over one whole loop of campsites. Only one site will be left for the unsuspecting. An additional team will be placed several miles down the road to cut off any retreat since there’s really only one way in and out of the area.

It sounds as if all the bases are covered. The only problem is that we’re running blind.

The FBI geeks are working overtime trawling the net and cell networks for anything from Rana but so far he’s well hidden. It’s a safe bet that he’s abandoned his normal cell phone and email accounts and changed his identity. His next level contact has been exposed, but he’s gone underground too. 

---<>---

Laurie and I spend some time packing for our trip after our talk with Aunt Jen about the investigation. I can’t help compare the colorful panties, bras, bikinis, and other feminine attire to what I packed earlier with Andy. For one thing, there’s a lot more of it—it seems that a girl has to be prepared for a wider variety of fashion situations. Also, I find the clothing much more interesting and fun—I never considered dressing as a boy to be fun. Folding and carefully packing my panties and bras, I find myself wishing there was a way to stretch this experience out longer. I do look forward to returning to my life as Chris, but the downside is that I’ll never be Tina again when this is over. Chris is forever—Tina is just a onetime experience. It’ll be a sad day when it’s over.

Lying in bed later, I snuggle with an extra pillow enjoying the sensation of a short soft cotton nightgown on my sensitive female skin and the afterglow of some nocturnal female stimulation. I’m grateful that I get to spend at least a few more days as Tina. I want to make the most of them.

---<>---

Ben seems much better today. He’s definitely more alert. Laurie and I brought along a deck of cards, a couple of DVDs, and some reading material—mostly running magazines. The doctors have reduced his pain medication but he’s still in traction. Mostly he looks bored and restless. It must be much worse than being simply home bound—I feel for the guy.

“I’ve never been confined to one place like this before,” he complains. “The only thing to break the monotony is my daily physical therapy session. Even TV is boring. The physical terrorist comes twice a day to torture me with painful exercises. Speaking of terrorists, I see you’ve had some excitement, Tina. The news was all over your kidnapping. What was it like?”

“Scary, I guess,” I shrug my shoulders. “I was out of it for most of the event since they knocked me out with chloroform. I woke up to find this guy in my room trying to smother me then the next thing I know, I’m waking up in the ER.”

“Mom says that it was probably the same guys that hit me,” he says matter-of-factly. “We figure the car was after you. I’m going to have to stay away from you, Tina. You’re dangerous.”

“You’re not mad at me?” I cringe just a little.

“A little warning would have been nice,” he admits. “But, no, I’m not really mad at you. I just really wish you’d followed your intuition and stayed home that night.”

“Me too,” I agree with him. “We were surprised by their move. Nobody expected them to try that trick to take me out of action or to move so soon. We were expecting them to do something this week. I feel really bad that you got caught in the cross fire.”

“It could have been worse,” he tells me, “She could have gotten both of us, Helen, and—heaven forbid—Dan and Caitlin also. Even worse than that is that one of us could be dead.”

His comments remind me—yet again—the seriousness of what I’m doing. I’m wondering if going camping with my closest friends and family is a good idea. The planned relaxed family outing has turned into a serious mission. I don’t think this is what Mom had in mind when she proposed the trip.

Laurie and I spend the next couple of hours playing cards and talking with Ben. He seems to appreciate the company. Every once in a while he starts off on some thoughtless tangent, but I take the time to rein him in as gently as I can. He seems to appreciate the instruction. The movies we brought him are a couple of Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan films. The movies may be getting old, but they are some of my favorites for seeing how a guy should treat a girl.

“These are chick flicks,” he complains.

“Ben,” I patiently ask him, “do you ever want to have a girlfriend?’

“Well, yeah,” he says with a confused look on his face. “what’s this got to do with it?” he asks waving the films around.

“The reason girls like these films,” I inform him, “is because they show girls being treated as if they’re special. Girls don’t want to be treated like a guy. They want to feel loved or at least appreciated. Until you learn that you’ll never leave home plate. I strongly suggest that you watch these films and pay close attention to how it’s done. Also, you should pay attention to how Dan treats Suzy, Chris treats Laurie, and Andy treats me. There’s a reason that our relationships are strong.”

“In other words,” he frowns at me, “Girls just want guys to wait on them. It seems a bit one sided to me.”

Laurie appears to be as frustrated with Ben as I am. “You’re not getting the message,” she informs him. “It’s about love and respect. A girl will reciprocate when she feels loved. There is something wonderful about two people treating each other with kindness and concern. You need to be more concerned about her than you are for yourself. Selfishness and self-centeredness will kill a relationship faster than anything. Just watch the films and pay attention to what’s really going on.”

“I can’t let anyone catch me watching a chick flick,” he complains. “I can’t put them in the machine myself either.”

Laurie just rolls her eyes. “Just tell them that Tina made you do it.”

Ben really isn’t getting it.

“Ben,” I finally decide to be as direct as possible, “We’re trying to help you here. I think the best way I can make amends for what happened to you as a result of being near me is to help you learn how to interact with girls. You really need to change your behavior around them if you ever want to have a girlfriend. You’re a smart, good looking guy. The only thing standing between you and having girls chase after you is your attitude. There aren’t a lot of girls around here who’d help you like this, so give us a break and just watch the films. There’ll be quiz after you’ve watched them.”

“How about some laboratory instruction?” he grins.

“Maybe a little coaching,” I tell him, “but you’ll have to go find your own girl. I’m already spoken for.”

“And so am I,” Laurie points out.

I still think he’s not getting it but it’s the best we can do for him.

We eventually have to leave when his physical therapist comes by but we promise to visit him after we get back from our long weekend in the mountains.

“Why are guys so dense sometimes?” Laurie complains as we leave the hospital. “Even Chris has a hard time getting the message some days.”

“Take it from a former guy,” I try to educate her, “Girls don’t get it either some days. I just think that neither side really understands the other. I know that I’m seeing things a lot different now that I’m a girl and I’ll understand a girl’s perspective a lot better when this is over, but I also understand where guys are coming from probably better than any other girl around. Guys see things differently than girls and they appreciate it when a girl respects them enough to allow them to be different.”

“That doesn’t excuse thoughtless behavior like Ben’s,” she points out.

“You’re right,” I agree, “but one of the things that Chris appreciates about you, is that it’s not all about you. It’s about us. You are supportive of his interests sometimes when it doesn’t appeal to you at all. Not all girls are that way, you know.”

“He does the same for me,” she points out.

“He tries,” I agree. “You two try to strike a balance and there are enough common interests to keep you together.”

“I certainly hope so,” she sighs. “I really miss him. Don’t get me wrong, Tina, I really like you and have enjoyed our time together, but I really do miss Chris. When I see you and Andy together, I realize that I really liked being held by him. I miss his male strength and smell. I miss feeling like one half of a whole being. Close girl friends are wonderful. They’re even easier to be around than boyfriends at times, but I really want a loving man in my life.”

“I know what you mean,” I sigh while thinking of Andy. “Being with Andy is a lot different than being with you or Caitlin. I can really relate to what you’re saying. I love having both types of relationships in my life.”

Laurie stops and gives me a hug—a close girl friend sort of hug. It feels wonderful. “I just wish I could have both Tina and Chris in my life. Isn’t there some way to clone you?”

“Sorry, girl friend,” I whisper in her ear as we continue our hug. “You only get one at a time.”

---<>---

I finish packing another cooler with food before calling Laurie over to help me haul it out to Aunt Jen’s Subaru. We’ve spent several hours putting together food for the meals that we’ve agreed to cover. The Quinns are doing half the meals and we’re doing the rest. Judging from the number of boxes and the two large coolers we’ve hauled out to the car, nobody is going to starve.

My job on these trips—as Chris—was always to be the labor. When a box needed hauling—as the only boy in the house—I did it. Now I can see the reason. Actually, I could see why before, but now I really appreciate it. It’s a struggle for the two of us girls to wrestle the cooler out of the door and into the car. As Chris I would have found it challenging, but I could do it myself. Selfishly, I find myself wishing that Andy could have come over to help. There are some real practical reasons to have a good man around. At times like this, I really miss the strength I had as a male.

Maybe this division of duties isn’t so sexist after all. I used to grumble about my sisters getting off lightly. Maybe they do physically, but as Chris I never had to be that involved with the detailed preparations either. As Tina, I’m finding that I’m expected to help with the food planning and preparation to a much greater extent than Chris ever did. That’s time consuming.

Unfortunately, Andy has some other duties at home tonight. Another woman needs his genetic strength. His mother wants his muscle for moving the last of her husband’s things out into the garage. It seems that mother trumps girlfriend at times like this. Mrs. Lang really wants to get all signs of her husband out of her life as soon as possible—and I can’t say I blame her.

Andy and I did get to talk for just a short time after he got home from work. Apparently his mother notified the lawyers of the planned weekend in the mountains but nothing has been heard from Dr. Lang in return. His lawyer told her lawyer that he has been in contact with Dr. Lang via email but he doesn’t really know where he is. He just isn’t expected back in town anytime soon. Mrs. Lang’s lawyer is quite happy about the turn of events. With Dr. Lang out of the country and under suspicion of grievous crimes, the lawyer has been successful in getting an emergency court order blocking Dr. Lang’s access to all known financial accounts with the exception of the offshore account.  They have, however, listed the offshore account as part of the assets.  Once the Judge sees that huge balance she’ll probably fast track the divorce, allowing Mrs. Lang to keep everything—including his retirement funds and all other investments—with Dr. Lang retaining his offshore account. Additionally, she’ll probably be granted full custody of Andy. To top things off, the lawyer is also requesting alimony and child support payments even though it’s unlikely that they’ll ever be collected. The whole proceeding should be over in a month or two unless Dr. Lang shows up to contest it—which is highly unlikely. Mrs. Lang still has to worry about the possibility of the FBI trying to seize some of the assets, but with a court order declaring what’s hers and what’s his they’ll probably just go after what’s his as defined by the court. It should be great for Andy and his mother.

There have been several discussions with the FBI today about messing with Dr. Lang’s account. They can’t do it legally, but everyone agrees that Mrs. Lang can. Unfortunately it’s not felt that taking his money will slow him down too much since he’s probably being supported directly by the terrorist organization. Also it’s to her advantage in the divorce to leave most of it where it is so the divorce court can count it has part of the assets to be awarded to him.

Aunt Jen told me today that losing Dr. Lang is far worse for our national interests than losing his report. His wealth of knowledge and expertise could be extremely valuable to whoever it is who is supporting him—if they can afford to set up a lab where he can do his experiments. Various government agencies have been called in to see what they can do about the matter. I don’t even want to know what the options are.

The cooler we’ve just hauled out to the car signals the end of our preparations—everything is packed in the car and ready to go. I can hardly wait until morning when, finally, we will be on our way. I realize that I’m looking forward to heading to the mountains with almost as much anticipation as I would if I were still Chris. The thought of hiking to the top of the mountain overlooking the lake really appeals to me as does spending some time in the canoe with a fishing pole. It’s been a long time since I’ve done either.

Of course, doing it with Andy really adds to the appeal.

On the flip side, hanging out while waiting for Rana & Co. to drop the other shoe will be nerve-wracking.

Maybe he won’t get the message.

One can always hope.

---<>---

Edited by Gabi... and it's a darn sight better as a result!