The Princess Trap
By Tyrone Slothrop & Wanda Cunningham
Teaser Scene- Sunny California
Pacific Coast Highway, somewhere near Santa Barbara, July 7, late evening
Alan Carter finally descended past terror and settled into oscillating despair. As much as he liked the pastel green dress, he regretted not wearing jeans tonight. The dress fit nicely, emphasizing his slender waist and lending him an air of feminine sophistication beyond his years but you couldn't really run away in a dress very well. Not that he had an opportunity to run now but the dress seemed to emphasize his vulnerability some how.
He shook his head. How stupid, worrying about clothing when he probably wouldn't live through the next few hours.
The plastic restraints binding his hands behind his back forced him to sit bolt upright on the car seat with his breasts thrust forward. His captor occasionally reached over to squeeze one. Alan closed his eyes and prayed the prosthesis would stay on. He knew the man would not be happy when he discovered the truth about Alan.
And if Alan were not rescued, he would be discovered. If he were rescued, he would be discovered—pain, torture, death and humiliation, either way, just a matter of timing and degree.
Fred Robin Restaurant, Pleasanton, Off I 580, July 7, lunchtime
Cecilia tried to remember when a pleasant lunch had crossed the line into ugly. She had been sitting in the booth with Brian, exhausted and happy, waiting for his Mom to pick them up. The basketball game had been tiring but fun, and she had made almost every outside shot she tried. She remembered suppressing giggles in the pleasure of the moment; Brian had smiled at her and she had grinned back at him.
Now four big guys they barely knew sat in the booth, preventing their escape, and ordering food on their tab. One of them kept making comments about Alan's sexual orientation, which normally would have pissed her off, except Cecilia was being Alan right now and didn't know for sure how she should react. She prayed the ace bandage holding her chest flat held under her sweatshirt.
Cecilia could see Brian going through the anguish of a thirteen-year-old boy caught in a situation that demanded more maturity than he possessed. He wanted to yell for help but did not want to look afraid. Short term relief traded for a long term reputation as a wuss. Empathy was a great thing but there was nothing like experience to make another alien concept clear for her. And now she had to use the bathroom, even a men's public restroom.
When the waitress delivered the burgers, Cecilia saw her chance to at least relieve herself. Clambering quickly up over the booth, she jumped on the empty bench next to them and went directly into the men's room. Just as she entered the stall, she felt someone grab her shoulder from behind.
Chapter 1: Meet the Twins- Santa Barbara, California , Late June
The California coastline curves away from the Pacific Ocean at a certain point, about halfway down from the Golden Gate to the Mexican border. The South Coast of California begins here, gilded by the sun and more protected from the storms out of the Pacific. The beaches are wider, the surfers are browner and the blessed weather lures more people to move to paradise every year.
Santa Barbara, once a sleepy village of farmers and fishermen, anchors the top of this curve; the northernmost city of Southern California or the southernmost of the Central Coast, it's a political question not a geographical one. Santa Barbarians see their city as separate from the smoggy metropolis to the south and the foggy one north of them, and many contrive to insulate themselves with money to increase the feeling of alienation. With enough millions one can browse through the terra-cotta-gabled shops, dine in the fabled restaurants, and then go home to watch splendiferous sunsets from the deck of one's very own storied mansion.
A particular home overlooked the ocean from the crest of a bluff, three well-maintained acres surrounded by privacy fences keeping out the rest of the world. The current residents had only recently moved in earlier in the spring.
Alan Carter woke up to the annoying prodding of his twin sister Cecilia. At thirteen, she had a slight advantage in strength and almost imperceptibly in height over her brother, but clearly showed a superior attitude.
"Alan, you promised we would go for our run early this morning, now get up!" Cecilia commanded, pulling the covers off her brother. She stood five-feet-eight inches tall, a thin and well-toned girl with her black hair up in a pony tail that matched her black running suit and shoes.
The twins exchanged identical blue-eyed glares but Alan got up without argument (there wouldn't be much point) and wandered into his bathroom for his morning wake up ritual. Cecilia followed to grab his black hair and pull it up into pony-tail to match hers while he brushed his teeth.
"Cissy! I can't go running on the beach with that!' Alan protested. (Cissy was Cecilia's nickname because neither twin had been able to manage "Cecilia" until they were nearly five.)
"Come on, Alan! No one knows you here—besides, I miss 'Allie'. She hasn't visited me since we moved from Ventura! Mom is already at the store and we can switch like we used to at our old house." Cecilia said, half-pleading and half-demanding. Allie was the nickname Alan used when masquerading as his sister.
Alan knew he would go along, he almost always went along with Cecilia and besides, he enjoyed the masquerade. Twins growing up have a special bond, sometimes evidenced in games and rituals. When they were younger, they delighted in the confusion engendered amongst their friends and parents by switching roles. As they got older, Alan had been the one to insist on keeping their hair long so they could maintain the option as long as possible. Cecilia (Cissy) had agreed but made Alan settle on a length which worked for her in her sports activities, knowing Alan's preference for fantasy games on the computer would have him tend to very long styles she would find a nuisance to deal with on the soccer or softball field.
Alan kicked Cecilia out of the bathroom for some privacy. "All right, Cissy. We just have make up school work to do anyway today. Now leave me alone and I'll be down in a minute."
Cecilia smiled as she went downstairs to grab a juice from the kitchen.
Allie (Alan), matching black sweatsuit and pony-tail bouncing, came down the steps a few minutes later. Felipa the housekeeper looked at the twins, blinked her eyes, shook her head and went back to managing the household accounts. She'd gotten used to the twins games years ago and tacitly kept many of their secrets.
She and her husband Jesus, the groundskeeper had taken positions in the Santa Barbara property when the Carters had moved. She had known the twins since they were five, having been their part-time housekeeper back in Ventura. Although approaching sixty, she looked somewhere between forty and fifty and Jesus seemed similarly preserved. Their children were all grown and they had been ready to return to Peru to retire when June Carter begged them to help run the much larger and more complex household. A full-time position with health and retirement benefits made a convincing offer, and they were officially listed as employees of June's Accessories, Ltd.
Outside, at the western edge of the huge yard, a steep flight of wooden stairs led down the bluff face to the beach. Officially, all beaches in California are public but if you live in a wealthy enough neighborhood you can achieve a certain privacy that certainly resembles ownership. The two apparent girls chattered to each other in the abbreviated shorthand that seems to be the hallmark of twins everywhere.
"You got?" asked Allie making a waving motion with one hand.
"Nah," said Cissy. "More fun."
Allie grinned. Of course it was more fun to run and play on the beach than to do one's homework but they both knew their parents wouldn't let them slack off too much. Felipa had probably already been deputized to make sure they got things done.
They paused on the landing halfway down. Out of sight of the house or any other thing made by human hands except the stairs, they soaked in the scenery for a moment. Surf a little over two feet high rolled in gentle breakers against black rocks and white sand, playing tag with the shorebirds. The sky changed from deep azure at the horizon to brilliant aqua straight overhead. As the sun rose in the east (out of sight behind the bluff right then), the colors of the sky would fade like denim in the wash but at the moment, its palette was more Gauguin and less Levi Strauss.
The Channel Islands were mere smudges in a low-lying mist miles off shore but the sea itself seemed a thousand miles deep, a darkly vivid mirror of the sky.
"Pure gorgeousity," sighed Allie.
"That's not a word," scoffed Cissy.
"Ought to be."
Allie held up a finger. "Dictionary."
Cissy nodded; they would look it up later to settle the point. "Race," she said and slapped her twin on the butt.
"Hey!" exclaimed Allie, annoyed that Cissy had declared a contest she was sure to win and then taken a cheater's lead. Down the stairs they thuttered and onto the beach. Cissy ran for the pleasure of being young and strong and Allie ran for the joy of being a twin.
Nearly half a mile from the stairs, just before they reached the more publicly accessible parts of the beach, Allie called out, "Race you back!"
"Hey!" protested Cissy, whose five-yard lead had suddenly become a fifteen-yard handicap when Allie turned the race around. Back they ran, not loping this time but pressing their limits. Their ponytails bounced and their sweatsuits did what sweatsuits are supposed to do, turning darker with their exertions.
For the first 300 yards of the return trip, Allie maintained the ill-gotten lead, but slowly Cissy's longer stride and greater endurance ate up the differential. In the last 50 yards, Cissy summoned up reserves of stamina that Allie had never really acquired, finishing in a power sprint and almost overtaking her twin.
Finally, Allie touched the stairs less than a yard ahead of Cissy.
"Cheater," gasped Cissy.
"Huh-uh," said Allie. They both laughed as much as they could, panting and grinning as they walked around a bit to cool off overheated muscles. On some mornings, a mile would just be a beginning for Cissy. Running on the soft sand at the beach made running anywhere else seem easier and she enjoyed the athletic challenge. For Allie, running with Cissy became companionship and nothing more; a mile several times a week fulfilled that need, easily.
After climbing back up the stairs with only slightly less energy than they had gone down, the twins found Felipa's scrambled eggs, toast, milk and juice waiting for them in the breakfast nook. They ate like teenagers, finishing all of it quickly and Cissy drank another glass of milk.
Felipa watched them eat. She could tell them apart at the table easily, even when they dressed identically. Cissy enjoyed her food more; Alan had always been the finicky one. Not that they couldn't fool her if they wanted to, swapping mannerisms as easily as they might hair ribbons. Alan's facility at this disturbed her a bit but she kept her own counsel on the subject.
"Your Mother wants those essays done in the next two days, you two. She told me to remind you. You still need to finish your old school work. Now get upstairs and scoot!" she said, grinning when the twins had finished.
The twins ran upstairs to their respective showers as if they hadn't already ran a mile and climbed stairs four times as high.
Chapter 2: Allie Returns – Carter Home- Santa Barbara, late June
As Alan got out of the shower, a familiar feeling of anticipation came over him. He had missed being Allie, fussing with his clothes and hair, playing at being a girl. Cecilia treated him differently then, too, in some subtle way he could not identify.
Already getting into the role, he patted himself dry carefully and wrapped his hair in a towel turban, then checked his appearance in the mirror and smiled. Allie, his female identity, looked back at him. Satisfied, he donned a robe, stepped into the hallway and knocked on Cecilia's door. She told him to enter and he found her sitting at her vanity wearing an identical robe.
"Your turn, sister. I did it the last time." Cissy said, smiling at him as she indicated the various rollers, brushes and curling irons.
Allie smiled and began rolling up Cissy's hair in her usual style. He had become quite accomplished at it over the last few years, and she frequently maneuvered him into being the stylist. Frankly, he did the better job and seemed to enjoy it.
Finishing with his sister's hair, Allie sat in the vanity and began rolling his own hair in exactly the same style. They always did it this way when playing their masquerade, one of them doing both hairstyles. While Allie worked, Cissy finished getting dressed, choosing a medium-length loose denim skirt and a blue chambray blouse.
Finishing with his hair, Allie selected a similar denim skirt and top from Cissy's closet, along with some tights. Allie's skirt had ruffles at the hem and the blouse was pink with more ruffles at the yoke and down the front.
Cissy could have predicted his choices, just as he could have predicted hers. "You forgot the bra, Allie. Shouldn't be out without supporting your boobies!" Cissy laughed.
Allie grinned, looking pointedly at his sister's chest. "Support what, Cissy? I left the binoculars back in my room."
Cissy threw a pillow. Her 'A' cups were a sore point with her, given that Mom was so well endowed, but she knew she had set herself up. "You just wait, Allie, by next year, I'm going to have to get you implants to pull this off."
"I think Mom and Dad might catch on then, Cissy. It may be time to call an end to this game."
Cissy looked at Allie and saw the hurt in his eyes. She was always torn about whether to encourage her brother or not, but they always had so much fun and he seemed to really enjoy himself. His mention of Mom and Dad was also touching on a nerve.
She always wondered why she preferred Alan to be Allie, and in her most honest moments, knew she was a little jealous of his being a boy.
Cecilia (Cissy) was outgoing where Alan (Allie) was introverted. Both of them tested high on intelligence and their parents would confirm they were above average in cunning. Cecilia made friends easily but always kept them at a distance from her relationship with Alan, as if she inhabited two different worlds. She competed in almost every sport, but seemed to prefer the individual ones, where she was playing against her own statistics.
Alan had few friends in any of the schools they had attended and this had always worried Cissy.
"I'm getting dressed and then I'll comb us out after we finish the homework papers we owe. See you for lunch, Cissy." Allie left, clutching the skirt, tights and top.
In his room, Allie dressed carefully. He always took greater care with Cissy's clothes than she did herself. He pulled the tights up and made sure the seams were straight. He put the blouse on and buttoned all of the distaff side pearly buttons, then he settled the skirt around his narrow hips. He looked at himself in his mirror and grinned. He twirled the skirt, loving the feeling of the tights and he thought the pink top looked particularly cute. Even more flat chested than Cissy, he thought, reaching up to tighten a roller.
He curled up in his chair and watched his laptop connect to the house network. He opened his incomplete paper on the impact of railroads on the expansion of the United States in the nineteenth century and began to write from his notes.
After an hour of steady work, he stopped and found himself shaking. He knew he was going to cry again.
Children, like all people, define their existence by the people they know. Since birth, Cecilia had been a near constant companion, and Mom and Dad were wonderful parents, despite making Alan eat broccoli and other evil things. He had never formed close friendships with other kids, content to be with Cissy and his on line gaming world. Now his world was turning upside down, with the family's sudden acquisition of wealth, the move to Santa Barbara, a new school in the fall and now Dad moving up to the Bay area, leaving the family here.
Alan had played 'dress up' games with Cecilia since he was little, and always enjoyed them immensely. Cissy treated him better as Allie, and things just seemed happier. As he got older, he had started to worry about it. Cissy was growing up, and he knew 'Allie' could not follow her. He was worried he might be 'different', the last thing a thirteen year old boy wants to be, especially since he liked several of the girls in his class. He had been much too shy to initiate anything beyond grunting and blushing, with the exception of when they asked for help with their computers. Then, Alan became their wizard, and had even been kissed once, (right on the lips!) for recovering a lost file.
He blushed to even think of that, wiping at his tears and giggling at the same time, unconscious for the moment of how appropriate his actions appeared for how he was currently dressed.
He didn't really avoid making friends but just felt more comfortable with his sister or playing video games. He wanted to be a big hero, with a sword and magic shield, like he was when he was Bandar, in Mortal Quest. But now, shaking and tears running down his cheeks, it seemed better to be Allie, as he clutched at his denim skirt, and then wrapped his arms around his chest.
After about five minutes of deep sobbing, Allie sat up, smoothed his skirt and launched Mortal Quest in a window on the laptop. His demeanor changed to one of fierce concentration as he became Bandar, scourge of the Nine Kingdoms, rescuer of fair maidens, killer of bandits and the fourth highest ranked player on the planet. He was online with hundreds if not thousands of other players around the world, all pursuing the quest for Character Points. Since he only had an hour until lunch, he could not become entangled in any lengthy engagements. Once you made a bond with a fellow player, you kept it, or you lost all credibility.
Chapter 3: The Conspiracy Has Lunch- Carter Home- Santa Barbara, late June
Allie had just finished combing out Cissy and felt proud of his work. The twins had made a concerted effort to maintain as close to exact a match in their shoulder-length black hair as possible, and Alan (Allie) had always been the one to fuss over the styles, while Cecilia (Cissy) just desired as low maintenance a fashion as possible.
"Do you think they will divorce soon, Allie? I can't stand this waiting." Cecilia wiped away an uncharacteristic tear.
"Dad still is sticking by their cover story, Cissy, that he is up there until he can make the business self-sustaining. And Mom is saying the same thing. She just laughs and makes jokes about finally spending more time with her girlfriends at the store. I just know they are hiding something." Alan said, with watery eyes.
He began removing his own rollers while Cecilia made sandwiches. Where Cecilia's hair was nicely full and blown dry, his would have more curl. In the pink top and jean skirt, the house staff, Felipa and Jesus, addressed him as Cissy, long-time accomplices in the twin's games.
"Why else are they splitting us up this summer if not to get us used to them separating? I just know Mom has all kinds of salon and spa torture lined up for me. She wants to bond with me and get me ready for boys, I guess." Cecilia sighed. She went on. "I feel that I'm just going to let her down."
Allie complained in turn. "Dad already has tickets to see the Giants and wants me to try a basketball day camp. At least I can bring my computer with me. I think we both are not what they expected, Cissy." Alan said, sobbing openly. Even with his emotional outburst, he did not miss a beat in fixing his hairstyle.
Consuming the turkey sandwiches must have triggered some thought processes. Cecilia was the first to speak.
"Allie, all of the kids I know just watched their parents split up. If we are part of it, maybe we can help them change their minds. Maybe we should be what they want us to be and then work on them to stick together."
Alan looked pensive, then grim. "You may be right, Cissy. I can do the basketball camp and absorb all the sports stuff. Maybe I can convince Dad to move back. Then things can be like they were."
Cecilia looked at Alan standing there, wearing one of her skirts, checking his hair in the window reflection. She just could not see him being very convincing doing a charge to the rim. Despite her upset and worry, she had to smile at the thought.
"Suppose we do what we do best, Allie? I'll bet Mom would love going to the spa with you." Cecilia said, a smile brightening her face from behind the clouds of gloom.
Chapter 4: It All Seemed So Simple At First- Carter Home, Santa Barbara, late June
June Carter was totally exasperated with her husband John, having just hit the off button on her cell phone. Now she had to get Alan ready to fly to Oakland by himself instead of driving up with his father. At least John had chartered a jet so she would not have to worry about commercial flights and connections.
Life had been so much simpler when they were just working stiffs, she thought, before both of their entrepreneurial ventures had taken off almost exactly at the same time. The last five years had been an exhausting whirlwind, with new found wealth prompting the move to Santa Barbara, moving the kids to private school and now John living in the house up near his newly acquired firm.
June had never acclimated to having the options money provided, and would have never thought of using the timeshare company jet just to get Alan upstate.
She felt more convinced than ever that the twins needed to start living their own lives,. They seemed to have not made any friends in the new neighborhood, apparently content to pursue their favorite activities, Alan had his on-line fantasy game and Cecilia had her variety of intramural sports. She hoped this summer would allow them to start breaking out of their conjoined shells.
"They're so much alike and where they're not alike, they're like complementary halves," she mused, unaware of echoing the sentiments of many parents of twins. Separating them for a short time would be good for them, she and John had agreed. Especially for Alan who had seldom had time to be alone with his dad, still, June worried that the twins would resent their forced separation.
June checked her appearance in the mirror again, unaware that she had done so five times already. She wasn't really vain, though her clear complexion, green eyes and raven hair would have given her an excuse to be so, perhaps. But she had made her business the appearance of others and making sure she stayed up to her own standards had become automatic. It was only when she was nervous that she over did her mirror watching.
Both of the twins resembled their mother more than their father, oval faces, wide foreheads and classically elegant noses. They had their father's dimpled chin, though. John's hair, more of a chestnut brown, didn't have the glossy black sheen the twins had inherited from their mother but they had got his piercing blue eyes and a certain quirk of mischief around the mouth. June adored her husband's sly smiles but when the twins swapped grins she knew to start looking for the mouse in the pancake batter.
"At least they haven't hatched some scheme to force us to call this off," she reflected, remembering the time the twins had used hot water bottles and ghastly retching choruses to fake the flu and avoid being sent to separate day camps three summers ago.
Cecilia looked at Alan and approved. The breast prostheses were incredible and seemed to be a part of him. Thanks to the internet and Fed Ex, Alan was ready for his summer as Cissy, having already surpassed Cecilia's limited skill at makeup in the few days they had to practice. Fortunately, his challenge was to be a bit less feminine than he normally played when he switched roles with her.
Cecilia was Alan, her bag packed and ready for a few weeks with Dad. She was glad she hadn't developed breasts the size of Mom's, at least not yet, since she would have had a difficult time binding them. She smiled that she had to actually use a curling iron to look more like Alan's regular hairstyle, while Allie had to go with Cecilia's pony-tail held back with a casual plastic hairclip. Cissy would be more than happy to revert once she got up to Pleasanton and could adjust her appearance without causing suspicion of a swap.
In that way that humans tend to put themselves at the center of things, both of the twins assumed their parent's separation was somehow their fault. All of the changes had come too fast; more money, Mom's brand and retail chain taking off, Dad's biotech patents allowing him to buy his competitor, the move to the incredible house in Santa Barbara, leaving school early, Dad having to move north. Add all those to puberty's insecurities then fold in extremely bright but socially immature twins and overdone melodrama becomes the order of the day. Alan felt Dad wished he were more of a boy, despite all evidence, and Cecilia was positive she was a disappointment to Mom as a proper daughter, also without any evidence. So the plot was hatched. Alan became Cissy and Cecilia became Alan.
Chapter 5: Adventures In Babysitting - Pleasanton, California, 500 miles NNE , late June
John Carter was extremely annoyed with his Sales VP. Normally, Fred was a master with handling key accounts but every once in awhile, he just rubbed one the wrong way, and that meant John had to baby-sit an aggrieved customer.
He was not annoyed with the situation as much as he was annoyed with the timing. He had been planning to spend time with his son for at least two weeks as soon as Alan showed up, and now that was all screwed up. He had to balance bringing his new cancer diagnostic to market, which could save millions of lives, keeping his fledgling company solvent and 500 people employed and a huge chunk of personal fortune versus spending time with his son.
He hated this, because the decision always came out the wrong way for Alan. John made up his mind and looked at Fred with his eyes drilling holes in the walls.
"Goddammit Fred, I will give you one week of my time to smooth this mess out, and after that you better have bonded with this guy from Pharmalife so much he asks you to bear his child. I will not put my kid off again, and this is the shit I pay you to do! Am I clear?" John said in an uncharacteristic burn.
Fred was visibly shaken. He also knew John deserved better than he was delivering.
"Clear, John." Fred said, knowing when to shut up.
John immediately cooled off. "Fred, I'm sorry. I know you delivered almost all the major accounts and it is my job to play this role, but I need you to do this. So we wine and dine this asshole for four days, show him around, promise him everything we already promised but in new phrases and then he is yours, ok, buddy?"
Fred welcomed the calm at the return of the John Carter he knew.
John shook hands with Fred, thanked him and went outside to meet Marissa, the head of Research.
The sun was bright enough for John to put on his Ray Bans. Marissa was gorgeous as usual, six feet tall and looking for all the world like Playboy's version of a businesswoman, with her incredible body in a well tailored skirted suit, standing next to the Town Car limo. Next to her was Brian, a gangly thirteen year old with blond hair color he obviously inherited from his mother.
Marissa Dupre was the second employee of Junecellular, and the co owner of most of the key patents with John. But today, she was Brian's Mom, going to Oakland airport to meet Alan, who would be staying at their house until John could disentangle himself from work. Fortunately, they lived next door to the house John had bought while he and Marissa straightened out their newly acquired company.
Marissa was also the prime reason Cecilia doubted the story Dad had told them. How could any man resist a woman who looked like that?
John greeted Brian warmly as they got into the limo and headed out onto the 580.
"I'm so glad you're handling that moron from Pharmalife. The last time I nearly had to drop kick him off the Sausalito ferry when he came onto me." Marissa said, her voice husky and totally out of place with her exterior looks.
"I get all the perks, Issa. So is it ok with you to handle Alan for a few days? I know you were taking some time off."
"No problem, Johnnie. I was just going to play Suzy Homemaker for a while. I might even bake something." Marissa said.
John could see Brian roll his eyes. Marissa has doctorates in both biology and chemistry, was one of the leading designers of nanotechnology for diagnostics which seemed to qualify her as a total disaster in the kitchen. The only reason Brian survived starvation was Brigit, their housekeeper and cook , ruled the house with an iron hand and only let Marissa near food when it was ready to eat.
Marissa's husband Bernie had been a gifted amateur chef and his untimely death from cancer a few years ago was still a painful memory. He had never allowed her into the kitchen after her first few attempts at cooking ended with inedible results.
"Brian, I hope you and Alan enjoy the basketball clinic this week. I've made arrangements with Bill Casey from the Lakers coaching staff so you two are his only students for three hours a day. No embarrassment, nothing to worry about, just try it and see if you like the game. " John said, hoping to get some response from Brian.
Brian brightened a bit. "Nobody else? Just us?"
"I understand there is a small league after the course, which you can play in if you want to, if you find you like it. All the kids are your age group, 13 and 14 year olds. I also know Alan is bringing his laptop and he knows you play Mortal Quest."
Brian went from dim to iridescent. "Wow, I play all the time. We could team up!"
Marissa smiled at John. Brian had taken his father's death very hard. She was hoping Alan could become a good friend.
Larry Elger rarely smiled, and usually only when he had someone in his gun sight. He maneuvered the Lincoln limo through the 580/880 interchange and headed north to the airport. Today he was the anonymous corporate driver , tomorrow the anonymous shadow for Alan Carter.
With his well trimmed black hair and lightly olive tinted skin, he could vary his appearance with a few minimum adjustments, appearing Italian, Mexican, or Anglo by re-combing, adding a thin mustache and changing his sunglasses. It was useful in his business. Alan Carter would never know he was there if he did his job right, unless Larry got the signal. Then Alan Carter would meet Larry. Most people remembered meeting Larry as long as they lived, which unfortunately, was not very long in too many cases.
Larry was still carrying a great deal of unresolved anger from his dismissal from the Israeli Consular Protection squad. He found that anger useful at times, especially when a client asked for the more difficult services.
John looked out the window. He remembered the phone call from June, the night before, when he had been trying to wrap up an FDA submittal and she was obviously frazzled from trying to get Alan ready to travel after a day of running June's Accessories.
June had been unusually pensive on the call. " John, I am very worried about the twins, especially Alan. They both seem very off since you went up there, very upset."
"We have thrown a lot of change at them, June. I am definitely going to spend some time with Alan, and I have some very non-threatening things for him to try to get him out of his shell. I still think it would help for them to spend some time apart, make some new friends."
"I know, I know. Oh well, this situation can't go on forever, can it? They will grow up, and things can stabilize." June sighed.
"Yes, time marches on, despite what parents want, babe. I'll be there at the plane to pick him up. I'm sending someone down to meet with you about reviewing our security and protection for you and Cecilia. I'm worried about the kids being a target as they go off on their own this summer. You should see them tomorrow. "
"Dammit John, I wish we never got into this lifestyle. It was a lot easier being poor!" June muttered.
"Comes with the territory, Junie. I'll call you when the plane lands and Alan is safely up here with Marissa."
"Give her my love, John. I still miss Bernie. I hope she's getting on with her life now."
They broke the call off on a good note.
The limo rolled up to the hangar. John, Brian and Marissa got out onto the tarmac to watch the taxiing Gulfstream slow to a halt. Larry stood in the background, waiting for his new target to come into sight.
Chapter 6: Big Girls Don't Cry- Santa Barbara late June
A tear ran down June Carter's cheek as she watched her child climb the stairs up into the jet. The crew took the offered bag, and then she wept some more as she received the farewell wave from the plane's window.
June was still taller than her children, at five foot ten inches, although she did not expect that to last much longer. She unconsciously reached up and touched the back of Cissy's head with her open hand, very gently. She then pulled Cissy to her and held her in her arms.
Alan was feeling close to panic. Having breasts was one thing, but squishing his against his Mom's very ample set in a hug was very strange. He hoped it felt normal to her, since he had no idea what was normal. At least his new boobs were snugly contained in his, or rather Cissy's bra, another thing which was taking some getting used to. He was also praying that his voice would not start changing any time soon, as a key part of this plan hinged on the fact that he and Cecilia were nearly indistinguishable in speech and tone.
Now that he was alone with Mom, who was smarter than anyone except maybe Dad, he realized how stupid this deception was. How could he fool Mom? Why did Cecilia think she could fool Dad? It seemed so, so , so improbable to him now.
Riding back to the house with Mom at the wheel of the Jaguar XK8, he began to relax. She had not caught him yet, maybe he could pull it off. He settled back into the seat, smoothing out his black running suit. Mom kept glancing over at him and smiling, a glint of something in her eyes.
"Cissy, I was planning on taking you to the salon tomorrow. We've never done a real makeover together, and I have a surprise for you!" Mom said, a big smile crossing her lips.
Alan knew he was not up to a major argument with Mom about anything, even though he knew Cissy would have at least put up a token resistance. He decided to deflect rather than attack.
"A surprise, Mom?"
"Yes, dear. I know you don't have any sports activities coming up for at least three weeks, so I wanted you to intern at the State Street store, for a few hours a day. I was thinking you could do the handbags section. Doesn't that sound like fun?"
Alan did a quick evaluation. Making Mom happier with them was part of the whole reason for doing this, and working in the store was probably her dream come true. How much trouble could he get into with handbags?
"Ok Mom. Sounds like fun!" He said, trying to appear enthused but not too enthused. He knew Cissy would have fussed a bit more, but he wasn't that good an actress yet.
Mom smiled, reaching over and tousling Cissy's hair. Alan saw her grin again.
Neither of them saw the old Ford pickup loaded with landscaping tools following the Jaguar at a discreet distance. The woman behind the wheel was whistling Mozart's Clarinet Concerto as she ranged the distance from behind her Oakleys. The back of her left hand was a patchwork of scars and skin grafts, which extended up her forearm. The same scars covered her left body in large patches from her neck to her pelvis. Sean Taylor was used to pain, it had been her companion for the last decade. It only subsided when she focused on a mission, and she had one in her sight right now.
Chapter 7: What Do You Mean By A Makeover, Mom?- Santa Barbara- late June
Alan's head was spinning with confusion somewhere in the upper atmosphere. It had all started when Mom got home from the store, a few hours after she dropped him at the house.
He was able to retreat into the safety of Mortal Quest for a few hours, being Bandar in all his power and strength.
After winning several duels and rescuing another fair maiden, Alan exited the game. He heard Mom in her home office, talking on the phone. While he could not understand the conversation, he knew she was laughing with unusual enthusiasm.
Mom came out, her face tear streaked from her out of control laughing fit.
"Cissy!, I got you some things for tonight and tomorrow and I brought home some movies for us to watch. We are due at the salon tomorrow at ten and I thought we go shopping afterward for your new work clothes! How does pizza and cheesecake sound to you?" Mom bubbled.
"Fine Mom, what was so funny?" Alan asked.
"Your father told me a funny story. I just called to see if Alan arrived all right." Mom said.
Alan unwrapped the two boxes Mom had set in his lap.
The first contained a nightgown and robe, both with more ruffles, flourishes and bows than Alan could imagine possible on a single garment.
"That's for tonight , honey, I got one to match. We're having a girl's night, eating and looking at the boys in the movies." Mom said.
The second box contained a flowered sleeveless sundress, full slip and open toed sandals.
"That's for the salon tomorrow, Cissy. We'll be there a while, what with your hair and nails and makeup consultation. Would you do your legs with the cream before we eat? I didn't think you needed a waxing yet."
Words seemed to get stuck in the back of his throat. It was dawning on Alan just how complicated this was going to get. Posing as Cissy for Felipa and Jesus when Cissy was in her jock slob mode was one thing. Mom was raising the degree of difficulty to levels he had never imagined.
He desperately wanted to talk to Cecilia, but he was not expecting her to call until tomorrow.
Chapter 8: High Noon At The Old Salon- Downtown Santa Barbara, late June
At least the chair felt very comfortable. Reflecting back on the last twelve hours, Alan began to think he had been kidnapped by aliens. He found himself sitting in the salon chair, his hair in rollers with some incredible amount of setting gel, his face covered by some slowly hardening goop, his eyebrows 'thinned', while an incredibly attractive girl of nineteen clucked over his hands, spending what seemed like hours using little tools to push, buff, sand and polish his never-before managed nails.
Last night had not been bad at all, except when Mom kept pointing out the guys in the movies, asking what 'Cissy' thought about that tush or those arms. Never having considered such things before, Alan didn't really want to know what he thought, so he did a lot of giggling.
Somehow it had all been fun. Chatting with Mom on the way home, they talked about things in a way he'd never done with anyone, except maybe the real Cissy. They squabbled a bit over the radio setting until they found an Oldies station that played the mellow rock classics they both enjoyed. It could have been scripted from similar disputes with Cissy, with a similar outcome.
And he hadn't even realized he'd missed cuddling with Mom until he found himself sitting beside her on the sofa at home. Warm and secure feelings dating back to infancy flooded over him while they sat close, dressed in the matching nightgowns they'd changed into at Mom's suggestion.
They lay against each other; they played with each other's hair. Mom seemed to take a particular delight in that.
She told him he'd done a good job on his legs. Alan blinked and wondered what was supposed to be so difficult about reading and then following the directions carefully.
Mom had gone over her 'suggestions' for Cissy's makeover while they were stuffing cheesecake into their mouths. Alan listened carefully, trying to hear anything in Mom's plans which would jeopardize the plot. As she spelled it out, it did not sound like he would have to disrobe or expose himself to a close panty-bulge inspection, so he breathed a sigh of relief.
Out of the corner of his vision, Alan caught Mom looking at him with a twinkle in her eye. He ascribed it to his so far "Somewhat Un-Cissy Like" behavior, since the real Cissy tried to avoid "girly" stuff as much as possible. Maybe the plot would work.
Getting up in the morning and putting on the flowered dress—with Felipa yelling at 'Cissy' that she'd forgot a slip and her legs were showing in the light—Alan shared cappuccino with Mom at the salon expresso bar, feeling dangerously near sensory overload. He hadn't been Bandar last night, finding it mentally very difficult to be the warrior after feeling so good cuddling with Mom as Cissy.
Alan watched Mom in the salon world like a swan swimming in a smooth pond. She either knew the significant players or just assumed they knew her. Alan nervously followed her swath through the soft, mostly off-white world, not wanting to be abandoned to swim in uncharted waters.
Mom adroitly introduced Cissy, avoiding condescension, indicating that her daughter excelled as an athlete but now would turn to the essential services the salon provided. Alan noticed that Mom had smoothed his path without embarrassing him and felt grateful.
She seemed to have provided specific instructions for Cissy's transformation before she went off to her own stylist, since Alan was rarely asked to make any decisions. He found that this did not mean he was not required to talk, since he was bombarded with a continuous stream of chatter from the five women who were assigned to him, all of which required that he engage in at least semi-articulate answers.
"Now I thought you should have bangs, but your mother was very specific about that."
"If you like this we'll do a perm next time. I'll give you some gel to take home with you so you can do it yourself."
"I'm so jealous! I'd have to starve to get hips like yours!"
"We just thinned out these brows, sweetie. If you like we'll do more next time."
"You're skin is so perfect! I thought you athletes spent too much time in the sun. But you should really moisturize more; I'll have you take home our system matched to your skin type."
"You are so lucky to have a Mom like that. And I hear you'll be working just down the street in her shop! I'll be one of your first customers, honey."
Alan noticed a very tall, strikingly beautiful black woman with short-cropped hair, wearing a long sleeve silk blouse and pants, Oakley sunglasses and black leather gloves. She was being escorted through the salon as a prospective customer. He thought she must be a movie star or someone like that.
One of the salon ladies showed the woman to the area where Mom was, and Alan heard conversation ending with laughter, some of which sounded like Mom's.
He had little time to think about it as he was finally being asked to decide on which design he wanted on his nails. Mom had selected a dozen as 'appropriate' for a salesgirl in her shop. Alan wished they had the shield and sword he had designed for Bandar, but settled for a small flower to adorn his fingers and toes as the least objectionable of the choices.
A short and elegant woman named Fiona came in and escorted Alan to another room. Barely touching the five foot mark even with heels, she was impeccably turned out in a very well-tailored tan suit and obviously did not like to leave her jewelry home gathering dust.
"Cissy, this is my salon, and you are very welcome. June and I am have been very close friends since before you were born and I am so pleased you could come here today. " Fiona said as she sat Alan down at a makeup station while arranging her paints and powders.
"Thank you, ma'am. Everyone has been very nice." Alan said, assuming that a compliment never hurt in a conversation. He felt very exposed in the salon robe over his slip, and wondered what style would be inflicted on his poor hair when the rollers came out.
Fiona expertly removed the facial mask, applied more cleansing agents to his face and said "Cissy, June told me you will be working in the shop and also that you are somewhat unused to using cosmetics. Now I find that hard to believe, as pretty as you are, but my job is to make you appear as mature as I can, so people feel comfortable buying from you. We want them to assume you are at least seventeen or so, or a young-looking twenty even. How does that sound?"
Alan nodded. Fiona went to work, making sure Alan learned every step of the way. The finished result astonished them both.
"That's hard to believe," Alan said. Staring back in the mirror was Mom, or a Mom from the pictures of her youth. His own blue eyes sparkled in the reflection, though, so like his father's, not his mother's green ones.
"True, but like mother, like daughter," Fiona said. "You've got your mom's 'good bones' and I'm a genius." They both grinned; Alan decided he liked Fiona. And he really liked looking so much like his mother. It pleased him in exactly the same way that he had been pleased when he succeeded in looking like his sister. Something about that thought bothered him but he didn't have time to consider it.
Fiona quickly made Alan remove it and repeat, this time with less help from her. Soon, 'Cissy' could do it almost as quickly as Fiona had, amazing the salon owner. "June told me you weren't really into makeup, but you do know how to use some of this stuff."
Alan shrugged. "Just cause I haven't been leaving the house all dolled up, doesn't mean I haven't been practicing a bit?" he said, making a plausible excuse that happened to be partly true.
Fiona laughed. "Well, Cissy, I have a few things to complete your look. These are going to add just the right touch, but I warn you, they're a real pain."
Alan looked out from the thicket of the false eyelashes. They were annoying to his eye movement, and obstructed his vision at times, but he had to admit, they did add to his 'look'. Something more than this?
"Cissy, I have some things I'm sending home with your other items, but I want you to try some of them on while I check on a few things. I'll be right back." Fiona said, handing some lingerie boxes to Alan. She closed the door behind her.
Alan opened the boxes and found a bra with some definite padding and a panty with some foam inserts for the hips and rear.
There was a note from Fiona "You won't need these for very long, dearie, but just for now they will add 'a few years' to your look. Enjoy that while you can, since we girls spend most of our lives trying to subtract years!"
Alan felt near to panic. Did Fiona know? Why would she help with the plot? He tried on the bra and panties and donned his slip and robe. Even more conscious of his chest now; it had become even bigger than Cecilia's at about a full 'B', and felt funny to be sitting on the padding on his derriere. A turn in front of the mirror convinced him, though. No one could look at those curves and think 'boy'. Maybe, "Oh, boy!" Alan giggled nervously, he hadn't expected to end up such a babe.
When Fiona came back she saw his jitters and tried to set him at ease. "Your mother gave me a free hand to help you, Cissy, and I can see you are developing into a beautiful woman. I hope you aren't upset with me trying to hurry that along a bit?" She beamed at him, clearly pleased with how things had turned out and wanting him to be happy about it, too.
Alan melted at this very nice woman. She was trying to make a young girl feel comfortable about 'cheating' a bit. He smiled and Fiona kissed his cheek. "It's a good thing you're going to be working in a women's wear shop," she whispered to him. "You'd have to turn down too many dates if you were in a real department store."
She chortled at his expression of dismay. "Soon enough for that in a year or two, huh?"
Alan could only nod, still trying to get his mind around that concept.
Later, when the staff presented 'Cissy' to her mother, Alan could see that the total look had totally stunned Mom. "Your hair?" she said, fastening on the least remarkable part of the transformation.
Alan thought his hair would have looked pretty on a girl; it fell to just above his shoulders in soft waves and curls. He put his hand up and fluffed it idly, watching his mother watching him. Then realized that he would be a girl for at least the next two weeks, looking like this. The hair added to the total effect of the makeup, his nails extended at least a half an inch, and the 'improved' figure—no wonder Mom seemed at a loss for words.
Alan felt as if he were having an out of body experience himself, inhabiting some alien yet enticing being. This felt totally different from just wearing Cecilia's jean skirt. The person in the mirror wasn't Alan, and wasn't Cecilia, but maybe would be Cecilia in two or three years.
Mom walked up and held Alan's hand in hers for a minute. "It's a good thing you don't have your father's dimples," she joked. "I'd have to lock you in your room." A real worry seemed to touch her eyes for a moment but she shook it off and linked arms with Alan.
They both thanked the salon staff, then turned to go. June said, "Get your purse, Cissy, we are going shopping!"
Boys Are Back In Town, Pleasanton, late June
The basketball made a satisfying sound as it swished through the net, causing Cecilia to grin broadly. Bill Casey was an excellent coach, and Brian and Cecilia had undergone a marked improvement in just two sessions.
Cecilia thought how much Alan would have liked this, Dad had really found a great way for her brother to try team sports without embarrassment or humiliation.
Dad had been very apologetic about being absent, and she knew he was upset about it. Staying with Marissa and Brian had been fun, even though she still suspected Marissa of trying to steal her Dad. The more she got to know her, the less likely this seemed, but Marissa's looks totally intimidated her.
Brian was a neat kid, kind of cute and a bit of a geek. He and Alan would have gotten along fine. As it was, Cecilia kept trying to maintain her interest despite Brian's computer geekiness, and was glad he was patient with her learning curve on Mortal Quest.
Somehow, Brian had been given the impression that Alan was a star at the game, but Cecilia quickly corrected that notion by asking for his help. She immediately realized that that was a huge mistake. No self respecting boy would ask nicely for help from another and admit not possessing a manly skill, that was a much more female device.
Cecilia corrected by making it a deal, where she would help Brian with his foul shots if he coached her on the game. This was accomplished by semi-insulting Brian's shooting skills, allowing Brian to disparage Cecilia's lack of experience at Mortal Quest. Masculine balance restored, she breathed a sigh of relief. She had thought this was going to be easy, and instead it seemed like a real tightrope act.
She realized that boys were very different creatures—as if they thought differently about everything. Cecilia felt like an observer from another planet.
Cecilia learned quickly not trust her reactions. One morning at breakfast, Marissa commented on how lovely Alan's hair was, and Cecilia automatically smiled and said thank you, unconsciously touching it into place. A glance at the puzzled expression on Brian's face once again told her she had 'acted like a girl' one more time. So she did the only thing she could to rescue the situation. She belched. Loudly. Brian joined in and Marissa rolled her eyes. Saved again.
The only time she relaxed was at basketball camp. The camp sessions were in the morning and Bill Casey had told them he wanted to thread the two boys into the game play in their age group in the afternoon, starting tomorrow. Cecilia looked at Brian, who looked hesitant, and then she just said yes. Brian followed suit.
That evening, Cecilia opened Alan's laptop and logged on her Dad's network, which had a port at Marissa's house. She finally felt relaxed, in just a tee shirt with her binding bandage off. She hoped the door lock on the bedroom held.
She found Alan, logged on as Cissy in the instant messaging system. Of course, she was logged on as Alan,.
ALAN>HI 'SISTER' J
CISSY>YOU HAVE NO IDEA L
CISSY> SEE PICTURE
ALAN> WHO IS THAT?
CISSY> THAT'S ME, OR RATHER YOU IF YOU WERE HERE
ALAN> ROTFLMAO (Rolling on the floor laughing my ass off)
CISSY> NOT FUNNY
ALAN> DID MOM DO THIS?
CISSY> YES. I AM WORKING AT STORE TOMORROW. SUPPOSED TO SELL HAMDGAGS.. HANDBAGS- DAMN NAILS!!!!
ALAN> DOES MOM SUSPECT?
CISSY> DO NOT THINK SO. SHE'S HAVING TOO MUCH FUN MAKING ME A REAL GIRL. YOU OWE ME. EYEBROWS TAKE FOREVER TO GROW BACK I FOUND OUT!!!!
ALAN> SORRY J J
ALAN>SHOOTING HOOPS. STAYING WITH MARISSA N BRIAN. LIKE MARISSA. BRIAN CUTE. DAD BUSY. DAD VERY UPSET NOT HERE WITH YOU/ME. LEARNING YOUR GAME WITH BRIAN.
CISSY> BRIAN PLAY? CHARACTER NAME?
CISSY> KNOW HIM. NOT BAD. KILLED HIM A MOBTH AGO..MONTH AGO- NAILS!!!! CANNOT PLAY UNTIL GET USED TO THESE NAILS!!!!!!!
ALAN> NOW REALLY SORRY. MOM HAPPY?
CISSY> YES. TOOK ME SHOPPING. U HAVE LOTS OF NEW CLOTHES. I HAVE PIERCED EARS NOW. HATE THE EYELASHES!!!!!!
ALAN> UR BOOBS LOOK BIGGER IN PIC J J
CISSY> PADDED BRA. MUCH BIGGER THAN U NOW. J
The instant message session went on for some time. Cecilia found herself both relieved and jealous of what she was missing.
Chapter 9: May I Help You? - June's Accessories, downtown Santa Barbara, last day of June
Observation is the precursor to learning. Alan spent two days watching, listening and absorbing the sales process in his mother's store. He noticed the clientele fell into three groups: the Chicks, local late teens and early twenties; Olders (Mom called them mature), stylish women and Tourists. He saw the Olders were few in number but bought a lot at one time. The Tourists spent a lot of time but rarely bought anything and the Chicks were most numerous and bought one or two things almost every time.
Mom proved to be the best teacher and loved to discuss her business. Cissy asked and then sat back and absorbed as each question set Mom off into a lecture on the market, the merchandise and the customers.
Alan studied the handbag section with a single-minded focus. He figured out that it was a slow moving part of the store and Mom viewed giving it to him as a low risk proposition. She may be a Mom, but she was also a businesswoman.
Alan called the marketing departments of the manufacturers, soliciting their view on the best way to sell their products, and particularly asked for names of celebrities who used the bags, or movies where the bags were visible.
He visited every store in a four block radius that sold expensive handbags, shopped and observed the way they did business.
After three days, he was ready to work.
"Cissy, you look very nice. Are you ready for your first day on the sales floor?" Mom asked, smiling at Alan over their breakfast coffee. Felipa smiled and clucked her approval at Cissy's appearance in the kitchen.
Alan had redone the hair-style, with a little help from Felipa. He felt very exposed in his miniskirt, and the patterned white pantyhose did not make him feel any less naked. The padded panty made his butt very noticeable, and he began to realize that he would probably draw stares from boys and probably men when he walked past them. He liked the silk blouse, and Felipa had told him to use the pendant necklace Mom had given Cissy for her last birthday. At least the clunky sandals were not high heels, since he still struggled with the handicap the eyelashes and nails inflicted on his normal movements, and heels would have probably rendered him catatonic.
The mannerisms he had observed in Mom, Felipa, and even Cecilia were starting to become habits with him. Checking hair, clothes, using his hands, checking his nails, all were getting layered onto his routines.
Alan found himself in his usual geek mindset, becoming totally absorbed in his project, immersed in his role, the way he became immersed in Mortal Quest as Bandar. Mom was happy, and he found his assignment a challenge. Acting like a girl was just part of the project. The more he focused on selling handbags, the more relaxed he became, and the more Cissy emerged and Alan retreated to being the disembodied person at the keyboard, controlling the action. Alan became a ghost, and Cissy was the feeling person.
"Yes, June. Did my deliveries come?" Alan asked, still having a hard time calling Mom by her first name. Mom had insisted, since "Mom" did not sound professional to her in front of customers or other employees.
"They came yesterday. And Sylvia is miffed that I gave you another ten square feet, but she will just have to deal with it. I had to make a deal with her that she would get it back if sales did not justify it." Mom said, shifting from mother to store owner.
Alan's plans had three specific ways to sell to the three groups of customers who came into the store. Today, he would work on the main group, the "Chicks". Arriving a full hour before opening, Mom left him to his devices on the sales floor,while she went to the offices upstairs. She rarely did any selling any more, concentrating her time on the running of the twenty store empire June's Accessories had become.
Sylvia Molenburg was the Queen of the State Street Store, the flagship of the company. Efficient and intensely loyal to June, she was not very happy with the appearance of a thirteen year old child on her sales floor. She had been openly hostile on that point with June and the staff.
Sylvia delivered a cold glance as Alan unwrapped the material he had received from the various marketing departments of the purse manufacturers. He selected two posters mounted on frames and set them on his shelving, re-arranging his merchandise.
"Just what do you think you are putting in my store, young lady?" Sylvia's words dripped with ice and shook Alan, as he fussed over the placement of his handbags.
Alan spun around and found a glaring Sylvia starting to reach for a poster. An inner strength, driven by a sense that he was right drove him to the next step. He had done his work, his theory was sound and he was not going to let some old bat push him around!
"If you touch that poster, I am marching out of here right now. The sales here will then be your problem." Alan said.
Sylvia looked up, startled, as if a kitten had just eaten her leg.
"What did you say?"
"I was very clear. Now leave me alone or I leave."
Sylvia looked at Alan with a cold gaze. She turned and went back to her perch in the corner office.
Alan felt totally naked in his miniskirt right then, naked and shaking. He had never done anything like that except in his game.
Meanwhile, the little exchange had not gone unnoticed by the other staff members. They all exchanged very puzzled looks.
Alan's strategy for the 'Chicks" was simple. His posters showed a featured purse being carried by a famous movie star or rock singer, sometimes as a clip from a movie. He also had a pitch for every item, not on the virtues of the bag, which he did know, but on which famous beautiful people used it. When you are selling handbags for four and five times the price of a non-designer equivalent, you are selling style, allure and celebrity. He planned on rotating two new posters in every day.
By the middle of the day, he had sold four, slightly below the average selling pace. He was feeling a bit down, when Mary, who handled the whole leather section, bought him a cup of coffee, and sat him down for a break.
"Cissy, you seem to be learning fast. I was watching you and I think you are going to do real well." Mary said.
"But I only closed less than half the real prospects!." Alan whined, letting the tension flow out to a sympathetic ear.
"You just need some time to learn to close. Your pitch is good, and you get them interested. But you are a little too needy. Get them hooked, then back off. Let them browse. Make occasional eye contact, but don't say anything. Let them come to you. It's a bit like flirting with boys, which I bet you do real well."
Alan blushed which Mary thought too cute to mention, but he took her advice to heart, and improved his afternoon sales to at least even with the previous rate.
At the end of the day, he turned in his summary, and got a glare from Sylvia.
"This shows no improvement, Miss Carter. I expected better."
"Sylvia, stop being such a bitch! She did better on her first day than you did your whole first year. Shut up and give the kid a break!." Mary chimed in. Mary had been there as long as Sylvia and the two were usually friendly combatants.
Sylvia looked at Cissy and her glare turned to a mere grimace. "She's right, you know. Ok, Cissy, you did pretty good for a new kid. I'll let you do your stuff within reason. Just no more floor space, ok?"
Alan knew he was way ahead, and nodded. "Yes, Ma'm, I mean Sylvia. I am sorry about this morning." He knew he'd simply met rudeness with rudeness but he did feel badly about being disrespectful to someone who worked for his mom. He'd been in a state of concentration, of geekiness where he had to do the job he'd been given his way or not at all.
Something which might pass for a smile crossed Sylvia's face for a brief moment. "Forget it. I'm getting too set in my ways. If you've got ideas, I'll listen to them. See you tomorrow, Cissy," she said.
More than a bit relieved, Alan wandered off, a look of mental exhaustion on his face when Mary gently grabbed his hand. She said, "June asked me to give you a ride home, since she's tied up for another hour upstairs. Would you like to stop over at the Nook for an iced latte before we go, sweetie? I just want to watch the boys when they see you there, it'll be my entertainment."
Alan was feeling mixed happy, tired and a little apprehensive at Mary's last comment. He had no interest in being boy bait, but the iced latte did sound good, and he really liked Mary. Besides, the challenge of being Cissy had become almost routine, why shouldn't he go and do things Cissy would have been happy to do?
Alan visited the employee's lounge, just for a moment, where he touched up his makeup and triple-checked his appearance. Then over to the Nook, and Mary got them a table right on the street.
Mary was a very attractive forty-something, recovering from her third marriage. It amused Alan that she viewed her marriages as two year vacations from being single, and apparently still felt on good terms with all of her ex-husbands. She did seem to enjoy observing the male of the species, and glad to share her long experience with Cissy, like the hunters on the African plains had done to initiate a new arrival to the trade, thousands of years ago.
Alan smiled inwardly, musing that maybe women were similar to men in some ways. Hunting was hunting, after all, and in the animal kingdom, the female was quite often the better stalker. The deadlier of the species—Alan examined his painted fingernails and suppressed a giggle.
A few tables over from Mary and Cissy, Sean Taylor settled into a carefully chosen spot. Her wig's dreadlocks made a gentle clattering sound as the beads ticked against one another when she moved her head. No one could really tell what she might be looking at, she'd swapped her Oakleys for Wileys, the Persimmon tint she favored for shooting and tracking, and it matched her tracksuit. Her wrists were wrapped in athletic supports, masking her scarred left hand for the most part. Today she had thickened her normally aquiline nose, to lower her chances of triggering the 'how many six foot black women frequent this part of State Street' question. She wanted the answer to be, "Why they're quite common, I've seen several in the last few days".
Sean really enjoyed the tradecraft that Larry had taught her since she had been released from the VA hospital. She still felt furious at the Army and what had been done to her, but working with Larry had given her an outlet for that rage. Their work occasionally turned nasty, and not always in locales like State Street, where she could sip an iced mocha.
Her gaze never lingered on Cissy, but was rarely far from the black-haired heartthrob who drew approving looks from every straight male over the age of twelve in a half block radius. Sean smiled at the effect the salon had had on Cissy's image.
Chapter 10: Put me In Coach - basketball camp, Pleasanton, last day of June
The game would be decided in the next two possessions. Cecilia as always felt supremely confident of her shooting ability and could not see an easy way to pass the ball to either Brian or Mike, who were nearer the rim. Bobby's defense covered her like a shroud since he had her beat by about four inches and forty pounds. She debated whether to break away and try to recharge the lane or fake Bobby and shoot.
Larry Elger walked around the gym with a clipboard and some blueprints partially opened up, wearing a pair of safety goggles with his white shirt and tie. He appeared to be some kind of safety inspector type. He watched Cecilia's play with amused but casual interest.
Cecilia and Brian didn't regret their decision to join the camp team play; Bill Casey went out of his way to match up the players in skill as much as practicable. Brian had really changed in just the last few days, relaxing with his new skills, showing increasing confidence in himself. They had both made some new friends in Mike, Bobby and a few others in the group.
Cecilia discovered that avoiding the locker room had become an issue, and found herself on the receiving end of some jokes about being shy and 'not having much to show'. She appreciated Brian supporting her by waiting outside with her for a ride, and admired the way he could turn the comments around. It seemed like a quintessentially boy-thing and at first it mystified her.
But she learned that the way to counter having her manhood diminished was to diminish in return, and listened to Brian taunt the other boys by letting them know he was too big for them to see.
Cecilia had at first dismissed this whole back and forth insult process as incredibly stupid male behavior. Girls tended to support one another and belittle themselves, doing what the boys did would be considered 'catty' in the extreme, not to mention incredibly vulgar.
She finally realized, after thinking about it for most of one night, that it must serve as a sorting method, where boys learned to handle aggression within a group, and to maintain a presence in the pecking order. If you didn't play the game, you couldn't be counted on by the others because they wouldn't know where you belonged in that order.
Back in the game, Cecilia decided to take the shot, shifting on her right foot, trying to draw Bobby's attention. She moved left and shot, only to watch Bobby shift back and use his reach to send the ball into the bleachers.
Larry Elger dropped his clipboard and retrieved the ball. He fired it back to Cecilia. The game continued and her team lost.
At the end of each game, Bill Casey got the players together and asked them to critique the play. At first, they had all been afraid to talk, but he excelled at getting them to open up. He kept the comments honest, too, but they weren't always tactful.
Cecilia felt on the verge of tears, and knew her lip must be almost quivering. The other players, in a variety of ways, let her know that they thought Alan was a hot dog, a 'selfish player'. Whenever she'd played the game before, she had always been the tallest and strongest player against the girls her age. Now she was lucky to be at the top of the bottom third. It was not just her last blocked shot; it was her whole style of play.
Bill Casey saw Alan taking the criticism hard. "You did a lot of good shooting earlier, Alan," he commented, defusing the situation. "What kind of strategy should a good shooter use in such a situation?" he asked the other boys.
Bobby Florentine took his shirt off on the way to the locker room and Cecilia felt her eyes lock on and follow his muscles rippling as he pulled the sweat-soaked tee over his blonde curls. It was getting very difficult for her to ignore her attraction to the boys on her team, especially when they had no compunction about stripping right before her eyes.
Another problem with the plot, she thought to herself, knowing that if she were Cissy—especially the new improved Cissy that her brother had become—she could wrap Bobby and the others around her finger. She didn't know whether to giggle or gnash her teeth about the situation but suppressed both.
She calmed down remembering that tonight she and Brian were going to the ballgame with Dad. Dad had finally gotten free from work and she was going to be happy to see him again. She had just begun to realize how unbalanced everything in her life had seemed without him around.
Chapter 11: Some Peanuts And Crackerjack - BART and SBC Stadium, San Francisco, Last day of June
Late that afternoon, Larry Elger rode the BART car to downtown San Francisco. Alan, Brian and John Carter, with one of the Junecellular security guys, all rode in the car ahead. The Giants played at SBC Stadium, a downtown ballpark, and one of the newest in the nation. Larry relaxed, considering his position, he had little else to do.
Being the product of an Israeli Jewish father and an American Christian evangelical mother had made his childhood in Tel Aviv challenging. Sort of Jewish and sort of Christian in a country which prized ethnicity as the root of its existence, he'd become a patriot. Despite his questionable reception, he had done his military service, then moved on to the Consular Protection unit of the Israeli State Department.
He had a capability to successfully blend into a large part of the Mediterranean world which enhanced his chances of success at protecting diplomats in various embassies.
Larry also found that he had the ability to masquerade as a woman, which became a valuable asset for setting traps to draw out assassins and terrorists. His slender build and fine features worked with his five foot eight inch height so well that he became a body double for a key female consular officer in Spain.
An elegant Romanian Jew, Sophie held a critical spot in trade negotiations from the consulate offices in Madrid. A large part of the Israeli economy depended on how well she did her job. So, when she asked that Larry be assigned to her security for an extended tour, his superiors rapidly granted her request.
The first time Larry had to be her body double, she had him brought to her office and laughed out loud. She informed him that while he was pretty enough, she refused to be represented as having taste quite so awful. Sophie worked with him until Larry became adept at being her. She also seduced him, with hot passionate efficiency.
Sophie loved her new girlfriend, Linda as she called him when he was 'on duty', and began increasing her use of him. Larry was to be seen around Europe to throw the competitors off her track for trade deals. Sophie/Linda would be spotted in Gstaad, while Sophie herself made a new deal in Barcelona.
Larry remembered her as his first great love, the woman who taught him about sex and passion. She was also the wife of a powerful man in the Cabinet, and eventually, her lack of discretion in Madrid caused troubled echoes in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
His removal from the assignment was followed by a reprimand and reassignment to an area where the Cabinet member was assured the survival rate was so low that Larry could be considered a dead man already.
Larry survived his dead man's tour because the worst day of his life happened almost at the same time. As he was about to embark on his first mission to 'remove' a terrorist who had planted a bomb on a school bus, his parents became victims of a suicide bombing at a coastal restaurant. Something caught fire inside him. He lost all fear and became his missions. Where many operatives burned out or were killed, Larry became a dealer of death. His focus and lack of concern for his own well being became his shield and sword.
His last mission had ended with his finding a straw of life to hold close. He emigrated to the homeland of his mother and went into business. It wasn't exactly a new line of work but it offered rewards his days in Israeli Security had not.
John Carter smiled at Alan. Taking your son to the ballpark was a time-honored tradition, especially such a son as this one. John could see the delight in young eyes and felt content.
He had wined, dined, wheedled and promised until the customer seemed mollified and ready for Fred to begin 'future linkage' discussions, where the customer would be tantalized with potential riches based on the possibilities Junecellular had coming up.
Bill Casey had called and filled him in on Alan's performance at camp, making John bemused and pleased. It is always good to hear your child is doing well, and the need to be more of a team player was probably a genetic curse. John, with quick hands and an unerring eye had been a bit of a ball hog himself. He smiled at Alan again, remembering and wondering.
He relaxed into the moment. The new park didn't suffer from the chilling winds of the old 'Stick which had been stuck out on a slender peninsula in the bay. It sometimes didn't get really warm in San Francisco until the dry season started in November but today was one of those pleasant gems, a rare summer day worthy of a legend.
Baseball is one of those games you either love or ignore. It seldom engenders hate, given its pastoral nature. But it is an absolute given that it is a game best seen live, on a pleasant and sunny afternoon, in seats close enough to see sweat droplets fall off the player's noses. Time gets suspended and the rhythm of the game takes control of your pulse.
Cecilia and Brian were bubbling. The Phillies and the Giants were evenly matched and the score was tied 5-5 going into the ninth inning. It was one of those games where the hitters and the pitchers were evenly matched, which created tension and excitement. Anybody could hit, anybody could strike out, anybody could power a line drive that might go over the fence—or into a glove.
In the Field Club area, just behind the home team dugout, Larry Elger looked more Mexican-American today, wearing a stadium security blazer. He watched as a foul ball arced high and saw Cecilia and Brian reaching for it. A fan from an adjacent box angled to make a play and Larry inserted himself at just the last second, his back to Cecilia. She outreached Brian and came up with it. John beamed and hugged his son. Brian was patted her on the back. The fans applauded.
Larry grinned. Who knew what might be in store for Cecilia on the mission? Let her enjoy the little things. Larry had seen enough pain to allow him the perspective of savoring the moments.
The Giants won, 6-5.
Chapter 12: The Boy Next Door – Santa Barbara, July 2
Alan's numbers were on plan. His sales skills with the Chicks improved daily, and Sylvia had asked him to coach some of the other salesgirls in his approach, since they filled in for Cissy when he was off.
With the Chicks in hand, Alan had decided to pick up the Tourist trade, people who mostly spent their money on the low dollar items. He knew he needed to peel off the top ten percent, so he borrowed a technique he had seen in another store on another item.
Alan began to understand the role of purses and how that contrasted with the need for a dependable everyday carryall bag. He had found some promotional carryalls in the store storage area, whose only distinguishing feature was the designer label that the manufacturer had applied. Their intent was to be used as a merchandising item tied to the purchase of several other very expensive items in the designer line.
He needed to invent a reason for a tourist to make a large dollar purchase. The allure of a handy item for free if the customer already owned a purse from the designer with them in the store. No purchase necessary. The free item that was not available for purchase anywhere and carried the cachet of the label.
So the hook was simple, Alan asked the customer if she owned a purse in that line and was offered a free carryall just for showing it. But if they did not have one, Alan would be happy to show them a very reasonable item in that very exclusive line. He moved the entire inventory of the low end of the designer line to women driven by the incentive of the free carryall. Spend $100 for a free $10 giveaway.
Sylvia was watching Cissy with great interest.
"So, now I understand how you think about our customers, what's your plan for the "Olders" market as you call them?" Sylvia asked over coffee to Cissy, who today wore a flowered sundress and modest heels. Alan had decided to try his luck without the eyelashes, adding extra mascara to compensate. He liked the look and it certainly simplified the maintenance .
"We already have to watch the high end display so closely, I was thinking of asking you to set aside a part of the jewelry case for the most expensive items in each designer line. I've noticed that most of those customers, the Olders, spend a lot of their time in that section of the store."
"Purses behind locked glass? That's new. It might get some attention. But then is it a jewelry sale or a handbag sale?" Sylvia said, watching for Cissy's reaction.
"I really don't care. Mom, I mean, June asked me to move handbags. I think this will help," Alan said, lightly sipping the cup to avoid smudging his lipstick. This was one of the several thousand of unconscious things he had made part of his automatic behavior.
"I'll do it. Just don't you go and tell anyone else I gave you more square footage. I'm considering this jewelry space. But you'll get a commission split on every bag moved." Sylvia smiled. She had taken to talking to Cissy at least once every day, and was finding the ideas a refreshing challenge. She had been very complimentary to June about her daughter's business sense.
Lunch break with Mary over, on the walk back, Alan noticed a Mercedes Limo in front of the store, with two bodyguard looking guys in suits. It aroused a natural curiosity about who might be inside but he didn't want to be caught staring.
As he entered the store, he found Mom talking to a very short woman, not more than five feet tall, dressed in a very expensive suit, and from her bearing he could see she was used to being treated well.
The shop had a number of very wealthy patrons, as well as very famous ones, and they all exuded the same aura. "I am important, attend to me."
Alan noticed someone in a track suit and long brown hair down her back sitting off to the side drinking bottled water.
"Cecilia, this is Mrs. Olanger. They've just bought the house next door to ours and she stopped by to get acquainted," Mom said, using Cissy's formal name as a cue that she expected a royal treatment of the guest.
"Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Olanger." Alan limply shook the offered hand, remembering to give his biggest smile. He tried his best not to tower over the woman, made even harder by the heels he wore.
"You are a very pretty young lady. Please call me Marge, we are neighbors now. And I want you to meet my son, I believe you are the same age, Cecilia," Marge Olanger said, leading Alan to believe she was not as full of herself as many rich celebrity types tended to be.
The girl with the long brown hair stood up and turned out to be a six foot tall boy with long brown hair. He noticed Alan's look of surprise.
"Hi. I'm Kim. And everybody tells me I look like a girl from the back, so don't worry about that. At least nobody will confuse you with a boy! I hear you're into sports? I play soccer and like to run. Can you show me the best places to run in the morning?" Kim's flashed a million-dollar smile and seemed very comfortable with meeting strangers.
"Sure, I mean yes. I run every morning. I can show you at six thirty if that's not too early," Alan said. Kim looked at him in the same way Alan looked at girls. Alan was getting used to that, but those looks had been mostly from strangers. This guy was the new neighbor!
"We're still on eastern time, so that's fine. My body still thinks it's nine thirty at that time." Kim grinned again and even though it wasn't really funny, Alan found himself giggling. Curiously, this made Kim blush. Why in the world, wondered Alan.
"Cecilia, why don't you take Kim across the street for something while I talk to Marge? Be back in an hour?" Mom said, giving him the look that he knew meant do it and shut up. Mrs. Olanger was going to get the grand tour. Rich customers brought more rich customers, and Mom was buying an hour to make her into one.
Alan looked at Sylvia, who said, "We'll handle your section, Cissy. Go ahead."
Across the street, the two found places at a sidewalk table, drinking sodas in front of a computer games store. Alan reflected on the very weird feeling in his head, walking around with a boy, one who he knew his sister would drool over, wearing a light sundress and passing as the girl next door.
It didn't take long for Alan to find out that Kim was at heart a very shy boy, who, as the child of diplomats, has become excellent at appearing at ease with strange people. Alan immediately felt less anxious, everybody seemed to play some sort of role. They shared life stories over Cokes, or at least Kim's story and a very modified version of Alan's sister's life story.
Kim confessed to being a government service brat, meaning he had gone to four schools in six years, and had lived all over the world. He spoke five languages and had been a star soccer player in Italy in his age group. Like many kids in his situation, he had learned that friendships were transient, just like the places he lived. And he had done it alone, without a sister or brother. Having a famous father, advisor to four Presidents, and a mother who had inherited a very old money fortune did not help. The expectations placed on him were staggering for a thirteen year old.
Alan felt bad for him, since while he was very much a loner himself, he had always had Cecilia as a constant in his life. Suddenly, the loneliness of being without his twin felt particularly sharp. He blinked rapidly and forced his attention back to Kim.
Kim turned to watch the other people on the street and said, "I guess I should get this cut, it looks like the shaved head look is big here. Besides, it's a bit long for playing." He indicated his hair, which fell a several inches past his shoulders.
If there was one thing Alan really enjoyed, it was his hair. He had always liked fussing over it and enjoyed it long. He honestly thought that Kim's hair looked good. "It's fine, not all the guys have it short. Do you wear it that way on the field?" Alan asked, not realizing how much his inquiry could be viewed as flirting.
Kim smiled broadly. "I am kind of embarrassed to say this, but in Italy, a lot of the players braided it before a game. I'm not sure if I want to do that here."
"If you are real good, all the other boys will wear pigtails just to look like you. I wouldn't worry about it." Alan said, smiling back. He didn't realize how much his interactions and behavior had been influenced by his week as a salesgirl. Driven by a desire to make his project work, he had adopted a lot of feminine mannerisms unconsciously.
The reason the two settled in front of a computer games store was Kim's desire to get the latest Mortal Quest add on pack, the one that allowed you to make your avatars more realistic and more detailed. Alan, without a second's hesitation, began to talk about the game. Time, crowds and the entire rest of the world faded into the background as Kim and Alan became immersed in the intricacies of gameplay.
Kim, stunned to find himself in the presence of Bandar, was more impressed to find Bandar was not only a girl, but a really beautiful girl named Cissy. Kim revealed he was the Wizard Erindor, a reasonably well known player, but not viewed as in the top tier with Bandar.
"We're late," Alan said suddenly, glancing at his pretty watch.
Kim smiled. "Mom won't mind, she's spending money."
Alan grinned, thinking that that could be very good for the shop. "We'd better get back, though."
"Okay," said Kim. He stood lazily and held out a casual hand to Alan to help him up. Alan didn't really know what to do about the hand so he ignored it while standing and Kim ended up using it to push hair out of his own face. "I can't believe it, a real live meeting with the real life Bandar."
Alan giggled, nervously realizing he may have made a mistake in admitting to his online gaming identity. "Maybe you'd like to come over to play in tandem sometime?" he suddenly offered.
Kim's eyes widened. "I'd love it! Like playing with a legend."
"Stop that!" said Alan, a bit alarmed. "I don't know if you're teasing me."
"You don't?" Kim asked.
"Well, now I do," said Alan, making a face.
Kim laughed and blushed at the same time but they hurried back toward the store.
Marge Olanger , happily chatting with Mom and Sylvia, spotted her son holding the door open for his pretty companion. She gave Cissy a new appraisal; one June caught the meaning of immediately. Marge Olanger needed to be very concerned about the 'suitability' of any female companionship for her son, given the political, social and financial world she inhabited. June resisted the temptation to roll her eyes. She made a note to talk to Cissy about the situation.
Alan saw that Mom had been successful; evidenced by the security guys loading the trunk with shopping bags, so he took satisfaction that he had played the appropriate diversionary role.
He decided he also really liked Kim, and was very upset that he could not have met him as Alan. For once, he would have been able to impress a new kid with who he was. Standing at the door of the shop, he waved bye to his new friend then turned away with a sniff and a toss of his head. It just wasn't fair that Kim thought he was a girl.
Sean smiled, almost breaking into a laugh as she watched Cissy and Kim from her position down the street. Today was what she called 'rich lady' day, with the long black wig falling onto her silk blouse which blended with her hip-hugging designer pants. She wore light gloves today, matching her blouse, and set the look off with large aviator shades.
The pain seemed subdued this afternoon, and she had cut back to Tylenol to mitigate it. But the memory of pain would always be with her.
The daughter of a Baptist preacher and a civil rights lawyer, Sean had been oblivious to being 'of mixed race' growing up in Alabama. Somehow, the respect her father had in the community, and the legal help her mother provided to all who needed it smoothed the way for her in the sleepy little town near Mobile. Their death from a drunk driver when she was just finishing high school had shaken her to her core.
Instead of following the preordained path to college, and then law or divinity school (or both), she became a recluse for almost a year. The townspeople were quite surprised to find out she had joined the Army, and was on her way to being a warrant officer flying helicopters.
Sean found peace in the air. The act of flying a helo is physically complex, requiring movements of all your limbs in coordination with an almost psychic sense of position and situational awareness. She had always been a talented musician and athlete along with her academic achievements, and this combination allowed her to excel holding the control yoke of her Blackhawk.
She formed no lasting attachments, her parents' death had made her sexually and romantically numb for a long time. While not a virgin, she was nicknamed "Black Ice Queen" which became her call sign. The guys in her unit fell into the normal male response to an uninterested woman and jokingly assumed she liked girls, cementing her position as the particular fantasy of most of her fellow pilots. Sean found this amusing, and did little to disabuse them of the notion.
Then came Somalia. The situation of 'planned and enforced' famine made Sean violently ill in her soul as she flew missions to deliver food and aid workers, along with providing armed support to the farther reaches of what used to be a functioning nation. A month before the famous shoot out in Mogadishu, the "Blackhawk Down" incident which prompted the US pullout, Sean's helo was returning from a delivery mission and spotted a strange explosion near a village, and a strange colored cloud. As she tried to avoid the rising colored air, she saw an RPG explode right on her tail rotor. The Blackhawk went in hard, killing her crew and trapping her in the crushed cockpit. As she was trying to extinguish flames from the fuel, the gas cloud covered her wreck, fortunately mixed with a lot of wind so it was thinned out. Sean kept her mask on and tried not to breathe. That was the last thing she remembered until waking up on an offshore hospital ship, wrapped in gauze and sedated to offset the pain of the burns. Her left side was crushed.
She ended up losing her left breast and whatever was in the cloud had made her burns much worse, leaving substantial scarring. The recovery took years, but what really hurt was the command decision that what happened to her did not happen. The White House, fed by their advisors did not want it public that an Army helicopter had been shot down by the 'gangsters'. So it was listed as 'pilot error'. No mention of the chemical cloud in the report.
On the receiving end of a disability discharge, Sean found it extremely difficult to pursue a career in commercial aviation. The irony was, a month after the crash, the whole world saw it happen again, but the cover up of Sean's incident persisted.
Sean had a lot of rage to work out. Her work with Larry had allowed her that release.
© 2004 by Slothrop. All Rights Reserved. These documents (including, without limitation, all articles, text, images, logos, and compilation design) may be printed for personal use only. No portion of these documents may be stored electronically, distributed electronically, or otherwise made available without the express written consent of StorySite and the copyright holder.