Coeds 5; New Opportunities

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Coeds 5; New Opportunities








Coeds 5: New Opportunities

By

Julie O

 

Edited by

Robert Arnold

&

Itinerant

 

Menu

By

Jennifer V

(My Sister)

 

Features characters from The Julieverse

Jen Stevens & Morris Pinsky appear courtesy of Robert Arnold

(A list of characters is located at the end)

 

This story was started with the assistance of Robert Arnold. He was more than just editor; he gave me input on the characters and plot lines. He also honored me by allowing the use of his wonderful character Jen Stevens. Due to Bob’s passing, we were unable to complete the story together. To honor Bob’s memory I decided to finish the story based on the outlines we discussed.

He was a great friend and mentor and I will miss him. This story is dedicated to his memory. He may be gone, but he will never be forgotten.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

“That was really fun,” said Jirra. “Thank you for coming with me.”

“I wouldn’t have missed it as it was a lovely wedding. Cat looked stunning,” replied Alexis.

“I agree,” said Jirra as she looked out the passenger window of their car. “So do you want me to drive?”

“No, I don’t mind. I don’t get to drive that much anymore, and I sort of miss it,” said Alexis.

“Okay, but if you get tired, let me know,” replied Jirra.

They were presently on I-95 heading north towards Philadelphia.

“I will,” replied Alexis. “By the way, you looked gorgeous in your bridesmaid’s gown.”

Jirra turned and smiled at Alexis.

“It was a nice dress,” said Jirra.

“So did you ever think that you’d be in so many weddings?” asked Alexis.

“Not as a bridesmaid,” replied Jirra with a laugh. “But I like it -- I like the fact that we have so many wonderful friends.”

“We definitely have a very interesting group of friends. I doubt if most of the guests would believe us, if they knew the truth,” said Alexis.

“It was impressive wedding party,” said Jirra.

Besides Jirra, the other women in the wedding party included Beth, Celeste, and Cat’s best friend from high school Erika.

“How long has Erika been dating Mike?” asked Alexis.

“A few months. Apparently, they’ve been friends since high school and have always had a thing for each other,” said Jirra.

“Well, they make a nice couple. It’s cool that a professional football player feels comfortable enough in his own sexuality,” said Alexis. “I imagine there’s some risk, if the word gets out that he’s dating Erika. I mean I work in a supposedly liberal industry and there are plenty of people who are close-minded. I imagine it’s much worse in professional football.”

“Well, he’s an All-Pro, and one of the hardest hitting defensive backs in the league; I doubt anyone would say anything to him,” said Jirra. “And if they did he could legally take it out on them.”

“That’s true,” replied Alexis.

Jirra nodded.

“Thanks again for delaying our second ceremony so we could be here,” said Jirra.

“Roo, I wouldn’t have missed this. Besides, we’re already married … even though most states don’t recognize it. Don’t get me wrong, I still want to do the full blown ceremony, but I consider Cat a friend too … and I know how much she means to you.”

“Thanks,” replied Jirra. “So when do you want to do the second ceremony?”

“Well, it’s getting too late to do it this fall. You’re starting school again in a week, and I have the show to do,” said Alexis.

“I can take the semester off,” suggested Jirra.

Alexis shook her head.

“Nope, I want you to finish this,” countered Alexis.

Jirra smiled.

“I’m so proud of you Roo. I mean, considering all you’ve been though and how well you’re doing,” continued Alexis.

“Thanks,” replied Jirra. “To be honest, I’m glad that I’ll be back in class. I have missed it. It’ll also be the last semester with Beth, as she’s graduating soon.”

“Celeste will miss both of you,” said Alexis.

“I’ll miss her too. I think it’s great that she’s going into graduate school.”

“So any word on who will be moving in at the condo?” asked Alexis.

“Some of the girls from the foundation are starting school this fall.”

“That’s good to hear,” said Alexis.

“I’m going to miss you,” said Jirra. “These past months, I’ve gotten used to being with you all the time.”

“I’ll miss you too,” said Alexis. “But soon we’ll be together all the time.”

“I can’t wait,” said Jirra. “I just hope that I have a nice quiet normal semester.”

 

Chapter 2

A week later, Jirra arrived back in her apartment following her classes. No sooner had she set down her bag than the phone rang.

Jirra picked it up and looked at the number of the caller.

“Hello Kelsey,” said Jirra as she greeted her publishing agent.

Kelsey Bond had been recommended by Faith Collins to be Jirra’s agent. She was in her mid-thirties and had a great reputation for turning almost anything she touched into best sellers.

“Jirra, I’m so happy that I got a hold of you. I need to talk to you about the book that you submitted to me,” replied Kelsey.

Jirra hesitated. For the past few months she had been working on a fictionalized version of the life of Andrea Carlson AKA Andrew Baker. Right before she passed away, Andrea had given Jirra her personal records and asked Jirra to turn them into a book. The last thing Jirra wanted was to fail at this task.

The first book detail how Andrea, then Andy, left the US and joined the RAF, flying a Spitfire in a Canadian Squadron and being shot down over occupied France. It then covered his life in a German POW camp and how he was picked to be part of an escape plan. In order to help another officer escape, Andy was disguised as the man’s daughter. The officer was actually part of MI6 had discovered a major secret, and it was vital that he return to England. The escape was successful, and the two made it to Denmark. Due to increased security, Andrea stayed behind and joined the Danish Resistance. This was also when she began her life as a woman.

“First, let me tell you that you’re a wonderful writer and that you have an incredible imagination. The transgendered aspect of the story is so wild that it’s almost believable!” exclaimed Kelsey. “I’m very impressed with it.”

Jirra smiled to herself. For the most part, the story that Jirra had written was true, although Kelsey was unaware of this fact.

“So what’s the problem?” asked Jirra.

“Not exactly a problem, but a suggestion. Have you every considered turning this into a graphic novel?” asked Kelsey.

Jirra paused. “Um, not really.”

“Well, I think it would be perfect, especially if you’re going to make this a serial. I read your summary of the main character’s life, and there’s a strong possibility for many stories.”

“I don’t know,” said Jirra as she nervously reached up and began to twirl her hair around the fingers of her free hand. “I really wanted it to be a novel; this is rather personal for me.”

“Jirra, I love the storyline and the main character … but selling a story with a lead transgendered character is a tough sell. However, many of the people who read graphic novels are more open-minded to non-mainstream characters. If the graphic novels do well that it will easier to sell the novel.”

“I see,” said Jirra. “I’ll think about it.”

“Well you think about it and call me when you have made up your mind,” replied Kelsey.

“Thanks,” replied Jirra. “I have some friends that I would like to run the idea past.”

“Of course,” replied Kelsey cheerfully. “I have no doubt that I can get this published, but I’m convinced that it will get wider acceptance, if we go first with the graphic novel format.”

Jirra thanked her, and then, after hanging up, she went up to the top floor to speak with Beth and Celeste.

 

Chapter 3

“I wanted to discuses this with you first Beth,” said Jirra. “I know how much Andrea meant to you, and I want to do her story right.”

Beth was sitting on the couch with Spirit the dog lying next to her.

“I think it’s a cool idea,” replied Beth. “But it raises a lot of questions. Like who will do the illustrations? Also, who will publish it?”

“I was thinking about that. I mean, in my writing I sort of control everything, but in graphic novels, I would have to find someone that is thinking on the same wavelength as me,” replied Jirra. “I would have to find someone who is sympathetic to the gender issues. I don’t want Andrea to be mocked or to be a comical character … or worse.”

“I may have an idea,” suggested Celeste.

Beth and Jirra looked over at her.

“Have you met Tonya Boyington yet?” asked Celeste.

“She’s the blonde with spiked hair who lives on the third floor, right?” asked Jirra.

Celeste nodded.

“She’s also a very accomplished artist. Tonya used to do a cartoon strip on the foundation’s website,” said Celeste as she set her laptop down on the coffee table. “Here, let me show you some of her work.”

Jirra nodded. She was a bit apprehensive; the last thing she wanted to do was reject someone from Celeste’s foundation, as she knew what a hard life most of the girls had experienced prior to arriving there.

“Okay, here’s her website,” said Celeste.

“She has her own website?’ asked Beth.

Celeste smiled. “Yes, she’s majoring in Fine Arts.”

Jirra was stunned, when she saw some of Tonya’s work. Now, her biggest fear would be if Tonya would work with her.

“Wow, she’s so good,” said Jirra as she scrolled through some of Tonya’s art. ”Her style reminds me of the old action comic strips. This would be perfect!”

“I’m glad that you think so,” said Celeste proudly. “I also have another suggestion.”

“What’s that?” asked Jirra.

“Even though we all know that Andrea’s story is wonderful, it might still be a hard sell … and the more mainstream publishers might balk at making the main character transgendered. They might even insist that you change that aspect of the story,” said Celeste.

“I won’t change that part of the story,” stated Jirra firmly.

“I knew you’d say that, so why don’t you form your own publishing company?” suggested Celeste.

Jirra wasn’t sure if Celeste was serious or not.

“Well, for one thing it would cost a lot of money,” said Jirra.

“Which I have plenty of,” said Celeste.

“I can’t do that Celeste. I mean, I appreciate the offer and all that, but …”

Celeste put up her hands.

“Please hear me out. This isn’t charity; it’s a business opportunity. I am looking for new investment opportunities. We talked about examples of this in one of my business classes,” interrupted Celeste.

“So what do you know about publishing?” asked Beth.

“Nothing,” replied Celeste. “But I know about business.”

“I think I know someone who might be able to help with the practical matters of this idea,” said Jirra as she pulled out her phone.

“Who are you calling?” asked Beth.

“Jen Stevens,” replied Jirra.

 

Chapter 4

“Sorry to bother you, Jen, but I need your advice regarding a business matter,” said Jirra.

“It’s never a bother, Jirra; ask away,” said Jen.

Jirra explained to Jen the idea regarding Andrea’s story.

“Very intriguing,” replied Jen.

“Granted we don’t have the artist yet, and I’ll have to rewrite everything …”

“Don’t worry about the details yet,” interrupted Jen. “Let’s focus on the big picture. Setting up a small publishing company isn’t that difficult, as long as you have the capital -- which you do. I’m pleased that Celeste is in on this; can you pass the phone to her?”

Jirra handed her phone to Celeste.

“Hi Jen,” greeted Celeste.

“Good evening,” replied Jen. “So what’s your plan?”

“Well, obviously I haven’t worked out the details, but the goal would be to have my profits from this go back to the Foundation … maybe setting up an art program,” replied Celeste.

“I suspected that would be part of the plan,” replied Jen. “As far as the actual company goes, I have some friends who work in the industry. I think we might get one of the big firms to work with you, that way you could have artistic freedom, while having the advantages of working with an established publisher.”

“Would they have issues with the transgendered aspects of the story?” asked Celeste.

“No, not really. If the stories were published under a different publisher name that would give them the separation that would shield them from any criticism,” said Jen. “They’d only be interested in the bottom line then.”

“That makes sense,” said Celeste.

“If you’d like, I can make some preliminary phone calls … and I’ll also talk to my lawyer about the legal aspects of all this. He’ll definitely write up a contract that will prevent you from being … to use a legal term … ’royally screwed’ by the lawyers for the publisher,” said Jen.

Celeste laughed.

“Yes, but they would say it in Latin,” replied Celeste. “Back to your suggestion, I would love to hear Morris’s input.”

“Good, I’ll get back to you … now pass the phone back to Jirra,” said Jen.

Jirra took the phone.

“I take it that you think this is doable,” said Jirra.

“Very much so. Graphic novels are a great format,” said Jen. “But I have one request.”

“What’s that?” asked Jirra.

“I want in on it … as an investor,” said Jen.

“Really?” asked Jirra.

“Yes. First, I think it’s a great idea and I would love to see Andrea’s story told to the world … even if they don’t know that it’s true. Second, my being involved will give you some credibility with the publishers. I know many people in the industry and a few of them are fans of my work,” explained Jen. “They’ll take the time to listen to you more than some unknown author, but it won’t be an automatic ‘in’ with them. You’ve got some notoriety on your own already that will make a difference.”

“That makes sense,” said Jirra.

“There is one downside to this … if these stories take off and become popular … as I suspect they will, then you’re going to have to promote them -- and that means getting out in the public. I know how you like to stay out of the public limelight, and your present writing career allows that, but novels -- graphic or not -- requires promotion. Are you up to that?”

“I don’t know … but I want to do this for Andrea … so I guess I’ll have to do it,” said Jirra.

“Good answer. I know that Alexis will be there for you, but you also know that you can count on me to help you with this,” said Jen. “Just remember that this is YOUR project, so any decisions that must be made are going to be entirely yours to make, Jirra. I’ll be available to answer your questions, but ultimately you are the one that’s responsible. I wouldn’t get involved if I didn’t have a lot of confidence in you and the project as a whole.”

“Thanks, Jen; I really appreciate that,” said Jirra.

“So what does Alexis think of this idea?” asked Jen.

“I haven’t told her yet; she’s shooting late tonight,” said Jirra. “I’ll call her in the morning.”

“Well, give her my love,” said Jen.

“I will,” replied Jirra.

“Tell Celeste that I’ll get back to her in a day or so,” said Jen.

“I will,” replied Jirra. “Thanks again.”

“No problem, Roo,” replied Jen.

 

Chapter 5

“Tonya will be up shortly,” said Celeste.

“Cool,” replied Jirra.

Spirit let out a playful bark and ran over to the front door.

“Right on cue,” said Celeste who got up and walked over to open the front door.

A short, thin, blonde girl walked into the condo. Her hair was styled short and spiked with gel. She had multiple piercings in each ear and a small diamond stud in her left nostril. She was dressed in a plaid skirt and t-shirt for the rock group “Band of Sisters.”

Celeste introduced Tonya to the others.

“I’ll let Jirra tell you why we invited you up here,” said Celeste.

Jirra laid out the idea for the graphic novel. Tonya listened intently as Jirra talked.

For the most part Jirra stayed true to Andrea’s actual biography. She wasn’t worried, as Andrea’s life was so unbelievable that few people ever knew the truth.

The rest of the books would detail her wartime adventures.

“Well, what do you think?” asked Celeste.

“It sounds interesting … and it has potential. Is it possible for me to read the first story?” asked Tonya. “I promise that I won’t share it with anyone else.”

Jirra smiled. “Of course, I can give you a copy this evening.”

“How much do you have finished?” asked Tonya.

“The first two books are done and the third is almost ready to give to my agent,” said Jirra.

“Wow, you’ve been busy,” said Tonya. “How did you find the time?”

“I had some downtime this year … medical,” replied Jirra.

“I see ... well, I’d love to look at it,” said Tonya.

“Of course if you agree to do this you would be paid,” said Celeste.

“After everything you’ve done for me, I figure it can go towards my tab,” said Tonya with a grin.

“No, anything you make from this is yours,” said Celeste. “Part of the Foundation is making our graduates able to stand on their two feet. However, if you do agree to do this, you will be under contract for the full run of the stories.”

Tonya grinned.”Ooooh, twist my arm! Getting paid to draw!”

 

Chapter 6

The next morning, Jirra called Alexis as she ate breakfast and told her about the idea.

“I think it’s a great idea. I’m glad you brought Jen in on this … she has a real nose for business opportunities. You can learn a lot from her; I know I have,” said Alexis.

“I wasn’t sold on the idea at first, but I went on-line and looked at some novels that have been posted … it might work. I’m a little worried about the writing.”

“Why is that?” asked Alexis. “I would think it would easier.”

“I’m not sure, I have to use a lot less words to get my point across … it also depends on how good the artist is.”

“So what do you know about Tonya?” asked Alexis.

“Not much, only that Celeste vouches for her … which is a huge plus. I have seen some of her work … and she’s very talented.”

“What about her story?” asked Alexis. “You’ll be working very closely with her, and there will have to be a level of trust.”

“True, but that goes both ways … what do I tell her about me?” asked Jirra.

“I would stick with the story we established when dealing with Longwell,” said Alexis, referring to the father of the man who had raped Jirra. “And in time if you feel it’s necessary you can tell her the truth. You have a good sense on who you can trust, Jirra; it’s one of the many things I admire about you.”

“Thank you,” replied Jirra.

“One more thing, I want in on this investment. I think that it will be a huge success, and we should be investors,” she said.

“Great … just what I need … more pressure,” quipped Jirra.

“You thrive under it,” said Alexis. “I’ve seen you at work … like last month when they had you do a rewrite of that Erin Flynn script.”

“That was easy … most of the hard work was already done,” said Jirra.

“I disagree. The script was a disaster, and we were about to scrap it … you did a great job in a very short period of time … saving the production company thousands,” said Alexis. “I think you’ll do a great job with this.”

“Thanks for the pep talk,” said Jirra.

“No problem … now I need to run; we’re shooting downtown today, and I need to get ready,” said Alexis.

“Okay … I love you,” said Jirra.

“I love you too, Roo,” replied Alexis.

 

Chapter 7

Jirra was unlocking her door when Tonya walked up and immediately thrust a sketch pad into Jirra’s hands.

“What’s this?” asked Jirra.

“I loved the story so much that I knocked out some drawings for you,” said Tonya excitedly.

Jirra’s jaw dropped slightly and her eyes opened wide.

“You actually read the entire book?” asked Jirra.

Tonya nodded vigorously.

“I’m a compulsive reader … I couldn’t put it down. It was the first story that I’ve read that had a transgendered character who wasn’t a victim,” she explained. “Needless to say, I loved it!”

“Well, come on in,” said Jirra with an amused smile on her face.

Tonya followed Jirra inside the apartment.

“Please sit down,” said Jirra.

“Thanks,” replied Tonya. “This is a nice place, I love the artwork … also the rugs, are they Navajo?”

Jirra nodded as she sat down.

“I picked them up back home in New Mexico,” said Jirra.

“I’ve always wanted to see the west,” said Tonya. “The farthest I’ve been west was Indiana … no, that’s not right, I lived in Chicago a while.”

Jirra opened the sketch pad and began to study Tonya’s drawings.

“Wow, this is wonderful,” said Jirra as she looked at a drawing of the German POW camp. “It’s so detailed.”

“I found some images of the camp on line,” replied Tonya.

Jirra looked at the next page and saw a young flying officer standing outside one of the barracks.

“Is this Robert?” asked Jirra using the fictionalized name she had picked for Andy/Andrea. As a woman Robert would be know as Steffi, short for Stephanie.

She was shocked by how much Tonya’s drawings looked like the real Andy.

Tonya nodded.

“I used your descriptions of him … it was pretty easy as you’re a very good writer. I could picture him immediately,” said Tonya. “Go to the next one to see Steffi.”

Jirra flipped to the next page and saw Andy dressed as a young woman. She was standing next to an older man, who was a fellow escapee. Jirra immediately could see the young Andrea in Tonya’s art.

“Wow!” exclaimed Jirra.

“So … you like them?” asked Tonya.

“Yes, very much so. I’m shocked how quickly you put these together … they’re so detailed,” said Jirra.

“I have a really good memory. When I read about something I’m about to draw, I can recall every feature,” she replied.

“It’s amazing … I mean you even reproduced the costumes exactly as I described them,” said Jirra.

“Well, like I said, you inspired me,” replied Tonya.

Jirra began to hand the sketch book back to Tonya, who immediately shook her head.

“No, those are yours,” said Tonya. “I have many others in my apartment. I’ve also begun to scan them into my computer.”

“Thank you,” replied Jirra. “I think we need to talk. Why don’t we order a pizza, and then we can talk about all this.”

“I’d love that,” said Tonya.

 

Chapter 8

The two young women sat on the couch and shared a large pepperoni pizza, as they talked about the story.

“I’ve never done this sort of thing before,” said Jirra.

“Yes, but you’re an accomplished writer,” replied Tonya. “I did some research on you. I’ve been a huge fan of the Erin Flynn books, and I really love the series. You’ve written some of the best shows.”

“Thank you,” replied Jirra.

“I also read about the assault … that must have been awful,” said Tonya. “Sorry, I hope you don’t mind me bringing it up,”

“I survived … with the help of my friends and family,” said Jirra.

Tonya smiled.

“I’m so envious of you … the fact that you have someone special in your life … and that you have your family,” said Tonya.

“I can’t imagine life without Alexis,” said Jirra. “And well, as for my family, I only have my mom.”

“That’s more than what I have,” said Tonya.

“You want to talk about it?” asked Jirra as she reached for another slice.

“Sure. As you’re friends with Celeste, you know that I’m transgendered, right?”

Jirra nodded. “I’ve been to the Foundation a few times with her.”

“It saved my life,” replied Tonya. “I was born in Indianapolis … a typical American family … except I had these urges to dress in my sister’s clothes. To make a long story short, I was caught, and after a short discussion between my parents and our minister, I was thrown out of the house.”

“You mean, kicked out?” asked Jirra.

Tonya nodded.

“That’s awful, how old were you?” asked Jirra.

“Fifteen,” she replied.

Jirra’s jaw dropped.

“They said that it was for ‘my own good,’ and in a strange sort of way they were right. If they hadn’t been so narrow-minded, I would have never ended up in Celeste’s foundation,” she explained. “It all worked out.”

Jirra shook her head.

“That can’t be the whole story,” said Jirra.

“What do you mean?” asked Tonya.

“What are you leaving out?” asked Jirra. “How did you end up at The Foundation?”

“Oh … that part of my life,” said Tonya as she picked up another slice. “You really don’t want to hear about that do you?”

“If we’re going to work together, I do,” said Jirra.

Tonya smiled -- but it was a sad smile.

“I spent almost two years on the streets … I started turning tricks for a pimp in Chicago, not out of choice … it was out of survival. I was arrested several times for prostitution and did some time -- nothing serious, just a few nights in lockup. My pimp made sure that I was always released quickly -- can’t make money in jail. Anyway, the last time I was arrested the judge actually listened to my story. He knew about The Foundation and contacted Celeste. When I first met her, I thought she was full of shit … damn I was stupid. Still, I agreed to go to the Foundation to avoid jail.”

“How long were you there?” asked Jirra.

“Over three years,” she replied. “The first year allowed me to get clean … inside and out; and then I was allowed to be me … and to finish my schooling. They let me develop my artistic skills at same time teaching me things that I never would have thought of ... it was eye-opening.”

“Not to get too personal, but what about medical?” asked Jirra.

“Oh yeah … that,” replied Tonya with a smirk. “I don’t mind talking about it. The good thing was that I didn’t have any STDs from working as a whore … yes that’s what I was … I was a whore. To be honest, I have no idea how I dodged that bullet; most of the girls I worked with got something. I even knew several girls who got AIDS. I also avoided drug addiction. I experimented, but nothing beyond that; not because I’m so strong or moral, it’s just that drugs cost money -- and made you a slave to the pimp. Oh, I smoked dope and drank … but nothing to too extreme … well that’s not true … I got drunk often,” she replied. “But I don’t do those things anymore.”

“Damn,” said Jirra softly.

Tonya nodded. “I know … not exactly a nice story.”

“What about you gender issues?” asked Jirra.

“I got on a legitimate hormone regimen,” she replied.

“What about SRS?” asked Jirra. “I know that The Foundation provides it.”

Tonya nodded.

“That was amazing … it feels so wonderful to be whole,” she replied. “In a way, I consider the date I got SRS my new birthday.”

“I’m happy to hear that,” said Jirra. “I’m happy that you feel whole.”

“Thanks. Well, Celeste said that she could get me into college, I was first expecting community college; I had no idea she meant Penn! I know she pulled some strings to get me here, and I have no intention of letting her down. She’s the closest thing to family that I have.”

“She’s very special,” said Jirra.

“So you know her past then?”

“Yes, she told me all about it,” replied Jirra.

“And I thought I had it rough,” said Tonya. “I mean, she was abducted and transformed by some evil bitch.”

Jirra nodded.

“So, have you contacted anyone in your family?” asked Jirra.

“I tried, but they consider me to be evil.”

“Their loss,” said Jirra.

Tonya grinned. “Thanks. So what’s your story?”

“It’s … um … rather complicated,” said Jirra.

“I’m sure it is,” said Tonya. “But I came clean with my sordid past … so I doubt you’ll shock me.”

Jirra told her cover story and left out the magical transformation. However, she sensed that Tonya wasn’t totally buying it. For a moment, Jirra almost told Tonya the truth, but she held back and decided she would have to wait until she knew Tonya better. However, she was growing weary of hiding the story of her transformation, but she also knew she wasn’t ready to undergo the spotlight that Jen lived in.

Jirra did tell Tonya about the issues at Penn, the sexual assault and her pregnancy. She figured that there was no sense in hiding something that was well known among her circle of friends.

 

Chapter 9

“Um, what was it like … having a baby?” asked Tonya nervously. “I don’t mean to pry … but it’s something that I wish I could experience someday.”

“It was painful … but very satisfying,” replied Jirra. “The biggest issue was coming clean about my past … and my gender issues.”

“How painful?”

“I was in labor for hours; it seemed like days,” she replied.

“Hours?”

Jirra nodded.

“I don’t even like doing things I like for that long,” added Jirra with a grin.

“Any regrets about giving her up?” asked Tonya.

“A little,” replied Jirra. “However, I know that I’m not ready to raise a child right now. I also still have some rage over what happened … and that’s not the baby’s fault. I’m so happy that she’s being raised by two very nice people. She deserves a happy upbringing and a fresh start.”

“Do you stay in touch with them?”

Jirra nodded.

“They send me photos of her,” said Jirra. “You want to see one?”

Tonya nodded.

Jirra retrieved her cell phone and called up the most recent photo of Andrea.

“She’s beautiful,” said Tonya. “Um, will you let her know what happened?”

“Someday, when she’s ready, she needs to know the truth … I hope she understands,” said Jirra.

“I think she will … you did a good thing,” said Tonya.

“I hope so,” said Jirra.

“It must have been a shock … I mean getting pregnant,” said Tonya. “I wasn’t aware that it was possible.”

“My doctors said that there was a possibility that I could get pregnant … but I wasn’t worried about it. But now that I know that I can do it … well Alexis and I do plan on having a family someday … so it’s nice to know that I can be the one who carries the baby.”

“That’s cool,” said Tonya.

Jirra nodded.

“So, back to the book; how do you want to proceed?” asked Tonya.

Jirra laughed. “I have no idea … I’ve never done this sort of thing. Why don’t I outline some scenes for you to sketch, and we’ll take it from there, okay?”

Tonya nodded.

“Oh … do you want a contract or anything like that?” asked Jirra.

Tonya shook her head.

“I trust you, and I trust Celeste. I’ll work on some sketches of the main characters and get them back to you. Don’t worry about criticizing my work; I have thick skin.”

“Well, if you do as good a job with them as you have with these then I don’t think I’ll have anything to worry about,” said Jirra.

Tonya grinned. “Cool. I already have been compiling a file on British and German uniforms. I’ll also do some research on civilian clothing back then. This is going to be fun!”

 

Chapter 10

A few days later, Jirra was looking over Tonya’s latest drawings. She was very impressed with Tonya’s attention to detail.

To her surprise, Jirra found writing the summaries and dialog was easier than she had thought it would be. This was mainly due to Tonya’s excellent illustrations. It was also obvious that Tonya was very knowledgeable concerning the way graphic novels were laid out.

Things were also moving along quite quickly concerning the formation of the publishing company.

Kelsey, Celeste, Jen, and Jen’s lawyer, Morris, were quickly putting together a business plan for the books.

Kelsey had made a connection with a large firm that was willing to take on the new publishing company under its wing. This meant that the new series would get immediate credibility and would make marketing easier.

Jirra trusted her friends to make a good business deal. Still, Jen insisted on contacting her before they made any decisions.

During a recent call Jirra told Jen how much she appreciated being informed and educated about the business dealings.

“I appreciate that you trust us, Jirra, and yes I want you to get more out of this than just the books being published. You’re a very talented writer, but you need to know the legal and financial sides of any business contract. Too many people put their trust in people they hire, and often they get taken. I made this my philosophy as soon as I entered the entertainment business. I work too hard for my money to have it stolen. My motto is ‘trust but verify’. If it makes you feel any better, I have had similar discussions with Alexis over some of our business dealings,” explained Jen.

“Thanks,” said Jirra.

“We also need to look after each other,” continued Jen.

“Thanks again,” said Jirra.

“So how’s the book coming along?” asked Jen.

Jirra told her about Tonya’s artwork.

“She sounds very talented,” said Jen.

“She is! I would like her to be made a partner in all this,” said Jirra.

“That sounds reasonable … I’ll talk to Morris and get his legal advice on how to proceed,” said Jen.

“Cool. We should have a rough draft ready in a few weeks,” said Jirra. “In fact, Tonya is already working on ideas for the second book.”

“Sounds like you have the perfect partner … so what have you told her about your background?” asked Jen.

“The inter-sexed version,” said Jirra.

“Okay, and when do you plan on telling her the truth?” asked Jen.

Jirra laughed.

“Soon. I need to talk to someone first,” said Jirra.

“I see … and would that person be a rodent?” asked Jen.

“He only takes the form of a kangaroo rat,” explained Jirra. “I know it sounds weird … but I know this is all real. When I’m with Killara, it’s so real … I can feel the ground under my feet … the heat of the sun … the aroma of the plants …”

“I was kidding you, Roo … I know what you are talking about,” said Jen.

“Cool. Anyway, I talked about it with Alexis, and she said that she would support my decision. She said that I have a good sense of who I can trust,” said Jirra.

“So far, she’s right,” said Jen. “I think that, from what you’ve told me about her, you’ll be able to trust Tonya.”

“Thanks, Jen, I really love how I can talk to you. Don’t get me wrong; Alexis and I are very open and honest with each other, but you know about what it’s like to be different.”

“I prefer the term unique,” corrected Jen. “What we’ve been given is a gift that allows us to see things that others can’t.”

“I just wish it was easier,” said Jirra.

“Where’s the challenge in that?” asked Jen. “Besides, if we hadn’t changed think of how boring our lives would have been … and we would never have become friends.”

“Good point,” said Jirra. “I hope you don’t mind that I see you more than a friend -- I consider you a sister.”

“I’m honored you feel that way, Roo,” said Jen. “Well, I need to get going. Send me what you have when you get the chance, I’m dying to see Tonya’s work.”

“Will do,” replied Jirra.

 

Chapter 11

Late Saturday night, Jirra striped naked, sat down on one of her Navajo rugs and began to concentrate. It had been months since she last had spoken to her spirit guide. This wasn’t because she lacked questions; rather it was because she didn’t want to overuse the relationship that she had with Killara.

One of the cool things about seeing Killara was that she never knew what sort of environment she would find him in. Usually it was a natural environment so when she opened her eyes and she was caught off guard by the fact she was sitting on a park bench. As she looked around, it took her a few seconds to get oriented. It was obvious that she was not in the States. Judging by the architecture, she figured that she was in Europe. There was something very familiar about the look of the city, and then it hit her that she was in Copenhagen.

She glanced down and saw that she was dressed in what appeared to be a woman’s outfit from the early 1940’s. She was wearing a dark navy suit and a matching fedora. Even though it was cloudy and cool there were many other people walking through the park; they were all dressed in period outfits. The fact that she wasn’t alone was also different; usually when she met Killara they were alone.

As she looked around at her surroundings she began to notice the soldiers -- German soldiers. Several were standing forty yards away checking the papers of people passing by. All were armed, although their weapons were shouldered. A chill ran up her spine, as she watched them.

Killara hopped up on the bench next to her.

“Hello, Jirra,” greeted Killara.

“Aren’t you afraid that people will notice you?” she whispered nervously. “I mean, kangaroo rats aren’t indigenous to Denmark.”

“They’ll see me as a squirrel,” he replied. “You can speak freely, as no one will notice us.”

“And no one will think a woman talking to a squirrel is strange?” she asked.

Killara made a motion that looked like he shrugged his shoulders.

Jirra was about to speak again, when two armed soldiers walked past her. They didn’t stop, although one of them smiled seductively at her. Not knowing how to react, she smiled back. The two men continued without stopping. Thankfully, they kept walking, although the soldier who smiled at her looked back at her over his shoulder. Another chill ran up Jirra’s spine.

“I thought this would be a fitting place to meet, considering what you are working on,” he replied. “It’s Copenhagen in the summer of 1943.”

Jirra looked around and began to notice other men standing near the soldiers. They weren’t dressed in uniforms, but they seemed to be in charge. They suddenly pulled a young man aside and began to aggressively question him. She wondered if they were Gestapo.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I’m not sure … this is very unnerving,” she said softly. “No, it’s worse than that -- it’s frightening.”

She felt a sense of relief, when the men let the younger man leave.

“Much like your friend Andrea would have felt,” he replied.

Jirra nodded as she looked around. Suddenly a wild thought entered her head and her fear evaporated. She then leaned close to Killara.

“Is she around here? I would love to see what she looked like back then!” she whispered excitedly.

Killara seemed to ignore her question, as he scratched his ear.

“I’m pleased that you have taken someone under your wing,” he stated.

“You mean Tonya?” asked Jirra. “We’ve just worked together on this project.”

“No, there’s more to it than that. You treat her as an equal and as a friend … which she needs. Her past is much harsher than she has told you. Your association with her is helping her trust people again … something that her family took away from her.”

“So, I take it that I can trust her with my … with the truth,” said Jirra.

“She already suspects that you are holding back. Don’t worry; she doesn’t hold it against you … in fact to her it makes perfect sense as she is also guarded in hiding her past. What she has told you is true … but she has left out some of the darker episodes.”

Jirra nodded as she watched an elderly man and woman walk past her. The couple was more interested in the checkpoint than anything else.

After they passed she looked at Killara.

“I could feel their fear,” she remarked. “It must be awful to be always on edge.”

“Yes, this was a very disturbing time in history,” he replied. “I hope this gives you a special insight into what it was like.”

She nodded.

“Andrea was very special to have survived this. All things considered, it makes my situation tame,” she replied.

“Very good,” he replied.

“I see … so back to Tonya, does this mean I trust her with the truth about the stories too?” she asked.

Killara looked up at her.

“Do you really need to ask me that question? Look inside and you will have your answer.”

Jirra nodded.

“What? No sarcastic reply?” he asked cheerfully.

“No, it would seem out of place,” she said as she looked around. “I never thought I would say this, but can we end this early? I know that I’m safe, but the sight of all these soldiers … and the others … around here is nerve-racking. I can’t imagine how Andrea was able to not just survive … but to thrive.”

“She was a special person. Very well, young one, I will send you home … but first look to your right.”

Jirra glanced over and saw that the soldiers had set up a checkpoint and were stopping all people in order to check their papers. Jirra noticed a young woman smiling cheerfully as she handed one of the Germans her ID. The soldier smiled back as he checked her papers. If Jirra hadn’t known better it appeared the woman was flirting with the German checking her papers. The woman passed through the checkpoint without incident, and even the two men in the civilian suits ignored her.

“That is your friend Andrea,” said Killara.

“Really?” asked Jirra as she watched the woman walk away. Part of her wanted to get up and follow, but she knew that wasn’t possible.

“Yes and if she hadn’t been so charming then those soldiers might have been more observant. It also helped that she spoke to the troops in German. She’s currently acting a courier and she’s carrying some very important papers,” he replied. “As I said earlier, a very remarkable woman.”

“Thank you for letting me see her,” replied Jirra.

“You’re welcome young one … trust your feelings, they serve you well,” he replied.

Jirra was about to reply when suddenly woke up in her apartment. She looked at her watch and realized she had been gone for nearly three hours. She quickly slipped on her robe and began to type up her observations in her laptop.

 

Chapter 12

“You really saw Andrea?” asked Beth over breakfast.

Jirra nodded as she took a bite of bacon.

“From what I could tell, it was her,” said Jirra.

Beth sighed. “I wish I could have been there. Do you think that your guide could arrange for me to see her?”

“I don’t know … but when you’re ready we can try it,” said Jirra.

“I’d like that,” said Beth.

“I also have a deeper appreciation for what she did. I was only there for a short time, and I was a nervous wreck. She’s the bravest person that I’ve ever known,” said Jirra.

Beth smiled. “She was special, wasn’t she?”

“Very much so … just like her granddaughter,” said Jirra.

Beth began to blush.

“Well, it’s true,” said Jirra with a grin.

“Thanks,” replied Beth softly.

“So any word on where you’ll be assigned when graduate?” asked Jirra as she ate some more of her eggs.

“I’ve been offered a spot in the Internet sex crimes division -- although I have also been offered a spot in Spec-Ops too,” said Beth. “I took the physical test this summer and scored above average. I guess I just wanted to see if I could do it. They also saved me a couple of times.”

“So what are you going to do?” asked Jirra.

“I’m honored that Spec-Ops wants me, but I have had my mind set on joining the Internet team ever since I first walked into that office.”

“I know you’ll do a great job there,” said Jirra.

“Thanks,” she replied. “I really excited about it.”

“Um, one more thing: do you have any objections to me telling Tonya that the stories are based on a real person?” asked Jirra.

“No, I think we can trust her,” said Beth.

 

Chapter 13

A week later, Jirra scrolled through the first draft of the book on her computer. Tonya was sitting next to her on the couch, sipping green tea.

“I have to admit that this is good. I had my doubts that the book would work in this format, but it does,” said Jirra. “You really captured the look I was hoping for.”

“Thank you. I really enjoyed doing it … and I look forward to starting the next one,” she replied.

“That’s good to hear, as I will be sending this off to Kelsey,” said Jirra. “Things are happening very quickly, and it looks like the first book will be published before the end of the year.”

“I’m amazed how you’ve been able to put all this together,” said Tonya.

Jirra laughed as she shook her head.

“I’ve had little to do with the technical side of this. It’s due to Celeste, Kelsey and Jen,” she replied.

“Jen?” asked Tonya.

Jirra snapped her fingers.

“That’s right, I haven’t told you everything; Jen Stevens has thrown her expertise behind this project,” explained Jirra.

Tonya stared back in disbelief.

“You mean Jen Stevens -- the actress, producer, director … ”

“And a very good friend,” replied Jirra. “I met her through Alexis, when she stayed at the spa.”

“Now, I’m really impressed. You’ve been holding back on me -- you know my idol!”

“I’ll introduce you to her the next time she’s in town. She comes in for a cheese steak, when she can,” replied Jirra.

Tonya laughed. “Yeah, like she would eat a cheese steak.”

“She sometimes eats two! I have no idea how she does it,” said Jirra.

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Very much so. Jen has helped me … in more ways tha I can remember,” said Jirra.

Tonya stared back.

Jirra took a deep breath and let it out.

“We sort of share a special connection,” continued Jirra.

Tonya didn’t say anything.

“I suppose this is as good a time to tell you as any … I have left out something about my past, and I think that I can trust you enough to tell you,” said Jirra.

“Thanks,” replied Tonya.

Jirra nodded and then began to tell her story.

 

Chapter 14

After Jirra finished, a sly smile appeared on Tonya’s face.

“I just have one question, when are you going to write your life story? I would love to illustrate it,” said Tonya.

“I doubt anyone would want to read it,” said Jirra.

Tonya shook her head.

“Jirra, are you kidding? This would be great!”

“Maybe some day … but not now,” said Jirra. “So, you obviously believe me.”

“I knew you were hiding something, but I had no idea it was this. So, you never wanted to be a girl before this happened?”

“That’s right. I was very happy being a guy … and it took me a while to get comfortable as a woman,” replied Jirra.

“And are you comfortable now?”

Jirra nodded.

“Yes, although I still have my moments. I think having the baby gave me a whole new look at this,” she replied.

“Damn, you’re everything I’ve always wanted to be,” said Tonya wistfully. “I used to wish and pray something like that would happen to me, when I was growing up. Do you think that I could try it?”

Jirra shook her head.

“It’s too risky. I mean we’re talking about lightning and the possibility of being electrocuted. Then there’s the whole thing about changing genders -- how do you explain it?” replied Jirra.

“I wouldn’t care,” said Tonya.

“Yes, you would. My biggest fear is being outed; can you imagine what the press would do?” asked Jirra. “I’m amazed Jen does as well with it as she does. I was more terrified about being outed than having the baby.”

Tonya scratched her chin.

“Yeah, I can see your point -- the press would go nuts,” said Tonya. “Don’t worry about me, I will keep your secret; I know all about them.”

Jirra smiled back at her.

“Thanks, I hate being secretive with my friends,” she replied.

“Thank you … for considering me a friend,” replied Tonya. “So does this mean that Celeste and Beth know about you too?”

Jirra nodded.

“Of course Jen and Alexis also know,” said Jirra.

“That goes without saying,” said Tonya.

“No one else here does, but there are many others who know,” continued Jirra. “Maybe you’ll meet them.”

“So is this why you came up the ideas for these stories?” asked Tonya.

“No, they’re based on a real person; I just fictionalized her life,” said Jirra. “She gave me her journals before she passed and asked me to try and get them published -- so these are a labor of love.”

“Wow,” replied Tonya. “Now I really want to complete these knowing that there was a transgendered secret agent. She must have been one hell of a woman.”

“She was,” replied Jirra. “Okay, while we’re on this sharing secrets path … is there anything else you want to share with me?”

“Let me get something to drink first,” said Tonya.

 

Chapter 15

“I left out a big part of what happened,” said Tonya as she took a sip of her tea. “I wasn’t exactly caught … I was betrayed.”

“Go on,” said Jirra.

“I was freaking out about the urges to be a girl, and I needed someone to talk to, so I went to my minister,” she said. “At first he was very nice about it and told me not to worry -- that he would help me. He then asked me to come over to his house … and when I got there he had an outfit for me to wear. He said that he wanted to see me when I was dressed. I didn’t think it would hurt, so I changed.”

“What did you wear?” asked Jirra.

“It was a skirt, blouse, and knee socks, nothing too outrageous. He also had a bra and panties for me, also makeup and a wig -- I looked pretty mainstream,” she replied. “We then sat down and talked; I felt so relaxed … and hopeful that things were finally going well.”

Tonya took another sip of her tea.

“I then began to feel weird -- tired, weak -- and before I knew it, the bastard was carrying me into his bedroom … where he raped me,” she confessed. “He drugged me just enough so I couldn’t resist him -- but he left me awake so I could remember everything that he did to me.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Jirra.

Tonya nodded.

“Anyway, he told me that if I told anyone what happened I would go to hell and that no one would believe me,” she continued. “He then continued to use me over the next few months.”

She picked up her mug with both hands to take a drink.

Jirra could see that she was trembling.

“It’s okay, Tonya, you don’t need to go on,” she said softly.

“No, I want to talk about it. Anyway, he must have thought that he couldn’t trust me -- so he turned me in to my parents. I tried to tell my side, but no one believed me -- just like he said. I had no proof to back up my story; it was my word against his … and he’s the beloved man of the cloth,” she said bitterly.

“So he’s still there?” asked Jirra.

Tonya nodded.

“I know … I know. He’s probably abusing others … but no one will listen to me … I’m a pariah there,” said Tonya. “There’s nothing that anyone can do about it.”

“Did you tell anyone at the Foundation?” asked Jirra.

Tonya shook her head.

“Maybe I should have,” she replied softly. “I know this may sound selfish, but I just want to move on. I know that I could have -- should have -- told Celeste, but she has enough on her mind.”

“I think you should tell her, and I know someone else you should tell this to,” said Jirra.

“Who?” asked Tonya.

“Diana Bowie,” said Jirra.

“Who is she?” asked Tonya.

Jirra smiled, as she took Tonya’s hands into her own.

“Someone you have a lot in common with,” replied Jirra.

 

Chapter 16

Two hours later, Jirra and Tonya were up in Celeste and Beth’s apartment. Diana Bowie was also there, listening intently as she took notes while Tonya repeated her story.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you this before Celeste,” said Tonya after she finished. “I know that I should have … ”

“You have nothing to be sorry about, Tonya. I know how hard it is to admit to being abused,” said Celeste.

“So do I,” added Diana. “Tonya, do you know if he’s still there?”

Tonya nodded. “I went online a few months ago.”

“Good,” replied Diana. “If he’s still there, then it means that he’ll feel very comfortable and safe.”

“Do you think he’s abusing others?” asked Tonya.

“There’s a very good chance of it,” replied Diana.

“I’m so sorry I didn’t come forward sooner,” said Tonya.

“Tonya, you’re the victim in this; you have nothing to apologize for. The man who abused me was an adored teacher, and everyone was shocked when he was caught. So I find it very believable that no one would believe you,” said Diana.

“You were abused by a teacher?” asked Tonya.

“And many others,” replied Diana. “They’re all dead or in jail.”

“Do you think you can help put Reverend Hartwig in jail?” asked Tonya.

Diana looked over at the others.

“We’ll definitely try,” replied Diana.

“You going to call Max?” asked Beth.

“It’s the sort of thing that he loves doing,” replied Diana.

“Who’s Max?” asked Tonya.

“My Dad,” replied Diana. “Not by birth, but he’s the man who saved me and raised me.”

“He’s a P.I., and he’s worked with the Foundation,” added Celeste.

“And what will he do if he uncovers what Hartwig is doing?” asked Tonya. “I doubt the local cops will do anything.”

“He’ll turn his info over to the Agency,” said Beth.

“The Feds?” asked Tonya.

“Max has a long history with them, and they’re very good at stepping in when the local authorities are either unwilling or unable to do anything,” said Diana.

Tonya had a look on her face of disbelief.

“Trust me Tonya, if there’s abuse going on there then The Agency will step in,” said Beth.

“You sound pretty sure,” said Tonya.

“She should; she’s going to be working for them as soon as she graduates,” interjected Celeste.

“No way!” exclaimed Tonya.

“She’s telling you the truth; but to be totally honest, technically I’m already an agent,” said Beth.

Tonya looked at Jirra who was nodding.

“Wow … and I thought I had the most unusual past here,” said Tonya.

“Okay, I’ll call Max and set up an interview with you,” said Diana.

“Also, Tonya, I want you to speak to one of our therapists,” added Celeste.

“I’m okay … now,” said Tonya.

“I doubt that, speaking from my own experiences,” said Diana. “Do what Celeste says; you’ll thank us later.”

“I guess you think I’m stupid,” said Tonya to Celeste.

“No, I don’t. Since I opened the Foundation, I’ve seen many people who have been both abused and betrayed by people they thought they could trust. Do I wish you had told us about this earlier? Yes. But what’s more important is that you have told us,” explained Celeste. “Now the most important thing is that you get help.”

“I appreciate that,” Tonya replied. “I also appreciate that I have so many people who care about me. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” said Celeste.

 

Chapter 17

“Wow, that’s quite a story,” said Alexis.

“I know. When Killara said that she was hiding something, I wasn’t expecting that,” replied Jirra. “But then again I guess I shouldn’t be shocked.”

“I can’t wait until we hear what Max turns up,” continued Alexis.

“I know,” replied Jirra. “If anyone can turn up something, it’s Max. Then it’ll be up to The Agency.”

“And hopefully a long jail sentence,” added Alexis.

“It will still be light punishment, compared to the pain he has caused.”

“I don’t know. If he’s publicly humiliated that could be a worse punishment for someone like him; he’ll lose the power and prestige that he has built up,” continued Alexis.

“Maybe,” replied Jirra. “So, when can we get together?”

“How about Columbus Day weekend?” asked Alexis. “We’re not scheduled to be shooting that weekend.”

“Cool! Where do you want to meet: here or up there?”

“I’ll come down there, that way you won’t fall behind in your school work,” said Alexis.

Jirra laughed.

“I’m actually having a very easy semester. I’ve even found time to write a guest article for the campus paper,” replied Jirra.

“That’s cool. So do you miss working on the paper?” asked Alexis.

“A little,” replied Jirra. “The problem is that, now that I’m writing professionally, some of the staff is intimidated by my being there.”

“Speaking of writing, I can’t wait to see the book,” said Alexis.

“It looks great. I have to admit that I’m really excited about getting it published. I’m also glad that Jen has thrown her expertise behind the formation of our company.”

“I know what you mean. I’ve looked at the business plan, and what she and her lawyer have put together is impressive. So have you settled on a name of this company?”

“It will be Anasazi Press,” said Jirra.

“That’s catchy,” replied Alexis.

“It was either that or Killara, but I don’t think that he’d approve,” she said. “I like having the connection to the canyon.”

“Sounds good. Well, I better get going, we’ll be shooting soon. I can’t wait to be with you, Roo,” said Alexis.

“I miss you so much,” replied Jirra. “I love you.”

“I love you too, take care.”

 

Chapter 18

Diana’s cell phone rang, as she was walking out of her house.

“Hi Max,” she greeted. “So where are you?”

“O’Hare,” he replied.

“Really? So soon? You’ve only been out there for a few days,” said Diana.

“It was all that I needed,” he replied.

“So tell me, what did you find out?” asked Diana.

“I tracked down two of the people on the list that Tonya gave you. They both are willing to talk.”

“Will that be enough to get the authorities involved?” she asked.

“I would say so, as Hartwig is currently in jail awaiting his arraignment,” replied Max.

“How did you pull that off so quickly?” asked Diana excitedly.

“Would you expect less from a professional, semi-retired sleuth like me?” he asked.

Diana giggled. “You always can make me laugh,” she replied.

“I’m glad to hear that,” he said. “Anyway, it came together pretty fast. The list of names Tonya gave you was a good start. They gave me other names and that led to the person that Hartwig was currently abusing -- a fifteen-year-old boy. This time the parents believed the victim; it was all I could do to stop the father from going over to the church and shooting Hartwig.” “So what happened then?”

“The Agency arranged for the State Police to make the arrest, but they’ll be involved, based on what they have found,” said Max.

“What was that?” she asked.

“Hartwig greeted us at the front door of his home as if we were coming over for a barbecue. He initially tried to argue that the charges against him were bogus and was shocked that we had a search warrant. When we headed down to the basement, Hartwig began to get hysterical and had to be restrained. He then broke down and began to sob and beg for forgiveness … pretty pathetic considering all the people he has hurt,” said Max. “It soon became obvious why he was so upset. The State Police uncovered a wealth of information, including video and photographic evidence of his sexual conquests. He also had a lot of child pornography. They’re still going through his computer files.”

“Why am I not surprised?” she said. “So where is the bastard now?”

“In a cell in Indianapolis, under suicide watch,” replied Max. “As they led him out of his home, he keep crying out that he wanted to die.”

“So what about The Agency?” asked Diana. “You said that they’d be coming in.”

“It looks like Hartwig’s religious retreats to third world countries were actually sex vacations. He made trips to at least five countries. Right now, the authorities will have enough to lock him away for several lifetimes,” said Max.

“No chance that he’ll cut a deal and get out of being punished?” asked Diana.

“His lawyers brought that up, but he’s too dirty. He’ll also be facing foreign extradition, and I doubt he’ll want to go to a prison overseas. At best he might get a deal on where he’ll be sent here,” said Max. “What bothers me is that I was able to break this so quickly. He really had the locals fooled. Everyone in his town thinks the man is a saint … or at least they did.”

“Thanks, Dad, I owe you for this one,” said Diana.

“It was an act of love, my dear. Besides, I may be getting old, but I never get tired of busting a dirt bag.”

“So can I tell Tonya?” asked Diana.

“I think she’d like to hear it from you,” said Max.

 

Chapter 19

Diana sat down on the leather couch in Tonya’s apartment. In addition to her couch, her living room had several plush armchairs.

“Nice place,” said Diana. “I like how you’ve furnished it.”

“I’d love to take credit for it, but I bought most of the furniture is from the previous tenant,” she replied. “I like it too; it feels comfortable here.

“Well, I wanted to tell you that Reverend Hartwig is in jail,” said Diana.

“Really?” asked Tonya excitedly. “Is there any chance that he’ll get out?”

“Currently, he’s being held without bail, due to the charges filed against him,” said Diana.

She then told Tonya the list of charges filed against Hartwig.

“My god, I had no idea he was so evil,” said Tonya.

“He was very good at hiding his true nature,” said Diana. “He counted on this and that none of his victims would ever speak against him.”

“I hate to say this, but why don’t they let him kill himself,” she said.

“I see your point, but men like him need to go on trial. If he committed suicide, then there would always be those who felt he was innocent. The world needs to know the nature of his crimes,” said Diana.

Tonya stared back.

“True … but does this mean that I will have to testify?” she asked.

“Maybe,” replied Diana.

She lowered her head.

“I hadn’t thought about that … but I’ll do it,” she said.

“And I’ll be there with you,” said Diana.

“You mean that?” asked Tonya.

Diana nodded.

“Thanks,” she replied.

“However, there’s a very good chance that he’ll make a deal, to avoid a trial. Molesters usually don’t do well in a courtroom. With the charges he’s facing, he’s looking at life without possibility of parole. The best he can hope for is which prison he goes to. He’s also facing foreign prosecution.”

“If he makes a deal will he have to make one of those statements … confessing what he has done?” asked Tonya.

“You mean an elocution; yes, I’m sure the prosecutor will demand that,” said Diana.

“Good,” replied Tonya. “I want everyone to hear him say what he did.”

“Tonya, have you ever been in contact with your family, since you were forced out?” asked Diana.

She shook her head.

“I’m not telling you to call them tonight, but I want you to consider doing it,” said Diana.

“Do you think it will make any difference?” she asked.

“Not with everyone, but some might be willing to listen to your story now.”

“Did it help with your family?” asked Tonya. “I read your book -- Celeste loaned me her copy -- it was great. But even after the truth came out, your family still didn’t embrace you.”

“That’s true; it didn’t fix everything, but it did give me access to some of my original family. I know what you’re going through, and how you feel. But as you grow older, it’s nice to have family.”

“I wouldn’t know where to start,” said Tonya as she wiped away the tears that were rolling down her cheeks.

“Try calling them and see where it goes,” said Diana as she handed Tonya the box of tissues.

“And then?” asked Tonya as she wiped her eyes.

“Maybe meet them. I would be willing to be there with you,” said Diana.

“You mean that?” asked Tonya.

Diana nodded.

“I have learned a lot from the mistakes that I have made. I have learned that sometimes you need the help of others. It doesn’t do any good to hold it in -- the pain doesn’t go away,” explained Diana.

“But you’re so successful -- I mean you’ve written books, been on TV, and now you’re a professor … ”

“Professionally, I’ve done very well … my personal life hasn’t always been so rosy. Thankfully I finally met someone who has taught me how to love, but it was a long, lonely journey before I met her,” said Diana. “I just don’t want to see you make the same mistakes that I did.”

“Okay … let me think about it,” said Tonya.

“I will, but I’m very persistent, so don’t think that I’ll forget about this; you’ll be hearing from me,” said Diana with a smile.

“Thanks,” replied Tonya as tears began to well up in her eyes.

“Honey, I know some of the pain that you’re going through. You have many good people who care about you; don’t try to take this on alone,” said Diana.

“I won’t,” said Tonya. “It’s just that I never thought I’d have people care about me after my family threw me out. Thank you.”

Diana then wrapped her arms around Tonya and gave her a long hug.

 

Chapter 20

A few days later, Jirra and Tonya were walking to class.

“You know, we can put back working on the book for a while,” said Jirra.

Tonya shook her head.

“Jirra, when I’m drawing it’s not work -- it allows me to escape,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m really happy that Hartwig has been arrested, but it brought up some bad memories … things that I thought I had pushed deep inside a long time ago. Add to that this attempt to reconnect with my family, and then temptation to self-medicate came back. Thankfully, due to Celeste and Diana’s prodding, I’m seeing a therapist -- and it helps -- but drawing is my real therapy.”

“Okay, but if you need time off, let me know,” said Jirra.

“I promise,” replied Tonya.

Jirra laughed. “No offense, but that won’t work with me; I have made and broken that vow too many times myself,” said Jirra.

“I doubt that,” said Tonya. “You seem so together.”

“You’re just seeing the upgraded version. I had a lot of issues earlier, and I still have the occasional speed bump,” she replied. “But I have learned to fall back on my friends -- don’t forget that. I know all too well how family members can hurt you, but true friends will always be there for you.”

“Thanks,” replied Tonya.

“So what about your family?” asked Jirra.

“I called them last night -- Diana was there with me. They didn’t hang up on me; I suppose that was a good start.”

“And...?” asked Jirra.

“They’re not ready to see me. They’re confused about me and feel betrayed by Hartwig. I also sense they feel a lot of guilt over throwing me out, but I’m not sure if they’re ready to accept me -- but they have agreed to talk once a week,” she said.

“That’s good,” replied Jirra.

“It’s a start,” she replied.

Jirra stopped and gave Tonya a hug.

They walked for a few more minutes in silence.

“So, when is the editor arriving?” asked Tonya.

“I’m calling Kelsey later today to set it up; I wanted to make sure you were okay first,” replied Jirra.

“Cool,” replied Tonya.

 

Chapter 21

“So when does Alexis arrive?” asked Beth as she set the table.

Jirra looked at her watch. “In twelve hours. She’s catching a red-eye down from Boston.”

Celeste looked out from the kitchen.

“I’m happy that you’ll get to spend some time together this weekend,” she said as she checked the contents in one of the pots on the stove.

“The best thing about graduating is that we won’t be separated,” said Jirra.

“So you’re moving up to Boston?” asked Celeste.

Jirra nodded. “When she’s shooting, we’ll live in the condo, and the rest of the time we’ll be out on the Cape. She converted the spare bedroom in the condo into a writing room for me,” said Jirra.

“Besides the Andrea stories, will you also work on the Erin Flynn Series?” asked Beth.

“Yes, they’ve offered me a contract to be one of the writers. Faith told them that I have the best feel for her characters,” said Jirra.

“That’s quite a compliment, coming from Faith,” said Celeste.

“You’re telling me! She’s very picky about how her characters are used,” said Jirra.

“Well, I’m very happy for you,” said Celeste.

“I will miss living here,” said Jirra. “This has been a very special part of my life.”

“Change is part of life,” said Celeste. “I’ll be breaking in a new roommate myself, next semester.”

“So do you have anyone in mind?” asked Jirra.

“Rachel Greene. She already lives here, and she knows my past -- besides, she’s almost related to Beth,” said Celeste.

“Cool, I like Rachel,” said Jirra. “So when’s the wedding?”

“Ken wants to wait until summer,” said Beth. “And yes, you’re all invited.”

“Are you going to be in the wedding party, Beth?” asked Jirra.

Beth nodded. “Another bridesmaid’s gown to add to my collection,” she replied.

“What about a wedding gown?” asked Jirra.

“Jim and I have talked about it, but we’re happy with the current situation,” replied Beth. “It’s going to be hectic enough the next year as it is, with us both starting new assignments.”

“So where did he get assigned?” asked Jirra.

“Spec-Ops -- he’s being assigned to one of the teams. I know the guy who’s in charge. His name is Tom, and he’s one of the best.”

“Cool,” replied Jirra.

Spirit came in and flopped down on the floor just outside of the kitchen.

“The roast must be almost done,” said Beth as she leaned down and scratched Spirit’s ears.

“Yes, the four-legged timer is never wrong,” replied Celeste. “Jirra, can you please finish the salad for me?”

“Sure,” replied Jirra.

“I know you and Alexis will want to be together, but I’d like to talk to both of you together concerning the publishing contract. Morris sent out the final version, and I’d like to go over it with you.”

“Sure,” replied Jirra. “Did he include the clause that I requested?”

Celeste nodded.

“What clause?” asked Beth.

“I want a large portion of any profits I get from this to go to a scholarship fund at the Foundation. I’m not really doing this for the money, and I thought it would be a nice tribute to Andrea,” replied Jirra.

“That’s very sweet, Jirra,” said Beth.

“We’re also making sure that Tonya gets compensated,” added Celeste.

“How’s she doing? I haven’t seen the past few days,” asked Beth.

“She wanted to get ahead in her school work, as she’s flying to Indiana, with Diana, this weekend,” said Jirra.

“Wow,” said Beth.

“I know what you mean; I remember my meetings with my family,” said Celeste.

“I’m glad Diana has taken her under her wing,” said Beth.

“Yes, it’s good for both of them,” said Celeste as she opened the oven. “Okay, dinner’s ready.”

 

Chapter 22

“So how’s Sean? I haven’t seen him since I got back,” asked Jirra.

Celeste smiled. “He’s charming as ever. He’s been working on a new book -- a biography on Alexander Hamilton -- so he’s been spending a lot of time doing research. However he’s coming into the city next week, and we’re going out to dinner and then a show.”

“That’s great to hear; he’s very nice,” said Jirra.

Celeste nodded.

“Look, you made her blush,” said Beth as she nudged Jirra.

Celeste rolled her eyes. “What can I say? I’m lucky to have fallen madly in love twice in my life,” she replied.

“Well, I think it’s wonderful,” said Jirra. She then let out a sigh. “I’ll miss our dinners together. I know we’ll always be friends, but it won’t be like this again,” she said.

“I know what you mean,” said Beth. “When I was changed, initially I couldn’t wait to grow up again, but now I almost wish I could make this last a bit longer.”

“Life moves on,” said Celeste. “But friendships -- real friendships -- never end.”

The others nodded.

“Oh, I meant to bring this up sooner. Do you think it would be okay, if I offered my room to Tonya? I’m only taking my posters, and a few other personal items when I move out, and I’d like the rest of the furnishings to go to someone I know,” said Jirra.

“I think she’d love that; you have a lovely apartment,” said Celeste.

“Cool, I’ll ask her when she gets back,” said Jirra.

 

Chapter 23

“Damn, I’ve missed this,” sighed Alexis as she cuddled up next to Jirra in bed. “I was thinking about this the whole flight.”

“I’m amazed we actually made it back here,” said Jirra. “Were you serious about stopping and getting a hotel?”

Alexis giggled as she ran her fingers over Jirra’s nipples. “Maybe,” she replied. She then leaned over and kissed Jirra.

“I still want you to finish your degree -- and I can’t wait to see you in a cap and gown -- but I do miss you so much. I can’t imagine life without you,” said Alexis.

“I love you too,” said Jirra. “After all we’ve been through; it will be nice to be together.”

Alexis began to kiss her again.

“Time for round two,” Alexis sighed.

 

Chapter 24

Later, over coffee, Jirra updated Alexis on Tonya and the book.

“Tonya sounds interesting. I can’t wait to meet her in person,” said Alexis.

“She’s been through a lot,” said Jirra. “Unfortunately, she’s out of town this weekend.”

Jirra then told her about the trip back to Indiana.

“I’m glad she’s not going alone,” said Alexis.

“That makes two of us,” said Jirra.

“So what do you want to do today?” asked Alexis.

“Well, we already took care of two of the things on my list,” said Jirra.

Alexis grinned. “I have making love on my list too -- and trust me, it’s on there more than once.”

Jirra giggled.

“I know you need to talk to Celeste; you want to call her now and see when she’s free?” asked Jirra.

“That sounds good; maybe she’ll join us for lunch,” said Alexis.

Jirra picked up her phone and called Celeste.

“I’d love to join you for lunch,” said Celeste.

“Is Beth around?” asked Jirra.

“No, she took off to DC this morning. She had a meeting with some people at The Agency,” said Celeste.

“Is everything okay?” asked Jirra.

“Oh yes; it’s just that she has to meet some people concerning her security clearance,” replied Celeste.

Jirra laughed. “Sorry, but I bet that will be interesting,” said Jirra. “Well come on down when you’re ready.”

“I’ll be there in ten minutes,” she replied.

 

Chapter 25

Tonya looked at herself in the hotel mirror. She was dressed conservatively in a pair of slacks and a sweater.

“Sorry, there’s not much I can do about the hair,” said Tonya. “It’s sort of trained to be spiked now.”

“It’s fine. It suits you, and it also works for you,” said Diana.

“I’m so nervous. I don’t know if I can go through with this,” she said.

“I’m sure that your family is equally anxious,” replied Diana. “I’ll be there and act as mediator between you and them.”

“So how do I start? What do I say?” she asked.

“Just be yourself, Tonya,” replied Diana. “Let them know how well your life is going.”

“And if they ask me how my life was?”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” said Diana.

Tonya ran her fingers through her hair.

“Okay … let’s go,” she said.

The meeting would take place in a hotel conference room arranged for by Diana. She knew from her own experiences that it would be best to first hold this meeting in a neutral location.

Diana and Tonya arrived first and took their seats.

“Do you know who’s coming?” asked Diana.

“Just my parents; my sisters are off at college,” said Tonya.

“Okay,” replied Diana. “Well, just try to keep calm.”

“I will,” replied Tonya.

Ten minutes later, a middle-aged couple was escorted into the room by a member of the hotel staff.

They sat down across from Diana and Tonya without saying a word.

“Mr. and Mrs. Boyington, I’m Diana Bowie; thank you for coming,” greeted Diana.

Carl Boyington was fifty-two, and starting to show his age. He was probably fifteen pounds overweight and balding. He worked as the manager of a local hardware store.

Mary Boyington was fifty. She worked as a secretary at the high school. She was thin and had newly dyed brunette colored hair. She nervous took off her glasses and cleaned them.

Carl grunted something that sounded like a greeting, while Mary just nodded.

“This is Tonya,” continued Diana.

Carl and Mary glanced over at her, but neither spoke a word.

Diana gave Tonya a nudge under the table.

“Hi,” said Tonya.

Her parents nodded.

Diana was doing her best not to get upset. Carl reminded her too much of her original father, and it was taking all her effort not to lose her temper.

“Okay folks, we agreed to get together to talk,” said Diana.

Carl picked up the pitcher, poured two glasses of water, and handed one to his wife.

“Okay, I’ll start,” said Tonya. “I just want to let you know that I’m doing okay, now. I’m in college and am also working as a professional artist.”

“College?” asked Carl as he took off his glasses to clean with a tissue. “Which one? A community college?”

“The University of Pennsylvania,” replied Tonya proudly.

He almost dropped his glasses. “You’re in an Ivy League school?” he asked.

Tonya nodded.

“How the hell did you manage that?” he demanded. “Where did you get the money for that?”

“It’s a long story,” replied Tonya. “But after you threw me out … I had some rough times. I was sent to a special foundation, and they helped me. I finished up my high school diploma and was offered a scholarship to Penn. I earned my place in there -- it wasn’t charity.”

“What do you mean by rough times?” asked Mary softly.

Tonya looked at Diana, who nodded.

“I hitched a ride up to Chicago. I was hoping that Aunt Donna would take me in, but you already called her. She did give me a few dollars. I was desperate and … well, I was taken in by a man -- he was actually a pimp -- and well, you get the idea.”

“You were a … a … prostitute?” asked Carl.

“No I was a whore. I didn’t have a lot of options, there’s not a lot a kid can do on their own” snapped Tonya. “I didn’t want to do it, but I needed to eat. You didn’t leave me many options.”

Carl stood up suddenly, and began to help his wife up, when Diana intervened.

“Sit down and listen to your child!” she ordered in a terse tone.

Her manner caught them off guard.

“Excuse me?” asked Carl. He wasn’t used to women speaking to him in a harsh way.

“Are you hard of hearing? I said, sit down, shut up, and listen to what your child has to say,” she repeated firmly.

“She just admitted she’s a … a whore!” he shouted.

“No, she said she was a whore -- there’s a big difference. Besides, you’re the one who threw her out! What did you think she was going to do?” growled Diana. “You’re lucky that she doesn’t want to file charges with child protective services. I’m sure that would do wonders for your business -- and I’m sure the high school wouldn’t appreciate it either. The fact that your child was tossed out of the house, and no one raised any questions, is very disturbing. I’m positive that I can raise the appropriate amount of stink about it, if I want to. In fact, the only reason I’m not reporting you is that your child asked me not to, so you owe her for that too.”

Carl opened his mouth, but didn’t say a word as he sat down. He had never been spoken to in this manner by a woman.

“Go on, Tonya,” said Diana as she poured herself a glass of water.

“Anyway, I was arrested, and the judge knew about the foundation that I mentioned earlier. He arranged for the woman who runs it to meet me,” continued Tonya. “It saved me.”

“What sort of foundation?” asked Mary.

“It’s called The Farnsworth Foundation, and they’re located in Connecticut. They help transgendered youth,” replied Tonya.

Mary nodded.

“Have you heard of it?” asked Tonya.

“I saw a story about it on Oprah,” admitted Mary.

“So you know it’s legitimate, right?” asked Tonya.

Mary nodded, again.

“They helped me … no, that’s not right, they saved me … they gave me hope, they gave me a future -- they let me become me,” continued Tonya.

“What does that mean?” asked Carl.

“I had surgery, got my identify legally changed -- I’m physically and legally a woman now,” said Tonya. “I don’t expect you to understand everything, but I want you to know that I feel whole, physically, for the first time in my life.”

Carl and Mary just stared back, as they absorbed what Tonya said.

“I also want you to know that … that I forgive you for what you did. I know that you believed the lies that Reverend Hartwig told you. I can’t blame you; I trusted him too, and he hurt me in ways you can’t imagine,” said Tonya as tears began to roll down her cheeks.

“What do you mean?” asked Mary.

Diana pushed the box of tissues over in front of Tonya, who took one, wiped her eyes and then blew her nose.

“I went to him for help. I was confused and scared … and he … he used me … and then he lied to you. I can never forgive him; I hope he dies in jail,” she explained.

Carl’s face changed, as he realized what Tonya was saying.

“What do you mean he used you?” he asked. “Do you mean that you and he…that he had sex with you?”

“Not exactly, that would imply that it was consensual. Dad, he drugged and raped me -- many times. He’s an evil bastard who lied to you. I never had a chance to explain,” continued Tonya.

Carl looked over at Diana.

“What Tonya is saying is true. I have seen the files, and there’s physical evidence to support Tonya’s statement,” said Diana. “The bastard had videos and photos of all his victims.”

“The papers didn’t say anything about him being with … her,” said Mary.

“Your child was a minor, when she was abused, so they can’t name names. The reason they haven’t contacted you is that we asked them not to. It would raise too many questions about how a fifteen-year-old ended up on their own,” said Diana.

“Do you have some connection to the case?” asked Carl.

“Yes I do -- and you’re damn lucky I do, or you would be answering some rather uncomfortable questions from the DA. You can thank Tonya for that, too,” said Diana. “That’s twice she has saved you.”

“Saved us?” asked Carl.

“When you get a chance, look my name up; you’ll see that I have little tolerance for those who abuse their children,” she replied tersely. “Now, listen to your child.”

Carl began to open his mouth when Mary reached over and placed her hand on his shoulder.

“Carl, please,” she asked.

He closed his mouth and nodded.

“So what do you want … Tonya?” asked Mary.

Tonya bit her lip before speaking.

“I … I know that things can never be the way they were before … but I don’t want to go through life without a family. I just hope that one day we can … well, I … I … Mom, Dad, I miss you,” cried Tonya.

Mary looked over at Carl, and then she reached over and took Tonya’s hands into her own.

No words were spoken for several minutes.

“Can we talk again later?” asked Tonya.

Mary looked at Carl, who nodded.

“How about tomorrow morning, say at nine?” asked Mary.

Tonya did her best to hide her disappointment, but she nodded.

“Okay. Tomorrow at nine; thank you,” replied Tonya.

Carl and Mary stood up and left the room without a word.

“How’re you doing?” asked Diana after the door closed.

“I don’t know,” she replied. “At least they agreed to come back.”

Diana nodded.

“Sorry about losing my temper,” said Diana.

“Better you than me,” replied Tonya. “Believe it or not, Dad reacts well to that sort of talk -- he was once a Marine -- but I have the feeling it’s the first time that a woman has spoken to him that way.”

Diana smiled. “What about your Mom?” asked Diana.

“I don’t know … she’s always been hard for me to read; she’s always kept her emotions inside,” replied Tonya. “But she has always kept her word, so I know they’ll be back.”

“I hope so,” replied Diana.

“So what now?” asked Tonya. “We have the rest of the day.”

“I need to go talk to the DA about the case,” said Diana.

“Can I come with you?” asked Tonya.

“Sure,” replied Diana. “Let’s go back to the room; I need to get my bag.”

 

Chapter 26

Beth showed her ID and was cleared through security at The Agency.

“Welcome back, Agent Williams,” greeted the head security guard.

Beth turned and smiled at him.

“Thanks for remembering me, Mr. Carter,” she replied.

Harold Carter had been the head of security at The Agency for the last ten years. The rumor was that he knew every agent on sight.

“How can I forget you,” he replied with a smile. “Say 'Hi' to your old man, when you see him.”

“I will,” she replied.

As Beth walked down the passage ways, she felt as if she was home. She had spent many hours here growing up, and in spite of some of the rough times she had experienced, she mainly had good memories of the place.

She headed first to the main office of the newly renamed Cyber-Crimes Division. In addition to handling sex crimes, the department had expanded to cover all sorts of Internet related crimes ranging from identity theft to hacking. The irony in this was that the department had over a dozen of the nation’s top hackers working for them.

Beth stepped into the main room and was greeted by Donna, the head of the East Coast Region.

“Hi Donna,” greeted Beth.

“Good morning Beth, it’s good to see you,” replied Donna. “I heard you were coming down.”

Beth nodded.

“I have a meeting with security,” she replied.

“That shouldn’t be an issue,” said Donna.

“I’m glad that they’re not giving me special treatment,” replied Beth.

“That’s true, but just so you know; I had to fight hard to get you. Your test scores were off the scale; every department wanted you,” said Donna.

“I can’t wait to start work here,” said Beth as she looked around. “I can’t believe how big the department has grown.”

“You’re telling me; we’re actually moving our anti-hacking department to new quarters next month,” said Donna.

“How’re they working out?” asked Beth.

“They’ve done a wonderful job. They love the challenge of the job,” said Donna.

Beth nodded.

“What they do is PFM,” said Beth.

Donna chuckled. “I keep forgetting your past. Most of the people had to be taught that term,” said Donna. “Myself included; Ally taught me it. I still remember when she first used it, and she saw my confusion. She just stared back and whispered 'Pure F’ing Magic'.”

Beth began to laugh.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve penciled you in as a member of the teen Internet sexual abuse division,” said Donna.

“I’ve been hoping that’s where I’d be assigned,” said Beth.

Donna smiled back.

“Well, I better get going,” said Beth as she looked at her watch. “I’ll keep in touch.”

“Take care Beth. See you soon,” said Donna.

 

Chapter 27

The meeting went quickly. The security officer had been briefed on Beth’s unique past, and he raised no concerns.

“In many ways, you are the perfect candidate to become an agent,” he stated. “We know more about your past -- or should I say pasts -- than most of our current agents. I don’t see any problems with your clearance.”

“Thank you,” replied Beth.

Deep down, she wondered if they knew some of the more unusual parts of her life at Penn -- and some of her more interesting friends.

As they finished, the door to the interview room opened and a woman walked in.

“How did it go?” she asked.

“She passed with flying colors, Assistant Director Burns,” he replied.

“I would expect nothing less,” said Ally as she shook Beth’s hand. “Good to see you, Beth.”

“Thank you, Assistant Director Burns,” replied Beth.

Ally smiled back.

The security officer left the room and closed the door behind him.

“You can still call me Ally -- you’re not a fulltime agent yet.”

“Just practicing,” said Beth. “It’s good to see you.”

Ally nodded. “So, I understand you already talked to Donna,” said Ally.

Beth nodded. “I can’t believe how big the department has grown,” said Beth.

“That’s all due to David Burrell; he’s done some great things since he took over,” said Ally. “He wanted to meet you, but he had to go out to Seattle for a meeting.”

“He was part of your original team here, right?” asked Beth.

Ally nodded.

“Those were the days,” she replied wistfully. “So, do you have plans for lunch?”

Beth shook her head.

“Good, let’s head down to the cafeteria,” said Ally.

“You eat down there?” asked Beth.

Ally nodded.

“First, I like the food. Second, I like to be seen around the building; I don’t want to be seen as being on a different level. I have an open-door policy and many good ideas have come out of it,” said Ally. “Besides, the last bit of advice that Robert Ledyard gave me, when he retired, was to be myself.”

“I’m glad to hear that, Ally,” said Beth.

As they walked down to the cafeteria, they continued to talk.

“So, are you excited about starting work?” asked Ally.

Beth nodded. “I feel at home here,” she replied.

“I’m glad to hear that,” said Ally. “I know what you mean. This place is special.”

“So, do you miss the old job?” asked Beth.

“I’d be lying, if I said no. It was exciting to be on the frontlines. Don’t get me wrong: I love my current job, but there are times when I was wish I was back on a computer fooling some pervert who thought was a teenager,” replied Ally.

Beth laughed.

“I’m very happy that you’ll be in my old department. I think that you’ll be a great member of the team…just don’t let them promote you too quickly!” added Ally.

 

Chapter 28

Back in Philly, Celeste, Jirra, and Alexis were seated in an Italian restaurant having lunch.

“I’m really impressed with the business contract that Morris and Jen set up. I ran it past my personal attorney, and he found it to be one of the best he’s ever seen,” said Celeste.

“I wouldn’t expect anything else, from Jen and Morris,” said Alexis. “He reviewed my contract with the show; he got me a great deal.”

“I was talking to Jen and Kelsey last week, on a conference call, and they seem to think that we can have the first book out early next year. Jen also recommends that we get the next book out in early July,” said Celeste.

“Why early July?” asked Jirra.

“I think it would be better if Jen told you,” said Celeste with a grin. “Why don’t you call her; she’s expecting your call.”

Jirra took out her phone and called Jen. She put the phone on speaker.

“I have some very good news,” said Jen. “First, they showed the first draft of the book to some friends in the graphic novel community, and they loved it. In fact, they’re already creating a buzz about it.”

“Cool,” replied Jirra.

“Second, you asked about July -- that’s when Comic-Con happens in San Diego,” replied Jen. “If the first book is the success it is building up to be, then releasing the second book in San Diego will be a big deal.”

“Makes sense,” replied Jirra.

Jen paused for a moment. “This also means that you’ll need to be there, and they’ll probably want you to speak,” continued Jen.

“What!” gasped Jirra.

“You okay? I don’t want you to pass out or anything,” said Jen.

“I’m not sure,” said Jirra as she picked up her glass of water and took a long sip.

“She does look like she just saw a ghost,” added Alexis.

“You’re not helping,” replied Jirra. “Jen, why would anyone want to hear me talk?”

“You need to promote the books. First, you couldn’t ask for a better group to speak to; they’re there because they’re open-minded and true fans -- they’re not going to judge you,” she replied. “I’ve gone there many times and have always had a blast. Ask Alexis; she’s been there too.”

Jirra looked at Alexis, who nodded.

“Jen’s right; it’s a fun crowd. Oh, and you won’t be there alone; I will be there with you,” said Alexis.

“Count me in too,” added Jen.

“Okay,” replied Jirra.

“Now, what about Tonya? Do you think she’ll want to go?” asked Jen. “Her art is incredible, and I know the crowd out there will love her work too.”

“Possibly. I’ll have to ask her -- you know she’s going through some emotional issues right now,” said Jirra.

“Yes, Celeste has kept me updated. I’m glad that Diana is with her; I can’t imagine a better person to be there with her,” said Jen. “So, are you game, Jirra?”

“Well, we’ve already started the second book. I think we can have it to the editor in a few months,” said Jirra. “Will that give us enough time?”

“I think so; Kelsey is pretty sharp, and she has some great connections. If the first book is the success that I think it will be, then getting the second book printed in time shouldn’t be an issue,” said Jen. “If the second book is ready to go, the printer would be insane not to push to get it out by then -- especially with a publicity event like Comic-Con They know a gold mine when they see one.”

“Okay,” replied Jirra.

“However, I will have to get the wheels rolling to get you into Comic-Con … so do you want to do it?” asked Jen.

Jirra looked at Alexis and Celeste.

“It’s your call, but I think it’s a great opportunity,” said Alexis.

“I agree,” added Celeste.

Jirra nodded.

“Okay, I’ll do it,” she replied.

“Great! I knew you would,” said Jen. “Now, I have one last thing to talk to you about: I think we should look at a limited series of items to sell along with the book when we’re at Comic-Con.”

“Like what?” asked Jirra.

“T-shirts, mugs, things like that,” said Jen. “They should be simple with just the name of the series on them and maybe one of Tonya’s pictures on the t-shirts -- with her permission, of course. I have a friend who has done some great things with some of my movies. I’m not talking about mass production crap either. I’m talking about quality stuff here -- not cheap rip-offs like cardboard coffee mugs.”

Jirra and the others laughed.

“I have to agree with Jen, marketing is very important -- especially at Comic-Con. It will help make the series more popular,” said Alexis.

“Okay, I’ll leave that up to you three,” said Jirra. “I just want to keep it classy, for Andrea’s sake.”

“So, no snow globes?” asked Jen.

Jirra began to laugh.

“That would be a big no,” she replied.

“I’ll send you some pics of the mock-ups, as soon as we have them,” said Jen.

“Sounds good,” replied Jirra.

“I really think this is going to be big,” said Jen.

“Wow, that’s amazing, Jen; I’ve never heard you speak so promisingly of a project before,” said Alexis.

“I just have a good feeling about this,” continued Jen.

“I hope you’re right,” said Jirra. “I want this to succeed for Andrea, The Foundation, and for Tonya.”

“Don’t forget about your own writing career,” added Jen.

“Thanks,” replied Jirra.

“Okay, I’ll talk to you all soon,” said Jen.

Jirra and the others said goodbye.

After she hung up, Jirra shook her head.

“I must be crazy -- me at Comic-Con.”

“You’ll love it,” said Alexis. “And I’m going to love being there with you.”

 

Chapter 29

The prosecutor of the Hartwig case greeted Diana and Tonya.

“Ms. Bowie, I’m a big fan of your books,” greeted Harold Vickers.

He was a stocky man in his late fifties with gray hair. Harold was dressed conservatively in a tailored gray suit, white shirt and red tie.

“Thank you for agreeing to talk to us,” replied Diana. “Please call me Diana.”

“Thank you, Diana,” he replied.

“This is Tonya Boyington,” introduced Diana.

Harold shook her hand.

“Pleased to meet you, Tonya. I want to thank you for coming forward about Hartwig; it took a lot of personal courage,” he stated as he led them into his office.

“Thank you, but I’m not sure how brave I am. I did wait several years, before telling anyone what he did to me,” she replied.

“Please sit down,” he said as he sat down in a leather chair. “Tonya, it’s never easy for anyone to come forward in an abuse case. Would it surprise you to know that, since we arrested Hartwig, we’ve been contacted by six others who were abused by him?”

Diana and Tonya sat down on the couch across from him.

“Really?” asked Tonya.

He nodded.

“Three of them occurred before he got to you,” he continued.

“So, what’s going to happen?” asked Tonya.

“I plan on throwing the book at him,” said Harold. “And then I’m giving him to the Feds.”

“So he’s not going to slip out of this,” asked Tonya.

“Not a chance,” replied Harold. “His lawyers initially made an offer, but it wasn’t worth considering. We have a very strong case against him, thanks to the evidence that we found in his home. I’ve seen a lot of disturbing things in my career, but even I was shocked by some of what he kept. If I were to just show some of the tapes, no jury in the world would acquit him.”

“Will I have to testify?” she asked tentatively.

He leaned back in his chair.

“I currently don’t plan on calling you as a witness. I understand what you’ve been through, and I see no need to expose you to a cross-examination,” he replied.

“Is that the real reason?” asked Diana.

“Basically, yes. I want to keep the case focused on Hartwig and his crimes. But I also don’t want the defense to distract the jury. The thing is, we can make our case without Tonya testifying,” he replied.

“So, you think that the jury wouldn’t believe me, because I’m transgendered?” asked Tonya. “Please be honest with me.”

“There’s that possibility,” he replied. “However, I want justice for all of his victims.”

Tonya nodded.

“I just want you to know that, if it means putting that monster away … I’ll take the stand,” she replied.

Harold nodded.

“I appreciate that Tonya, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from you,” he replied.

“I have a question: are you planning on giving him an offer?” asked Diana.

“Yes,” he replied. “We always give them a chance to plead guilty, but if he accepts our offer, the earliest he will be eligible for parole is in forty years -- that would make him 93.”

“And what are the chances that he’ll actually do that much time?” asked Diana. “I have some experience in these sorts of cases. The man who abused me worked the system and was granted an early parole hearing. He was denied, but he’s been back up for parole every year since. I know this for a fact, as I have spoken at every hearing.”

Harold nodded.

“I won’t lie to either of you. Reverend Hartwig still has his supporters, including some very powerful people in the state government, but I have been doing this long enough not to be intimidated,” replied Harold. “His record of abuse goes back fifteen years. He’s a serial sexual abuser, and I fully believe that he will do it again, if he has the chance. I cannot, and will not, allow him to walk the streets again as a free man. It’s bad enough that he has used his role as a clergyman to abuse so many innocent people, but it would be a legal disgrace, if he was able to harm anyone else.”

“I’m pleased to hear that, and I can see that you have a real sense of duty in prosecuting him,” said Diana. “But I have heard rumors that there’s a move to pull you off the case.”

He nodded.

“Yes, that’s true, but before that happens, I will turn him over to the Feds. You have my word that he won’t slip away,” he replied firmly.

“If it helps, you can tell these ‘powerful men’ that I will be watching this trial, and if I feel that there’s any interference with due justice, then they can expect to get a lot of publicity,” said Diana. “And if they don’t think I’m capable of creating a lot of heat, tell them to Google the name ‘Thomas Jonathan Hill.’ He was a Commonwealth Attorney in Virginia. He’s currently serving several life sentences and will die in prison. They’ll find out that I’m very good at digging up dirt about the corrupt.” (Double Jeopardy)

Harold smiled. “As I said earlier, I’ve read your books. I’m just glad that you’re on our side,” he replied.

Diana nodded. “When will the trial start?”

“Early next year,” replied Harold. “We’re still sorting through all the evidence.”

“Excuse me, but if he does accept a deal, will he have to make a statement?” asked Tonya.

Harold nodded. “Yes, I would insist on it. If someone makes a deal with me, they have to admit their guilt -- you can look that up,” he replied as he winked at Diana.

Diana grinned back. She was quickly developing respect for him.

“I would like to be there, if he does,” said Tonya.

Harold nodded. “Of course. What about your parents?” he asked.

“We’ll see,” said Tonya.

 

Chapter 30

After lunch, Beth headed over to Spec-Ops. She was greeted by Tom.

“Good to see you Beth,” he said as he gave her a hug. “I heard you were in town.”

Beth smiled back.

“Final security clearance interview,” she replied.

“Cool! Did you tell them you know how to get out of a pair of handcuffs?” he asked as he led her through the office.

Beth giggled. “No, that never came up in the interview,” she replied. “Wow, that sure brings back some memories.”

Tom nodded. “You were cool under fire, even back then,” he replied. “So when do you start full-time?”

“Right after I graduate from Penn,” she replied.

“And you’re still going to work in the Internet Crimes Dept?” he asked.

She nodded.

“Well if you change your mind, we would definitely take you,” he replied.

“Thanks I appreciate that,” she replied. “Oh, how’s Jim doing?”

Tom smiled.

“He’s good and a very fast learner. Madison has him down on the tactical range today,” replied Tom.

“Cool,” she replied.

“He’s a fine addition to the team,” continued Tom. “Anyway, let me take you to your old man.”

Beth smiled. She knew how much Tom respected her father.

“Thanks,” she replied.

Tom walked her over to Steve’s office and knocked on the door.

“Boss, look what the cat dragged in,” he said.

Steve looked up from his computer, grinned and stood up.

“Hi Dad,” greeted Beth.

“Hey Kiddo, how’re you doing,” he stated as he walked over and gave her a hug.

She hugged him back.

“Just finished up my final interview with security and had lunch with the Assistant Director,” she replied.

“I know; Ally called me and told me you were heading down here,” replied Steve. “I was more interested in non-work related things.”

Beth smiled back. “Life is good,” she replied.

“Have you been home yet?” he asked.

Beth shook her head. “No, I caught the train down from Philly and headed right here,” she replied.

“Well, you’d better call your mother -- or we’ll both be in trouble!”

 

Chapter 31

“That was interesting,” said Tonya as they walked into the hotel. “What do you think of the prosecutor?”

“I like him,” replied Diana. “I did some research on him, before we arrived, and he has an excellent track record.”

They walked through the lobby to the elevator.

“He’s definitely honest,” said Tonya.

“So you weren’t put off by what he said about you testifying?” asked Diana.

Tonya shook her head. “I appreciated that he didn’t lie to me,” said Tonya.

Diana pressed the button to go up.

“Did you have to testify?” asked Tonya.

Diana shook her head.

“No, the surviving defendants all made deals, so there were no trials, but I would have testified,” she replied. “In a way, I have gotten to testify, as I get to speak every year that Harry Cameron comes up for parole.”

“He was your teacher, right?” asked Tonya.

Diana nodded.

“Do you think he’ll get out?” asked Tonya.

“I doubt it, but he keeps coming up for parole … and I keep going up there to testify,” she replied.

The elevator door opened and Diana and Tonya stepped inside. They were the only two, and they headed directly to their floor.

Tonya didn’t speak until they entered Diana’s room. “How many more years on his sentence?” she asked.

“The original sentence was for sixty years,” replied Diana.

“Is he the only one left?”

Diana nodded. “Randy Monroe died last year of a heart attack. He was the Chief of Police,” said Diana.

“I’m sorry that you’ve had so much pain in your life,” said Tonya.

“It has taught me to appreciate the good things in life even more,” replied Diana.

Tonya smiled back. “That’s true,” she replied. “I’m torn about testifying. Part of me wants to let everyone know what that bastard did to me, but I’m also afraid of being outed.”

“That’s understandable. In a way I was fortunate in that my case had so much publicity; the book explained my situation to the world,” said Diana.

“How were you treated?” asked Tonya.

“When I went to college, I had a strong core of friends who were very protective of me -- which I needed -- but over time, I became more comfortable with my gender. Professionally, I had to deal with some bigotry, but that faded over time as I established myself. Yes there are still idiots out there, but for the most part they leave me alone,” she explained.

“So are you telling me that I should be out?” asked Tonya.

Diana shook her head. “No, but you should do what is right for you,” replied Diana. “There are good reasons to be secretive about your gender, but that means that you’ll always have to be on guard. I don’t have all the answers, Tonya.”

“I understand,” replied Tonya.

“However, the good thing is that the career path you’re on is one that has more liberally-minded people,” continued Diana.

“I’ve noticed that … my classes have many very interesting people in them,” replied Tonya.

“How many know your background?” asked Diana.

“A few,” she replied.

“And?”

“They’ve been cool,” replied Tonya.

“If you have any problems, I want you to report them. We’ve had some issues in the past with some intolerant jerks,” said Diana.

“Celeste told me about it, and how Jirra and Beth helped break up an organized group,” said Tonya.

Diana nodded. “I’m pleased that you and Jirra are friends; she’s quite remarkable.”

“I like her a lot,” said Tonya. “She treats me like an equal, when we’re working.”

“As Max would say: Jirra is good people,” said Diana. “She’s also been through a lot.”

“I know, she’s told me about it -- the assaults and the rape,” said Tonya.

“And the rest,” said Diana with a smile.

Tonya froze, not sure what to say next.

“It’s okay, she told me that she told you about her unique past,” said Diana.

“She did?”

“She only tells people she trusts her secret,” said Diana. “I’m amazed she has dealt so well with it. It was bad enough growing up feeling conflicted about my gender; I can’t imagine having my gender suddenly switched.”

“It must have been frightening,” said Tonya.

Diana nodded. “Jirra is a strong person, but what has helped her is having good friends and family around her. Like most of us, she has her moments of needing support … and when she does, give her the support she needs. Can you imagine how she would be treated if she was outed?”

“It would be awful,” said Tonya.

“Exactly,” replied Diana. “You’re now part of a very special group of friends -- don’t ever take that for granted.”

“I won’t,” said Tonya.

She then cocked her head. “Wait a minute, does that mean that there are others with … um, unique backgrounds?” asked Tonya.

“Yes, and in time I fully expect you’ll meet some of them,” said Diana. “I’m a very logical person; I trust facts and evidence, and for most of my life I thought magic and the paranormal was ... well … bullshit, but I have met people and seen things that have made me change my mind. All I can say is keep and open mind, and be loyal to your friends.”

“Wow,” replied Tonya.

“Also be patient, don’t press about seeking these people. When the time is right they will let you into their lives,” continued Diana.

“I will,” she replied.

“Good! Now, I’m hungry; let’s go find a decent place to eat,” said Diana.

 

Chapter 32

That evening, Alexis and Jirra drove out to New Hope to have dinner at The Drunken Squirrel, the restaurant owned by Diana’s partner Kari.

Kari hugged them both as they entered. She was wearing a white chef’s jacket with the logo of the restaurant embroidered on it.

“I was so happy when you called,” greeted Kari.

“It’s always worth the trip out here,” said Jirra.

“Thank you, Jirra,” replied Kari. “How long are you down here, Alexis?”

“Just for the weekend,” replied Alexis. “I have to be back up there on Tuesday. By the way, I love the new hair color.”

Kari smiled as she ran her fingers through her spiked hair. It was black with streaks of purple running through it.”

“Purple has always been my favorite color,” she replied as she playfully batted her eyes.

“It suits you,” said Jirra.

“Thank you,” replied Kari. “By the way, Alexis, Diana and I love the show. I have to admit that I had my doubts, as I have been a huge fan of the books. And, for the most part, TV or movies never do justice to the characters, but I can’t imagine anyone else playing Erin Flynn. I even picture you when I read the books.”

“Thank you,” replied Alexis. “It’s a real labor of love.”

“Oh, and Jirra, I love the episodes you have written. I’m so proud of you,” said Kari.

“I appreciate that,” said Jirra.

“Well, let me get you to your table,” she said as she led them through the restaurant.

 

Chapter 33

A short time later, Kari approached Jirra and Alexis.

They were seated in one of the small rooms on the first floor. There was one other couple in the room.

“Do you have any questions?” asked Kari.

Jirra nodded as she set down her menu.

“When we had the big dinner here, a few years ago, you served a wonderful shrimp and pasta meal,” said Jirra.

Kari nodded.

“Yes, that was the medley of sautéed shrimp, scallops, and sole in a sherried cream sauce with penne pasta,” replied Kari.

Jirra nodded.

“I remember it well, it was delicious,” said Jirra. “But I don’t see it on the menu.”

“In fact I’ve noticed that you no longer serve any shellfish on the menu,” added Alexis.

Kari nodded.

“That’s true. There are two reasons for that: First, I’ve developed a severe allergy to crustaceans, and just touching them can bring on a really bad reaction,” replied Kari. “It just became too difficult for me to manage my kitchen, so I had to take all shellfish off the menu.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” said Jirra.

Kari smiled back. “Thank you. The worst part is that I love lobster and shrimp.”

“And what’s the second reason?” asked Alexis.

“I try and support the local farmers and food providers here in Bucks County and over the bridge in Jersey. We don’t have any shrimp farms … yet, but we have many wonderful farms and other resources. Yes, we’ve had some ‘foodies’ complain about the lack of seafood and ask how do I rationalize having olive oil, saffron, tea, and coffee on the menu. Instead of asking them if they would like to see the chef die, I just point out that I do buy these from local companies. If you look on the back of the menu, I list many of them,” replied Kari with a laugh. “I’m not a big believer that the customer is always right.”

Jirra and Alexis laughed.

“I have even found a local farmer who has a greenhouse and they produce organic oranges, lemon, and mandarin oranges,” continued Kari. “But to appease my long time customers, I have placed all my shellfish recipes on my website.”

“That’s cool,” replied Jirra.

“Thanks,” replied Kari. “Now, I have started something new; would you like to try my special tasting menu?”

“Okay, I’m intrigued; what’s that?” asked Alexis.

“I only offer it to six guests a night and saved spots for you two,” said Kari. “When you called to make a reservation, I set them aside.”

A woman at the table next to them turned around and smiled.

“I hate to interrupt, but you can’t pass this up. We come here several times a year, from Perkasie, just for it,” said the woman.

Alexis looked at Jirra who nodded.

“We’ll do it,” said Alexis.

Kari smiled back.

“Great, I was hoping you would,” replied Kari as she handed them special menus that described the meal.

“I’ll go get it started. I’m really blessed with my current kitchen staff; they love to cook as much as I do. Please read this, and I’ll be back in a few minutes to answer any questions,” said Kari.

The meal started out with roasted tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, followed by a Romaine lettuce salad with roasted garlic vinaigrette. Next was a corn tortilla with Anasazi bean lasagna. The main meal was an autumn spiced chicken breast with white wine sauce. The chicken was served with rice and lingonberry sauce. Dessert was the house specialty: The Drunken Squirrel apple tart. Additionally there would be port, chocolate and mandarin oranges.

“Everything looks so good,” commented Jirra.

“I agree,” agreed Alexis.

“Make sure you ask Kari to describe the meal for you,” suggested the woman at the other table. “It’ll make her day!”

When Kari returned Jirra and Alexis followed the woman’s advice. A large grin appeared on Kari’s face.

“Well, if you insist … first off, I roast and can local tomatoes for all the soups and sauces used here. That way, I know what goes into it. Now, you’ll find that the soup is both sweet and smoky -- trust me, it works and is very delicious. The sandwiches are small, just about two bites worth. As Diana says, just enough to wish you had more, but not enough to fill you up for the rest of the dinner. There are three different sandwiches and they each have their own shape. The round one is cheddar on pumpernickel, the triangle is taleggio on country white, and the square is white stilton on gold raisin bread. You’ll find that each sandwich has its own distinctive flavor and texture. The soup is served in large coffee cup,” said Kari.

“That sounds like a meal just by itself,” said Alexis.

“It can be. When Faith and Max came down last time, I just made a larger version of it,” said Kari. “Now, I use organic Romaine with whole cloves of roasted organic garlic, along with toasted croutons. By roasting the garlic, it makes it sweet and removes the bite.”

“Sounds wonderful; I love garlic,” said Alexis.

Kari nodded.

“Personally, I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t love garlic. Now the next meal, I owe to meeting you, Jirra. Your friend Lindsey taught me this one. It’s layers of grilled corn tortillas, Anasazi beans, corn, butternut squash, and green chili sauce, topped with queso Cotija, spiced pumpkin seeds, and cilantro. Like the sandwiches, it’s not entrée sized -- maybe three inches in diameter,” said Kari.

“Cool,” replied Jirra.

“What are Anasazi beans?” asked Alexis.

“They are small, kidney-shaped purple and white beans in the same family as pinto beans. They can be used in Latin American and Southwestern cuisines, and have a mild, sweet flavor which pairs with a mealy texture. Anasazi beans cook much more quickly than regular beans, and they appear to have been a part of the human diet in the Americas for thousands of years. The beans are also marketed as New Mexico cave beans, Aztec beans, New Mexico appaloosas, and Jacob's Cattle beans,” explained Kari. “Oh, sorry about that, but I do love talking about the history of food. My goal is have a TV show on the History Channel some day, so I can talk about the history of food.”

“It’s okay, history is one of my passions,” said Alexis.

Kari smiled. “Then I have to tell you this: the story of Anasazi beans varies, depending on who is telling it, and how many shots of tequila they have had. In popular mythology, the beans were uncovered by an anthropologist who discovered a 1,500 year old tightly sealed jar of the beans at a dig in New Mexico. Some of the beans germinated, and the new variety of bean entered cultivation again. Since most botanists agree that most beans are unable to germinate after approximately 50 years, it is more probable that the beans remained in constant cultivation in the Southwest, probably in Native American gardens, and that they were picked up by companies looking for new “boutique beans.”

“Judy, the woman who owns the spa, told us that one; she says that people have asked her if she knows the location where they discovered the beans. She’s thinking of buying a reproduction of a pot, filling it with beans, and putting it in a glass display case in the main dining room,” said Jirra.

Kari laughed.

“Good for her … in fact it sounds like something that I would do. Okay, now let me tell you about the main course,” said Kari. “The chicken comes from a wonderful local butcher, Haring Brothers. They know me by name -- not because I have a restaurant, but because I appreciate good food. Anyway, the chicken is cooked in a Scandinavian sauce made of cinnamon, saffron, white pepper and white wine.”

“That must be what we smelled, when we walked in,” said Alexis.

Kari nodded.

“I love cooking it in winter. First off, it’s delicious, but also so that the aroma fills the house,” she said. “Now, the chicken comes with green beans, from my own greenhouse, and rice flavored with saffron and a touch of sautéed shallots. Additionally, I have included homemade lingonberry sauce, which is in keeping with the Scandinavian theme.”

“Where did you get the lingonberries?” asked Jirra.

“I found out that they’ll grow around here, so Diana and I planted some bushes in our backyard. Thankfully the squirrels and birds leave me enough berries to make the sauce,” said Kari.

“Sounds delicious,” said Alexis.

“Lastly, there’s dessert. The Drunken Squirrel Apple Tart is apples and raisins poached in red wine and cinnamon baked in a buttery pastry. It’s served with Madagascar vanilla ice cream from Owowcow Creamery. They’re a new specialty ice cream store that Diana and I found during our explorations of the area.”

Kari looked at her watch.

“Okay, the soup and sandwiches will be out soon,” she said. “I better go check on them.”

“It all sounds wonderful,” said Jirra.

Kari smiled, as she retreated back into her kitchen.

 

Chapter 34

The meal was served at a leisurely pace. Kari commented that she knew, when people ordered the tasting menu, which they didn’t want to be rushed.

Jirra and Alexis thanked the other couple for recommending the meal. As they were the only people in the small room, they talked between the different courses. During their conversations, they discovered that the couple was celebrating their wedding anniversary.

During dessert, Kari came out and joined them.

“I always like to relax after a wonderful night of cooking with a good glass of port,” she remarked.

In addition to the vintage port, there were chocolates from a local store and a small, perfect mandarin orange. Each table was also presented with a bag of freshly baked scones to enjoy over breakfast.

“The fruit and chocolate really complement the taste of the port,” explained Kari.

“It was all wonderful as always, Kari,” said the woman.

“Thank you,” she replied.

“Can we get our bill, please?” asked the man.

Kari shook her head.

“It’s been taken care of,” replied Kari.

The couple looked over at Alexis and Jirra who nodded.

“That’s very generous of you, but … ” started the man.

“Please, let us do it,” interrupted Alexis. “We’ve really enjoyed your company, and we want you to have a wonderful anniversary.”

Jirra nodded.

The couple smiled back.

“Thank you very much,” replied the woman.

“Yes, it was very thoughtful,” he added.

The woman then cocked her head.

“I just have to ask you one thing: are you Alexis Eden the actress?” she asked.

Alexis nodded.

“I thought so,” replied the woman. “We love your show; we never miss an episode.”

“Thank you,” replied Alexis.

They all got up and shook hands and hugged. Kari got one of her staff to come in and take some group shots.

After the couple left, Alexis, Jirra, and Kari sat down.

“That was very nice of you,” said Kari.

“They were nice people, and one of the cool things about being a celebrity is doing things like buying people dinner,” said Alexis. “I also like the fact that she recognized me, yet she waited until after we were done eating before bringing it up.”

“Well, they’ll never forget this night,” said Kari.

“And neither will we,” said Jirra. “The meal was perfect, thank you so much.”

“My pleasure,” said Kari as she stood up and bowed. “So, I assume that you’re staying the night at the B&B and not driving back to Philly.”

“That’s right,” replied Alexis.

“Well, call me when you get up, and I’ll cook you breakfast,” said Kari. “And before you say it -- no, it’s not a problem, I hate to eat alone, and with Diana out of town, I crave the company.”

“Thank you, Kari,” said Jirra.

“You’re welcome, dear. It’s always a pleasure to have you two here,” said Kari.

 

Chapter 35

Jirra snuggled up next to Alexis in their bed.

“That was a wonderful evening,” signed Jirra.

“It was lovely wasn’t it,” replied Alexis.

“Much better than last year,” continued Jirra. “I know that it is a few weeks later, but … ”

“... anything would be better than last year,” interrupted Alexis as she leaned over and kissed Jirra.

“Still, some good came out it. Stella and Logan are wonderful parents,” said Jirra.

“Yes they are, and I know that, when the time is right, we’ll be good parents too,” said Alexis.

Jirra nodded.

“Roo, you did the right thing. You took a horrible event and made it into a wonderful thing. Stella and Logan love their daughter; you made them so happy,” continued Alexis. “I love you so much, and nothing will ever get between us.”

“Thank you,” she replied. “I love you, too.”

“Good, now let’s work off some of the calories from dinner,” whispered Alexis as she kissed Jirra.

 

Chapter 36

The next morning, Diana and Tonya had another meeting with Mary and Carl.

“Thanks for coming, Mom and Dad,” greeted Tonya.

Her parents politely greeted Tonya. Diana could tell that they were not comfortable in coming back, and it brought back many old memories of time spent with her own birth-parents.

“So what are you studying in college?” asked Mary.

“Art,” replied Tonya. “And before you say anything, yes I can make a living from it; in fact I already have a contract.”

Carl’s eyes opened wide.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

Diana was pleased to see he seemed genuinely interested, as Tonya described her work on the graphic novels.

“And there’s a career in this sort of work?” asked Carl. “But … comic books?”

Before Tonya could reply Mary interrupted. “They’re called graphic novels, and they’re very popular these days, dear.”

Tonya had to explain that what she was working on was a bit beyond a comic book.

“In fact, if you go to a book store, they should have a whole section of them,” said Tonya.

Carl nodded.

“Well, I’m glad that you have a career now,” he replied.

“I still want a family,” said Tonya.

Carl looked at Mary, who nervously played with her necklace.

“Honey, this is all new to us. We talked about -- well, everything -- yesterday when we got home; it’s a lot to take in,” said Mary.

“It’s been a lot for me to take in too,” said Tonya.

Mary glanced over at Carl who let out a long breath.

“It’s not easy,” he said.

“I know that, but look; I’m willing to forgive you for what you did to me. Why can’t you accept me for who I am?” asked Tonya. “I’m not doing this to embarrass you; this is who I am, and I have a life to live. I deserve to be happy and to feel whole.”

“Are you happy?” asked Mary softly.

“I’m working on it,” replied Tonya.

Carl and Mary just stared back at her for what seemed liked hours before they spoke.

“I think I can say this for both of us: this will take time,” said Carl.

“But this isn’t the end either,” added Mary.

Carl nodded.

Tonya stared back.

“Um, okay. So how do we progress?” asked Tonya.

There was a long silence that filled the room. Diana then stepped in.

“Why don’t you agree to talk by phone once a week, and then take it from there,” she suggested.

Mary looked at Carl, who nodded.

“Okay. Is that okay with you Tonya?” asked Mary.

“Yes, very much so,” replied Tonya. “Thank you.”

With that Carl and Mary stood up.

“Well, we’d better get going,” said Carl. “Have a good trip back.”

“Thanks,” replied Tonya.

Diana was hoping that Tonya’s parents would break down and hug their daughter, but they didn’t.

Tonya watched as they left.

“I’m sorry,” said Diana as she slipped her arm around Tonya’s shoulders.

“It’s okay, at least they agreed to keep talking,” said Tonya.

“Is it okay?” asked Diana.

Tonya began to nod, but then she began to cry. Diana wrapped her arms around Tonya and comforted the younger woman.

 

Chapter 37

Wednesday evening, Jirra and Tonya joined Celeste and Beth for dinner. As they ate, they talked about the past weekend.

“Sounds like I need to head over to Kari’s restaurant,” said Celeste. “That dinner sounds wonderful. I’m sure Sean would love it too.”

“Kari said that she would be doing it for the rest of the month,” replied Jirra. “It was truly wonderful, even if I had to spend a few extra hours working out to burn off the calories.”

“I’ll call Sean tomorrow and see if he’s free this weekend,” said Celeste.

“Have you met Kari yet?” Beth asked Tonya.

“No, but I feel like I know her, after talking to Diana,” replied Tonya. “I hope I get my shit together and find someone special.”

“You will,” said Jirra.

Tonya shrugged her shoulders. “Right now, I would settle for my family accepting me,” she replied.

“It takes time,” said Celeste. “And even then, there will be those who don’t sign on.”

“You’re right; it’s just that I thought, when they heard how I had been abused, it would have made a difference to them,” continued Tonya.

“My father eventually came around,” said Celeste. “Our relationship is very different than it had been before I had been abducted and outed. I give him credit for trying to understand me.”

“And your mother?” asked Jirra.

“The last I heard she moved to Texas and was working in Houston. She still sees herself as the victim in all this,” continued Celeste.

“I’m sorry,” said Tonya.

“Thanks,” replied Celeste. “Just so you know, even though I know that she wants nothing to do with me, I still have feelings for her. I just wanted you to know that so that you don’t think that you’re the only one.”

Tonya grinned back.

The conversation shifted to Beth and her weekend down in DC. Beth told them that it looked like her assignment to working for Donna was a done deal.

“I just want to thank you all for letting me into your circle of friends,” said Tonya. “I mean, I can’t believe how lucky I am to be friends with such cool and interesting people.”

“Just remember to pay it forward,” said Celeste. “We have been lucky; oh we’ve had some rough spots in our lives, but on the whole many of us have come out ahead. So, as payback, we must always befriend and help the next generation. Next fall there will be someone new from the Foundation moving in here, and I expect you to be a friend and mentor to them.”

Tonya laughed. “Do you think that I’ll be a worthy mentor in a year?” she asked.

“You are now,” said Jirra.

“Jirra’s right; we’re always adjusting and improving,” said Celeste. “The point is to show the next group that life goes on.”

“And that we always stick together, no matter how bad things get,” added Beth. “When Andrea passed, I felt so bad … I wouldn’t have gotten through it without my sisters.”

“Yeah, but … um, don’t take this wrong Beth, you don’t have to deal with some of the things that Jirra, Celeste and I have had to go through,” said Tonya.

Beth glanced over at Jirra and Celeste who both nodded.

“Okay, I suppose it’s time to let you in on my secret,” said Beth.

Tonya’s jaw dropped slightly. “No way! Don’t tell me that -- you were once a guy too?” she stammered.

“I’ll put the kettle on, so we can have some tea,” said Celeste.

Jirra stood up. “I’ll help you with the dishes,” she said.

Spirit jumped up and trotted to the kitchen.

“Yes, Spirit, you can help us dispose of the leftovers,” said Celeste.

 

Chapter 38

“So, what do you think?” asked Beth as she set her mug down on the table.

“All of that is real?” asked Tonya.

Beth nodded.

“I know; I sometimes can’t believe it all myself,” replied Beth.

“I would have never guessed,” said Tonya.

“Well, I have had the advantage of growing up … a second time; it has allowed me to adjust to my life as a woman,” replied Beth.

“Any regrets?” asked Tonya.

“Only that my original family -- with the exception of my father -- thinks I’m dead. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why it has to be this way, but that doesn’t make it any easier,” replied Beth.

“And do you think of yourself as a woman?”

Beth nodded.

“Part of that was the programming of the transformation, part was being raised by a wonderful family, and part due to great friends,” replied Beth.

Tonya just shook her head slowly.

“And to think I thought I had the strangest story,” said Tonya.

“You have no idea,” said Beth.

Tonya cocked her head.

“So there are others?” she asked.

“Yes, and in time you’ll meet them,” said Jirra. “Oh, but just so you know, Alexis is one hundred percent woman, but she does know about all of us.”

“In the meantime, you need to continue to work on your own path to becoming whole,” said Celeste.

“I will,” replied Tonya. “And you don’t have to worry; I will keep your secrets.”

“We know you will,” said Celeste.

 

Chapter 39

A week later, Carla Walters, the assistant DA, stopped by Celeste’s home.

“I’m sorry to bother you, but I know that you’re good friends with Jirra Reid-Eden,” said Carla. “I need to talk to her immediately; do you know where she is?”

“She should be home soon. Why? What’s up?” asked Celeste.

“Todd Kelly escaped,” she replied.

Todd Kelly had once been a promising student at Penn. He came from an old-money family from the Main Line and appeared to have a bright future ahead of him.

But Todd had a dark side, and he helped form a group designed to “cleanse” Penn of undesirables -- starting with LGBT students. They called themselves 'The Purifiers,' and they attacked and injured several transgendered students. The group was broken up through the help of Jirra, Beth and Celeste.

Celeste gasped.

“How could this happen?” asked Celeste.

“His lawyers got him transferred to a minimum security prison, so he could receive counseling,” said Carla angrily. “He broke out last night.”

“Do you think he’ll come here?” asked Celeste.

Carla shook her head.

“No. Unfortunately, we know he left the country,” replied Carla. “We know he immediately caught a flight to San Diego, and Homeland Security has confirmed that he crossed into Mexico.”

“I’ll call Jirra immediately,” said Celeste.

Twenty minutes later, Jirra was sitting across from Carla.

“How did he get on a flight?” asked Jirra. “I thought that TSA would catch something like that.”

“We’re looking into that, but we suspect that his mother bought him the ticket,” replied Carla.

“So where is he now? I doubt he would be dumb enough to stay in Mexico,” said Beth, who had arrived the same time as Jirra.

“We suspect either Central or South America,” said Carla. “As you probably know, extradition from some of those countries is very difficult, but we will try our hardest. The thing is we need to locate him.”

“I’ll call Max and see what he can do,” said Beth.

“Max Bowie, P.I.?” asked Carla.

Beth nodded.

“He’s very good,” she replied. “Please pass him my number; I will do what I can to help.”

“I can’t believe that bastard escaped! How could that happen? He was supposed serve a minimum of twenty years,” said Jirra.

“I know. We’re still trying to figure out how he was able to be transferred to a minimum security facility,” said Carla.

“He jumped bail once and fled the country; how could they be so careless?” asked Beth.

“I’ve talked to Attorney General’s office, and they’re launching an investigation,” said Carla. “Someone had to authorize this, and we’ll find out who did it -- and if they have any connections to Kelly’s family.”

“I recommend that you contact Diana Bowie,” suggested Celeste.

Carla nodded.

“Do you think he’ll try anything?” asked Jirra.

“I don’t know, but his bigger concern is staying free. We’ve already set out an APB on him. He’ll have to be careful and stay low,” said Carla. “I will keep you informed of our investigation, Jirra.”

“Thanks,” she replied. “Just so you know, I don’t blame you … but I definitely want him back behind bars.”

 

Chapter 40

“I talked to our security chief, and he’s passed out photos of Todd,” said Alexis. “I doubt he would be dumb enough to show up around here, but you never know. His idiot friend did try to kill us.”

“Max is already starting an investigation,” said Jirra.

“Well, I feel better already, knowing Max is on the case,” said Alexis. “How’re you holding up?”

“I’m more angry than scared,” she replied. “Just when our lives were becoming normal, this would have to happen.”

“I know,” replied Alexis. “I wish I was there with you.”

“I feel the same way,” she replied.

“Do you mind if I call Jen and let her know?” asked Alexis.

“Of course not,” replied Jirra.

“She might have some ideas on how to track him down,” explained Alexis. “I’ll also call Tessa.”

“Do you think that’s necessary?” asked Jirra.

“It won’t hurt,” said Alexis. “Besides she loves working with Max.”

Jirra laughed.

“True,” said Jirra.

“I love you, Roo,” said Alexis.

“I love you too,” said Jirra.

 

Chapter 41

A week later, Carla met with Max and Diana to discuss the case of Todd Kelly. They were seated in a diner in South Philly.

“Thank you for meeting with me,” said Carla.

Max took a sip of his coffee and then set down his mug. He then handed Carla a folder.

“Just as you thought, the brat is in Brazil -- although I don’t have his exact location…yet,” said Max. “His mother has been wiring money to a bank account there for the past two years.”

“The past two years you say,” replied Carla as she poured some sugar into her coffee.

Max nodded.

“His family has no relatives there or business interests either. The funds didn’t go there directly; they were funneled, first, through a bank in the Cayman Islands,” continued Max. “They were very careful not to put too much in the account each month.”

“How did you find this out?” asked Carla as she lifted her coffee mug. “What I mean is, can it be used in court?”

“My source can’t be revealed, but I can provide you with account numbers. The Kellys weren’t very careful in covering up their trail; in fact, they have an automatic deposit set to go into the Cayman on the first of every month,” said Max. “It’s all in the folder.”

Carla smiled.

“Very good,” she replied. “Do you think that the Kellys suspect anything?”

Max grinned.

“Not a chance. The guy who turned this up is very good at getting in and out of financial systems undetected,” replied Max.

“Good,” replied Carla.

“Carla, do you have the transfer order for Todd Kelly?” asked Diana.

“Yes, as does the State Attorney General,” replied Carla.

“And so you saw you authorized it,” continued Diana.

Carla nodded.

“We haven’t turned up any connection with the Kelly family,” said Carla. “Everyone in the chain of authorization is clean.”

“As would be expected,” said Diana. “They were more careful here than they were in the bank transfers.”

“So what have you turned up?” asked Carla.

“The doctor who recommended the transfer to the minimum security facility,” said Diana. “Her name is Dr. Maureen Strauss.”

“And why her?” asked Carla.

“She was in the same sorority as Loraine Kelly,” replied Diana.

“Okay, that’s a good start, but I need more,” said Carla.

“Two years ago Dr. Strauss was deep in debt and about to lose her home in foreclosure,” continued Diana. “She suddenly came up with the capital by selling a piece of property in the Poconos.”

Carla took another sip of her coffee.

“The buyer bought the land at a highly inflated price,” continued Diana.

“And who was the buyer?” asked Carla.

“A man named Victor Grace,” said Diana.

Carla nodded as she drank her coffee.

“Victor Grace is Loraine’s brother,” continued Diana.

“Interesting,” said Carla.

“It gets better. It seems that Victor has always had money problems and a drinking problem. He currently lives on a beat-up, used sailboat down in the Keys,” said Diana. “I doubt he has any knowledge of the land deal.”

“Who currently owns the land?” asked Carla.

“It was donated to a nature center,” said Diana as she handed Carla another folder. “It’s all in here.”

Carla nodded. “I will pass this on to my connection in Harrisburg.”

“And what do you think they’ll do with it?” asked Diana.

“I’m pretty sure they’ll act on it. This is a very public screw-up, and there are a lot of red faces -- that’s due to the media attention. By the way, who do I thank for the non-news media attention to this case?” asked Carla.

“Jennifer Stevens,” replied Diana.

“Really?” asked Carla.

“She’s close friends with both Jirra and Alexis, so she cashed in some favors and got the nontraditional media involved,” said Diana. “She told me that she can turn the burner up anytime you wish; by the way, so can I.”

Carla nodded.

“I may take you up on this. In the meantime, I will hand deliver this to the AG’s office and see what they do with it,” said Carla. “So, back to Todd, where in Brazil do you think he is?”

“Most likely Rio,” he replied. “I don’t expect too much help from the local authorities, as they are too busy dealing with organized crime and cleaning up the city before both the World Cup and the Olympics. In their eyes, Kelly is a minor criminal, and not worth the effort in looking for. Unless he screws up, I doubt we’ll catch him down there. He does speak Portuguese; he took several courses in both college and in jail, so he will be able to get around, especially because he has a lot of money. Unless we can track him through the family, I doubt if we’ll catch him there.”

“Even if we do, all he has to do to fight extradition, and it could take years,” added Diana.

“He could also marry a local and father a child; that would make it even more difficult,” continued Max. “No, I think our best chance to get him is when he comes back.”

“What makes you so sure he will?” asked Carla.

“He blames all his problems on Jirra, and revenge is more important to him than freedom. I suspect he'll lie low for a few months. He’ll see it as a vacation after serving in prison, but as the days pass, the idea of getting back at Jirra will be too much for him, and he’ll come back. Let’s not forget that he’s a very intelligent young man -- even if he’s a bigot. He made it back in the country once before, so he knows how the system works,” said Max.

“I see,” said Carla.

“Of course, I’m more than willing to make a trip down there and look around -- better yet, I have a friend who could do it. Who knows? We might get lucky,” said Max. “In the meantime, I have had Boudicca Securities upgrade the condo’s security.”

Carla nodded again. “Thank you for all you’ve done,” she said. “I want you to know that I won’t let this go away.”

“I’ve heard that about you,” said Max with a grin.

“Send me your bill,” said Carla. “The AG’s office will pick it up.”

Max nodded.

“Let us know if you need anything else, Carla,” said Diana.

“I will. In fact, can you brief Jirra on what we talked about?” asked Carla.

“We will,” said Diana.

“Thanks,” replied Carla as she picked up the tab.

 

Chapter 42

Jen Stevens listened as Jirra updated her on the case.

“I have to agree with Max; I think that the scumbag will come back,” said Jen.

“I agree, but if he thinks I’m going into hiding, he has another thing coming,” replied Jirra defiantly.

“I’m happy to hear you say that,” said Jen. “But you know that when you go on tour, he’ll know where you are. The good thing is that we can alert the security about Kelly.”

“I’ve been thinking about that,” said Jirra. “I’ve talked to Alexis, and I will still do the promotions for the books; I owe that to Andrea. I mean, if she lived through Occupied Europe, I can deal with one jerk. I just wish we could do more to help track him down.”

“Well, maybe there are some things we can do,” said Jen. “If I remember right, he was big on taunting and sending threatening messages, so there’s a good chance it will do it again. And let’s not kid ourselves, he probably still has friends at Penn, so tracking you down won’t be that hard.”

“So what do you suggest?” asked Jirra.

“I know of some programs that we can install, on both your laptop and phone, that will allow us to track the origin of the caller,” said Jen.

“Why can’t the police do that?” asked Jirra.

Jen laughed.

“The software I’m talking about isn’t exactly legal. Anything we gather from it couldn’t be used in court, but it could be used to smoke out the cockroach,” she said. “I’m due to be up in Boston next week for a cameo shot on Erin Flynn; I can stop in Philly, afterwards, and install it for you.”

“Thanks,” replied Jirra. “I owe you for this.”

“Just take me to Pat’s, and buy me dinner,” said Jen.

“Okay, you have a deal,” said Jirra.

“I would also like to meet your partner, Tonya,” said Jen.

“That won’t be a problem. I have already hooked her on cheese steaks, and she knows how to order them without getting kicked out of line,” said Jirra.

Jen laughed.

“Good for you,” said Jen. “Roo, I know you’re worried, but we’ll catch this creep. He has no idea what he’s going against.”

“That’s the problem Jen. I don’t think he would care, even if he did,” said Jirra.

 

Chapter 43

“Okay, that’s it,” said Jen. “All you have to do, to see where the call is coming from, is to press this App. It will display the exact location the call came from. It doesn’t matter if they are trying to hide their origin either. Oh, it will also record this for you.”

Jirra looked at her phone.

“Cool,” she replied.

“The software on your computer is very similar. It can trace the origin of any email sent to you. When this is done, I’ll remove the software for you after we catch him,” said Jen. “Just so you know, I did this for Alexis too. I’ve also installed excellent encryption software on both devices for both of you. If anyone tries to hack into your systems, they’ll not only be wasting their time, but they’ll leave a trail right back to their computer -- and as they say, you can run, but you just piss me off.”

Jirra broke out in laughter.

“Good, I’m glad to hear you laugh,” said Jen.

“I do appreciate all the help -- from everyone. I just hate being the cause of so much trouble,” said Jirra.

“Roo, you’re not the cause; a magnet for trouble maybe … but then again, so am I,” said Jen.

Jirra laughed again.

“Okay, so I’m ready for my payment; is Tonya joining us on this cheese steak feeding frenzy?” asked Jen.

“Yes, she told me to call her as soon, as we were done,” said Jirra.

“Great, let’s get going. I’m starving, and I haven’t had a real cheese steak in months,” said Jen.

 

Chapter 44

It was mild that night, so they were able to eat outside.

“You’re really going to eat two of them?” asked Tonya.

Jen nodded, as she licked some melted cheese off her fingers.

“It’s worth the extra hours in the gym,” said Jen.

“They are wonderful; I’ll miss them when I move up to Boston,” said Jirra. “The good thing is that I’ll be coming down, at least once a month, to go over the books. Celeste is setting up one of the unused studio apartments to be used as a workplace. Tonya will use it for her drawings.”

Jen nodded as she took a bite of her sandwich and let out a sigh of contentment.

“You just can’t get these in California,” she remarked. “It’s the rolls; they don’t taste the same.”

“We had a place back home that claimed to make cheese steaks … or something called a cheese steak. I can’t believe I thought they were good,” said Tonya.

“All part of your education,” said Jen.

Tonya laughed.

“What’s so funny?” asked Jen.

“I just can’t believe that I’m having a cheese steak with Jen Stevens at Pat’s,” she replied. “When Jirra said that she would introduce you to me, and take us out for cheese steaks, I thought she was joking.”

“I never joke about cheese steaks,” said Jirra.

“Well, Tonya, someday people may be saying the same thing about you. I’ve shown your art to some friends, and they’re very impressed. I suspect that once these books start coming out, you’ll be getting a lot of offers,” said Jen.

“You really think so?” asked Tonya.

Jen nodded.

“I would be more than happy to help you sort through the offers,” offered Jen.

“Thanks,” replied Tonya.

“We’re well on track to have the first book out the first week of December,” announced Jen.

“How did you manage that?” asked Jirra. “I thought they said the earliest they could get it out was next year.”

“What good is it being a celebrity, if you can’t use it?” asked Jen as she popped a fry into her mouth. “We wanted to get it out before Christmas. I’ve also sent some preliminary copies to some critics; they were impressed. Their reviews will start coming out next week.”

“Um, why would we want reviews out so soon?” asked Tonya.

“To build up the buzz,” said Jen. “This is going to be big. We’re setting up a limited schedule of book signings, starting as soon as you two are out of class. Oh, Jirra, when is graduation?”

“I’m going to do the big one in May,” said Jirra.

“Cool! Well, I’ll try to be here,” said Jen.

“Thanks,” replied Jirra.

“So where will these book signings be?” asked Tonya.

“Philly, Jersey, and New York,” said Jen. “This way the first signed editions will be worth more. The plan will be to do a small book signing tour for each book. Of course, the big deal will be San Diego and Comic-Con, when you release your second book.”

“We’re really going to Comic-Con?” asked Tonya excitedly.

Jen nodded.

“That’s so cool. Just going there has been a dream of mine as far back as I can remember,” said Tonya.

“You’re going to have a blast,” said Jen as she wiped some cheese off her lips. “Now, the important thing is, can you two put out two books a year?”

Jirra nodded.

“The second book is well underway, and we’ve already sketched out the next three,” said Jirra. “I’ve also outlined the rest of the books. Thankfully, Andrea’s notes and diaries are very well organized.”

“They virtually draw themselves,” said Tonya. “I don’t even consider what I’m doing as work.”

“I’m pleased to hear that. You two make a great team,” said Jen.

Jirra nodded.

“I agree,” said Jirra.

“Thanks,” replied Tonya. “But I do have one concern: this guy, Todd, aren’t you worried about him? I mean, what if shows up?”

“It means that we’ll catch him,” said Jirra. “I’m serious; right now he’s hiding down in Brazil, and he’s just about untouchable.”

“I’ve got some plans in place for the book signings, security wise,” added Jen.

Tonya shook her head.

“You two act like you’re done this before,” said Tonya.

“We have,” said Jirra. “Life hasn’t been dull, since I was reborn.”

“You’re so brave,” said Tonya.

“No, just angry,” replied Jirra.

“Maybe we can do a book about it some day?” suggested Tonya.

Jirra looked at Jen who laughed.

“She’s one of us, that’s for sure,” said Jen as she stood up.

“Where are you going?” asked Jirra.

“I think I’d like one more steak,” she said as she headed towards the window to place her order.

Tonya stared, incredulous, as Jen walked away, then turned to Jirra. "Three?"

 

Jirra nodded in an 'I told you so' manner.

 

Chapter 45

At 6:30 in the morning, Carla walked into the diner and looked around for Max. She saw him sitting in a booth with a slender young woman. Carla sat down next to Max.

“Carla, thank you for stopping by so early. This is my associate, Tessa Barnard,” said Max.

The first thing she noticed about Tessa was her gray eyes; they were very striking.

“Pleased to meet you,” said Carla.

“Likewise,” replied Tessa. “Max has told me a lot about you. We appreciate all you’ve done.”

“Thank you,” she replied.

The waitress walked over and took their order.

“So what do you have for me?” asked Carla.

“I’ve located Todd Kelly,” said Tessa.

Carla knew Max well enough to trust what Tessa had said.

“Where is he?” she asked.

“Just were we suspected -- Rio,” replied Tessa.

The waitress returned and dropped off three mugs of coffee.

“The rest of your order will be along shortly,” she said.

Tessa produced a folder, after the waitress left. Carla opened it and saw photos of Todd Kelly.

“He’s living at the home of a rich businessman. Needless to say security is tight,” said Tessa.

“What’s his connection to Kelly?” asked Carla.

“He runs an export business. A corporation, which is partly owned by Kelly’s family, just gave him a big contract,” said Max.

“He’s very legitimate,” added Tessa. “Other than harboring a wanted man, he’s clean. He’s a major contributor to the ruling party and has plenty of clout down there. As long as Kelly is staying with him, it will be very difficult to get him back.”

Carla nodded.

“I tracked Todd around the city. He doesn’t go anywhere without bodyguards,” continued Tessa. “He doesn’t seem concerned about being seen.”

“So, at least we know where he is,” said Carla. “The AG’s office has notified me that the money transfers have stopped; I can only assume that Todd will be getting his money through this new business connection. That will be difficult to stop, but I’ll see what they can do.”

“So far, Todd hasn't tried to contact Jirra,” said Max.

“I suspect that he’ll be a good boy, for the time being, and not risk annoying his benefactors,” said Carla.

“Give him time,” said Tessa. “I read his file; he’s not the type to sit still very long. We have him under surveillance, and we’ll know if he leaves.”

Max put down his coffee.

“I have an idea on how we can get under his skin and flush him out,” said Max.

The waitress dropped off their food, and as they ate breakfast Max laid out his plan.

 

Chapter 46

True to their word, Tonya’s parents talked to her on the phone every week. The conversations were very ordinary, and Tonya felt as if she was pulling teeth. Still, it was better than no contact at all, and Tonya remained optimistic that things would get better.

Thanks to the Internet, she was also able to stay up to date on the case against Hartwig. Even though it was painful, she read the comments posted about the case. Most of the comments were highly critical of Hartwig. However, she was shocked that he still had so many supporters. Many didn’t believe the charges against him and claimed it was all a big conspiracy to take down a good man. The more she read, the more she wanted there to be a trial, just so all the evidence would come out against the man who had abused her and so many others.

She went over to Diana’s office to talk.

Diana told her that she wasn’t surprised by the fact that Hartwig had his supporters.

“Sexual predators become successful because they gain people’s trust, not just those of their victims, but of the victim’s families,” said Diana. “Next semester, I’ll be co-teaching a course on this topic; I can get you a seat if you’re interested.”

Tonya immediately agreed.

“So, did people support your abusers?” asked Tonya.

Diana nodded.

“However, as the mountains of evidence came to light, they drifted away. Still, the first couple of parole hearings, there were some people there to speak on their behalf,” said Diana.

“I’m pretty sure my Mom believes me, but I’m not sure about Dad. He has always felt he’s a great judge of character, and he hates to admit when he’s wrong,” she said.

“That’s not surprising,” replied Diana. “I’m glad they are keeping their word on the phone calls. Have you spoken to anyone else in your family?”

Tonya shook her head.

“I tried to call my sister, but she hung up on me,” said Tonya.

“Sorry to hear that,” said Diana.

A sad smile appeared on Tonya’s face.

“Do you think they’ll come around?” she asked.

“To be honest, I have no idea,” said Diana.

“Celeste said the same thing. She has told me about a lot of the girls at the foundation: some have their families back, and others haven’t been as lucky,” said Tonya. “On the plus side, I have so many wonderful friends now.”

“Good for you,” said Diana. “Don’t ever take them for granted.”

“I won’t,” said Tonya. “When I was turning tricks, I felt so alone. I didn’t count the other whores as friends; we were social, but it was everyone for themselves.”

Diana just nodded.

“No questions?” asked Tonya.

“Nope. I figure you will tell me about it, when you’re ready,” said Diana. “I also don’t hold it against you; you had to do what you did to survive. Anyone who puts you down over this is an idiot.”

Tonya nodded. “My friends know about it; they’re very supportive,” said Tonya. “I guess I’m lucky to have survived it without getting sick or being addicted to drugs. I also don’t have to worry about that bastard who was my pimp

“What happened to him?” asked Diana.

“He was killed by a rival right, after I was arrested,” she said without emotion. “I found out, when I arrived at the Foundation.”

“What did you say, when they told you?”

“'Whatever',” replied Tonya with a grin. “Actually my reply was just like that -- without emotion; I was dead, on the inside. It took a while, before I could feel emotion again.”

Diana nodded.

“I remember when I started to feel again. It was as if I was waking up from a long nightmare. I cried, and it felt so good.”

“I know that feeling,” said Diana.

Tonya scratched her head. “Thanks for listening; I really appreciate it,” said Tonya.

“My pleasure,” replied Diana.

 

Chapter 47

The following week, Jirra and Tonya paged through the sample first printing of the first book of the series.

Overall, Jirra was pleased with it. Tonya was slightly critical of some of the colors used, but she was also happy to see her work in print.

“I have a question, Jirra: how did you feel, the first time you saw your writing acted out?” asked Tonya.

“I was too much in shock,” replied Jirra.

Tonya nodded. “I feel the same way... I never thought my work would ever get published, and here it is,” said Tonya.

“Now comes the really hard part, waiting to see the reaction,” said Jirra. “The good thing about writing for a TV show is you get almost immediate acknowledgment.”

“That’s true; the critics usually have their saw the next day,” said Tonya.

Jirra shook her head.

“I don’t sweat the critics; Jen and Alexis told me not to worry about them. It’s the fans. They start blogging, even before the show is over. You have no idea how protective they are about Erin and the other show’s characters,” said Jirra. “The good thing is that Faith is very tough on us, when we submit a script; she wants us to stay true to the characters.”

“Makes sense,” said Tonya.

“It’s also something that’ll we’ll have to do with the stories, if they become popular, “added Jirra.

“I’ll remember that,” replied Tonya.

“Good. Well, I think we should go out and celebrate,” said Jirra.

“Shouldn’t we wait until the book goes on sale?” asked Tonya.

Jirra shook her head.

“No, just the fact that the book is being printed is a victory. Let’s go get Beth and Celeste and go out,” said Jirra. “Besides, there’s something I want to show you.”

 

Chapter 48

“It’s right up here,” said Jirra as she led the others up the street.

Tonya stopped just outside, when she saw the sign in the independent bookstore’s window advertising the upcoming release of “A Different Kind of Freedom” by Jirra Reid-Eden, illustrated by Tonya Boyington.

“Wow,” exclaimed Tonya.

“I thought you’d like it,” said Jirra as a big smile appeared on her face.

Beth stepped between Jirra and Tonya and slipped her arms around each of their shoulders.

“Thank you, this means a lot to me,” said Beth.

“So, is this going to be one of the places where we’re doing a signing?” asked Tonya.

Jirra nodded.

“They’re one of the top book stores selling sci-fi, anime, and illustrated novels. They’re also very LGBT friendly,” said Jirra.

“I’m so happy for all of you,” said Celeste.

“Thank you for helping with the business side,” said Tonya.

“You’re welcome,” replied Celeste. “The initial good publicity about this book has led to other writers sending us their work. We also have some of the other graduates from the foundation working on some books. This could turn out to be very good for the foundation.”

“Do you want to go in?” asked Jirra.

Tonya shook her head.

“I’ll wait until the book is in the store. Besides, I’m hungry; let’s eat!” she exclaimed.

The four friends headed up the street to a local pizzeria. A short time later a man stopped in front of the store and stared at the poster. He then went inside and talked to the clerk, who confirmed his worst thoughts.

He then left the store and headed to one of Penn’s computer centers. A short time later, he sent out an email to his best friend, and fellow “Purifier,” Todd Kelly.

 

Chapter 49

It was early January, when Jirra officially moved in with Alexis. The past few weeks had been a whirlwind of activity.

First, there was finals week. Jirra wasn’t that worried about passing her classes; rather, she felt a sense of sadness, as she realized that her days at Penn were over. She fully knew that she would stay close to Beth, Celeste, Tonya, and her other friends at Penn, but still it was the closing chapter of a very memorable part of her life.

The first book was an immediate big seller, and the book signings were very successful. Jirra tried not to notice the security provided by Boudicca, as she smiled and signed her name. Max had told her that Todd was still in Brazil, but he was worried that some of Todd’s friends might try something. Thankfully, all the events went off without incident.

While it was not part of the PR program, Jirra was pleased that neither her nor Tonya’s gender had any negative impact on the sales of the books. On-line sales were very steady from all sites that sold it. However, book sales in alternative book stores were even better than projected.

After doing the book signings, Jirra and Alexis flew out to New Mexico for the holidays. They stopped and spent a few days in Ohio with Alexis’s family.

The day they arrived back in Boston, the weather was miserable. The temperature was hovering above freezing and a light mist was falling from the dark heavy gray skies.

“Sorry it isn’t nicer,” said Alexis.

“It’s perfect,” replied Jirra as they walked into the condo.

“Welcome home, Roo,” said Alexis as she kissed Jirra.

Jirra wrapped her arms around Alexis.

“You have no idea how good that sounds,” replied Jirra.

“Yes, I do,” said Alexis. “After everything we’ve been through, we’re finally together -- forever.”

Jirra smiled, and they kissed again.

 

Chapter 50

Down in DC, the weather wasn’t much nicer, as Beth reported for first day at work.

Donna greeted her and introduced her to the rest of the team. While the other agents didn’t know all of Beth’s background, many did know her connections to the Agency. Beth knew that her family connections, and those to both Ally and The Director, could lead to issues. Some might be intimidated by her background, and others might be jealous. So Beth was determined to establish herself as just another agent.

Donna was also determined to avoid personality conflicts in her department. She assigned Beth to work with one of the senior agents, just as she had done with all other new assignments. She wasn’t worried about Beth; rather she wanted to show the others that no one got special treatment. Still, she smiled to herself as she couldn’t wait for Beth to excel and become a full member of the team.

Beth took it all in stride. She didn’t even mind when she was sent on a coffee run -- a standard task assigned to new agents.

The agent assigned to be Beth’s trainer was named Ellen Zimmer. She had recently transferred in from the Seattle office and was considered on the fast track. Ellen was a tall thin woman with short brown hair and wore silver metal framed glasses. She quickly established herself as the top profiler in the department, and she was responsible for several major arrests.

Ellen had heard about Beth’s background, but decided to judge the younger agent on how she acted, not on her past. She was immediately impressed with Beth’s easy-going demeanor.

At the end of the day, Ellen knocked on Donna’s door.

“Please come in,” said Donna.

Ellen nodded and sat down across from her boss.

“So?” asked Donna.

“She’s good, and I like her,” said Ellen. “I think we’re very lucky to get her.”

Donna nodded.

“How long have you known her?” asked Ellen.

“Since she was in high school,” replied Donna. “But just so you know, this will have no impact on how I treat her.”

“I doubt you will have anything to worry about, as she’s already fitting in,” said Ellen as she adjusted her glasses. “If half the stories are true, I can’t believe she wanted to work here … I mean I would have thought she would want to be in the field.”

“I think it’s because of her past that she wants to work here,” replied Donna. “You can ask her about it; I’m sure she’ll tell you what she can.”

Ellen nodded.

“The unclassified versions?” asked Ellen.

Donna nodded.

“Even I don’t know all the details,” replied Donna.

“Well, if today is any indication, she’ll be getting her own cases pretty soon,” said Ellen. “She picks things up really fast.”

“Good, but don’t slack up on her,” said Donna. “That’s the main thing that Ally taught me.”

Ellen smiled.

“What?” asked Donna.

“I just can’t imagine calling the Assistant Director by her first name,” said Ellen.

“I wish you could have worked her when she created this department,” said Donna. “She’s a remarkable woman, and I consider myself honored to have her as a friend.”

“Oh, it’s not that; I’ve heard from some of the others what a nice person she is. It’s just that I read her case files and they read like action novels; she’s one tough agent,” said Ellen with excitement in her voice. “I mean, the way she took down that psycho-bitch Margo Simon … that’s the stuff of legend.”

“She’s special,” said Donna as she thought about the night that Ally almost died.

“You okay?” asked Ellen as she saw sadness in the eyes of her supervisor.

Donna smiled. “Yes, thank you; so, anything else?”

Ellen shook her head.

“Okay, well have a nice evening,” said Donna.

“I will, thanks,” said Ellen.

 

Chapter 51

For Celeste, after the winter break, she returned to her studies at Penn. While she was happy for Beth, she also missed her friend. Initially she hadn’t planned on having another roommate but she changed her mind and invited Rachel Greene to move in with her. Rachel, who was dating Beth’s cousin, immediately agreed.

Celeste was glad that she did it, as she liked having company. To her surprise and delight, she learned that Rachel also loved cooking.

As for Spirit, she loved having someone else in the house who loved playing with her. Even though Spirit was getting up there in years, she was still a puppy at heart, and most importantly she loved being around people.

Over the break, Celeste had spent some time up in Connecticut and on Long Island. Sean had come up with her, and they had spent a lot of time together. Both of them seemed happy about the way their relationship was progressing, and while they talked about getting married, there was no timetable.

Celeste was proud that the Foundation was running so well and that they were helping so many people. She spent some time at the Foundation talking to the girls. For the most part, Celeste let her staff run the Foundation without interference. Of course there were still special projects that she took a personal interest in. The latest of these was Andrea Carlson’s housekeeper, Paula.

She had promised Andrea that she would look after Paula, and this was a vow that she knew she had to keep. At first, Paula wasn’t that interested in working at the Foundation, but then Celeste got a flash of inspiration. She offered Paula a job in overseeing several of the dorms.

Paula immediately fell in love with the position and having the opportunity to look after some of the girls. It was a match made in heaven, as it helped both Paula and the girls who were assigned to her.

At the same time, Celeste got Paula to enroll in college. Celeste wanted Paula to get a degree, so that she could eventually move up into upper management of the foundation. It was her goal that much of the leadership running the foundation would come from within.

Celeste suspected that Sherman would approve of the way she had set things up.

****

Tonya was also adapting to her second term at Penn. Her relationship with her parents was slowly improving, but it was a moving at a snail’s pace; still, progress was progress.

Over the break, she spent most of her time in Philly working on her art, although she did get invited out to New Hope for Christmas dinner with Kari and Diana.

Tonya was starting to see Diana as an older sister. When this slipped out, Diana smiled and said that she was honored to be thought of in this way.

The case against Hartwig was still beginning to look as if it would be going to trial. It was as if he thought that the charges against him would be dropped or lowered, once they examined all the good he had done. To his shock and horror, not only was the prosecutor uninterested in reducing the charges, he was actually talking about turning the case over to the Feds. Hartwig’s lawyers began to urge him to make a plea deal. Hartwig was also dismayed, when some of his more influential supporters began to pull away from him.

 

Chapter 52

Todd Kelly sat in his luxurious apartment in the compound of his benefactor, seething as he stared at the book that he had received in the mail. With each passing minute, his rage grew. Life was not fair. All he had tried to do was clean up the morality of the university, to keep out the undesirables, to make it a place for the “right” people -- and because of political correctness, he was now on the run, an escaped convict, living in a foreign country … while this freak of nature was making money as a writer.

He threw the book across the room in rage. When he had first been told that she had written a book -- a so-called graphic novel -- he sloughed it off, but then he learned that it was not only popular, but making money; he felt like screaming.

His first instinct was to fly back up there and take care of the bitch once and for all, but his mother talked him out of it. She said that he would have to stay in Brazil for at least another year before her lawyers could start an appeals process. She seemed confident that she could get the charges dropped, but she needed him to be patient. He reluctantly agreed to her plan, but that did nothing to lower his rage.

He contacted several of his old college friends and asked them to keep an eye on Jirra, but not to do anything against her. No, he was reserving that right for himself.

He knew how to get over the border in Southern California: all it took was money, and when the time was right, he would do it. He figured he could slip over the border, kill her, and then get back before anyone even knew he had been in the country. Once she was dead, his life would get better. So, he began to plan out how he would do it, knowing that he might only get one chance.

****

Back in North Stonington, Connecticut, Max Bowie read the latest email from Jen Stevens. As he sipped his coffee, he reviewed the latest electronic information she had acquired. Max was no rookie, when it came to electronic surveillance, but he was still amazed that Jen had managed to tap into Todd Kelly’s email. He didn’t bother asking her how she did it. First, none of it was admissible into court, and second, he probably wouldn’t understand anyway. He remembered the last time Jen tried to explain how she ran a trace, and she quickly lost him. The most important thing was that they could now track Kelly’s location.

He told Jen that she was wasting her talents in acting and that she should go work for the NSA or The Agency. Jen just laughed and said that they had too many rules to follow.

Max took another sip of his coffee, as he read Todd’s latest email to his friends. It was not hard to see the anger in the words. Max figured that it would just be a matter of time until Todd made the mistake of coming back into the country, and then they could grab him.

Tessa reluctantly agreed to the plan, although she had written out a very detailed plan to abduct Kelly from Brazil. Max could find no flaws with the plan, but decided to try and wait Todd out first. If that plan didn’t work, he would let Tessa have her fun. He was very glad that she was on their side.

 

Chapter 53

Alexis arrived home after seven.

“Sorry, I’m late. Shooting ran long today,” she apologized.

Jirra looked up from her laptop and smiled back.

“I understand. Dinner is on the stove,” she said.

Alexis leaned down and gave Jirra a kiss.

“What are you working on?” asked Alexis.

“A script for the show,” replied Jirra. “It’s not one of mine. Faith asked me to take a look at it and check continuity; it’s not too bad, I’ve only had to make a few changes.”

“Faith really trusts you,” said Alexis.

“That may be, but she also gives me grief, if I miss something,” said Jirra as she set her laptop on the coffee table.

“I doubt that happens very often,” said Alexis. “So, what is for dinner?”

“Since it’s still so cold outside, I made beef stew -- actually bison stew,” said Jirra.

“Yum,” replied Alexis.

They walked into the kitchen, and as Jirra checked on the stew, Alexis set the table.

“This is why the scandal sheets leave us alone, our lives are too ordinary,” said Jirra.

“Yes, but it’s a good thing they can’t get in our bedroom,” replied Alexis with a grin.

Jirra giggled, as she stirred the stew.

“So tell me about the script,” said Alexis.

“I’ll show it to you after dinner, but it does call for some scenes to be shot at a Bruins game. Do you think that the production company can arrange that?” asked Jirra.

Alexis nodded. “We can pretty much shoot anywhere in the city; they’re afraid of losing us,” replied Alexis. “Boston loves the publicity; they say it great for tourism.”

“Even though most of the stories involve murder, corruption, and other crimes?” asked Jirra.

Alexis nodded. “They say it makes the city look colorful,” she replied.

“Well I need to get it done this week as I’m heading down to Philly on Monday to see Tonya,” said Jirra. “We’re about to send the second book to the publisher, that way it will be ready by July.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem -- I mean you got the first one out in less time,” said Alexis as she opened a bottle of wine.

“That’s true, but the second book is longer and will be getting a bigger printing,” said Jirra. “I’m still amazed how successful the first book had been.”

“It’s a great story. I’m so proud of you,” said Alexis.

“Thanks,” said Jirra.

Alexis poured the wine and handed Jirra a glass.

“Here’s to the future,” she said as she held out her glass.

“To the future,” replied Jirra.

 

Chapter 54

Beth was also sitting at a computer, but she was doing something very different. She was in a chat room, portraying a teenage girl named Emily who was in tenth grade in a private school outside DC. The Agency liked to use private schools in their profiles, as it was more difficult for someone to check the information.

They had recently gotten some tips that the site was being targeted by a pedophile, and the department had worked up a profile that fit the man’s preferences.

Beth looked at her watch and sighed. She had been in the room for nearly two hours without a nibble. Oh, she had talked to others, mostly about inane topics ranging from Justin Beiber to American Idol. However, she also knew that often the predators lurked in the background, watching, and waiting, so she had to stay in character at all times.

She glanced up at the Wall of Shame that listed the department’s major arrests. She immediately focused in on Margo Simon’s name. There really was pure evil in the world, and while Margo was dead and buried, Beth knew that there were many others out there.

Just as she was about to log out, she got an IM from a guy named Curt. He was a regular visitor in the room, but this was the first time they had talked. She clicked on his profile, as she answered his message.

Curt Robbins was listed as sixteen and going to high school outside Annapolis Maryland.

The conversation started out innocent enough, with the usually small talk about school and things like that. But then Beth began to suspect that Curt wasn’t who he claimed to be. He was too smooth and controlling, as he tried to get personal info out of her.

Beth played it cool and acted shy, but not so shy as to scare him away. As they talked, she picked up the phone to call Ellen.

“What do you have?” asked Ellen.

“I’m not sure, but my gut tells me that we may be onto something,” replied Beth.

“I’ll be right over,” said Ellen.

She never dismissed someone’s intuition, when it came to catching a sexual predator. Over the years, some of her best arrests had started out on a hunch.

Ellen was soon sitting down next to Beth.

“So, what do you have?” she asked.

Beth updated her on Curt and her suspicions.

“He just seems as if he’s trying to be immature, if that makes sense,” said Beth.

Ellen nodded, as she scanned the conversation.

“This is definitely worth following up,” said Ellen. “Keep playing him; give him something good, and we’ll see how he reacts.”

Beth nodded and then told him that her parents would be home soon. He immediately asked her if they always worked so late. Beth replied that no, they usually worked later, and that they often didn’t come home until after seven.

Curt then said that he knew all about that, as his parents also worked late. He then asked if there were times when she was alone on the weekends.

Beth asked him how he knew, and Curt replied that she sounded lonely and in need of a good friend.

“Good job,” said Ellen.

They chatted for a few more minutes. Beth typed that her parents were home, and she would have to log off. Curt asked her if she could be back in the room the next day and Beth said yes.

"Well?” asked Beth after she logged off.

“Definitely worth continuing,” said Ellen. “Did you save his profile?”

Beth nodded and called it up on her screen.

“One of the things we’ve added is a team to analyze on-line profiles, we’ll have them take a look at it,” said Ellen.

“What do they look for?” asked Beth.

“Grammar, fact checks about the person -- like do they actually go to the school they claim to attend -- things like that,” said Ellen. “Sometimes the predators steal personal information to create their profiles, but many of them aren’t that creative, and they just make up the info.”

Beth nodded.

“You did a good job today; I can see why Donna wanted you,” said Ellen.

“Thanks,” replied Beth. “I know that there are those here that think I only got this job because of my family connections.”

Ellen grinned. “That has been going around,” said Ellen.

“Yes, it’s true that my parents both work here. Dad runs Spec-Ops, and my mom works in Intelligence,” said Beth. “However, neither of them would use their influence to get me hired. If anything, it makes my life harder, as I have to live up to the standards they have set.”

“Is your mom Maggie Williams?” asked Ellen.

Beth nodded.

“She was a guest speaker at my academy class; she’s impressive,” said Ellen.

“I agree,” replied Beth with a grin.

“And so your dad is The Steve Williams?” asked Ellen. “Damn, he’s a legend.”

Beth laughed. “He’d love that. Yes, he’s my dad. Actually, they are my adopted parents. My birth parents died in a plane crash; they were good friends with them,” said Beth. “But I love them as much as my birth parents.”

“I’m sorry. I know what it’s like to lose a parent; my mom died of cancer when I was six,” said Ellen.

Beth nodded.

“You never really get over it, do you?” asked Beth.

“No, no you don’t. Like you, I had a wonderful step-mother, and I love her, but it’s not the same thing,” said Ellen.

Beth nodded. “While we’re on the topic of my past, what else would you like to know?” asked Beth pleasantly.

“Well, since you brought it up -- there are other rumors about you, like that you’ve been an agent since you were a teen,” said Ellen.

“It’s not a rumor; it’s the truth. I was made a conditional agent, when I was in high school,” replied Beth. “I can’t tell you all the details, but I was involved in the Margo Simon case.”

Ellen leaned forward in her chair.

“Margo Simon, the bitch from hell?” asked Ellen as she pointed to the wall of shame.

Beth nodded.

“So, can you at least tell me how you got involved?” asked Ellen as she leaned closer.

“It was part chance, but I was targeted by her sex slave organization, when I was in high school. If you read the file about the case, I was the one they tracked to her farm in Maryland,” said Beth. “When Ally Burns and her team realized that I was being targeted, they arranged for me to have a tracking bug; it allowed the teams to find her operation and break it up.”

“I read the case. Of course your name wasn’t included -- that was unbelievably brave; I mean so many things could have gone wrong,” said Ellen. “It must have been frightening to have been in her clutches. Damn, that sounded corny.”

“It had to be done,” said Beth with a grin. “Which sounds almost as clichéd as what you said.”

Both of them laughed.

“Anyway, The Director made me a conditional agent, and I was activated several other times,” said Beth. “Of course, they weren’t as exciting as helping bring in Margo Simon. But just so you know, I had to pass all the same tests and screenings as everyone else.”

Ellen suspected that there was something Beth was leaving out, but she didn’t press.

“That’s obvious,” said Ellen. “You have the skills for this job. I guess that also explains why you didn’t take a field agent position.”

“It wasn’t that. When I saw what was being done here, I knew this was the place that I wanted to be,” replied Beth. “Ellen, I just want to do my job and be part of the team. I hope that you believe me.”

Ellen smiled back.

“Yes, I believe you, and I hope that we can become friends,” she said.

“I’d like that,” replied Beth.

Donna was watching from her office and smiled to herself, as she knew that Beth was now part of the team.

 

Chapter 55

Jirra took the train down to Philly to meet with Tonya. It was a clear, but bitter cold day. Thankfully Tonya had the heat on full blast in her car when she picked Jirra up at 30th Street Station.

“How was your ride down?” asked Tonya.

“Nice,” replied Jirra. “I was able to work on my latest script.”

“Cool,” replied Tonya. “I wish I could write like you.”

“It’s not that hard,” said Jirra. “You’re a great artist.”

“That’s different. I just put images to your words; that’s easy,” said Tonya.

“I can barely do stick figures. Seriously, you have to understand more than just the words -- you have to read the emotion too,” said Jirra.

Tonya nodded.

“So try it in reverse,” suggested Jirra. “Draw out a story and then put in the words.”

“You make it sound so simple,” said Tonya.

“Give it a try, and see what happens. I wrote a lot on my own, before I felt confident enough to share it,” said Jirra.

“Well, I’m busy enough as it is, between school and the books,” said Tonya.

“But you still draw on your own, when you relax, right?”

Tonya nodded.

“So, why not try making up some of your own stories?” asked Jirra.

“That’s a thought, but what do I write about?”

“Maybe your life experiences,” suggested Jirra.

Tonya glanced over and grinned.

“Thank you Dr. Jirra,” she said.

Jirra smiled back.

Tonya parked her car in the underground garage of the condo. They took the elevator up to Tonya’s apartment.

“I like what you’ve done with the old place,” said Jirra.

“All I did was add my own art to the walls,” said Tonya as she took off her coat. “Everything else is just like you left it -- with the exception of the rugs.”

The walls of the apartment were covered with framed drawings.

“It makes it your place,” said Jirra. “I like it, and the next time I’m back in New Mexico, I’ll pick you some nice Navajo rugs.”

“Thanks,” replied Tonya. “Do you want something to drink, before we head to the studio?”

“Tea would be nice,” said Jirra as she stood in front of a picture. “This is really good; are they your parents?”

“Yes, I did it over break. I sent them a copy,” said Tonya as she turned the stove on.

“And?” asked Jirra.

“Mom thanked me for it,” said Tonya.

“And your dad?” asked Jirra.

“She said he thought it was nice … but he wouldn’t say it to me,” she said. “Still, we’re making progress; at least we’re still talking every week.”

Jirra walked over to Tonya.

“I know how it is. I still have family that won’t talk to me,” said Jirra. “And they only know the cover story -- if they knew the truth, they might form an ugly mob and try to burn me at the stake.”

Tonya laughed.

“That’s what I love about you, your ability to make me laugh,” said Tonya as she set two mugs on the counter along with the container that held the tea. “You have such a great attitude about what happened to you.”

“Trust me; it’s a work in progress. I was a real head case, when it first happened. I’ve slowly adjusted to my new life. I’ve had my share of bad days and have wasted many hours feeling sorry for myself,” said Jirra.

“So are you complete?” asked Tonya.

“Complete? I doubt that I’ll ever be complete -- not as long as I have to hide the truth about my transformation. Don’t get me wrong: I have a great life, and I love Alexis with all my heart, but I also fear what would happen, if the truth got out.”

Tonya nodded.

The noise of the tea kettle’s steam whistle broke the silence.

 

Chapter 56

“This is really good,” said Jirra as she looked through Tonya’s latest work.

“I get into a groove sometimes, and it just flows,” replied Tonya. “I do a lot of research on-line, but it’s hard finding the right photos of Copenhagen and Denmark during the war. I’m not sure I’m getting the right atmosphere. I mean, we still have a lot of books to do that cover the war years.”

“It looks pretty accurate to me,” said Jirra. “You really grasped the drab and oppressive feeling of the occupation.”

Tonya cocked her head.

“Okay, how do you know that? And don’t tell me you got it from reading Andrea’s notes,” said Tonya.

Jirra smiled. “Do you know what a spirit guide is?” asked Jirra.

“Sure,” she replied.

“Well, I have one, and he lets me see things -- including Copenhagen during the occupation,” said Jirra.

Tonya just stared back.

“You don’t believe me?” asked Jirra.

“No, just the opposite; I do believe you, and I’m jealous,” said Tonya. “Can you teach me how to do it?”

“I’m no expert, but we can try,” said Jirra. “Just so you know, I can’t just do it anytime I want; it only works when my spirit guide allows me to contact him.”

“So he has caller ID?” asked Tonya with a grin.

“Something like that,” she replied. “If we make contact, you’ll meet your own guide, and they’ll give you the rules. But don’t expect many straight answers; they like to talk in riddles. Still, it’s an amazing experience, and I have gotten much out of it.”

“When did you first meet your guide?” asked Tonya.

“A few months after I was transformed,” replied Jirra. “A friend back at the spa taught me.”

“Are you allowed to tell me about your guide?” asked Tonya.

Jirra nodded. “His name is Killara, and he takes the form of a kangaroo rat. I have no idea what he really looks like,” she replied.

“So when can we try this?” asked Tonya.

“I have found that it usually works best very early in the morning,” she replied.

“Okay, I don’t have any classes on Thursday; can we try then?” asked Tonya.

“Sure,” replied Jirra. “Um, just one thing, I have found that it usually works better when I’m naked; does that bother you?”

“Totally naked?” asked Tonya.

Jirra nodded.

“Well, nothing ventured,” replied Tonya.

“Okay, we’ll try it early Thursday morning after midnight,” said Jirra.

 

Chapter 57

“So, are you ready?” asked Jirra as she arranged the blanket on the living room floor.

“As much as I ever will be,” Tonya replied.

Like Jirra, Tonya was just wearing a robe.

The lights in the living room were turned off, and the only light came from the moonlight coming through the window.

“Is your laptop nearby?” asked Jirra.

Tonya nodded.

“Good. If we succeed, then you’ll want your computer when we’re done. Don’t worry about talking to me, just record as much as you can,” said Jirra. “We can talk about it later over breakfast.”

“Okay,” said Tonya.

Jirra slipped off her robe and sat down on the blanket. Tonya did the same and sat down across from her.

In the dim light, Jirra could see a large scar on Tonya’s right upper arm. She decided that it would be best to ask about it later.

“Now, close your eyes and clear your mind, don’t try to think of anything -- this isn’t as easy as it sounds, just focus,” said Jirra.

“Okay,” said Tonya.

“See you on the other side,” said Jirra.

 

Chapter 58

Tonya did as Jirra said and attempted to keep her mind clear of thoughts. It was harder than she thought it would be.

She quickly lost track of time and was beginning to worry that nothing would happen.

“Tonya, open your eyes,” said Jirra.

Tonya was about to ask Jirra if they could try it a bit longer, as she opened her eyes. To her shock, she found that they were no longer in her living room. Instead they were seated on a park bench.

She glanced around excitedly as she took in her surroundings, including the buildings that stood around the park.

“Relax,” said Jirra.

“This looks like Copenhagen,” whispered Tonya. “I mean, I’ve never been there … but from I’ve seen in the photos, this has to be it!”

Jirra nodded.

The sky was filled with gray heavy looking clouds. The temperature was above freezing, but not by much. Both Jirra and Tonya were wearing dresses under their heavy overcoats. Each was also wearing a fedora.

“Is this during the war?” whispered Tonya.

Jirra nodded and motioned with her eyes towards the right. Walking in the distance was a squad of German soldiers. They must have been off duty as they were standing in a group, talking and laughing. They were not paying any attention to the Danes who were walking quickly past them.

“Holy crap! This is real,” gasped Tonya. She then looked around to see if anyone heard her. “Sorry about that.”

“Don’t worry, we’re safe,” said Jirra.

“Are you sure?” asked Tonya as she studied her surroundings. “There are five Nazis standing less than fifty feet from us.”

Jirra nodded as she saw Killara approach.

“Hello, Little One,” he greeted.

“Hi, Killara,” said Jirra.

Tonya turned and looked down at Jirra’s spirit guide.

“Killara, this is my friend Tonya, but of course you already knew that,” introduced Jirra. “Tonya, this is my spirit guide Killara. Don’t worry about his form, to the rest of this world he appears as a squirrel.”

“Hi,” said Tonya softly.

“Greetings Tonya Boyington, I am always happy to meet one of Jirra’s friends in person,” said Killara. “Oh, and if you want to technical about it, those troops are Wehrmacht -- German infantry.”

Tonya giggled nervously.

“This is really happening” said Tonya to Jirra.

“Yes, it is,” replied Jirra.

“I have someone who wants to meet you,” said Killara.

“Who is it?” asked Tonya.

“Your spirit guide,” said Killara.

As if on cue, a small, brown scruffy-looking dog of mixed heritage trotted over to Tonya. The dog was wearing a collar and had a leash in its mouth.

“Take the leash, Tonya,” ordered Killara.

Tonya leaned down and took the leash in her right hand.

The dog sat down obediently at Tonya’s feet.

“Greetings, Tonya Boyington,” said the dog. “You may call me Banquo, although, considering we’re in Denmark, a name from Hamlet might be more appropriate.”

“Banquo is a nice name,” said Tonya. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

Banquo scratched his ear with his foot.

“Thank you,” he replied as he looked up at Jirra. “It is a pleasure to finally meet you, my dear Jirra. Killara has told me many wonderful things about you. And Tonya, there’s nothing to be ashamed about in feeling disoriented; many people feel the same way, their first time.”

“Really? He talked about me? And he had nice things to say?” asked Jirra barely holding back her amusement. “Thank you, Banquo, for telling me that.”

“He’s quite impressed with you,” said Banquo.

“He exaggerates,” said Killara in a matter-of-fact manner.

Jirra smiled back.

“Now, Tonya, let’s go for a walk; we have much to talk about. As your friend, Jirra, mentioned we are safe; no one will pay us any attention,” said Banquo as he stood up. “Again, Jirra, it was an honor meeting you.”

“What do I do?” asked Tonya.

“It’s okay, go with him. I’ll talk to you later,” said Jirra.

Tonya stood up and waved goodbye as she headed off with Banquo.

“Thank you,” said Jirra as she watched them walk away.

Killara hopped up on the bench. “It was her time to meet her spirit guide,” said Killara.

“So besides the usual introduction, what will they do?” asked Jirra.

“Banquo will give her a tour of the city and allow her to truly see the city that she is drawing. This series of books you two are working on is very special, and we want to do what we can do to help,” said Killara.

“Is that all?” asked Jirra.

“No, Tonya needs guidance. Don’t get me wrong; what you and the others have done for her is admirable. However, she still has demons she must purge from her soul -- and her personal life still has holes.”

“Her parents?” asked Jirra.

“That is correct,” he replied. “Now, as undignified as it sounds, please pick me up and place me in your bag.”

“You’re serious?” asked Jirra.

“Yes, Little One,” he replied. “I figure that you desire to see more of the city than just this park. Now, when you hold me, no one will be able to see or hear us.”

“Does that mean this is real?” she asked as she carefully picked him up.

“It was the easiest way to show it to you,” he said.

“Whoa, that’s weird,” said Jirra. “I feel warm all over.”

“A nice side effect,” said Killara.

“Will we see Andrea again?” asked Jirra as she stood up.

“That is a possibility,” he replied. “Head to your right.”

Jirra did as he said as they walked into the city.

 

Chapter 59

As she walked down the street she looked behind her and noticed that she wasn’t casting a shadow. She then looked in the window and say that she didn’t have a reflection either.

“Don’t you believe me?” asked Killara.

“It’s not that, it’s just my curiosity,” she replied. “So they have no idea that we’re here?”

“That is correct. It serves two purposes, first, it protects you, and second ...”

“It prevents me from changing history,” interjected Jirra.

“Very good,” he replied. “It’s not like that theory that killing a single butterfly would change history. Timelines are strong enough to tolerate minor trespassing, but if you were to speak to the wrong person, it could change their lives, so why take the chance.”

“I understand,” said Jirra as she looked around.

Initially everything looked very normal and routine, but then she saw some men in black uniforms checking papers. She also noticed the fear and hatred in the eyes of the rest of the Danes.

As they got closer she could see a strange looking symbol on the collars of the uniforms. It looked like a swastika, but the shape was different, it was rounded off on the edges.

“Who are they?” asked Jirra as she stopped to watch the roughly search a man.

“Traitors,” replied Killara.

Jirra watched as one of the men in uniform take the watch off the man he was searching. When the man protested he was slapped across the face.

“Now I remember who they are,” said Jirra. “I remember Andrea writing about them; they belong to the Schalburg Corps, right?”

“Very good,” said Killara.

“They seem to be able to do whatever they want,” said Jirra.

“That will be their downfall,” said Killara. “Come, we still have much to see.”

As they walked past Jirra stared at the men. They were laughing, as they examined the watch that they had just stolen.

“War always brings this kind of vermin out,” said Killara.

A short time later, Jirra saw a long line of people heading into a store.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“It’s a bakery, and the lines are always long,” said Killara.

Even though the line was long, it was very orderly. The people were chatting pleasantly, as they slowly shuffled along.

A young woman walked out of the bakery. Jirra immediately recognized her as Andrea Carlson.

“Can we follow her?” asked Jirra.

“If you wish,” said Killara.

Jirra fell in behind Andrea and followed her as she walked down the street; she was amazed how feminine Andrea looked. Jirra knew from the notes that Andrea wasn’t even on hormones yet, although she was on some experimental herbal formulas. Judging the looks of the other people on the street, no one suspected Andrea’s true gender.

Suddenly Andrea looked over her shoulder and appeared to look right at Jirra. Andrea stopped and cocked her head, and a confused look appeared on her face. She then shrugged her shoulders, turned around and picked up her pace as she hurried away.

Jirra froze and did not follow.

“Okay, what the heck happened?” asked Jirra. “It was as if she could see me.”

“Very peculiar,” said Killara. “She didn’t actually see you, but she definitely sensed a presence. I suspect that’s what made her so good at her job.”

“Amazing,” said Jirra.

“Well, I think we’ve done enough today; I hope this helps you,” said Killara.

Before Jirra could reply, she found herself sitting in Tonya’s living room.

“Damn-it Killara,” she mumbled.

Jirra then looked over at Tonya, who was standing up and putting on her robe.

“That was friggin’ amazing,” exclaimed Tonya as she sat down on the couch and logged on her laptop.

Jirra nodded as she slipped on her robe.

 

Chapter 60

Two hours later, Jirra and Tonya sat down to eat.

“That was so amazing on so many levels,” said Tonya as she buttered her toast. “Banquo is amazing.”

“So do you have more questions than answers?” asked Jirra as she took a sip of her tea.

Tonya nodded as she took a bite of the toast.

“Get used to it,” continued Jirra with a grin. “So how was your tour of the city?”

“That was totally amazing. I can close my eyes and picture everything I saw in every detail. After we finish eating, I need to start drawing while the images and colors are fresh in my mind. I only wish I could have done this earlier, but as Banquo said, I wasn’t ready.”

“I’m glad that you made contact,” said Jirra.

“I already owe you so much, Jirra -- your friendship, the job, and now this -- how can I ever repay you?”

“You already have, by being a friend,” replied Jirra. “But you’ll get a chance to pay-it-forward. Celeste will bring in others, and you can be their mentor and friend.”

“I will,” said Tonya.

“Trust me on this, helping others will aid you in your own growth and will help heal some of the deeper wounds,” continued Jirra.

Tonya nodded.

“I do have a question for you, and if you don’t want to answer it, I won’t be offended,” said Jirra.

“Go ahead, ask,” said Tonya as she ate some of her scrambled eggs.

“I noticed the scar on your arm this morning,” said Jirra.

Tonya looked down at her right arm.

“I had a tattoo removed,” she replied as she ran her hand across her arm. “It was a heart surrounded by barbwire … it branded me as property of my pimp. I had it removed at the Foundation.”

“I’m sorry I brought it up,” said Jirra.

“No need to be,” said Tonya. “After I was thrown out of my house, I ended up in Chicago. I was at the bus station trying to figure out what to do, when I was targeted. A woman, who later turned out to be an ex-whore, saw me and offered to buy me a meal. Later she offered to give me a place to sleep.”

“Were you dressed as a girl?” asked Jirra.

“No, but I looked very feminine; that’s what caught her attention,” said Tonya. “Anyway she took me back to her place and we talked. When she found out I was transgendered, she dressed me up. It was a very different look than what Hartwig wanted. She styled my hair, made me up in heavy makeup; put me in a skirt, a halter top, and heels. I was shocked, when I saw myself in the mirror.”

“What happened next?” asked Jirra.

“She called the man who would become my pimp. He was a Hispanic guy -- shaved head, big, very muscular. When he ran his eyes down me, I knew I was in deep trouble. He then made me suck him off.”

“You don’t have to continue this, if you don’t want,” said Jirra.

“I want to tell you; you told me your secrets,” said Tonya. “Anyway, he added me to his stable. My hair was beached blonde and styled so it was feminine, I was given long nails, pierced ears, pierced cock, and the tattoo. All of Julio’s girls, natural and transgendered, had the same tattoo. I was his property, and I only existed to make him money. It was a living nightmare.”

“I can’t imagine how awful it was,” said Jirra.

“It was bad. Trust me, Jirra, there’s nothing glamorous about being a street whore. I became numb and just did what I had to do to survive,” she said. “That’s what helped me; the girls who resisted were hurt: they were beaten up, burned with cigarettes, whipped, and worse. And before you ask me why I didn’t try to escape, where would I go? I had no money, and I might be taken by someone worse.”

Jirra just nodded.

“He actually treated me well; not out of kindness, rather it was done to protect my value. T-girls were highly valued, as we couldn’t get pregnant,” she continued. “Thankfully, I was arrested and given a new life. One of the first things I had done was to have the tattoo removed. I don’t mind having the scar; it’s a symbol of my rebirth.”

“Thank you for sharing this with me,” said Jirra.

Tonya smiled back. “Maybe someday I’ll do a story on it,” replied Tonya. “Not for publishing, but for myself.”

“I think that’s a great idea,” said Jirra. “Tonya, do you mind if I gave you a hug?”

Tonya shook her head. “I think I could use one right about now,” she replied.

Jirra got up and gave her friend a long and comforting hug.

“Thanks, now let me show the new software that the publishing company sent me; I’m still learning how to use it, but it will really speed up my work once I do,” said Tonya.

An hour later Jirra looked at her watch. “Well, I better get going; I have a train to catch. I can’t wait to see what you do with the info you have picked up,” said Jirra. “I look forward to seeing you next month.”

“I won’t let you down,” said Tonya.

“I know that,” replied Jirra. “Take care, Tonya.”

 

 

Chapter 61

Back up in Boston, Jirra told Alexis about her trip.

“Sounds like you had an event filled trip,” said Alexis.

“I’m even more impressed with Tonya now, knowing what she has gone through,” said Jirra.

“She’s very remarkable,” added Alexis.

“I also keep thinking about seeing Andrea and how she was able to function … no, make that excel, back then. It makes me feel silly about the fears that I have had,” said Jirra.

“Don’t try to compare them, Jirra. I mean, Andrea wanted to be a woman, and she also wanted to do her part in the war. You went through something very different, but you still have excelled. I’m so proud of you and the wonderful woman you have become,” said Alexis.

“I’m still a work in progress,” replied Jirra.

“Aren’t we all,” said Alexis as she gave Jirra a kiss.

“So how was your week?” asked Jirra.

“We did a lot outdoors location shooting this week. The director wanted to get some scenes done with snow on the ground.”

“Doesn’t he realize that we’ll probably have snow on the ground for a couple more months?” asked Jirra.

Alexis shrugged her shoulders.

 

“The ways of directors are many and mysterious,” replied Alexis. “Let’s head out to dinner,” suggested Alexis.

 

“You sure? I don’t mind cooking,” said Jirra.

“Yes, I saw a little seafood place today, while we were shooting, and I want to try it,” said Alexis. “We don’t need to change; jeans and sweaters should be fine.”

“Good,” replied Jirra. “It’s too cold outside to dress up.”

Alexis nodded. “I agree. Come on, I’ll drive.”

 

Chapter 62

Todd read his latest email. He learned that Jirra no longer lived in Philly and that she had moved to Boston to live with her dyke lover. This news bothered him, as it made getting back at her more difficult. He had only been to Boston once, and he wanted to go after Jirra in a place where he knew the area.

He did learn that she came down to Philly once a month, but there was no regular schedule. Again, this worked against him. Todd knew that going back to Philly, as a fugitive, would be very dangerous. He needed to get in and out as quickly as a possible.

All he could do was bide his time and wait for the right opportunity.

Brazil was nice, but he hated being restricted where he could go. The local authorities now knew who he was. He had no idea how they found him, but two policemen questioned him about his status.

The good thing was that they didn’t seem to care. They were more interested in their bribes than arresting him. They did warn him against causing any local problems.

Todd had no intentions of doing that. He knew he was safe in Brazil and he feared being sent back to prison in the US.

This did mean that he had a relatively boring life there. He cursed his cravings for the beautiful T-girls that he saw in town. He had long justified this duality in his life. Yes, he fought to purge Penn of degenerates and perverts, but they did have a place in the world. They were very good at providing sexual pleasure -- no one could suck a cock better than a T-girl -- maybe because they knew how it felt. He also loved the tightness of when he fucked them. Yes, they made great whores. But college student? No way! As writers? No way! They should know and stay in their place.

He then thought about the whore who had dressed him up and turned him to the police. It would feel so good to track them down and get revenge against them. However, he knew that would be even more difficult than getting that bitch, Jirra.

Todd looked at his watch. It was almost time to head down to the club and find a sexy she-male to suck his cock. That was one of the great things about the t-girls down here, he thought; they knew their place. He replied to the email and again warned his friend not to do anything -- just be his eyes and keep him informed.

***

Back in the States, Jen looked at her computer, as she read Todd’s latest email. It was becoming obvious that he was becoming more impatient about his situation. She knew that Max was right, and that soon Todd would leave his sanctuary. It was also obvious that he was still clueless that he was being tracked. Jen smiled, as she forwarded the email to Max, and she looked forward to seeing Todd Kelly behind bars again.

Chapter 63

Ally Burns was staring at her monitor when the sound of knocking on her door caused her to look up.

“Hi Beth,” greeted Ally.

“Good afternoon, Assistant Director Burns,” replied Beth. “I understand you wanted to see me.”

Ally nodded.

“Please come in and close the door behind you, Beth,” said Ally as she picked up her can of Diet Coke and took a sip.

Beth stepped into Ally’s office and closed the door.

“Oh, and when we’re in private, please call me Ally.”

Beth grinned and sat down.

“I need a favor from you,” said Ally.

“From me?” asked Beth. “Sure, what is it?”

“The Director read the first of Jirra’s books and he loved it. He would like to meet her. I’d like you to contact her and set it up,” said Ally.

Beth stared back in shock.

“I know, I’m as shocked as you are,” continued Ally.

A bemused smile appeared on her face. “Every time I think I have him figured out, he does something like this,” said Ally.

“When does he want to see her?” asked Beth.

“See if she’s available next week,” said Ally.

Beth nodded.

“So, I would ask how you’re doing, but Donna has been keeping me informed,” continued Ally. “I’m pleased that you’re fitting in so quickly, although I’m not exactly surprised.”

“Thanks, I really love my job,” said Beth barely holding back her glee.

“What do you think of Ellen?” asked Ally.

“She’s sharp,” replied Beth.

“I agree, and we’ll probably give her a branch office in a few years,” said Ally.

“Cool,” replied Beth.

“Anyway, I better let you get back to work. Call me as soon as you set things up with Jirra,” said Ally.

“I will,” replied Beth. “Thank you for giving me this opportunity Ally.”

Ally smiled back. “You earned it; now it’s up to you what you do with it,” replied Ally.

Beth grinned back. “I won’t let you down,” replied Beth.

“I know you won’t,” said Ally. “Is everything else going okay?”

“Pretty much,” said Beth.

Ally cocked her head. “Okay, what’s up?” asked Ally.

“It’s Jim. He wants to get married, and, well, I haven’t told him the truth about my past,” said Beth.

Ally nodded.

“I don’t like keeping it a secret from him, but I’m afraid how he might react,” continued Beth.

“Have you talked to Maggie and Steve about this?”

Beth nodded.

“And?” asked Ally.

“They said that it’s up to me,” she replied. “I mean, there are reasons to tell him or not to -- I just hate not being totally honest with him. I’m not worried about him going public with my secret or anything like that; I’m just scared that he won’t want to be with me.”

“I wish I could tell you what to do,” said Ally. “I know how difficult it can be to open with secrets. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised by most of the reactions by people that I told when I came out.”

Beth nodded. “I know I have to make up my mind soon.”

“Anytime you want to talk about it, please do; we’ve been friends longer than I’ve been your boss,” said Ally.

“I appreciate that,” said Beth.

 

Chapter 64

The following week, Jirra found herself sitting next to Beth as they left Dulles.

“Thank you for coming down,” said Beth.

“How could I refuse?” asked Jirra with a grin. “So what’s he like?”

Beth paused before answering.

“He’s amazing,” she replied.

“And?” asked Jirra.

“You’ll see,” replied Beth. “I first met him after I was transformed, and I could sense that he really cared about my situation, but that didn’t stop him from sending me on missions. I can’t imagine the stress that goes with that sort of responsibility.”

Jirra nodded.

“Don’t worry; just be yourself. He knew Andrea and was one of her close friends; I think he just wants to thank you for what you’re doing,” continued Beth.

“I wish that I could have brought Tonya along,” said Jirra. “She’s a big part of this too.”

Beth shrugged her shoulders.

“I think he also wants to thank you for the way the story is being told -- and thus protecting a lot of secrets.”

“How relevant could they be? Most of what Andrea gave me took place in the forties and fifties,” said Jirra.

“Well, you know what they say about opening old wounds,” said Beth.

Jirra nodded. “So what’s the plan for tonight?” asked Jirra.

“Dinner at Ally and Carol’s,” replied Beth. “My parents are coming over too.”

“What about Jim?” asked Jirra.

“Unfortunately he’s off with his team down in Texas,” replied Beth nervously.

“Is everything okay?” asked Jirra.

“Yes, but it’s his first time out with his team; the good thing is that Tom is his team leader, and he’s one of the best,” replied Beth.

“Well, I know you can’t talk about mission secrets and all that, but you can always talk to me about other things. I know that you’ve helped me enough times,” said Jirra.

“You’re the second person in the last week to give me a similar offer; it’s nice to know that I have such great friends,” replied Beth.

 

Chapter 65

Jirra was pleasantly surprised that dinner that night came from an excellent Mexican restaurant.

“Carol and I go there all the time,” said Ally. “Being a SoCal girl, I grew up on good Mexican food. I know you’ve lived in New Mexico, and have had the real thing, but this is some of the best.”

Jirra nodded as she soaked in the aroma of the food that was laid out on the dining room table. There were refried beans, rice, corn and wheat tortilla, numerous entrees and all the associated condiments, including salsas of increasing heat and fresh guacamole.

“It all smells wonderful,” Jirra replied. “Alexis and I haven’t found a decent Mexican place in Boston.”

“Did you get the tequila shrimp?” asked Steve anxiously.

“A double order,” piped in Carol as she lifted the top off the container that held the tequila shrimp.

“And what if anyone else wants some?” he asked as he ran his hands over his stomach.

Maggie rolled her eyes.

“This is why I don’t take you out anywhere,” she commented.

“Okay, please help yourself,” said Ally. “We have wine, Dos Equis Amber and also soda.”

A large black and white cat scurried swiftly through the room.

“Who was that?” asked Jirra as she scooped some rice onto her plate to go with the chicken enchiladas.

“Bogie,” replied Ally.

“He looks likes he’s on a mission,” said Jirra.

“Bogie is a she; we named her when she was very little,” said Ally.

“And you’re right, she’s on a mission. We’ve had raccoons in the neighborhood, and Bogie wants to meet them up close and personal.”

“That doesn’t sound like a good idea -- for Bogie,” said Beth as she grabbed a couple of tortillas.

“She’s very brave … in the house,” said Carol. “She’ll just glare out the window for a while and then she’ll be fine; she’s actually a very sweet cat.”

“Alexis and I have talked about getting one, probably after we get back from San Diego, in July,” said Jirra.

“Oh, that’s right; Beth mentioned that you’re going to be at Comic Con,” said Ally.

“That’s right, I’ll be promoting the next book,” said Jirra.

“What’s Comic Con?” asked Maggie.

“Only the center of the geek universe every July,” said Ally. “And I should know, I went there several times, when I lived out there.”

“You’re into comic books?” asked Maggie.

Jirra shook her head.

“No, not exactly, I’ve always loved sci-fi books, movies and TV shows. I love the older shows. Oh, I even got to meet one of the writers for Dr. Who at one of my book signings,” said Jirra proudly as she followed the others in the living room.

“Which one?” asked Steve.

“Oh no, don’t get him started,” bemoaned Maggie as she sat down.

“The fourth, Tom Baker,” replied Ally. “I didn’t know you were into Dr. Who.”

“Oh, I go way back, it’s one of my guilty pleasures,” replied Steve. “I have a large collection on DVD.”

“Really?” asked Ally. “And how long were you going to hold out this vital information to your boss?”

Steve smiled back. “You know me, always a pain,” he replied as he took a drink of his Dos Equis. “You know, I should do the ads for this; I’m far more interesting than he is.”

Maggie rolled her eyes as the others laughed.

“Yes dear, you’re a legend in your own mind,” she said sweetly.

Steve grinned back at her.

“Anyway, back to you Jirra, are you excited about the trip?” Carol asked.

“Yes, as Alexis and I will first spend some time in New Mexico at the spa before we head to San Diego,” said Jirra.

“And what about San Diego?” asked Carol.

“I’m a little nervous about being in front of so many people. I’ve done a few book signings, but they weren’t like Comic Con,” replied Jirra. “I’ve never been there, but from what I’ve seen, the crowds are huge.”

“What about security?” asked Steve.

“Max is taking care of it,” replied Jirra. “He’s been keeping an eye on Todd.”

“Is he still in Brazil?” asked Carol.

“Yes, the authorities haven’t been that helpful in extraditing him,” said Jirra. “They don’t consider his crimes to be severe enough, and he has some locals protecting him. Unfortunately, money still talks.”

“Well, you can't do much better than Max, when it comes to personal security,” said Steve as he made a mental note to call Max and see if his old friend needed anything.

“Max is pretty impressive,” said Jirra. “Jen Stevens is also helping him out.”

“The actress and director?” asked Maggie.

Jirra nodded.

“Among other things, she’s also a computer genius,” replied Jirra.

Bogie jumped off the window sill and sauntered slowly into the middle of the living room. She then flopped down next to Ally and Carol.

“So did you scare off the big, bad raccoons?” asked Ally as she leaned down to pet Bogie.

Bogie looked up, let out a mew, and then curled up to go to sleep.

Just then Steve’s phone went off. He answered it, talked for a few minutes and then hung up.

“Beth, that was Madison. The mission was a success, everyone is fine, and they’ll be flying back tomorrow. Jim is finishing up some paperwork with the local office, and he’ll be calling you later,” said Steve.

“That’s great news! Thanks, Dad,” replied Beth.

“Is everything okay, Beth?” asked Maggie.

Beth gave her a glance and Maggie nodded. It was understood that they would talk about it in private later -- mother and daughter style.

 

Chapter 66

The next day, Beth picked up Jirra and took her to The Agency.

“I have to admit, this is pretty cool,” said Jirra as they pulled into the main parking lot.

“I know, I feel the same way every day I come to work,” said Beth.

Beth escorted Jirra into the building and through security. A visitor badge was waiting for Jirra. It had a dark green stripe across the bottom. The man who issued it to her let out a low whistle, as he handed it to her.

As they walked away, Jirra leaned close to Beth.

“Okay, what was that all about?” she asked.

“The green stripe designates you as a guest of The Director. The guard is probably wondering why you’re so important,” replied Beth.

Ten minutes later, Jirra was sitting across from The Director.

“Agent Williams, you’ll be contacted, when I’m finished with Ms. Reid-Eden,” said The Director.

“Yes, sir,” replied Beth as she departed.

“It’s quite an honor to meet you, Ms. Reid-Eden,” he said with a slight smile.

“The honor is all mine, and please call me Jirra,” she replied.

“As you wish,” he replied. “When I heard that Andrea Carlson had given you her diaries, I was surprised, knowing how protective she was of her history. After reading your first graphic novel, I can see she made the right choice.”

“Thank you,” replied Jirra.

“I think she would get a kick out of the format,” he continued.

“My editor felt it would reach a larger audience, considering the transgendered theme,” said Jirra.

He nodded. “She also picked someone that is cut out of the same cloth,” he continued. “You’ve had a very adventurous life, the past few years.”

Jirra felt her heart skip a beat. Did he know the truth about her transformation?

“The discovery of that Anasazi site out in New Mexico is quite impressive, and you even discovered the remains of Dr. Margate, too -- amazing.”

“You know about Dr. Margate?” she asked.

He nodded. “I own a first addition of his book,” he replied.

“So do I,” added Jirra.

He smiled again. “I also know about your difficulties last year; you handled that with both courage and grace,” he continued.

“Thank you,” she replied.

“I’m pleased that Beth has you as a friend, and has taken you into her confidence.”

Jirra nodded. “I consider her one of my best friends in the world, and I would never betray her past,” said Jirra.

“I know that, Jirra,” he replied. “I also want you to know, if you ever need any help with a similar situation, we might be of help.”

Jirra stared back and tried to read his face -- but he gave away nothing.

“I suspect that you have a secret -- don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you about it. I think the story that you came up with is very good, but should the need arise, just remember my offer.”

“Thank you,” she replied. She was about to tell him, but stopped as she decided that it wasn’t necessary.

“I also understand that you’re good friends with Celeste Farnsworth,” he said.

“Yes, she’s another one of my sisters,” she replied.

He grinned.

“I’m pleased that you have some many sisters. Celeste is very special,” he said.

Jirra suspected that he knew something about her past, but she didn’t press the point.

“Now, I would like to have you join me for lunch,” he said. “I can’t go out in town, but one of my job’s fringe benefits is that I can get food delivered here. I hope you like crab cakes.”

“That sounds delicious,” replied Jirra.

Over lunch, they talked about the books and about Jirra’s family.

“Please let me express my condolences for the loss of your father. I also served in the army, and while it’s an occupational risk, it’s still hard to deal with,” he said.

“Thank you,” replied Jirra. “When did you serve, or is that a secret?”

The Director shook his head. “No, it’s not a secret. I was in the 7th Cavalry in Viet Nam back in the early 60’s,” he replied.

“Were you in the battle at Ia Drang?” she asked.

A surprised look momentarily appeared on his face, but it quickly disappeared. “Yes, I was; I’m impressed, how do you know about that?” he asked. “I read a lot of history,” she replied.

“Well, I would love to spend the rest of the afternoon talking to you, but I must get back to work. Thank you for coming down and for the wonderful job you have done with Andrea’s life,” he said.

“You’re welcome,” she replied. “This has been very interesting, and it was an honor to meet you. If you’d like, I can send you copies of the other books before they are sold to the public.”

“I would like that very much,” he replied.

Jirra then pulled out a copy of the first book out of her bag.

“This copy was signed by both me and by the artist Tonya Boyington,” said Jirra as she handed him the book.

He took it from her and smiled back.

“Thank you; this is very thoughtful,” he replied. “I might have another story commission for you some time in the future. We’ve been thinking of a way to push teens to be safer on-line to avoid becoming victims of sexual predators. Do you think that you and Tonya would be interested in doing a book for us?”

“I would be honored,” she replied.

“Very good. We will be in touch with you sometime in the future,” he said.

 

Chapter 67

“That was pretty cool,” said Jirra to Beth.

They were sitting in Beth’s apartment.

“He’s pretty amazing isn’t he?” she replied.

“Exactly,” replied Jirra.

She then told Beth her suspicions that he knew about the magical transformation.

“I wouldn’t put it past him,” said Beth. “But you can trust him, and he means it if he offered to help you.”

“That’s nice to know,” replied Jirra.

“I wish you could stay longer,” said Beth.

“Me too, but I have work to do up in Boston,” said Jirra. “In addition to the books, I’m working on several scripts for the show.”

“You have such a cool job,” said Beth.

Jirra laughed.

“I was about to say the same thing about you,” said Jirra. “I’m so proud of you -- you’re making a real difference in the world.”

“Thanks,” she replied. “Um, Jirra, I need to ask you something; if you don’t want to talk about it I will understand.”

“Go ahead,” said Jirra.

“You and I have a similar problem, telling people close to us our unique past. What was it like, when you told Alexis the truth?” asked Beth.

“It wasn’t easy, and I was frightened,” replied Jirra. “But I also knew I had to do it. We weren’t close like we are now, but I felt something very special between us -- and I didn’t want to lose her.”

Beth nodded.

“So, I assume you’re worried about telling Jim about your background,” continued Jirra.

Beth nodded again. “See, you could be an investigator,” said Beth.

“You don’t have to be Erin Flynn to figure this out,” replied Jirra. “If you want my two cents, I know that Jim loves you, and I think he’ll understand; he may be shocked, and confused at first, but I think he’ll come around.”

“Thanks,” she replied. “He keeps talking about getting married, and there’s no way I can do that without being honest with him.”

“I understand,” said Jirra. “So, any idea when you’re going to tell him?”

Beth shrugged. “Nothing concrete. I want to do it soon. I’m not worried about him telling the world about me; being that he’s an agent, he’ll keep the secret. I just hope he’s not angry that I haven’t told him sooner.”

Beth took a drink of water. “The strange thing is, I only see myself as a woman. Yes, I know that I used to be a guy, but that was a different life. That life is still part of me -- it shaped me and who I am -- but so did being raised by Maggie and Steve, and so did my time at Penn. I am Beth Williams.”

“Well, anytime you want to talk to me about this, just call,” said Jirra.

“I will, thanks,” she replied. “And thanks for allowing to get this off my chest; it also let me practice before I talked to Mom.”

 

Chapter 68

In early March, Tonya looked out the window of the rental car, as Diana drove them to the courtroom in Indianapolis to see Hartwig’s courtroom appearance. He had plead guilty to most of the charges -- not out of a sense of morality, but to avoid extradition overseas. He could no longer count on his supporters, as more information of his crimes became public; they melted away, until he was alone. His lawyer finally convinced him that, if he went to trial, he would face an even harsher sentence.

Tonya had mixed feelings on him cutting a deal. Yes, he would receive a very long sentence, and it would spare his victims from taking the stand, but part of her still felt he was getting off lightly.

Today he would make his statement in court, admitting his guilt, which was part of the sentencing deal. He would have to admit to his crimes in public and to the people he betrayed and abused.

Tonya, and many of his other victims, had been invited to be there. At first, Tonya didn’t want to go, as she didn’t feel it was necessary, but after talking to Diana and Celeste, she decided that she needed the closure.

“Have you heard from your parents yet?” asked Diana.

“Yes, they’ve agreed to meet, but not at the house,” answered Tonya. “I suppose that I should be happy they talk to me.”

“I wish I could tell you that it will get better,” said Diana.

A short time later, they were entering the court room. Tonya looked around at others in the gallery and wondered how many were also the victims of Hartwig. She also noticed that many of the young women had their families with them. As she scanned the crowd, she recognized several of the girls from her old school. At the same time, she wondered if anyone recognized her.

The court proceedings then began, and for the first time since she had been banished, Tonya set eyes on Hartwig. He looked very different, as he now appeared to look much older and haggard. It was obvious that the stress of his situation was bearing down on him. She felt no pity, as she glared at him -- only anger at the pain he had caused her.

When the time came, Hartwig stood up and addressed the court. The man that Tonya remembered being such a dynamic speaker now spoke in a halting manner, stammering through his remarks. At first, he appeared to avoid admitting his guilt, as he danced around the edges of what he had done, but eventually he was goaded into getting to the point by the DA. Hartwig then become more focused and admitted his guilt and said how sorry he was for all the lives he had damaged.

Tonya glanced over and looked at the others and was pleased to see that most of them weren’t buying it either. Most of them glared at him with rage and hatred at the pain he had caused them.

At the end of his address, he asked for forgiveness. One of the girls blurted “Go to hell!”

Tonya and the others nodded in approval, as the judge banged his gavel.

 

Chapter 69

Outside of the courtroom, Tonya and Diana talked about the sentencing.

“I know he got life, but is there any chance that he will be paroled?” asked Tonya.

“According to what I read the earliest he could be paroled is in thirty years,” said Diana. “The DA did a good job in setting up the sentencing. I doubt he’ll ever be free again.”

“Good,” said Tonya.

She then froze as she saw her parents approaching her.

“Oh my God,” she exclaimed.

Carl and Mary approached Tonya.

“Hi,” said Tonya.

Mary walked up and gave Tonya a hug.

“We tried to get here for the sentencing, but we got a flat tire,” said Mary.

Tonya looked at her father and noticed the dirt on the knees of his trousers.

“We’re sorry Tonya,” said Carl.

“It’s okay; I’m just happy to see you,” said Tonya.

“We were wondering if you’d like to go to lunch,” said Mary.

“I’d like that,” said Tonya.

“Call me when you’re done,” said Diana with a smile.

“You’re welcome to join us,” offered Mary.

Diana shook her head.

“No, I think you three need some family time together,” answered Diana.

 

Chapter 70

Later that evening, Tonya ate dinner with Diana and talked about the meeting with her parents.

“I take it things went well,” said Diana.

“They were a bit nicer this time; I think part of this was due to the DA having a long talk with them. They now know that my coming forward led to Hartwig being exposed and stopping his abuse,” she replied.

Diana nodded and she sipped her water.

“They’re also starting to accept that, while I’m no longer a boy, I’m still their child,” continued Tonya. “I don’t know if they can ever fully accept me, but at least they no longer are ashamed of me.”

Diana nodded silently.

“I know that I did nothing wrong. Even when I was turning tricks, it was something that I had to do to survive,” continued Tonya. “But that’s behind me now; I’m a college student and a semi-professional graphic artist.”

“I would use the term published and successful graphic artist,” interjected Diana.

“Okay, I can go with that,” she replied as she smiled. “After we ate lunch, we stopped at a book store and I showed them the book with my name on the cover -- even my dad was impressed. He even bought several copies.”

“I hope he reads it,” said Diana.

“I think he will,” replied Tonya.”Anyway, I now have closure when it comes to Hartwig, and a slightly better relationship with my parents.”

“What about your sister?” asked Diana.

“We talked on the phone. Mom made her listen to me. She’ll be a work in progress for a while -- in many ways she’s even more mainstream than my parents.”

“How is that possible?” asked Diana.

Tonya shrugged her shoulders.

“I have no idea. I had always thought she was the wild one, as we grew up,” replied Tonya. “I extended an invitation to all of them to come out to Philly.”

“Do you think they’ll do it?” asked Diana.

“I don’t know. They still think of Chicago as being in another country,” replied Tonya. “But I’ll keep inviting them.”

“Good for you,” said Diana.

“Thanks again, for all you have done for me. I really appreciate it,” said Tonya.

“You’re welcome,” replied Diana. “Now, let’s see if we can get the waiter’s attention; I’m famished.”

 

Chapter 71

A week later, Beth was pacing nervously at her parent’s home, as she waited for Jim to arrive. She had decided to tell Jim, and to have Maggie and Steve standing by if she needed help, or to confirm her story with Jim.

Maggie came downstairs from putting little Stevie to bed.

“You’re going to wear a hole in the carpet,” she said.

Beth stopped and turned.

“Sorry,” she replied.

“Kiddo, it’s okay,” said Maggie.

Beth grinned.

“It’s been a while since you’ve called me that,” replied Beth.

Maggie took Beth by the hand and walked her over to the couch where they sat down.

“Look, it’s obvious that Jim loves you, and I fully understand why you’re doing this, but whatever happens, you’ll still be my daughter and I’ll always love you.”

“Thanks, Mom,” said Beth.

“So how do you want to do this?” asked Maggie.

“I've been debating that. I think the best way is for us to talk first, and then I would like you and Dad to come in and confirm that I’m not insane,” said Beth.

Steve walked in and sat down across from his wife and daughter.

“We’ll be here for you, kiddo,” he said.

Beth grinned nervously as she looked at her watch.

“Well, if Jim stays true to form, he’ll be pulling into the driveway any minute now,” she said.

 

Chapter 72

Jim Buchwalter arrived at the Williams on time and walked up to the front door. He always felt slightly apprehensive whenever he was in the company of Beth’s parents, partly because Steve was his department head. However, over all, he enjoyed being in their company. He was also a bit concerned about the way Beth had been acting the past few weeks. He was worried that all the talk about marriage was making her nervous, and the last thing he wanted was to lose her.

He could still remember the first time he had seen Beth, and the weeks that it took him to get the nerve up to ask her out. While he didn’t believe in love in first sight, this was pretty close.

Beth greeted him at the door, and they hugged.

“Come in,” she said.

Jim followed her inside and into the living room.

“Jim, I need a favor from you. I need you to sit down and listen to what to what I have to say. Promise me that you’ll hear me out all the way, before you say or do anything, okay?” she asked.

Jim had never seen Beth so serious before, and it shook him. His first thoughts were that she might be sick, and a wave of fear ran through his body.

“Okay,” he said as he sat down.

“No, that’s not good enough, promise you’ll stay and hear me out and that you won’t interrupt,” she said seriously.

Jim had never seen Beth like this before, and he knew whatever she was about to tell him was extremely important.

“I promise Beth; please tell me what’s on your mind,” he said.

Beth sat down next to him on the couch, took a deep breath and let it out.

She could see the concern in his eyes, and she hoped that this was a good sign.

“Jim, I first want to tell you that I am deeply in love with you … but I have a very deep secret I have to tell you, before we can any further in our relationship,” she began.

Jim nodded back.

“I’m about to tell you something that only a handful of people know about, my parents, a few very close friends, and some high ranking people in The Agency … in fact it’s classified as a state secret,” she said. “So no matter how you react, you must not tell anyone. Do you understand?”

He couldn’t imagine what could be so secret or important, but he nodded in agreement.

“You know me as Beth Williams, and that is who I have been since I was fifteen, but before that I was a totally different person,” she explained. “I was a Lieutenant in the Navy, and my name was Ben Carlson; I was targeted by a man, named Dr. Martz, who physically transformed me into a teenage girl.”

Beth stopped and looked Jim in the eyes.

Jim was stunned, but he could see that Beth was serious and this wasn’t a joke.

“That’s right; I was an adult male, and a naval officer. I had a life, a career, and I was very happy -- and then in a flash everything changed,” she explained. “Dr. Martz had lost his family and was trying to recreate his daughter. He invented a process that could change a person’s DNA structure completely, their size, gender -- a total physical and mental change. I was transformed from a man, into a young girl, in a matter of hours; the process was very painful, and it almost killed me. To cover up what had happened, Ben was declared killed in a plane crash, and I was given a new identity by The Agency. I was cut off from my family and was totally alone -- until Maggie adopted me. Later she married Steve, and he became my father ... all very legal and correct. And yes, they know all about me.”

She took a long sip of water. At least Jim was still here, she thought.

“Without going into all the details right now, I was targeted first by Martz so I could be his daughter; I fit the criteria that he was looking for. Actually it was very random. But Martz wasn’t as bad as the others; there were people who learned of his process, and they wanted to get the formula from my DNA -- which meant killing me. Thankfully, that’s all in the past; Dr. Martz is dead, and so are the others,” she said. “Jim, biologically, I am a normal woman; it’s as if I was born this way. I see myself as a woman too -- physically and mentally. I want to get married and have a family, but there was no way that I could marry someone, without telling them the truth about my past.”

She took another drink.

“Jim, I love you deeply and would love to be your wife; my feelings for you are real, but I also have to be honest with you. I know this is asking a lot of you, and if you want to break off our relationship, I will understand … I will be heartbroken, but I will understand,” she said as tears began to roll down her cheeks.

Jim continued to stare back in silence.

“Okay. I’m done, you can talk now,” she said as the tears continued.

Jim reached over and gently wiped the tears away from her face.

“I always knew that you were hiding something, but nothing like this,” he said softly. “I take it Celeste and Jirra know about you.”

Beth nodded.

“And a few others,” she said. “I’m so sorry that I didn’t tell you sooner, but it’s not an easy thing to tell someone.”

“No need to apologize. I can understand why you waited so long to tell me; it’s not something that you can unsay,” he continued. “Beth, I love you, and this doesn’t make one difference. I don’t care who you used to be. I fell in love with you, Beth Williams, and I still want you to be my wife.”

“You … mean … that?” she asked softly.

Jim smiled as he leaned forward and kissed her gently on the lips.

“What do you think?” he asked as he kissed her again.

“I love you so much,” she cried as they embraced and kissed.

 

Chapter 73

Later, Steve and Maggie joined Beth and Jim in the living room. Steve opened a bottle of wine and passed around glasses.

“I can’t imagine how difficult this has been for you, Beth,” said Jim.

“Other than the initial transformation -- and a few people trying to kill me -- it wasn’t that bad. The good thing was The Agency created a whole new identity for me, so the legalities were taken care of; I never had to worry about being outed. I had a wonderful family, and a pretty cool life too,” she said. “As I grew up -- again -- I thought I had it licked. The biggest regret I had, and still have, is the separation from my original family. Then I met you and fell in love, and the closer we got the more conflicted I became. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt you -- I actually tried to avoid being in a relationship -- but that was impossible when I met you.”

Jim smiled as he held her hand.

“I’m so pleased to hear that Beth,” he replied. “Well, no sense in putting this off. Even though I don’t have a ring here, there’s no time like the present. Beth, will you marry me?”

Beth glanced over at her parents and looked at Jim.

“Yes … yes I will,” she replied as she wiped her tears away. “Damn, I’m crying again.”

“Yes, but these are tears of joy this time,” he said as they kissed.

Steve and Maggie then congratulated the couple.

Maggie hugged Beth as Steve shook Jim’s hand.

“Welcome to the family, Jim,” he said.

“Thanks, Boss,” replied Jim.

Steve laughed. “You can call me Steve out of the office.”

Jim nodded. “That’ll take some getting used to.”

Maggie then gave Jim a hug, as Steve embraced Beth.

“See, Kiddo, things always work out,” he whispered in her ear.

“Thanks, Dad,” replied Beth.

 

Chapter 74

Jirra hung up the phone and walked into the kitchen were Alexis was cooking dinner.

“Beth and Jim are engaged,” she announced happily.

Alexis turned and smiled.

“Really? That’s wonderful,” she replied.

“Beth told him her story last night, and he’s totally cool with it,” continued Jirra.

“I’m happy to hear that; they’re such as a sweet couple,” said Alexis. “So, have they set the date?”

“She said that it’ll be sometime in the fall, once the weather cools off down there,” said Jirra. “Oh, and I have to get another gown.”

“Of course, another for the collection,” said Alexis.

“Beth asked me when are we doing our big ceremony … ”

“Good question. We have been putting it off, and I know my family wants us to have a real ceremony,” said Alexis.

“Mine too,” added Jirra. “Not that there was anything wrong with the last one, but I would prefer not to be pregnant this time.”

Alexis laughed.

“Well, we’d better start looking at some dates then,” said Alexis.

 

Chapter 75

Down in Rio, Todd was reading his latest emails. There was still no good news on the legal front, although his mother seemed to think that she could get the charges reduced to three years, assuming he came back immediately.

He shook his head, as there was no way he would ever go back to jail. Even though he didn’t feel he did anything wrong, he would settle for a pardon.

He then read his emails from a friend at Penn. In the message there were two intriguing dates, the first was class graduation. His friend had discovered that Jirra would be partaking in the May commencement activities. At least he now had a date that he knew she’d be in Philly, but the risks were very high -- he might be recognized there.

The second date was far more interesting: it was a press notice of participants in the annual Comic Con in San Diego, and Jirra was listed as confirmed. She would be signing copies of her new book.

Todd leaned back in his chair and rubbed his chin. This was an excellent opportunity. He could slip into California, kill Jirra, and then sneak back over the border without the risk of being recognized. The fact that many people wore costumes at this geek festival was even better. He wrote back to his friend asking for further details.

****

Max was drinking coffee on his deck, as he read the latest email from Jen Stevens. He wrote back, telling her that he agreed that it looked as if Todd would try something in San Diego.

“Do you think that it might be better, if Jirra skipped the event?” asked Faith after she listened to Max lay out the plan.

“No. We need to entice Todd to come back over the border of his own free will. If he comes to San Diego, we can grab him and lock him back up,” said Max.

“And what about Jirra’s safety?” asked Faith.

“Jirra has already agreed to the plan; she’s tired of Todd being free too. She also will have excellent security,” said Max. “I’ve already arranged with Rob McCarthy to get the layout of the Convention Center in San Diego.”

“Rob is good,” she said.

“He’s also working on getting passes for some of Boudicca personnel,” added Max.

“Okay, you’re the real detective -- I just write about one,” said Faith.

Max smiled back. “Faith, I care a lot about Jirra too, and there’s no way that I would put her at risk.”

“I know that Max,” replied Faith. “You know me, I worry too much.”

“No, you don’t, but if there was another way of getting Todd, we would do it,” he said.

“What about Tessa’s plan?” she asked.

“That’ll be the last resort. It’s not that I don’t trust Tessa, but I want to nail this little bastard here in the states and not give him a chance of weaseling out of his charges.”

Faith got up and gave him a kiss on his forehead.

 

Chapter 76

Jim followed Steve into one of the secure briefing rooms at The Agency.

“Now that you know about Beth, I think you should know the whole story,” said Steve as he logged into a computer. “Have a seat.”

Jim did as he was told.

“Here are the case files on Beth, starting with her initial transformation and ending with her participation in the capture of Margo Simon,” said Steve. “I want you to read these to understand more about Beth and all that she went through. It’s obvious that you love her, and that she loves you, but it’s important that you understand what she went through.”

“Does Beth know about this?” asked Jim.

Steve nodded.

“In addition to the final versions of each episode, Beth’s notes are included. As you will see, she sort of has a way of downplaying what happened to her,” said Steve with a smile. “I’ll be outside, and when you’re done we can talk about it.”

Steve left the room and closed the door behind him, leaving Jim alone.

Over the next few hours, Jim read the files. He was shocked by the swiftness of the initial physical transformation of the Martz Process. He then read how Beth was almost killed by the procedure and was saved only by the swift reaction of the medical staff. There was also the surprising revelation that Beth wasn’t the only person transformed. (Change of Course)

The next case detailed how she was targeted for abduction by Dr. Martz and then by the traitorous CDR Jake Evans. Jim had to admit that he found the justice dealt to Evans very fitting.

The case also included information on how Maggie adopted Beth and helped her adapt to her new life. (Change of Course II)

The third case study dealt with outside sources trying to get the formula for the Martz Process. The details in the case were stunning and horrible. He was stunned to hear that the millionaire computer genius Robert Wilkins had been involved in so many illegal acts. He remembered hearing news of Wilkins’ death, but it was not as described in the case study. (Change of Course III)

He was also disturbed by the discovery that Beth had been abducted and almost murdered, but at the same time he was extremely proud of the way she handled herself.

The fourth case was the worst. He couldn’t imagine what it would have been like to be sixteen and being abducted by a true psychopath. He also learned that his supervisor, Madison, had a part in Beth’s rescue, as did Tom, another legend in the department. He now understood their interest in his relationship with Beth. Jim couldn’t help but smile in thinking of them as Beth’s other -- and very dangerous -- older and protective brothers. (Change of Course IV)

The last case was the only one that he was partly familiar with: the raid on the Margo Simon compound in Maryland. He knew that Beth had been involved, but up to this moment, he didn’t know how much. (Combined Forces)

When he finished, all he could do was stare at the computer screen in silence. He thought about all that Beth had been through and how she had not only survived, but thrived. He also made a vow that no one would ever hurt her again.

He then logged off the computer and stepped out of the room.

Steve was standing outside the door.

“So, do you want to talk?” asked Steve.

“If you don’t mind,” replied Jim.

“Good, let’s go up to my office,” said Steve.

“I just want you to know that I will do whatever it takes to keep her safe,” said Jim.

Steve smiled back.

“I know that, son,” replied Steve.

Jim looked at Steve and grinned.

“Don’t let it go to your head; being my son-in-law won’t cut you any slack, around here,” said Steve.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” said Jim.

Steve nodded approvingly. The kid would do, he decided.

 

Chapter 77

That night, Jim and Beth had dinner together.

“I’m glad that you read the files,” she said. “I know how gruesome parts of them are.”

“That’s a good word. I knew that there were bad things out there, but I had no idea how bad,” he said. “It confirms that this is the job that I want to do.”

“I feel the same way,” replied Beth. “After seeing everything I have, I knew that I couldn’t just sit back. I debated going into field work, but I know that I can make the greatest contribution working in the Internet Department.”

“And you don’t mind my career path?” he asked.

“No,” she replied. “Oh, I know the risks. I know the people behind the names on the memorial wall, but I was raised in the community, and I saw how my parents dealt with it and how Ally and Carol have dealt with it, so I know that I can too -- correction, that we can too. I also like that, since we’re in the same line of work, we can be honest and open with each other.”

Jim nodded.

“I know this is a lot for you to adjust to, and I truly appreciate your open-mindedness,” she continued.

“Well, at least we know our lives will never be dull,” said Jim.

Beth smiled back.

“You have no idea,” she replied with a sly smile.

Jim laughed.

“Oh, one thing you did leave out the other night; why didn’t you tell me that Madison was so close to you?”

“I planned on telling you,” she said. “He and Tom taught me how to escape from handcuffs.”

“They’ve already volunteered to plan my bachelor party,” said Jim.

Beth giggled.

“Now that might be the most dangerous thing you ever do,” she stated.

“And who is planning your bachelorette party?” he asked.

“It will be a group effort between Jirra, Celeste, and my friend Iona. I’m sure it will be equally epic,” said Beth.

“Iona, she’s the one in San Diego?” he asked.

Beth nodded.

“And I assume she knows about you?” he asked.

Beth nodded again.

“Don’t worry, I’ll give you the full list of those who know about me,” said Beth.

“Good. But you don’t have to worry about me accidentally giving up your secret,” he said.

“I know that,” replied Beth.

Jim then leaned over and kissed her.

“Well, I know that our lives will never be boring,” he said.

Beth smiled back at him.

If you only knew, she thought.

“Is there anything you want to ask me?” she asked.

“Where to start?” he asked rhetorically.

“Everything is far game,” said Beth.

Jim scratched his chin.

“How long did it take you to adjust to being a woman?” he asked. “Or is that too personal?”

Beth shook her head.

“Not at all. At first it was really freaky; not only was my gender changed, but my age, my physical size -- everything was new, but over time I adjusted. Part of this was the genetic programming. Dr. Martz had his issues, but he was a genius; he programmed me so that I accepted my new self without being brain dead, if that makes sense. While this was important, what made the difference was having Maggie and then Steve. They treated me as theirs, and as a girl not a freak or a science experiment. Whenever I was having a bad day, they were there for me. Does that make sense?”

“Very much so,” said Jim.

“It’s weird, but the missions that I was on when I was younger were less challenging than dealing with going through puberty -- again -- having my first period, growing breasts, and dealing with new feelings -- like liking boys.”

“So you had a boyfriend before me?” he asked.

Beth nodded.

“At the time it was a big deal,” she said. “I remember my heart being broken when he moved away.”

Jim grinned at her.

“I know that feeling. My high school love was an exchange student.”

“Wow, I bet that hurt when she left,” said Beth.

He nodded.

“I got over it when I got to college. I fell in love with an incredible girl,” he said.

“Was that before me?” she asked.

Jim laughed.

“That’s what I love about you -- your sense of humor,” he said.

He took a drink and then looked deep into eyes.

“Beth, I made a vow today that I would always be there to protect you … and nothing will hurt you,” he said.

Beth smiled back.

“Okay, but just so you know, I’m making the same vow back at you,” she said.

“That’s a deal,” he replied.

“Sealed with a kiss?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” he replied as he leaned forward to kiss her.

 

Chapter 78

“I can’t believe that it’s May,” said Jirra as she greeted Celeste.

“I know,” she replied.

Jirra then leaned down and hugged Spirit, who returned the attention with doggie kisses. “I see she hasn’t changed,” said Jirra.

“Not one bit,” said Celeste. “So where’s Alexis?”

“She’s coming down tomorrow. They had to do a quick reshoot,” said Jirra as she stood up. “My mom is flying in tomorrow too.”

Celeste nodded. “I’m looking forward to seeing Liz again. Oh, Beth, Jim and her family are coming up tomorrow too. I arranged for all of you to be on the same hotel floor,” said Celeste.

“That was very thoughtful,” said Jirra.

“Too bad Jen couldn’t make it, but she’s stuck in the middle of several productions,” continued Celeste.

“I know. She says she’ll be busy all summer, but she hopes to slip down to Comic Con in July. Speaking of which, can you make it? I have rooms and passes standing by.”

“It’s not exactly my thing, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” said Celeste.

“Cool,” replied Jirra.

“Excited about the graduation ceremony?” asked Celeste.

“I wasn’t at first, but the more that I’ve thought about it, I can’t wait,” admitted Jirra.

“I know what you mean. My undergrad ceremony was nice, but I can’t wait until I finish my Masters.”

“And then?” asked Jirra.

Celeste grinned.

“You got it; I’m going for my PhD,” she admitted.

“I’m so happy that you are,” said Jirra.

“I love being a student, and I am financial sound, so why not?” she said. “Sean also thinks it’s a great idea. He thinks that it’ll help me in fund raising, if I could be addressed as Dr. Farnsworth.”

“That’s so cool,” said Jirra. “Maybe we could even call you Professor Farnsworth.”

Celeste laughed at the Futurama reference. “Oh God, I never thought of that. Anyway, going for my graduate degree will allow me to stay here too,” added Celeste. “I like being the den mother to the younger girls.”

“That’s fine, but what about you and Sean?” asked Jirra.

“Our relationship is good as it is right now; we love each other deeply, but we’re not ready for marriage yet,” said Celeste.

Jirra smiled back. “You seem very happy,” said Jirra.

“I am,” replied Celeste. “So, speaking of marriages, we have a party to plan for Beth, any ideas?”

“I was thinking of New York City,” said Jirra.

Celeste nodded. “That has possibilities. I think we can do something epic.”

Jirra broke out in laughter. “I’m sorry, but you have no idea how funny that sounds coming from you.”

Celeste shrugged her shoulders. “Proper young ladies can say epic,” she replied.

“Oh, how I’ve missed you,” said Jirra.

“So do you have plans for dinner?” asked Celeste.

Jirra shook her head.

“Good. I’ve arranged for us to have dinner here. Tonya and Rachel are picking up a few things as we speak,” said Celeste. “I’m making lasagna; you want to help?”

“Cool,” replied Jirra. “I’d love to.”

“Great,” replied Celeste.

 

Chapter 79

“So how do you know this guy, Todd, is still in Rio?” asked Tonya as they ate dinner.

“I don’t know all the details,” replied Jirra. “But Max says that they’ve been following his moves. I also suspect that Jen has something to do with it, but she won’t tell me. I suspect that’s also to protect me.”

“Are you talking about Max Bowie?” asked Rachel.

Jirra nodded.

“How do you know him?” asked Tonya.

“He helped out with some problems up at the foundation,” replied Rachel. “As did Jen.”

“I think Max has helped all of us at least once,” said Celeste.

Tonya held up her glass.

“To Max!” she toasted.

The others followed suit.

“Well one good toast desires another,” said Jirra. “To Jen!”

The others extended their glasses a second time.

“So back to this guy -- Todd -- if he’s not coming after you here, when does Max think he will? I mean, it must be awful just waiting,” said Rachel.

“I have a feeling it will be at Comic Con in San Diego,” said Jirra.

“And you’re still going?” asked Rachel.

“We both are,” interjected Tonya.

Jirra nodded. “Max is working on a plan to both protect me and to capture Todd. I have faith in him, besides he won’t be alone,” said Jirra.

“What do you mean?”

“Max uses a detective agency that he help found; all the detectives are female,” said Jirra.

“Cool! Maybe you could do a story about them,” said Rachel.

“That’s a great idea,” said Tonya.

Jirra nodded.

“I agree,” added Celeste.

“Maybe, but first I want to finish the series I’m working on. I loved the last book; it’s so cool having a transgendered character who isn’t a victim. She really kicks butt,” said Rachel.

“Thanks,” replied Jirra.

“Oh, Beth told me the truth,” continued Rachel. “I won’t tell anyone that the stories are based on a real person. Who would believe me?”

 

Chapter 80

“Nervous?” asked Alexis as she watched Jirra try on her cap and gown.

“No, just lost in memories. All things considered, these were some of the best years of my life,” replied Jirra. “Thank you for pushing me to graduate.”

“My pleasure. I love the fact that you’re an Ivy Leaguer. You’ve motivated me to finish my degree -- only six credits to go,” she replied. “When the show ends, I might go back and get my graduate degree; I forgot how much fun college was.”

“Well, that may be a while,” said Jirra as she carefully removed her graduation outfit.

Erin Flynn’s contract had just been extended by the network.

Alexis nodded. “You don’t mind do you?” asked Alexis.

Jirra shook her head. “The show is still fresh and is still getting great reviews. Are you sure you want to do it for three more years?”

“No, not really. I mean I love playing Erin, and it’s not like I’m worried about being typecast -- this is the last show I’m going to do. Besides, I get to sleep with the new head writer and executive producer,” said Alexis with a grin.

“When will someone tell me what an executive producer does?” asked Jirra.

Alexis laughed. “I think Faith wanted you to have the title to give you more control over the other writers. She really loves how you respect her characters,” said Alexis.

“Well, it will keep us busy. The good thing is that Tonya has been getting ahead in the illustrations for the books. If I didn’t know better, I would think that we were being helped by a higher power,” said Jirra.

“It wouldn’t surprise me, considering some of our friends,” said Alexis.

Jirra nodded. “I could make a living out of just doing graphic novels on their lives and adventures, assuming anyone would believe them,” said Jirra.

“I like our friends, partly because I’m the most normal,” said Alexis as she wrapped her arms around Jirra.

“Normal is overrated,” replied Jirra as they kissed.

 

Chapter 81

The graduation ceremony went off without any problems for Beth and Jirra. When the ceremony was over, there were the obligatory photos taken by their families. Jirra and Beth also had several photos taken of them together.

Afterwards, they headed downtown for a large celebration. In addition to their families they were joined by Celeste, Sean, Rebecca, Tonya, Diana and Kari.

“I understand you’re going to New Mexico and then San Diego,” said Maggie to Alexis and Jirra.

“That’s right. I’m on a break from shooting, and this will be a long overdue vacation,” said Alexis.

“I would think you’d want the vacation after Comic Con,” said Diana.

“I’ll be fine. Jirra and Tonya will be the ones working; I’m going along just for the ride,” said Alexis with a grin.

“She’s been really looking forward to watching me sweat,” added Jirra.

“Nonsense, it will be so much fun,” interjected Tonya.

“But you will be recognized, won’t you, Alexis?” asked Steve.

Alexis nodded. “However, I haven’t done anything Sci-Fi related since that awful Minotaur movie,” she replied.

“It wasn’t that bad,” said Steve.

“Oh, it was popular and made a lot of money, but I cringe when I hear some of the lines I spoke in it,” said Alexis.

“Still the action figures were cool,” quipped Jirra.

“Other than the fact that they didn’t look anything like me,” replied Alexis.

“Maybe you can get someone to do an Erin Flynn action figure?” suggested Celeste.

Jirra, Alexis and Beth all turned and stared at Celeste.

“She actually told a joke!” exclaimed Beth.

The rest of the group began to laugh.

“So what about you, Beth; are you taking any time off?” asked Kari.

Beth shook her head. “No, I’m saving my time off for the wedding,” she said as she smiled at Jim. “I hope you and Diana will be able to make it.”

“We wouldn’t miss it for the world,” said Diana.

“That’s right; I’m already training my assistant manager to run the place that weekend,” added Kari.

The restaurant staff brought over several bottles of champagne and began to fill flutes for the graduation party.

“Who ordered this?” asked Celeste.

“It was ordered for the party,” said the waiter as he handed her a card.

“Well, read it,” said Jirra.

Celeste stood up and smiled.

“It’s from Jen. She apologizes for not being able to be here in person. However, she says at least she can be here in ‘spirits’", read Celeste.

Alexis laughed. “That’s Jen,” she laughed.

“Well, in place of an individual toast, I think we should all stand up and congratulate the new graduates,” said Liz.

Everyone stood up and held up their glasses and then took a sip of the champagne.

“Jirra, why don’t you make the next toast?” suggested Beth.

“Very well,” said Jirra.

She thought about what to say for a moment, and then she smiled as held up her glass.

“To the future,” said Jirra.

“To the future,” repeated the rest of the group.

 

Chapter 82

Two weeks later, Jirra and Alexis were relaxing in the hot mineral baths at the Caldera de Gaia, after a day of hiking.

“This is the life,” sighed Alexis.

Jirra just sighed, contentedly.

“I take it you agree,” remarked Alexis.

“I just remembered how much I love this place,” said Jirra. “Growing up, we moved around so much, I never got attached to any particular place; home was where we were. Even though I’ve spent most of the last few years back East, this place is special.”

“I know what you mean. Well, we do own a cottage here; there’s no reason why we can’t come out regularly,” said Alexis.

Jirra turned towards her and smiled. “You mean it?”

“Yes, this place is special for me too. It’s where I met the love of my life,” replied Alexis.

Jirra blew her a kiss.

“It’s also a place that I can come and relax. To the staff, I’m just Alexis and not a celebrity,” she continued.

“Yes, but the same can’t be said for the guests,” added Jirra.

“They’re not bad about it,” replied Alexis. “It’s what I love about Boston too.”

“Do you think that you’ll get recognized at Comic Con?” asked Jirra.

“Probably, but it’s been a few years since I did any Sci-Fi, so it won’t be that bad,” she replied. “I don’t mind that much, as long as they don’t interrupt me when I’m eating.”

“Thanks for coming out here with me,” said Jirra as she got out of the bath.

“Had enough?” asked Alexis.

Jirra nodded.

Alexis also got out and began to dry herself off.

“It’ll be fun,” said Alexis.

“What about Todd?” asked Jirra as she tossed her towel in the bin.

“We have to trust Max and his plan. If you’re really worried about this, you can pull out.”

“No, we need to smoke this jerk out,” replied Jirra. “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder.”

Alexis nodded. “So, what do you say to some late afternoon wild love making and then dinner?” asked Alexis with a grin.

“How can I say no?” replied Jirra as she playfully batted her eyes at Alexis.

“You little tease!” replied Alexis who immediately gave Jirra a kiss.

 

Chapter 83

“Hey Rick,” greeted Todd.

Rick held his cell phone close and looked around to see if anyone was listening. “Todd? What, are you nuts?! Do you know the risk you’re taking calling me?” asked Rick.

“Don’t worry, this is a stolen phone; it’s untraceable,” replied Todd. “So, is everything set?”

“Yes, I’ve got everything you asked for, but I still think you should call this off,” replied Rick.

“No, this has to be done. I’ve been planning this out for months, and it’s foolproof,” countered Todd.

“Nothing is foolproof,” said Rick. “You can’t take into account the unexpected.”

“I know that,” replied Todd slightly aggravated. “Now, did you talk to that guy up in Boston, Jimmy Davis?”

“Yeah, but he’s not interested,” replied Rick.

“Why the fuck not!? Let me guess: he wanted more money,” snapped Todd.

“No, he said the money wasn’t the problem,” replied Rick. “He said that the person you’re interested in is ... too dangerous and not worth the risk.”

“What the hell did he mean by that?” demanded Todd. “I would think he would want revenge against her, as she was responsible for his old boss’s downfall. What’s so dangerous about her?”

“He said that she has friends who are very protective of her. He also said that in his line of work it can’t become personal,” replied Rick. “But it wasn’t a total loss; he gave me a contact out here to get the weapons. They’re untraceable and in a safe place.”

“Okay,” replied Todd who was still annoyed that Davis had turned him down.

“He did offer one bit of advice,” continued Rick.

“What’s that?”

“He gave me the description of a woman -- he didn’t know her name, but he said that she’s very dangerous -- and he said that if she’s with … with the target then we should back off,” said Rick.

“A woman?” scoffed Todd.

“He says that she’s a professional body guard and that he wouldn’t be surprised if she’s ex-CIA or something like that,” said Rick.

“Bullshit. Look, there’s no way that someone like that would be associated with who we’re after. Well, I better go. I will call again soon. Don’t worry about Caller ID, it’ll be a different phone,” explained Todd as he hung up.

Rick put his phone away and wondered what the hell he had gotten himself into. Todd was his cousin, but deep down, Rick suspected that Todd was nuts.

 

Chapter 84

Jirra and Alexis arrived in San Diego, and checked into their hotel suite at the Hilton overlooking San Diego Bay. It was also located next to the San Diego Convention Center.

Tonya was in a room next door.

“Well, the view is fantastic,” said Jirra as she looked out the window. “You can see Coronado and the Pacific Ocean. I can’t believe the publishing firm is paying for this.”

“Well, they’re only paying for part of it,” admitted Alexis. “They had us down a few floors. I upgraded us, so we’ll have more security. No one can get up to these floors without a special pass. I learned that lesson, back when I was promoting a movie here. I was getting people knocking on my door at all hours of the night.”

“Will it keep out Todd Kelly too?” asked Jirra.

“The hotel security has his photo, and they entered it into their facial recognition system,” said Alexis. “If he steps into the hotel, they’ll spot him.”

“Unless he’s in costume,” said Jirra.

“To get up to this floor, he has to show a photo ID,” replied Alexis.

“I had no idea hotel security was so good,” replied Jirra as she watched a destroyer cruise up the bay.

“Hotels like this do, especially here in San Diego. They have a lot of big conferences here and security is a big selling point,” replied Alexis as she joined Jirra by the window. She slipped her arm around Jirra’s waist. “Look, just try and relax and have fun. Have faith in Max and his team. Many of them are friends, so they’ll take this very personally.”

Jirra nodded.

“I just wish Jen was going to be here,” said Jirra.

“I know, but she had to fly up to Seattle to take care of a problem with her latest production. But, knowing Jen, I suspect that she’ll make it down here.”

There was a knock on the door and Alexis went over to see who it was. She first looked through the peep hole and then began to open the door.

"It’s Tonya,” she announced.

Tonya bounced in. She was wearing a floral pattern sun dress.

“I can’t believe I’m in California!” squealed Tonya.

“Is it like you thought it would be?” asked Jirra.

“This is like a dream. The view is amazing! Did you see that ship down in the bay?” asked Tonya excitedly.

Jirra nodded.

“I wish I knew what type it was,” said Tonya.

“Beth gave me a lesson in ship identifying a few years ago. I think it's an LGS,” replied Jirra with a straight face.

“LGS? What is that?” asked Tonya.

“Large Gray Ship,” replied Jirra with a grin.

Tonya rolled her eyes in mock disgust.

“Actually it was an Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer,” said Jirra. “But I don’t know which one. The hull number was too hard to see.”

“It was 88,” said Alexis.

Tonya pulled out her phone and in a few moments announced that the ship was the USS Preble.

“So now that we solved that mystery, let’s go to dinner,” said Alexis.

“Are we going out or staying in the hotel?” asked Tonya.

“Out,” replied Alexis. “I’ll call Max and let him know where we’re going.”

“And where is that?” asked Tonya.

“It’s a great Italian place, near Balboa Park, called Cucina Urbana. Faith told me about it and she insisted that we go there,” replied Alexis. “We can do Mexican or seafood another night.”

“You okay with this, Jirra?” asked Tonya.

Jirra nodded. “Alexis is right, we came out here to have fun,” said Jirra.

Alexis grinned and then kissed Jirra. “That’s the spirit!” said Alexis. “Now, let’s get ready; we want to dazzle them we walk in.”

 

Chapter 85

Rob McCarthy sat the bar of Cucina Urbana, nursing a class of wine and eating his order of mussels, as he kept an eye on Jirra, Alexis and Tonya. He had to admit that they had good taste when it came to restaurants.

He didn’t expect any problems, as Comic Con had started yet. He agreed with Max that Kelly would wait until the event started to make his move. Still, he kept his eye on the door, as he had learned a long time ago to expect the unexpected. He also had one of the detectives from Boudicca parked across the street as backup. He would make it up to her by taking her out to dinner, when the case was over.

Rob looked over at the three young women, as they ate dinner. He immediately recognized Alexis from her TV show. He usually didn’t watch detective shows, but Erin Flynn was one of his guilty pleasures. It was also obvious that some of the guests also recognized her, but for the most part, they left her alone to enjoy her dinner.

He then turned his attention towards Jirra. He had read the file provided by Max, and he could see why Max found her so special. In some ways, she reminded him of his ex-intern, Sam Gibson. The third girl had to be Tonya, the illustrator for the book. Rob had read the first book in the series and was immediately a fan. He was very impressed with little details in both the story and the drawings.

Rob was also impressed with their dinner selections. Alexis ordered the Sonoma goat cheese and mascarpone ravioli. Jirra had the spicy shrimp puttanesca angel hair and Tonya had the pan seared sea bass. He noticed how Jirra and Alexis had helped Tonya with her order. Max had updated him on Tonya’s background too, and he was pleased that she had such good friends now.

As he took a sip of his wine, he almost hoped that Todd Kelly would show up on his watch. He hated bullies, and he would love to put this particular clown in his place.

 

Chapter 86

As they were about to order dessert, Jirra looked up and noticed a man approaching their table. It was the same man who had been sitting at the bar all evening.

“Good evening,” he greeted them as he casually showed them his ID. “I’m a friend of Max. My name is Rob, may I join you?”

“Please,” said Alexis as she read his ID. “Max said that we might meet you tonight.”

“Thank you. Have you ordered yet?” he asked.

They shook their heads.

“I highly recommend the roasted pear with rum-soaked currant crisp; it’s my personal favorite, and it’s worth the extra hours at the gym,” he said.

Alexis and Jirra agreed to split one. Tonya ordered the sorbet sampler. Everyone ordered cappuccinos.

“I just wanted to introduce myself and give you my phone number. You can call me anytime,” he said as he handed them his card.

“So you’re a real detective?” asked Tonya as smiled at him.

He nodded. “I left my trench coat and fedora in my car.”

Tonya giggled.

“Oh, and I’m a big fan of all three of your work,” he added.

“Thank you,” replied Jirra.

“You read the book?” asked Tonya.

He nodded.

“Very well done; I can’t wait to read the next one,” he replied.

“Cool,” exclaimed Tonya.

“I’m also a big fan of your show, although you have much more exciting adventures than I do,” he explained.

“Thank you,” replied Alexis. “Maybe later you can give me some hints on making the show more realistic.”

He shook his head.

“Why would you want to do that? Real detective work is mostly pretty boring … except for the nights I get to have cappuccinos with three lovely young women,” he replied with a smile.

Tonya giggled again.

Jirra gave Alexis a sly smile.

“Any thing you want us to do?” asked Alexis.

“Just be alert of your surroundings at all time. If you see anything suspicious, it’s better to err on the side of caution,” he said. “Try to have fun while you’re here; we’ll be watching out for you.”

“Thank you,” replied Jirra.

Rob stood up and smiled back.

“My pleasure,” he said as he bowed slightly.

 

Chapter 87

“I think Tonya is smitten with Rob,” said Alexis as they cuddled in bed.

“No, she’s beyond smitten; she’s in full crush mode,” replied Jirra. “It was nice seeing that side of her.”

“I agree. And I must admit that Rob is quite charming,” said Alexis. “Max told me about him, before we came out here.”

“What else did he tell you about him?” asked Jirra.

“He was a detective, before he became a P.I., and he worked with Ally Burns, before she joined the Agency,” said Alexis.

“Wow,” said Jirra.

“Max also said that Rob’s very good -- almost as good as he is,” said Alexis with a laugh.

Jirra laughed too.

“Well that’s a huge compliment, coming from Max,” said Jirra. “Thank you for the lovely evening tonight.”

Alexis leaned over and kissed Jirra.

“You’re welcome, Roo,” she replied.

 

Chapter 88

Todd stared at his documents, as he waited in his seedy, Tijuana hotel room. He was waiting until it got later in the evening. His plan was to cross with the rest of the drunken American college students, tourists, and sailors. His documents looked good, which considering how much they cost him, they should.

He really wasn’t worried about getting across the border. Originally, he planned on crossing out with some illegals out in the desert, but things had changed since his last time in TJ. The drug cartels had taken over the smuggling trade, and they were very suspicious of Americans.

Todd stood up and looked in the mirror. He had dressed to look like a tourist. His cover story was that he was in from New Jersey for the convention.

When it was time, he headed up to the border crossing and slipped into a large group of drunken tourists. As expected, he had little trouble crossing the border.

He walked over to the parking lot nearby and found the car that Rick had described. He found the key that had been hidden in the right front wheel well, and a few minutes later, he was driving away.

Rick had reserved him a hotel room in the Gas Lamp District. It was close to the Convention Center, and this would allow him to get in and out quickly. He planned to either drive or take the trolley down to the border, after he killed Jirra.

Rick had told him that it might not be a good idea to attack her in the Convention Center, due to the huge crowds; but it was the crowds that Todd planned on using to help him escape. He figured that the confusion of the masses would be just the distraction he would need to get away. After that, it was just a simple exercise in crossing the border. Once in Mexico, he would be safe and then he would be back in Brazil.

His Brazilian benefactors had no idea that that he was not in the country; they thought he was visiting some friends that weekend.

The only surprise in his plan was that his mother was completely behind it, and she had provided him with the money. She agreed, if Jirra Reid-Eden was dead, it would make getting the charges dropped easier.

Todd could barely contain his excitement, knowing that soon he would be a free man.

***

“Max, this is Tessa. Sorry to call you so late, but I just got word that Todd crossed into the country.”

“When did this happen?” he asked as he sat up in bed.

“He crossed around midnight at San Ysidro. The cameras recorded him crossing at 11:58. He was using documents that identified him as James Logan of Paramus, New Jersey. If he’s stupid enough to use them again, he’ll be nabbed, but I suspect he already dumped them. Still, we might get lucky; I’ve already notified the local authorities,” said Tessa. “We’re also checking local hotels for anyone who has registered with this name.”

“What about the real James Logan?” asked Max.

“He’s back in Jersey,” replied Tessa.

“Good, I wouldn’t want an honest citizen getting arrested,” said Max.

“I wish we could have gotten him at the border,” said Tessa. “But now, we know he’s here.”

“Have you notified the rest of the team?”

“Yes, they’re standing by,” she replied.

“Good. I’ll see you at 8 for breakfast,” said Max. “Get some sleep.”

“Will do,” she replied.

 

Chapter 89

Thursday morning, Alexis, Jirra, and Tonya met with the representatives of the publishing company to go over their schedule. Jirra and Tonya were scheduled to do book signings, on Friday afternoon, from 1 until 4 PM.

“There’s already a good buzz about the second book,“ said Kelsey. “I think we’ll get a nice steady flow of people coming through.”

“I hope I still have a hand left by 4,” joked Jirra.

“The thing to do is keep it simple and to stretch your hand. Try to limit personal comments and stick to just your signature,” suggested Kelsey.

“Oh, will it be posted that money received for the signed copies will go to the foundation?” asked Jirra.

Kelsey nodded.

“Great,” replied Jirra.

“Now, you also have two events to go to,” continued Kelsey. “There’s a party tonight, from 8 until midnight, that you’ll be expected to attend. There will be other writers and illustrators there, and it will be a good chance for both of you to meet others in the business. You don’t have to stay the whole time, but we need to make an appearance. There’s also a party tomorrow night being run by one of the big production companies. They sent us invitations this morning.”

Jirra looked over at Alexis. A slight look of apprehension appeared on her face.

Alexis noticed it, and realized that Jirra must still have some residual fears following the events at the party in Boston. She immediately began to question Kelsey about the production party.

“Which company?” asked Alexis.

“Richard Thorn’s,” replied Kelsey.

“Cool, and is Richard going to be here?” asked Alexis as she smiled in Jirra’s direction. “That means that it will be safe.”

“It doesn’t say, but they are here to promote his latest big budget movie and that usually means he’ll make an appearance. His latest is another one about Greek mythology,” said Kelsey.

“Hopefully, this one will have an actual plot,” interjected a man named Mark from the publishing company.

“Just so you know, the last five Richard Thorn movies all were worldwide blockbusters. He makes movies that people enjoy and want to see,” stated Alexis. “He has a golden touch … and he’s a very nice man.”

“Sorry,” replied Mark sheepishly.

“I wonder if Hallie and Kim will be here,” said Jirra.

The idea of seeing her friends quickly overrode her fears.

“Who are they?” asked Kelsey.

“Hallie is Richard’s daughter, and Kim is Hallie’s partner,” replied Jirra. “They’re both professors at Ohio State; we’re all very good friends.”

“You keep surprising me, Jirra,” said Kelsey. “You definitely have some interesting friends.”

Jirra smiled and thought, if you only knew.

“So, I take it, you’ll all be going to both parties?” asked Kelsey.

Jirra, Tonya and Alexis all nodded.

“Wonderful!” replied Kelsey.

She then reached into her case and pulled out several passes for Comic Con.

“These are general admission passes, if you want to hang out there today or any of the other days. You’ll get your special passes tomorrow when we arrive,” said Kelsey. “I’ll see you all tonight -- say at 8?”

“Sounds good,” said Jirra.

Kelsey and Mark left, leaving Jirra, Alexis and Tonya alone.

“So, are you cool about the party?” asked Alexis.

Jirra nodded. “I’m glad it’s someone we know,” said Jirra.

“I’ll keep an eye on you,” said Alexis as she slipped her arm around Jirra’s waist.

“Whoa, this is so cool,” interrupted Tonya. “Are you two going in today?”

“You mean to the Convention Center? I don’t think so,” replied Jirra. “But feel free to go yourself.”

“You don’t mind?” asked Tonya.

“Not at all. Besides, I think Max would have kittens, if we went in there today just to hang around,” replied Jirra. “You should be okay, but call Rob and let him know that you’re going, okay?”

“I will,” replied Tonya excitedly. “So what are you two going to do?”

“I’ve arranged a spa treatment and lunch over at the Hotel Del,” said Alexis. “You’re welcome to join us.”

“No offense, but I’ll go to Comic Con. Besides, three is a crowd,” replied Tonya with a grin. “I appreciate you two letting me hang with you, but you also need your time alone. Don’t worry about me; I’ll be safe.”

“Okay, but be back in time to get ready for the party,” said Jirra.

“I will,” she said as she ran off.

“I really like her,” said Alexis.

“Me too,” replied Jirra.

“Well, let’s get ready for our pampering,” said Alexis.

Jirra nodded.

“Too bad Iona isn’t in town. I would have loved to see her,” said Jirra.

“Where is she?” asked Alexis.

“On vacation, with Bill. She said that she always goes on vacation during Comic Con week, as she has enough strangeness in her life the other 51 weeks of the year,” replied Jirra.

Alexis broke out in laughter.

“I really love the fact that Tonya is here. Every time I get too serious, she snaps me out of it,” continued Jirra.

“She definitely has a fresh outlook on life,” said Alexis.

“I know. It’s amazing, considering all she has gone through,” said Jirra.

“It’s nice to see that you have taken her under your wing,” said Alexis. “I’m very proud of you.”

“Well, it’s about time I helped others, considering how so many people have stood by me … including now,” replied Jirra.

“And we’ll get you through this latest adventure too,” said Alexis as she gave Jirra a kiss. “Now, let’s get ready for our spa day.”

 

Chapter 90

Todd looked over the schedule for Comic Con, as he sat in his room; the plan was coming together, piece by piece. He had already accomplished the hardest task, getting back into the USA undetected. The next step would be easy, compared to that.

He looked at his costume and grinned. While he was not a fan of Sci-Fi, he had to admit that the costume was first rate. Getting into Comic Con wasn’t the hard part -- it would be smuggling in a weapon. At first, he thought he could just disguise a gun or a knife to look like part of the costume, but then he had read that all weapons were screened to make sure they couldn’t hurt anyone. He gave up having a weapon hidden in the Convention Center as being too complicated. So all that was left was to hide a weapon in his costume.

He picked up the arm of the outfit and slipped it on. He moved it around, flexing his arm and rotating his wrist to make sure that the blade hidden inside the arm wouldn’t accidentally pop out. He then bent his wrist down and the spring-loaded eight inch blade shot out just above his hand. All he would have to do is punch her, and it would be enough to kill her. Then all he had to do was make a run for it. The costume was designed with quick release straps that would allow him to quickly discard the outfit, if he had to.

All that was left to do was wait until tomorrow.

 

Chapter 91

“So did you have a good time?” asked Jirra as they headed down to the hotel lobby to go to the party.

Tonya nodded vigorously as they entered the elevator.

“It was even better than I could have imagined. I was very careful not to spend too much money,” she exclaimed “Oh, I saw our booth and it looks so cool! They were already selling the second book.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” said Jirra. “By the way, you look great.”

Tonya twisted back and forth to get her dress to twirl.

“Thank you. You two look great too,” replied Tonya.

Jirra nodded as she ran her hands down her outfit.

“This is a nice one,” replied Jirra.

“I remember when Jirra used to hate wearing a dress,” quipped Alexis.

“Really? I love wearing them,” said Tonya.

“That was just after I changed; I’ve gotten used to them, since then,” said Jirra.

“Well, that’s to be expected,” said Tonya.

Jirra looked over at Alexis and stuck out her tongue.

“See!” Jirra stated with sarcasm.

Alexis just grinned back. “I think you look great all the time, Roo,” she said.

“Thank you; you’re forgiven,” replied Jirra with a grin.

Down in the lobby they were met by Kelsey, who escorted them to a waiting limo.

Tonya’s eyes lit up, when she saw it.

“This is for us?” she squealed. “This is so cool!”

“I know what you mean. I never get tired of it,” said Alexis as they slipped inside.

The restaurant that had been reserved was in the Gas Lamp, but due to the added traffic of Comic Con it took then nearly twenty minutes to drive there.

“It would have been faster to walk,” said Tonya.

“Not in heels,” countered Jirra.

“Yeah, but we would have looked good doing it,” replied Tonya.

“A limo is a better entrance,” interjected Alexis. “Did you notice how people watched us as we drive by. They’re wondering who is inside.”

“I see limos all the time back in Philly,” said Tonya.

“Yes, but during an event like this, when people see a limo, they suspect someone important is inside. Just watch how the people will be watching when we get out,” explained Alexis.

“No offense, but I thought you hated this sort of thing?” asked Tonya.

“You’re right; normally, I don’t care about this sort of nonsense, but it can still be fun when I’m with people I care about,” replied Alexis. “Now when we stop, wait for the door to be opened, and then step out one at a time.”

Tonya nodded, as she took in Alexis’s instructions.

“And don’t forget to smile and have fun,” added Alexis.

Just as Alexis had said, a crowd gathered when the limo stopped in front of the restaurant. Jirra got out first, followed by Alexis. Some in the crowd recognized her and began to take photos. Tonya was next, and by the time Kelsey stepped out, the crowd was eagerly taking photos of all three.

Alexis smiled and waved at the crowd. Jirra and Tonya followed her lead.

Tonya leaned close to Jirra.

“Do they even know who we are?”

“It doesn’t matter. They see Alexis and assume we’re famous too,” replied Jirra as they walked into the restaurant.

“That was wild,” said Tonya.

“It will be even wilder tomorrow. These people were just passing by; there will be people staking out the Richard Thorn event, as they know that there will be A-List celebrities there,” said Alexis.

“So what do we do here?” asked Tonya.

“Mingle, socialize,” said Kelsey. “Introduce yourselves to the rest of the crowd. There are many other authors and illustrators here.”

“Most importantly, have fun,” said Jirra.

“Agreed,” added Alexis.

 

Chapter 92

Later that evening, Alexis and Jirra were relaxing in their hotel suite, after the party. Alexis lifted the half-empty bottle of champagne and refilled their glasses. The bottle had been a gift from Celeste.

“Did you have a good time?” asked Alexis.

“Yes, even better than I thought I would,” replied Jirra. “I wasn’t sure what to expect.”

“Why is that? You’ve been to many similar events with me,” replied Alexis. She then paused. “Oh, I understand; this is the first one of these where you were the person of interest.”

Jirra giggled. “That sounds like a line from your show,” she replied. “But you’re right. I’m still a little uneasy about being in the spotlight. It’s easier, when I’m unknown.”

“Yes, but I watched you; you enjoyed it. And you should. You’re an accomplished writer, and I’m very proud of you,” replied Alexis as she leaned over and gave Jirra a kiss.

“Thank you,” replied Jirra.

“Not to boost your ego any more, but everyone I talked to love your books,” continued Alexis.

“Enough,” giggled Jirra.

Alexis smiled back. “Oh, I was also pleased to see how much fun Tonya had,” continued Alexis.

“I know; it’s so nice to see her have fun, after everything she has been through,” replied Jirra. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

“So does that mean you’re not worried?”

“I didn’t say that, but I have faith in Max’s plan,” she replied. “Now, let’s finish this bubbly and go to bed.”

“I’ll drink to that,” said Alexis.

 

Chapter 93

“How do I look?” asked Jirra as she glanced over at Alexis.

“Very nice,” she replied.

Jirra was dressed in a pair of jeans, her cowgirl boots, a red silk blouse, and a black jacket, and around her neck hung her kangaroo charm suspended on a silver chain.

“I figure I might as well be comfortable,” said Jirra.

“Just remember to act relaxed and enjoy yourself,” instructed Alexis.

“Is that what they tell the worm as it’s placed on the hook?” asked Jirra.

Alexis gave her a kiss. “Let’s get Tonya and head on over to your adoring fans,” said Alexis.

Kelsey met Tonya, Jirra and Alexis in the hotel lobby.

“I have a cart to take us over, unless you’d rather walk,” said Kelsey.

“It’s a nice day, let’s walk,” said Jirra.

Alexis pulled out her phone and called Rob, as they headed out of the hotel.

“So how many people does Rob have here?” asked Tonya.

Jirra shrugged her shoulders. “He didn’t tell me, but I know it will be enough,” said Jirra.

As they walked towards the Convention Center, they began to see the crowds. Many people were in costumes ranging from the very professional to the outright bizarre. Jirra had to smile at one person who was dressed up as Bender, the robot from Futurama. He was currently posing for photos with two women dressed as elves.

“Hi, Bender,” greeted Jirra.

“Bite my shiny metal ass,” he replied sarcastically.

Jirra broke out in laughter. It was just what she needed to help her relax.

Kelsey led them up to an entrance where they were given their passes.

“Okay, follow me. I’ll take you to your booth,” said Kelsey.

Jirra was amazed by the variety of outfits on many of the people in the crowd. There was everything from superheroes to Star Wars characters.

“This is amazing,” she said to Alexis.

“It is pretty cool,” replied Alexis.

It took them nearly ten minutes to reach the booth. Kelsey introduced them to the women working there. In addition to the two books in the series, they were selling mugs, t-shirts and posters. There was also already a small crowd standing in line for the book signing.

Jirra looked at the cover of the second book in the series. The illustration on the cover showed Steffi reading a document that listed the Ten Commandments of the Resistance. It was based on a historic document that Jirra had found in Andrea’s notes. The line that Steffi was reading said “You must treat all traitors as they deserve to be treated.” The complete document was reproduced inside.

“I love the way this looks,” she commented.

“Jirra, you’ll sit here, and Tonya, you sit next to her. Jirra will sign first and then pass the book down to you, Tonya,” instructed Kelsey. “Besides water, do you need anything?”

Tonya shook her head.

“A stiff drink,” mumbled Jirra under her breath as she sat down.

Only Alexis heard her comment, and she playfully punched Jirra in the arm.

Jirra looked around and wondered if any of the costumed people were working for Rob and Max.

“Oh my god, look at that!” exclaimed Tonya as she pointed to her left.

Jirra looked over in the direction that Tonya was pointing.

“Wow!” she exclaimed. “That’s a great costume.”

A person dressed as Chewbacca strolled up to the both and let out a very authentic sounding Wookie roar.

The people standing in line began to take photos, while some applauded.

“Whoever made that put some effort into it,” said Alexis.

The Wookie walked past the booth and got in line to get a signed book.

“Kelsey, we have to get a photo of the Wookie, when I sign its book,” said Jirra.

“I’m already on it,” she replied.

A few minutes later, the book signings started.

As she began to sign the books, Jirra remembered the advice she had gotten at her first book signing -- make the signature neat so it could be read.

The Wookie stayed in character and only made its noises.

Jirra was impressed by the detail in the costume. The head wasn’t just a mask, but had movement in the eyes and mouth.

Kelsey took photos of both Jirra and Tonya with Chewbacca.

After getting its books, Chewbacca didn’t leave. He walked a short distance away and began to pose for photos. A few minutes later, two Imperial Storm Troopers walked up and began to pose for photos with Chewbacca. Jirra had to smile at how normal it all seemed.

She actually didn’t mind all the activities going around the booth, as it added to the festive nature of the book signings.

More than a few people recognized Alexis and stood back to take her photo. She didn’t mind, but she refused to sign any autographs as she didn’t want to take anything away from Jirra and Tonya.

Jirra glanced up as she signed another book and noticed another person in a very authentic costume. The costume was the Predator from the famous Sci-Fi movie. As with the Wookie, people were coming up and taking photos.

Jirra was a little surprised that the person in the costume didn’t play up to the crowds. She thought it was strange that someone would take all that time to make a costume and then act like they were dressed in a jeans and a t-shirt.

Eventually, the Predator made it up to the head of the line. It was then that all hell broke out.

Jirra would later recall that the events seemed to happen in slow motion.

The Predator stood in front of Jirra, and as she was about to sign the book he thrust his right fist at her. His fist struck her in the chest, and she let out a scream.

The Predator let out a curse, as he pulled back his arm again.

Jirra and the others watched in horror as a long knife blade shot out just above his right wrist. As he thrust forward, one of the people in the crowd pushed the Predator, and instead of striking Jirra straight on, the blade slashed across her chest.

Before he could try another attack, Chewbacca struck him in the head, knocking him down to the ground. The Wookie then pulled the arm section off, removing the threat of the blade.

The two Storm Troopers immediately jumped down on top of him, immobilizing him.

Alexis jumped out of her seat and ran to Jirra’s aid.

“Are you okay?” she asked excitedly.

Jirra nodded as she looked down at her chest.

“The bastard ruined my blouse,” complained Jirra.

“You’re not cut? Are you sure?” asked Tonya.

Jirra nodded.

“Max insisted that I wear a vest, it’s both bullet proof and knife resistant. I’m lucky that he only slashed me,” said Jirra.

Alexis wrapped her arms around Jirra and gave her a big hug.

“Thank God you’re okay!” she exclaimed.

The police and security came up and took over for the Wookie and the Storm Troopers. They literally had to disarm the Predator to get the knife removed.

When they pulled off his mask, Jirra immediately recognized Todd Kelly.

Then one of the Storm Troopers took off his helmet; it was Rob.

The second Storm Trooper turned out to Tessa.

Rob explained to the police who Todd was, and they seemed very pleased as they led him away. As they did, the crowd applauded and cheered.

“Nice costumes,” said Jirra.

“I have to admit it was fun,” said Rob.

“Hi Tessa! Thanks for being here,” said Jirra.

“My pleasure,” she replied. “I can’t wait to get out of this stupid outfit. Luke Skywalker was right, you can’t see out of these helmets.”

“What about the Wookie?” shouted one of the people in the horde.

“Yeah, the Wookie never gets any credit,” yelled another person.

On cue, Chewbacca let out a triumphant roar, and the crowd cheered.

“See what happens when you make a Wookie angry? They rip your arm off!” shouted another person.

The crowd began to cheer and laugh at the jokes.

“Thank you, whoever you are,” said Jirra.

“I guess this shows that you should always let the Wookie win,” said Alexis.

Then the person in the costume took off the head.

Jirra immediately threw her arms around the person in the Wookie costume.

“I didn’t think you were going to make it here, Jen!” exclaimed Jirra.

“What and miss all the fun?” replied Jen.

“Holy crap, that’s Jennifer Stevens!” exclaimed a man dressed as Indiana Jones.

Flashes began to go off, as people began to take photos of Jen.

“You always knew how to make an entrance,” said Alexis as she also gave Jen as hug.

The police then interrupted the reunion.

“Are you okay?” a female officer asked Jirra.

“Yes,” she replied as she ran her hands over where the blade has swiped her.

“Well, let’s you to the back so the medical personnel can check you out,” said the police woman.

“We also need to get a statement,” said a tall black police officer. “Please come with us.”

“Go with them; I’ll deal with the people who are still in line,” said Kelsey.

“I want to make sure that they all get signed copies,” said Jirra.

Kelsey smiled back. “Everything will be taken care of.”

With that, the police escorted Alexis, Jirra, Tonya, Jen, Rob and Tessa out of the main hall.

 

Chapter 94

Much to everyone’s relief, the protective vest kept Jirra from being injured. All she had was a mild bruise from Todd’s initial punch.

“You were very lucky that the blade got stuck with the first blow. Those vests are good, but they don’t stop stabbings,” said the detective.

“Max insisted that I wear it; all it did was ruin my blouse,” said Jirra.

Jirra was now wearing a blue t-shirt with the logo of the San Diego Police Department on it.

“By the way, where is Max?” she asked.

“Mr. Bowie is down, with another detective, talking to Todd Kelly,” said the detective. “Rob McCarthy is with them. I’ve known Rob for years, and I never thought I’d see him a Star Wars outfit.”

“So what’s going to happen to Kelly?” asked Alexis.

“He’s not going anywhere anytime soon. We’re working on the charges as we speak. The DA will probably want to charge him with attempted murder, in addition to all his other offenses,” said the detective.

Over the next couple of hours, the detectives took their statements.

“So do you need anything else from us?” asked Jen.

“No, you’re all good to go,” he said. “I’m sorry that this happened.”

“I’m just glad that we caught him,” said Jirra.

The detective nodded. “Well, enjoy the rest of your stay in San Diego.”

“We will,” said Jirra.

“So what do you want to do, go back to the hotel?” asked Alexis.

Jirra nodded. “But first, I want to talk to Kelsey; I want to finish the book signing. Do you think they’ll let us do it tomorrow?” asked Jirra.

“I don’t see why not,” said Alexis.

Jirra pulled out her phone and talked to Kelsey. To her relief, they would be able to finish the book signings the next day.

“You sure you want to do it?” asked Jen.

“Hey, you’re the one who taught me that you have to keep the fans happy,” said Jirra.

“Yes, but I think you have a good excuse not to do it,” countered Jen.

Jirra shook her head. “I feel great; a huge weight has been removed off my shoulders. I have been on edge, ever since I learned Todd was free,” explained Jirra. “Now, let’s go get ready for the party.”

“You sure?” asked Alexis.

Jirra nodded vigorously. “I want to at least make an appearance. I want to show everyone that I’m not running away,” said Jirra.

Alexis smiled and gave Jirra a hug.

“Thanks,” replied Jirra. “So, Tessa, Jen, do you want to join us?”

“Who’s throwing the party?” asked Jen.

“Richard Thorn,” said Alexis.

Jen grinned. “I’m in! Richard always has great events.”

“Tessa?” asked Jirra. “I’d really like you to join us.”

“Why not?” said Tessa she shrugged.

“Great,” said Jirra.

 

Chapter 95

Unfortunately, both Rob and Max were too busy to attend the party. They wanted to observe the interrogation of Todd.

A lawyer provided by his family arrived and advised Todd not to speak, but Todd decided to ignore his attorney’s advice.

“I just want to know how the hell you knew I’d be here,” demanded Todd.

“Only after you tell us what we want to know,” replied the DA.

“Fine, what do you want to know?” he asked as he leaned back in his chair.

“Todd, I must insist that you don’t say anything,” argued the lawyer.

“Or what? What are they going to do to me, send me to prison? I’m already an escaped con,” he snapped.

Over the next couple of hours, Todd told them how he escaped and made his way to Brazil. He then detailed how he got into the country. He left out the fact that his cousin helped him, but was pressed for these details by the DA.

“I didn’t have any help; I did it all by myself,” bragged Todd.

“You’re not that smart,” interjected Max.

Todd glared at him. “What do you know?” snapped Todd.

“I know that your cell phone shows numerous calls, which we’re tracing. Anyone who helped you will face charges,” said Max.

Todd looked at his lawyer.

“Is that true?”

The lawyer nodded.

“You got me, why isn’t that enough?” asked Todd.

“You were given help to escape both prison and the country Those are very serious offenses; the US government frowns on these sorts of things,” replied Max.

“Well, I’m not snitching on anyone,” said Todd.

Max laughed. “So now you’re a street criminal. Well, soon you’ll get to meet some real criminals; I hope you enjoy their company.”

“I’m not in prison yet,” said Todd.

“Just a matter of time,” said the DA.

“Okay now its your turn, tell me how you traced me. I was very careful,” demanded Todd.

“You were far from careful,” replied Max. “You left an electronic trail from Philly to Rio.”

“Yeah but you would have needed warrants to do that!” snapped Todd as he looked at his lawyer. “Right?”

“Not if it was part of a private investigation,” replied Max. “A detective firm was hired to track you down; it wasn’t that hard. We knew that, sooner or later, you would do something stupid and come back to the states. All we had to do was wait. We also knew your animosity for Jirra Reid, and it was, as the great detective said, elementary.”

Todd seethed in silence, as he listened. “I’ll get out,” he snapped. “My parents have money, and they’ll get the charges dropped.”

“Unlikely,” said the DA. “In addition to dozens of witnesses, we had dozens of videos of your assault … so far.”

“It wasn’t very smart to attack someone in such a public location,” added Max.

Todd slumped down in his chair. “Yeah, but I got out once.…”

“Even without the charges that you accumulated here today, you’d be going away for a long time,” continued Max. “And as a one time escapee, you’ll be placed in a much stronger cage next time. The best you can hope for is sentencing location.”

“Doesn’t matter; I’ll get out,” said Todd.

“Yeah, and pigs might fly, but I’m not counting on it anytime soon,” added Rob.

 

Chapter 96

“So where is the party?” asked Jen as they all got into the limo.

“Richard has rented out the Museum of Man. It’s up in Balboa Park,” replied Jirra.

“Museum of Man?” asked Tonya.

“It’s an anthropology and archaeology museum,” explained Alexis. “I visited it when I was back in college. It’s located in a stunning building, and it’s the one with the tower and the big ornate dome.”

“So why there?’ asked Tessa.

“Richard’s latest movie is another one set in ancient Greece. He probably felt this was the best location to tie into the movie,” explained Alexis.

“Say what you will about his movies being all action, little plot and cartoonish dialog, he knows what his audience wants and how to make money,” interjected Jen.

“So how do you know him again?” asked Tonya.

“Alexis was in one of his blockbusters a few years ago,” said Jen.

“Really?” asked Tonya.

Alexis nodded. “I’m still getting residual checks for my action figures.”

“Cool,” replied Tonya. “Um, you said that you know his daughter, right?”

Jirra nodded. “Her name is Hallie,” replied Jirra. “I hope she’s here, along with Kim, but I suspect that they’re in Crete at the archaeological site.”

“That’s right. I got a text from her last week,” said Tessa.

Tessa, I take it you’ve known the others for a long time too,” said Tonya.

Tessa smiled back. “That’s right,” she replied.

“You sure moved fast today,” said Tonya.

“I would have moved faster, if it hadn’t been for that outfit, but it did allow us to blend in,” replied Tessa. “They were Jen’s idea.”

“And how did you end up in the Chewbacca outfit Jen?” asked Tonya.

“It was out of choice. I’ve worn it before at Comic Con; it allowed me to move around without being recognized. I guess I’m going to have to get a new costume for next year,” replied Jen.

“Too bad you couldn’t get Max into a costume,” said Alexis.

“We offered him one, but he was content to watch in the security center,” replied Jen.

“What was it?” asked Alexis.

Jen shook her head. “Sorry me made me swear I wouldn’t tell anyone,” replied Jen. “It will have to remain a mystery.”

“Okay, we’re almost there,” interrupted Kelsey.

Jirra looked out the window as they crossed the Cabrillo Bridge. The Museum of Man was ahead of them to the left.

“Wow, it’s really beautiful,” said Tonya.

“We’ll be stopping up front in a moment,” said Kelsey.

Jirra could see dozens of people standing behind barriers. They were obviously there to see celebrities.

“So what do we do?” asked Tonya.

“We get out, smile and pose for the crowds, and then head inside like we own the place,” said Jen with a laugh.

As expected, both Jen and Alexis were recognized by some in the crowd. They yelled for them to pose for photographs and autographs.

Jen and Alexis obliged them as Jirra, Tonya, Tessa, and Kelsey watched.

“They really know how to work a crowd,” said Tonya.

Suddenly someone yelled out Jirra and Tonya’s names.

“How’re you feeling, Jirra?” shouted a young woman.

“Good, thanks,” she replied.

“Can you two stand together?” asked the woman as she held up her camera.

Jirra nodded and posed next to Tonya.

The woman took several shots.

“Thanks … I love the books!” she said.

“You’re welcome,” replied Jirra.

“One more thing, can I get you to sign my book? I missed out today,” said the woman.

Jirra and Tonya walked over.

“What’s your name?” asked Jirra.

“Sandra,” she replied.

Jirra signed the book and then handed it to Tonya who did the same.

Sandra looked at the personalized message and grinned.

“Thank you so much. I love the books on their own, but it’s so bitchin’ that you’re also LGBT,” she grinned. “We need role models like you two.”

Jirra watched in stunned silence, as Sandra waved and walked away.

“Wow,” exclaimed Jirra softly. “I’m now a role model.”

They stayed out with the crowds for a few more minutes, before heading inside.

 

Chapter 97

“Oh my god!” exclaimed Alexis as they walked into the main room of the Museum of Man.

“Typical Richard Thorn,” commented Jen. “Subtle and understated.”

Positioned around the large room were muscular men dressed as Greek hoplites. Each man was wearing a highly polished bronze breastplate, greaves, and a Corinthian helmet. Additionally, they had decorated shields and were carrying a long spear.

“Alexis!” exclaimed Richard as he walked up and wrapped his arms around her. “It’s always great to see you.”

He was dressed in a white tuxedo jacket and black slacks.

“And you, Richard,” she replied.

He then greeted Jen the same way, before turning his attention to Jirra and Tonya.

“Jirra, I was so happy that you came out of that cowardly attack unscathed,” he said.

“Thank you,” she replied. “I survived through the quick actions of my friends.”

He nodded, knowingly.

“I haven’t seen you since the Oscars,” he continued. “However, I have been following your career. You’re an excellent writer, and I absolutely love the books. Very imaginative. A great twist on World War Two stories, I can’t wait to read the next one.”

“Thank you again. This is Tonya, the woman who illustrated them,” introduced Jirra.

As with the others, he gave her a hug.

“You’re quite talented. I’m amazed that these are your first books, but I know they won’t be your last. You have quite a future ahead of you,” he commented.

“Thank you,” replied Tonya.

“Richard, this is a very good friend of ours, Tessa Barnard,” introduced Jirra.

He cocked his head and nodded before giving her a welcome hug.

“I know we haven’t met, but I feel as if I know you. Thank you for saving my daughter,” he stated.

“It was my pleasure,” she replied.

Jirra then introduced him to Kelsey.

“Well, I hope you all enjoy yourselves. Thank you very much for coming,” he said as he walked away to greet some of the other guests. “Jirra, since I can’t talk Alexis into being in any more of my movies, maybe you’d be interesting in working on a script for me.”

“I would be honored,” she replied.

“Excellent, I have a few ideas that I will run past you and see what you think,” he said.

Jirra opened her purse and handed him one of her business cards.

“Excellent!” he exclaimed as he looked at her card before slipping into the breast pocket of his jacket.

“Wow!” exclaimed Tonya. “He’s … amazing.”

Jen nodded. “That’s not an act; that’s the way he is all the time,” said Jen.

“Really?” asked Tonya.

Alexis nodded.

“He’s a good man,” said Alexis.

Well, let’s see what sort of refreshments they have here,” said Jen.

The servers were dressed in white toga-like outfits with laurels in their hair.

“He really goes all out,” noted Kelsey.

“Jirra!” exclaimed a man from across the room.

Jirra turned, and seeing the man, she broke out in a huge smile.

“Nick!” she exclaimed.

A handsome man in a tuxedo wrapped his arms around her and gave her a big hug.

“I heard you might be here,” he said as he let her go.

Tonya’s jaw dropped, as she watched Jirra and Nick talk.

“Tonya, this is Nick Carlton. Nick, this is Tonya Boyington, my illustrator and collaborator,” she introduced.

Nick gave her a hug. “Pleased to meet you, Tonya.”

Tonya opened her mouth but couldn’t speak.

“It’s okay, Tonya. Nick and I are old friends,” said Jirra.

“Yes, we went to the Oscars together,” he said.

“Wow,” replied Tonya. “I … I mean, it’s wonderful to meet you. I’m a huge fan. Damn, that came out wrong.”

“It’s okay Tonya,” he replied with a smile.

Alexis and Jen walked up and joined them.

“By the way, Alexis, congratulations on getting married,” said Nick. “I had the feeling that you and Jirra would be a lovely couple.”

“Thanks, Nick,” replied Alexis as she slipped her arm around Jirra’s waist. “I didn’t expect to see you here, as I didn’t see your name on the credits for Richard’s newest movie.”

Nick shook his head.

“I just signed on as the lead in his next one. He’s doing a remake of Jason and the Argonauts,” said Nick.

“Congrats,” said Jen. “I knew you were destined for leading roles.”

“Thanks Jen,” he replied. “I appreciate all you have done for me.”

The others also congratulated him.

Jirra looked around and then leaned close. “Is Kyle here?” she asked referring to Nick’s boyfriend.

“No, he’s on location right now,” he replied.

“How’re things going?” she asked.

“Things are great,” he replied with a wink.

Jirra smiled back.

“Nick, I don’t know if this is correct or anything, but can my photo taken with you?” asked Tonya.

“Only on one condition,” he replied.

“What’s that?” she asked cautiously.

“That you give me a signed copy of your latest book,” he replied with a grin.

“Deal!” she exclaimed.

 

Chapter 98

Later in the evening, Tessa and Jirra were talking, as they looked at Mayan exhibit.

“So tell me more about Tonya,” asked Tessa.

Jirra gave her a short version of Tonya’s life.

“I’m glad that you’ve taken her under your wing,” said Tessa. “I like her; she’s got spirit, but I could sense that’s she’s also dealing with some issues.”

“She doesn’t have only me,” said Jirra. “Diana Bowie has taken a strong interest in her upbringing.”

Tessa nodded. “Diana’s a great role model,” said Tessa. “I love her work.”

Jirra then glanced around to make sure no one was around to overhear her.

“I’ve shared my secret with her, as has Beth,” said Jirra.

“Good,” replied Tessa. “Close friends shouldn’t keep secrets.”

Jirra nodded.

“I know that you haven’t told her about the others,” continued Tessa as she studied one of the reproductions of a Mayan monument.

“That’s right. I fully agree that each of us makes their own decision as to who they tell their past,” said Jirra.

“Obviously you trust her,” said Tessa.

“It does feel good to help others. So many people helped me and continue to help me. It’s a nice feeling to return the favor,” she replied.

Tessa smiled back. “I have always felt the same way. This gift that was given to me has allowed me to help many people,” said Tessa. “I suppose that I can trust Tonya too.”

“You mean you’re going to tell her?” asked Jirra.

Tonya nodded. “She’s part of the family now,” said Tessa.

 

Chapter 99

When the party ended, they headed back to the hotel and to Jirra and Alexis’s room. Kelsey excused herself and went to her own room.

“That was so much fun,” raved Tonya as she flopped down on the couch.

“It was, wasn’t it,” said Alexis.

“Richard always throws wonderful parties,” added Jen.

“It was a nice way to end a rather eventful day,” said Jirra as she sat down next to Alexis.

“I can’t believe you not only know Nick, but he took you to the Oscars!” stated Tonya in awe.

“It was thanks to Jen and Alexis,” said Jirra. “A friend and I went as sham dates for Nick and Kyle. They weren’t out back then as gay or a couple.”

“I’m glad that coming out hasn’t hurt their careers,” said Alexis.

“Thankfully they have a lot of supporters, like Richard,” said Jen.

“And you,” added Alexis.

“I hire talent,” said Jen.

“Yes, but it doesn’t hurt that you like both of them too,” said Alexis.

“Shhh! Don’t let anyone know. I’ve been working on my reputation as a hard core Hollywood producer and director,” said Jen.

The others laughed, and they were joined by Jen.

“Your secret is safe with us,” said Jirra.

Tonya broke out in big grin.

“I want to thank you all for including me in your group,” she admitted. “It means a lot to me.”

“You’re welcome Tonya,” said Jen.

Jirra looked over at Tessa who nodded.

“Tonya, when Beth and I shared our secrets with you, we implied that there were others. Obviously, Jen is in the group; she didn’t have the opportunity to keep her change hush-hush,” said Jirra. “Well, tonight you’re going to meet another member of our sorority.”

Tonya looked over at Tessa who nodded.

“Really?” asked Tonya.

Tessa smiled back.

“I promise not to tell anyone, Tessa,” swore Tonya.

“I know that,” replied Tessa.”So, Tonya, do you believe in miracles?”

 

Chapter 100

The next morning, they all got together for breakfast in Jirra’s room.

“I’m glad that you’re going to finish the book signings today,” said Tessa.

“It’s the new me. I might have taken the easy way out in the past,” replied Jirra as she smiled at Alexis. “I owe much of my new attitude to my friends.”

“Good for you,” said Jen.

“Well, it will be safe. Max called me last night and they confirmed that Todd was working alone, at least when it came to the attack. His accomplice turned himself in last night and admitted to providing Todd with a car and a place to stay. He also admitted to picking up the Predator costume for Todd, but he swears that he didn’t know about the blade,” said Tessa.

“And what about Todd?” asked Alexis.

“Max says that he’s facing a long list of charges. Since he escaped once, he’s being held in maximum security. I doubt we’ll have to worry about him ever again,” said Tessa. “His mother has also been arrested for aiding Todd in his escape.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” said Jirra. “So will there be a trial for him?”

Tessa shook her head. “From what Max told me, Todd pretty much confessed to trying to kill you. There will be some sentencing hearings, but no trial.”

“Good! I’m glad to close this chapter in my life. Kelly can rot in prison the rest of his life, as far as I am concerned.

Tessa nodded, and a sly smile appeared on her face. It was very subtle, and only Jen caught it.

Jen immediately knew the meaning of the grin. If, by some miracle, Todd managed to escape, the police would be the least of his worries. Tessa would hunt him down and put an end, permanently, to his ability to make trouble for Jirra. Jen also had to admit to herself that she really didn’t disagree with Tessa’s beliefs.

Tessa knew that Jirra was very lucky to have survived the attack. Max had told her that they couldn’t understand why the blade had stuck the first time. It worked every other time that the police tried it. But as she thought about it, maybe it wasn’t luck. Maybe Jirra was also protected by a higher power. Still, if Todd became a threat again, she would ensure that he would never hurt her sister. She knew that this was part of her destiny -- to protect those close to her.

“So are you going to Comic Con today, Jen?” asked Tonya.

Jen shook her head. “No, I no longer have a disguise. I would be swarmed, if I went in without it,” she replied.

“Yeah and she also likes dressing up in a costume,” interjected Alexis with a laugh.

“That’s true. I mean where else can you dress up like a Wookie and fit in?” replied Jen.

“Yeah, that’s even too wild for Hollywood,” added Alexis.

“So what are you going to do?” asked Tonya.

“I have to get back to work,” replied Jen. “Don’t worry, I’ll see you all again.”

“What about you Tessa?” asked Tonya.

“One day at Comic Con was enough for me. Besides, I miss my husband and daughter. I’m flying back to Boston, this afternoon.”

Tonya nodded.

“Tonya will be coming up to Boston regularly this fall,” said Jirra. “We have a lot to do on the next several stories.”

Tonya grinned. “I’ve never been to Boston.”

“Well, that will change,” said Alexis. “We may not have cheese steaks, but we have lobster.”

“Thanks again,” replied Tonya.

 

Chapter 101

Jirra and Alexis were back at their home in Boston, a few days later.

“It feels so good to be back here,” said Jirra as they fixed dinner.

“I know what you mean,” replied Alexis. “I don’t start shooting again for another week. Do you want hang out here or go down to the Cape?”

“I just want to be with you and relax,” replied Jirra as she put the chicken in the over. “I just want to hang with you and lead as normal a life as we can have.”

“I don’t know about normal, but I can do without someone stalking and trying to kill you,” replied Alexis.

“That makes two of us,” replied Jirra. “But with Todd in jail, I can’t think of anyone else trying to get me.”

Alexis opened a bottle of wine, filled two glasses and handed one to Jirra. "Well, here’s to us,” said Alexis.

Jirra gently touched her glass to Alexis’s and took a sip.

“That hits the spot,” she commented as they sat down on the couch.

“I agree,” replied Alexis. “So, when do you want to have the official wedding ceremony?”

“Well Beth and Jim are getting married at the end of September,” said Jirra. “What do you say to late October?”

“A Halloween wedding?” asked Alexis.

"Oh, I forgot about that! And then comes Thanksgiving, and then five months of snow,” replied Jirra.

“Okay, then let’s shoot for spring ... say the first week in May,” said Alexis.

“I like it,” replied Jirra and she held her glass out.

Alexis clinked her glass against it.

“We’d better get the invitations out, just in case someone else decides to get married at the same time,” suggested Alexis.

"Okay, so where do you want to do it?” asked Jirra.

“The house down at the Cape,” suggested Alexis.

“I’d like that too,” agreed Jirra.

Alexis leaned over and kissed Jirra. “I’m so in love with you. I can’t imagine life without you,” sighed Alexis.

“I love you too,” replied Jirra.

 

Chapter 102

Two weeks later, Alexis was back to shooting scenes for Erin Flynn. Jirra was splitting her time between writing and rewriting scripts for the show and working on the latest graphic novel. The success of the first two books caused the publisher to request the next book to come out as soon as possible. While Jirra was pleased that the books were well received, she refused to cut corners to get the books out faster. Tonya felt the same way, stating that they had to decide between quality or quantity. The publishers reluctantly agreed.

For Jirra, life was fairly routine. Still, she found time to talk to both Celeste and Beth. Celeste was excited about starting work on her graduate degree and also welcoming some new girls into the condo.

Beth was loving her new job and was also excited about her impending wedding. She told Jirra that she knew that she had found her perfect career and that she took great pleasure in “busting scumbags.”

One afternoon, Jen called to see how Jirra was doing.

“Life is good,” replied Jirra cheerfully.

“I’m very pleased to hear that,” said Jen. “You obviously know how lucky you were back in San Diego. Even with your accelerated healing, I would hate to think what would have happened, if he had stabbed you.”

“I know; it’s pretty amazing that the blade didn’t pop out when he first hit me,” said Jirra.

“I was talking to Tessa and neither of us thinks luck had anything to do with it,” countered Jen.

“So what do you think it was?” asked Jirra.

“I don’t know exactly, but I think someone -- or something -- was looking out for you. I don’t think that this change you’ve gone through was just chance and that it’s for some greater good. You’ve already helped Tonya, in so many ways. Also think about what that girl said back at the Museum of Man. You’re a role model for many people,” explained Jen.

Jirra didn’t reply as she absorbed Jen’s words.

“I think the next time you see your spirit guide, you should ask him about it. I know you won’t get a straight answer -- they always speak in riddles -- but you might get some insight,” continued Jen.

“Okay,” replied Jirra.

“Roo, I’m so proud of the ways you have grown, since I first met you,” said Jen.

“Thanks Jen,” replied Jirra. “So, when are you coming out? Alexis says that she would like you to do your waitress character again.”

“I’ll be out in a few weeks,” she said. “Oh, one last thing, you should be hearing from Kelsey in the next day or so.”

“About what?” asked Jirra.

“Richard Thorn wants you and Tonya to do a graphic novel adaptation for his next movie,” said Jen.

“You’re kidding!” exclaimed Jirra.

“Nope. I’ve been telling him for years that his movies are missing out by not doing a graphic novel. Well, he finally believes me, and he wants you two to do it.”

Jirra let out a low whistle. “Wow, this is a great opportunity, and a huge one too.”

“I know you’re up to the task,” said Jen. “You know that I wouldn’t recommend you two, if I didn’t think you were capable of doing it.”

“I won’t let you down,” said Jirra.

“I know that, Roo,” replied Jen. “Well, I gotta run. I’ll be seeing you.”

“Thanks Jen, thanks for everything,” replied Jirra.

As soon as she hung up, Jirra called Alexis and told her the news.

“That’s so cool. You know, at the rate you’re going, you can be the breadwinner, and I can go back to college,” replied Alexis.

Jirra laughed.

“Well, I’ll be home in a few hours; we can go out and celebrate,” continued Alexis.

“I can’t wait, I love you,” said Jirra.

“I love you too. Now, I think you’d better call Tonya and give her the good news,” said Alexis.

“I will,” replied Jirra.

“I love you Roo,” said Alexis.

“I love you too,” replied Jirra.

Jirra let out a sigh and smiled as she thought about Jen’s words. Maybe I am making a difference, she thought as she punched up Tonya’s number.

 

The End

 

List of Characters

 

Tessa Phoenix Barnard - was once a retired US Navy SEAL named Jason Blackthorn. Jason was killed and resurrected as a woman by the Goddess Athena to seek revenge against the killers. She is currently married to writer Jonathan Barnard. (Revenge of the Goddess: Athena's Assassin.)

 

Jonathan Barnard - Investigative reporter for the Boston Globe and writer of several bestselling books on crime and corruption. His wife is Tessa Phoenix Barnard, who was once a man named Jason Blackthorn. Jason was killed and resurrected as a woman by the goddess Athena to seek revenge against the killers. (Revenge of the Goddess: Athena's Assassin.)

 

Ally Burns - Transgendered Federal agent and currently serving as Assistant Director. Her life partner is Special Agent Carol Williams. (Protector Series, Combined Forces, Coeds Series, Femmed)

 

Lindsey Dylan - Jirra's best friend back in New Mexico. Lindsey is currently studying to be a chef and follow in her mother Hannah's footsteps. Her father Cody runs the outdoor activities at the spa. (Fresh Start, Fresh Start 2, Coeds)

 

Andrea Carlson - Born Andrew Baker of Cincinnati Ohio. When WWII broke but he crossed into Canada and joined the RCAF. Andy was assigned to a fighter squadron and was shot down. Selected to assist in an escape from a German POW camp, he took on the role of a young woman to assist a British agent. Andy stayed in Denmark to assist the resistance and became Andrea. Later, after SRS, she moved back to the states and became an agent in the CIA and later the Agency. She married and adopted several children. Ben Carlson/Beth Williams is her grandchild. She recently passed away after a long and exciting life. (A Different Kind of Freedom, The Protector Series)

 

Diana Bowie - As a teenage boy, Darren was abused and blackmailed into being a feminized sex slave. Fearing for his life, he ran away and was rescued by his aunt, the novelist, Faith Collins. Darren became Diana, and was raised by Faith and her husband Max Bowie, a detective and sometimes federal agent. Diana became a famous author and reporter, and is currently teaching journalism at University of PA. Diana currently lives with her lover Kari, a chef and restaurant owner in New Hope, PA. Kari's restaurant is called The Drunken Squirrel. (Corruption, Double Jeopardy, Coeds)

 

Max Bowie - Private detective and sometimes agent for the Agency. Married to the writer Faith Collins in the 1980s and for all practical purposes is Diana's adopted father. Faith is the writer of the Erin Flynn detective series. (Corruption, Double Jeopardy, Band of Sisters)

 

Alexis Eden – Jirra’s partner, she’s a onetime college student and currently movie and TV star. She is the star of the Erin Flynn series being filmed in Boston. While on vacation in New Mexico, she fell in love with Jirra. Her parents, Helen and Harold Finster live in Toledo Ohio. Her sister Sue is married to Rick, a chef and they have a little boy named Jimmy and an Irish setter named Marley. Sue and Rick are both very accepting of Alexis and Jirra. Her other sister Trish is less open-minded and is engaged to an insurance salesman named Bill. Alexis's younger brother Harry is a student at Ohio State. Alexis has two sisters and a younger brother. (Fresh Start & Coeds series)

 

Celeste Farnsworth - Originally Jeremy Green; was abducted and feminized by Margo Simon. Celeste was then sold to Sherman Farnsworth, a self-made millionaire. Instead of using her as a sex slave, Celeste became his wife. Sherman dies of a heart attack and Celeste used his wealth to create a foundation for abused transgendered teens. She currently attends Penn with Spirit, the wonder dog. (Combined Forces, Celestial Awakenings, Coeds)

 

Rachel Greene- Born Richard Greene, he was abducted, transformed, and brainwashed by Max Prendergast, his old high school theater coach. Her transformation was further assisted by Heidi Walsh. Rachel's best friend in school, Ken Marcus helped track her down and she was rescued by The Agency. Ken Marcus's uncle is Steve Williams. (Mentor)

 

Cat Hawkins - Originally from Golden Hill, PA. Plans on joining the FBI following graduation from Penn. Her best friend in high school is a transgendered girl named Erika Walters. Cat is currently engaged to Matt. (The Scholarship, Coeds)

 

Thomas Jonathan Hill- Ex-Virginia Commonwealth Attorney, currently serving multiple life sentences for corruption. His downfall was the attempted railroading of Bobbi Marks. His dishonesty was uncovered by a team lead by Max and Diana Bowie. (Double Jeopardy)

 

Robert Gavin McCarthy- Onetime police detective and colleague of Ally Burns, Rob works as a PI in San Diego and was mentor for Sam Gibson. (Delayed Justice)

 

Professor Hallie Thorn Pappadimos - Born Harry Thorn, he was transformed into a young woman by an ancient Minoan object. She is now living with her lover Kim and their daughter. Hallie spends half the year in Crete working on the Minoan archeological site that is connected to her own transformation. Her father is Richard Thorn the movie producer. (Purpose, Ambition, Revenge of The Goddess; Athena's Assassin)

 

Jirra Reid - Born Josh Reid and was transformed into a girl at age eighteen in a freak accident at a spa in New Mexico. Josh was taking a hot mud bath in a large copper caldron; a lightning strike transferred him physically into a female. Jirra is still trying to find balance as she adapts to being female. Her nickname is Roo, a take off on her new name which means kangaroo. (Fresh Start, Fresh Start 2, Coeds)

 

Dr. Liz Reid - Jirra's mother, she is currently working as the staff physician at The Caldera de Gaia Spa in New Mexico. Her husband and Jirra's father was an army officer killed in Afghanistan. Liz is currently engaged to Dr. Dan Montgomery, who is in charge of studying the Anasazi archeological sites located near the spa. (Fresh Start, Fresh Start 2, Coeds)

 

Margo Simon - Once a therapist who worked for the government, she was arrested for running a sex slave ring. She was arrested in an operation led by Ally Burns. Celeste Farnsworth was one of her victims. Beth Williams was also abducted by her. (The Protector Series)

 

Carla Walters -Brown- Assistant DA in Philadelphia. One of her brothers Brett married Cat's mother. Her other brother, Sam married Erika's mother. (The Scholarship, Coeds)

 

Beth Williams- While serving in the navy, LT Ben Carlson was transformed into a teenage girl by Dr. Martz, through a DNA process. Beth was adopted by two federal agents, Maggie and Steve Williams. Beth has also served as an agent, although she is now currently a fulltime student. Beth is currently dating a fellow Penn student named Jim Buchwalter. (Change of Course I-IV, Combined Forces, The Protector Series, Coeds)

 

Steve Williams- One of the top agents at the federal law enforcement organization called The Agency, a hybrid of the FBI and CIA. Recruited from the US Navy SEALs, Steve currently works out of the Spec-Ops department and runs the tactical strike teams. His wife is Maggie who is also an agent. (Change of Course Series, Protector Series, Combined Forces, Coeds Series, Femmed)

 

 

 

Special Guest

Jennifer "Jen" Stevens - Born Robert Stevens. Transformed by a lightning strike over a period of about three weeks while unconscious in the hospital. Her transformation was leaked to the public during her hospital stay. Jen left her old job and became a successful TV and movie star and is now producing movies. Substitute hosts the "Around Midnight" talk show. A friend and mentor to Jirra Reid after meeting her a few months after her transformation. Long time friend of Alexis Eden after meeting her while Jen was hosting the talk show. Jen Stevens adventures are chronicled in Bob Arnold's Zapped! series and she is used here with his permission.

 

References

San Diego Museum of Man http://www.museumofman.org/

Cucina Urbana http://www.cucinaurbana.com/about-2

Anasazi beans http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-anasazi-beans.htm

Owowcow Creamery’s http://owowcow.com/

Haring Brothers Meats http://haringbrothersmeats.com/default.aspx

Pat’s King of Steaks http://www.patskingofsteaks.com/location.html

 

The Ten Commandments of Danish Resistance

(Handed out within hours of the German Occupation)

  1. You must not go to work in Germany or Norway

  2. You must work badly for the Germans

  3. You must work slowly for the Germans

  4. You must spoil their production machines and tools

  5. You must spoil whatever helps the Germans

  6. You must delay all German transports

  7. You must boycott all Italian films and papers

  8. You must not buy or trade with the Nazis

  9. You must treat all traitors as they deserve to be treated

  10. You must defend every person persecuted by the Germans

JOIN THE FIGHT FOR DENMARK’S FREEDOM

(Source; Hitler’s Savage Canary. A history of Danish Resistance in World War II by David Lampe)

 

 

 

List of Stories in Julieverse

(This is the timeline, in order as best I can recall. Some of the stories were written as stand-alone tales, but then incorporated in later stories. If I left anything stories out it was unintentional)

A Different Kind of Freedom (Most of story takes place in 1940’s)

Corruption (Most of story takes place in 1980’s)

The Scholarship

Off The Rim 

Personal Foul (takes place in 2002)

Change of Course

Change of Course II

Change of Course III

Change of Course IV

The Protector

The Protector 2

Combined Forces

Celestial Awakenings 

The Protector-Hunted

Ambition

The Protector of Angels- Team Slothrop

The Protector: Race Against Time

Purpose

Turbulence

Turbulence: Back to School

Fresh Start

The Protector: Assorted Sweets

Forget-Me-Not

Vengeance is Bittersweet

Double Jeopardy

Revenge of the Goddesses: Athena's Assassin

Coeds

A Perfect Match

Band of Sisters

Coeds 2

The Protector- The Mole

Wild Card

Coeds 3: Anasazi Summer

Iona; Coeds

Mentor

Targets

Twins

Femmed

It’s Just Business

Delayed Justice

Sins of the Father

Three Cases and a Wedding (An Iona Beddau Adventure)

Twisted Values

Evil Woman

Coeds 4: Life Happens

The Protector: Next Generation

Grantville: An Iona Beddau Adventure

Coeds 5: New Opportunities

Shock to the System (Takes place in 2012)

Device One (Takes place in the future)

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Our girls are all grown up

What can I say, I loved it! Following your characters as they grow, mature and touch the lives of others is a truly wonderful experience. And as for the climax -- I  know Bob is smiling in approval.

Sincerely,

Scott

Calvin: You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.
Hobbes: What mood is that?
Calvin: Last-minute panic.

Coeds 5

  Thanks again, Julie for another great story!  I really enjoy reading your stories.  I am glad that Bob was such a wonderful help to you.  I agree.   Bob is smiling big time.

   Becky