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First pages

Prologue

Shadows are gathering amid the brooding trees; the light of the winter day is dying overhead. A great serenity settles over forest as the afternoon declines. In the branches above, a cardinal flits away in a fluid flash of crimson; his brown-mottled mate follows an instant later. Far down the valley, and nearly invisible against the backdrop of thickets, a mule deer comes to attention, gazing toward the country lane that opens northward. Footsteps may be heard, now, treading the snow: even their lightsome, cheery pattering seems to jar the profound peace that pervades this world of silence.

Two figures appear around the bend, walking briskly. Their breath hangs behind them in clouds as they hurry through the chilly evening. Here’s a tall, broad-shouldered young man, carrying a traveler's portmanteau, and giving every appearance of having only now returned from a journey. He moves confidently, his bright blue eyes turning ceaselessly to scan the forest, as if from long habit. His glance passes over and through you and me, for we stand near him but ethereally; his eyes settle appraisingly upon the doe, which even at this distance seems to read something of deadly purport in the ice-blue eyes fixed upon her, and bolts into the brush.

A woman clings affectionately to the arm of the young man: apparently reluctant to allow herself to be parted from him, even by a foot-breadth, after long separation. She's a tall, slender girl; her long, nut-brown hair falls over her shoulder and swirls against him as she crowds ever nearer to his careless stride. Her eyes are only for him; she seems to jostle his elbow, again and again, peering up into his eyes, as if prompting him to speak.

“Well?” she says at last, seizing his hand. He gives her a curious sideways glance.

“Well, what?” he murmurs.

She looks carefully up into his face again, scrutinizing him. Her eyes light with a wonder.

“You – you're teasing me, you cad!” she exclaims. “You know what I want to hear. Now, spill it!”

“There's really nothing –”

“Don't you dare play coy with me, young man,” she warns, in mock indignation. “What did she say, when you asked her?”

His face relaxes to a sudden smile, remembering. “What did she say?” he muses. “Oh! She about took my head off. She flamed up at me.”

“What? She did?”

“She said I was thoughtless –”

“Which, of course, you are,” the woman breaks in laughingly.

“– And stupid –”

His voice trails off.

“She said that? Why? She said you were stupid?”

“Her exact word: 'For such an intelligent man, you can be so stupid!'“

“Well, I shouldn't be brave enough to disagree with her, if she said it,” the woman offers demurely. “She should know! But – why?”

“Why? She was happy,” he replies. “I guess.”

“I suppose,” she agrees, looking suspiciously at him again. She scents a larger explanation, which hasn’t yet seen the light of day.

“So then – what else?” she prods again. “I thought she looked tired – worn, almost haggard.”

“She was sick.”

“Oh, the poor thing! Was it bad?”

“I suppose – yes, she was sick enough.”

“Just like I told you she would be.”

“Just like you told me,” he sighs. “But –”

“But, yes, of course you can't just admit I was right, and you were wrong,” she declares emphatically, stamping her foot in the snow. “Something else set it off, of course.”

“Something else did set it off,” he replies, shaking his head. “But that's a story you'd never believe.”

Chapter 1

Something Urgent

Time heals all wounds.

My father told me that, one afternoon long ago, when I was only a very little girl. He’d tossed me up on the hayrack for a ride across the field, and I, in some way possible only to a child of three, had fallen. I suppose I assumed myself dead the moment I started slithering down the rough board side of the wagon; and in fact, I sprained an ankle, and raised a fair lump on my little head. My stepmother, who was a nurse before she married Father, judiciously examined the squealing bundle Father placed before her, blamed us both for my misfortune, and told me to hush my crying.

“It still hurts,” I grumbled, to him, after he scooped me up and walked away toward the wagon and its team, waiting patiently for our return. In those long ago Depression days, people still used horses for farm-work, sometimes, there in the rolling Nebraska hills around the little town of Belgrade; they saved wear on the tractors.

“Time heals all wounds,” Father returned.

Something in his voice didn’t quite match the cheerfulness of the words; but of course I, as a three-year-old, couldn’t have understood it fully, though I caught it.

There’s something altogether thrilling about a long-lost memory, washed suddenly into view by the ceaseless tides of life. I awakened, that somber morning, to find it glittering on the sand before me, and seized it joyfully. I had so few clear memories of my father: he went away, not long after, to the war. He never returned to his farm in the hills of northern Nebraska; he was lost on the Atlantic in 1943, victim of the merciless U-boats, when I was only five. All that now remained of Lieutenant Andrew Anderson was a gleaming Purple Heart.

Awakening more, I turned toward the first leaden light of the rain-drenched morning, sifting through my tiny, streaming window. I was pondering that long ago evening – how very little either he or I could’ve known then! As I turned the new treasure over and over in the hands of my imagination, I sensed, with each revolution, a deeper bite of irony. He couldn’t have missed it himself, poor man: he couldn’t have meant it in any substantive sense; for time never heals some wounds.

I ought to have been rising from bed and preparing myself for work – ought to spring out into the autumn chill, tiptoe across the floor, plunge my face into the bracing chill of the waiting basin, and finally to shiver into one of the dresses that hung on the back of the door. Today, I hurt too badly: sadness dragged at me, anchoring me with chains of iron. My heart hurt today, for Father and his pain, and for myself, too; and I couldn’t work. Instead, I slipped a diffident arm across the gulf between my cozy cocoon and my makeshift bedside table, took up a framed photograph, and retreated into the warmth.

Here was Father’s heartache: here was the secret of the irony with which he’d spoken. How had I never seen it so clearly, felt it so piercingly, until today? For it was hidden inside the words he spoke – words that had slept in my memory for fifteen long years.

Father lost this woman – my mother, upon whose face I now gazed in astonishment. Such beauty! I could’ve never guessed my own mother to be such a ravishing beauty – truly it had never crossed my mind, for this grainy likeness of her had lain in the darkness of my stepmother’s attic all the silent years of my childhood: I unearthed it but a few days ago. She was gone – the gift of life given me on my birthday, had taken hers; and my father was left with but this one heartbreaking reminder of earth’s most beautiful rose, blasted with eternal frost: the wide brown eyes of a little girl – eyes into which he looked on that day as he bade her, as well as himself, most hopefully to believe that time might heal our wounds.

What would he have said to me, today? I felt as if I’d have given all the world to hear his voice again. Could he have untangled the impossible maze into which his poor daughter had precipitated herself, since his final, tragic departure from the home we both loved? A dutiful daughter I wished to be; and I needed no stern duty to impel me to love that dear old farmstead, the last remains of my father and of two generations of Andersons before him. But the task that I’d set for myself, of preserving that dear old home for him, and for me, seemed as if it were growing to be impossible. The fear I felt today, of utter, unqualified failure, made me shiver as I gazed, long and deeply, into the eyes of my long-lost dear ones; a photograph only, it made my heart shudder anew as I thought of the course I’d taken, and of the lifetime of lonely regret that I now had in view, where no healing would ever come.

I was still tired, I decided. I’d slept only fitfully, and gray weariness was beckoning me back toward the boundary of uneasy unconsciousness upon which I’d been wandering through the night hours. My mother’s smile calmed me this dismal morning – it was a new comfort to me, and soothing, here in the gloom; somewhere, somehow, she knew, she understood, and she loved me – her eyes invited me to tell it all to her. But I was feeling sleepy again –

***

I’m far from home; I miss the old place terribly this morning. I’ve taken a room in Columbus, the nearest city to Father’s beloved home; there to seek work and income to support my dreams for that home. First and most importantly, merely to keep soul and body together for my stepmother and myself; and my method brought me into a kind of repressed conflict with that good woman, who proposes the more practical expedient of selling the farm, and living out her declining years on that income. Me, she wishes to settle in marriage – the most sensible solution for pauper homesteaders, and a policy of apparent perfection when she found a buyer who was willing at the same time to offer his hand to Father’s daughter. Thus devolved the entirety of her problem, and thus it is that I, having declared myself obstinate to the marriage, have been expelled finally from my own father’s home by my disappointed stepmother.

Who can account for the heart of an eighteen-year-old girl? I suppose I ought to be more or less indifferent to any marriage, given the happy prospect of owning the heritage of my father; and the farm could be mine, with nothing more than those two eminently practical words, “I Do”. But my heart is elsewhere – impossibly far astray. What my mind acknowledges to be wise, my heart rejects, running away with itself for this thing it calls “love.” And so my eyes open, this cold September morning in 1956, in guilty dismay beneath the united gaze of my dear father and his darling wife, the woman whose love I’ve never known; he asks me with his eyes: what am I doing? Or, what have I done, now that he’s been gone so long? And I have no good answer today.

I didn’t come to Columbus seeking love. I scarcely knew the meaning of the word, beyond the childish confines of Little Women, or These Happy Golden Years. But I’ve felt it in Columbus, in a way that could never have been expected – it thrilled in my heart here, for the first time. For it was here in Columbus that I first met this man, McCant – this lovely, awful man, McCant.

I took employment with him – a man’s job, as he described it, and a job he didn’t wish to give me. But he hired me, nevertheless, on a temporary basis; I’ve worked for him, now, for ten months, and grown more or less capable of it. More than that, my heart has strangely warmed to him.

Strangely, I say, for he is, at first blush, the most hateful and unlikeable of men that could be imagined. Icy cold – steely hard – stern, dark, silent – impossibly, indescribably meticulous: I needn’t stop to peruse the catalog of all these shocking provocations, for they should fill another book beside.

Why do I love him? I don’t know! And perhaps I’ll never know the answer to that question, put mutely to me once again this morning, with rain pattering on my window, and autumn winds sighing mournfully about the eaves. I never intended to fall in love – not with him, of all people! And in all honesty, I can hardly support the idea that I ever did, or have; all I can say with certainty is that the thought of his face appearing in the office, even now, sets butterflies swarming in my stomach, and icy hands clasping for my throat; and the memory of his last departure awakens like a millstone about my neck.

He doesn’t love me. To my father – to you, Mama, I can confess that, much as it pains me; and I suppose I knew it from the start, as steadfastly as I’ve refused to admit it to myself. He has better things to do than to love, and he made that painfully clear to me. The love is mine, all mine, only mine, and it comes, now, into collision with my other love: the one for my father, a real, deep, venerable love, strong and solid like a rock, with all the force of duty, family, and honor to assert its rightful claim over me; the other for this man, McCant – a raging fire within my heart, which all the discouragements of good sense, my stepmother’s perplexity, and my father’s urgent eyes, cannot seem to cool. And can anything but heartbreak follow?

I know not – I know not! I shrink, today, from Father’s eyes – I make no sense to myself, or to him. Your eyes are different, Mama. I know your eyes – I sense myself in those eyes, and feel your heart beating within me. Oh, I love that face! You’re more beautiful than I, but you felt what I feel, once; you sympathize with me, this morning, and that’s such a comfort –

***

Michael McCant isn’t a nice man, Mama – not really. I never thought it of him; and yet, I love him. Why, you might ask – tell me, why? And there’s no good answer to that question, except to say that a girl knows. She knows, sometimes, things that don’t make any sense on the surface; a girl’s eye reads things, sometimes, in a man, which he’d prefer to keep secret. The fact that he’s a remarkably handsome, muscular young man, could be obvious to anyone, and would be no good excuse, in itself, for loving him so madly. But I can see this thing inside him – what shall I call it? A heart – something deep inside him that needs me, in a way that, though he refuses to admit it even to himself, yet he can’t hide it from my eyes. Is it all in my head? Mama, come and judge for yourself; for love is stronger than death, and blinds one to all good sense. No lesser love will survive the maelstrom into which it must soon be plunged, all because I’ve chosen to love this man

***

He works for the government, Mama – that’s the problem. If he were a businessman, he’d be a perfectly wonderful man – and, I suppose he’d have never darkened a door in Nebraska. But he only does business in his spare time; his real job, and his first source of income, is for the Federal Government: to be exact, he works for the Central Intelligence Agency, which is, in 1956, a chaotic collection of counterintelligence forces, hastily organized to combat a rising threat from abroad. How he came to be involved with the CIA is a story of which I have no idea; but that it involves him in the self-imposed rigors of a hardened paramilitary lifestyle, I’ve come to understand all too well. It’s made him something he wouldn’t be otherwise, freezing and crushing him to the hardness of carbon steel.

He has an office – an old upstairs apartment – in this out-of-the-way town in Nebraska specifically because he works in a highly dangerous little corner of government business. He’s in danger, even in the sleepy city of Columbus, and even in the apparently peaceful year of 1956, because of this shadowy work; for the United States has enemies, even now, of whom the aggregate of people have no knowledge.

He didn’t hire me to help him with his government work; he didn’t wish me to know of it, and I wouldn’t have, could he have contrived things better. He hired me only to type documents for a separate, private business he conducts with the overflow of his staggering intelligence. To be perfectly honest, Mama, he didn’t want to hire me at all – did I tell you that? He actually wished to hire a man. But he did hire me in the absence of a suitable candidate, and I found out the rest through a series of misfortunes and coincidences.

I agreed, by way of begging the job from him, to keep all things secret, up to and including his name, which he’s somehow managed to conceal even from the CIA – his relationship with the government predates the formation of the CIA, as it turns out.

I also agreed to obey all orders given me, lawful or not – let us hope that distinction doesn’t often become a point of materiality with him! But I’m afraid it does…as things stand this gloomy day, that agreement has been my undoing, for his orders locked horns with my runaway love. I’ve tried every way I know to make friends with him; and there’s something, anyway, about his steely fastidiousness that evokes a good deal of liberty in me, bordering on naughtiness, all designed to provoke him, and all ineffectual. And – well, perhaps not surprisingly, I finally provoked him.

That was yesterday.

And here I am, alone again, with you; I have no one with whom I might commiserate but you, my long-dead parents, portrayed in shades of gray. If it wasn’t for the pouring rain, I might well throw everything over and return to Belgrade to throw myself upon the mercy of my stepmother. I so miss the work of the harvest time: it seems as if I can almost taste it, I want it so badly. And I hate this dark Mr. McCant; he’s left town again to travel on the government’s business, as he so often does. He warned me, too, before he left, to search for other work. He’s getting rid of me, he says, after the confrontation of yesterday, for I’ve apparently exasperated him to the point of driving him away from Columbus, and from me, forever.

The dismal pattering of the rain seems to increase in answer to my unspoken distress. I’ve no way to go home; I can never face my stepmother anyway. There’s no hope of returning to the simple life I abandoned in Belgrade; it’s gone, now. I have work to do in Columbus – for today, at least – if but only I can convince myself to get out of bed.

Somehow I can’t do it – today, I can’t. My work has been a labor of love all along, truth be told; and now the love is gone, there’s nothing left at all.

***

I awakened in a despondent mood that day, clutching the precious photograph to my breast: the rain, the chill, the misery – these weighed upon me. But one can’t lie in bed forever – a girl’s body can only stand so much comfort. So after some unknown length of time slipping in and out of comfortable unconsciousness, I dressed at last and set about puzzling as to what I ought to do.

I ought to go home; I knew that. Mother had ordered me, weeks ago, to quit my job and to return home at once: that’s another story, already told. Why I hadn’t yet obeyed her, on the other hand, is highly relevant to the story which was to follow. And here, I must introduce a little more about my icy-hearted employer’s work for the Federal Government.

I knew almost nothing about it, but had caught sight of one little thing, in a moment of unusual distress. It was a code, used by – somebody – or somebodies, enemies in whom my employer, Mr. McCant, was then interested. I knew nothing more about it than that, but for the fact that he was intensely interested in finding the decryption key to the code, and that a phalanx of CIA men working systematically to find the invaluable method had not yet stumbled upon the answer after weeks of effort. Even Mr. McCant, genius of mathematical wizardry far beyond my conception, and master of a half-dozen languages, had come upon nothing promising in all his complex machinations.

I’d inserted myself into the situation, once I learned of it, and demanded to be allowed to try to break the code. Mr. McCant had allowed me to try, again, mostly because he couldn’t stop me, and because I wouldn’t heed his warnings; no one thought I had any substantive chance of finding anything, because, of course, I didn’t.

I’d spent weeks, then, puzzling over it without the slightest hint of success; and yet, something about it interested me. It wasn’t that I expected to find anything, or that I cared much about the Federal Government’s thorny problems, whatever those might be – rather there was that “hope that springs eternal in the human breast” – something about me, and him, and that complicated feeling that washed over my stomach when I imagined what I would do, given possession of any one thing that was really valuable to that man.

I was part-way through an iteration of my own chosen method of decryption of the coded message. The process had been partially complete when my stepmother ordered me home, and I’d postponed obedience; I was in about as much trouble with her as I could possibly be, and I made that naughty, disobedient decision to delay in the assumption that it could hardly incur any additional penalty.

Oh, it’s a dangerous thing to disobey! And I learned it: learned it the hard way, as I’m afraid we must learn almost everything of value. I naively accepted the danger; but this man’s danger was on a level so exquisitely high – and of that I had, as yet, no conception. And so it was that I found myself that morning, still in possession of a tiny spark of interest in my work for Mr. McCant; and so it was that I delayed, once again, my duty to my good stepmother, and worse than that, my duty to my poor father; and I returned, for one more day, to my work. It was dull, tedious work, but I didn’t mind: I liked it, rather, for it distracted my mind from its more intractable troubles.

The code consisted of nonsense letters arranged in groups of four. The message I had contained one hundred and seven quartets of letters, together with a single set of four digits, which was thought to be the key to the hidden decryption method.

I attacked the code using my typewriter’s keypad; it was a random combination of letters – at least, as random as I had at the moment. I created sets of letters by substituting them for the coded letters, determined by the proximity of letters on my typewriter’s keypad and the coded digits. I’d created hundreds of such keys in the preceding months; had wasted massive amounts of time fitting each of them to the lock; and had seen each one of them fail. I’d reworked my analysis, reconfiguring my assumptions, adding and removing steps, and again, had seen all my work fail.

My most recent idea had been to take the first twenty-six letters of the coded message, and to translate them using my key-methods; then, to write the alphabet above the letters, forward and backward, and to attempt to translate the code in that way. It was another needle in a haystack, but the idea, once formed, would allow me no rest until the work was completed, and verified to be a failure.

I set to work diligently. Once I was working, it was incredibly difficult to stop. In fact, I’d once grown so absorbed in the work that Mr. McCant had loaded me with galling orders designed to prevent me from overworking: no work on Sundays – three meals per day – bedtime at ten o’clock on weeknights. It might’ve been enough, at other times, to make me want to disobey all his rules at once; but just now I felt a special distaste for breaking orders, having fallen foul of him so signally. Breaking one’s orders was a supremely obnoxious offense to the CIA; and Mr. McCant would know, too – there were men about Columbus whose only job was to keep him safe, and I knew they would report to him if I strayed from the straight and narrow path of subordination.

Time began to run together as I worked. Day and night marched by me, punctuated by the strident ringing of my alarm, hurried meals, and short nights. I loved the work, really, even if it had no value; it was the hope of something, dim, distant, and unreasonable that yet excited me. It was too delicious to imagine what I would do, given the opportunity, and holding the invaluable key to the message.

And so I worked on: light – darkness – my bedroom – my office – there was no hope. Hope had disappeared from my life long ago. I was an automaton, whirring again and again through its appointed motions; and what would the end be?

***

It came in an evening. I’d taken my supper at the drugstore down the street, and returned to the office for the last few hours permitted me. I found myself staring at an attempted decryption, trying to make sense of it. It contained no sensible words, nor anything that could pass for words; but there was something different about it. In my weary, distracted state, it seemed as if anything could start adrenalin pumping; but this one really felt different, somehow. It had, first of all, a decryption key with all twenty-six letters, an unusual, if not unprecedented development; but more than that, the portion of the message upon which I’d tested my code had combinations of letters almost logical, with vowels and consonants intermingled in hopeful proportions.

I decided first to apply my key to the entirety of the message, and to see if anything promising appeared. I heard, dimly, in the back of my mind, my alarm clock ringing. It was time to go home, and to bed. I was too intent to care – I shut off the alarm, and worked on. A few more minutes couldn’t harm anyone; Mr. Willis was too stupid to notice a few stupid minutes beyond the stupid deadline! Wasn’t he?

Whatever the case, the suspense was too much: I decided to stay at work. I translated the entire message from a set of nonsense letters into another set of nonsense letters, slightly less random, slightly more sensible from my perspective. It seemed as if it was a pattern; any kind of pattern, Mr. McCant had said, could prove helpful. I decided to type the translated letters for him.

But weariness was dragging at me by this time; my head would nod, and my eyelids droop, and the letters constantly blurred together as I forged ahead step by painstaking step. Typing nonsense letters was so very difficult, too; and when I jerked awake, and realized I’d typed the letters backward, my frustration knew no bounds. I tore the sheet from my typewriter.

Then I stopped. The mistyped letters caught my eye – I stared. There were two words typed there, run together.

Frantically I set another piece of paper, all weariness forgotten. I began to type backwards through the decrypted message. It contained words – many words – nothing but words – they were all words! In English, and always spelled correctly: I stared in amazement. Taking my paper from the typewriter, I began another page, placing spaces between each newly-revealed word.

Finished at last, I took my paper from the typewriter and hugged it to my breast. Mr. McCant could say all he wanted about women, and how the CIA didn’t train us, and how it was a man’s job. Here, today, he would be forced to eat his words, for a woman had done what he and his men had not.

And that wasn’t all: he was going to pay for this – pay me! And he would pay for all his cruel, callous words, and for not loving me when he could. In fact, he would never, never see or hear the words I’d decoded, unless he kissed me first. I would memorize the method, and destroy every single document related to it, and never show him so much as a single letter except he first surrendered to that kiss.

My mind rose into uncontrollable joy at the realization of my good fortune. It would never be wasted, either – I would have what I wanted from him – in fact, I would find him tomorrow, and would lay down the law to him at last, and he would listen!

This thought reminded me for the first time that the alarm had rung – it was past my decreed bedtime. I gathered my papers, reaching for the clock.

My hands dropped in shock. It was two o’clock in the morning. I looked about in fear, as if I would see Mr. Willis glowering balefully at me from a corner; then, wondering how or if he would tell Mr. McCant. I hurried from the room – down the stairs, and out into the night air, my jubilation frozen for the moment in the memory of something painfully bad.

***

Homeward through the deserted, rain-slicked streets, gleaming beneath electric streetlamps; up to my attic bedroom I flew, floating in stupor of euphoria. The slightest reminder of my success sent me soaring aloft into transports of reckless, heady joy. I soon realized that I wouldn’t sleep at all, and began working to memorize the decryption method. Before the night was over I was confident enough to destroy all my papers, except the decrypted message.

Morning dawned; I flitted about my tiny bedroom as if I were walking on air. I rushed to the office, determined to work on my “real” projects, but I couldn’t. I was in a state of ineffable bliss, and nothing so mundane as work could penetrate. I began to look about for Mr. Willis, whom I assumed to be lurking somewhere around the apartment, hoping to contact Mr. McCant through him. I couldn’t find him, of course, and it mattered nothing, for Mr. McCant called on the telephone before the morning was half-gone.

“Hello,” I answered sweetly, as soon as I heard his voice. “And how are you?”

I thought that, uncomfortable as our last parting had been, he ought to have guessed that something had happened. But he didn’t.

“Miss Anderson, is everything all right?” he asked tersely. “You were at the office late.”

There was a dark, hard bite in his tone; even across the miles it struck me – froze me – and shot shivers of fear rattling along my spine. So he knew. Mr. Willis was somewhere nearby; he saw. He told!

I tried to say something, but my throat would produce no sound. I struggled to remember what I had to tell him; then it flooded once more over my mind in a surging tide of warmth and sweetness.

He was speaking again.

“Miss Anderson, your orders were to leave your work before ten o’clock every evening.”

“Yes, well,” I recovered jauntily. “I have something very important to tell you, though.”

There was a pause. I laughed to myself. Now the light was beginning to dawn – now he would have to face the uncomfortable fact. One part of his life had just grown much easier, and for that he could be thankful; another part of his life was about to grow more complicated!

“Tell me,” he suggested.

“Oh, I can’t, I couldn’t,” I breathed. “It’s very important, very urgent. I’d have to tell you in person.”

“What?”

I was reveling in my moment. Yes, it would have to be in person, because I would have to collect my fee, wouldn’t I?

He was catching on to the reality. There was another long silence.

“Miss Anderson,” he began again, uncertainly now; how I rejoiced at his dazed tone! “If it’s actually confidential, and actually that important, then I need to know about it immediately. You know the phone isn’t proper for certain topics, but –”

“And there’s only one of those topics I know of, isn’t there?” I exulted silently. “And you know what it is, and you called to lecture me about obeying orders, but now you’re totally confounded, aren’t you?”

“Miss Anderson, I’m too far away to meet you in person,” he decided. “Here’s what you have to do: wait twenty minutes after I end this call, and take your papers down to the bank across the street from your office. I’ll change phone lines; there’ll be virtually no chance of the bank’s phone being compromised for our purposes. All right?”

“No – no!” I protested. “No, I have to tell you in person, in person!”

“Twenty minutes, Miss Anderson,” he ordered. “Go inside the lobby, someone will tell you what to do.”

“But –”

The phone went dead.

I sat down in dismay and stared at the clock. All my naughtiness was draining away, deflating into nothing. He was so cruel!

Then I clenched my fists determinedly. He would get nothing from me – nothing at all – until he gave me what I wanted. For once he was going to listen – he would, or he would pay the price!

But oh! I wished he could’ve cooperated – at least a little. Nothing ever worked just right – but it would! Today, I would force it – I held the queen, today.

The bank lobby was deserted. A teller looked askance at me from behind her window; I turned my nose stiffly upward. I was still seething at Mr. McCant.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Rian MacLoughlin loves to read good writing; she began writing because she was dissatisfied with the shallowness and grammatical embarrassments of the average modern novelist. She writes for her own amusement first of all, and has found the process to be an entertainment like no other. In her real life she takes care of her family, eats far too many homemade chocolate-chip-oatmeal cookies, and does NOT suffer from the body-image insecurity problems of her current main character, Anna.

Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
I'm drawn to the psychological thriller because it takes the most penetrating look into the mind of its characters. A heart-pounding adventure is relatively useless if it has no effect upon its actors' minds. I read and write stories that portray the growth of a character through her adventures.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
The cover shows a pivotal moment within the story; as well as symbolically portraying the perplexity of the main character, who's torn between loves. She can't escape the fascination of the guilty love, but that love drives her into a train of perils that she could've never expected.
Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
I am most drawn to the classic novelists. I love description that places me into the center of another time and place; I love metaphors that convey feeling as well as the ambience of the setting. Good writing doesn't just tell the reader what happens; it takes her inside the minds of its characters.

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Literature & Fiction
Closure
A second chance at first love.
The Girl Who Became a Goddess
A goddess is based on a remarkable girl.
The Saxophone Player
Broken dreams after the Vietnam war.