Thursday, February 24, 2011

Friday Fiction for February 25, 2011

Another Friday is upon us (where DOES a week go?), and Catrina Bradley is our gracious hostess for Friday Fiction over on her blog, Speak to the Mountain. You don’t have to move mountains, though, to find the Linky tool and great stories for your weekend reading pleasure.

One criticism I’ve received from several readers about Cardan’s Pod is that it seems to “fast forward” at the end, skipping over a lot of details by simply mentioning them in passing. I can’t argue with that assessment, since at the time, I had to weigh how important I thought those scenes were to the overall flow of the story. In a few cases, I have gone back and filled in these events with short stories, and this week’s submission is one such case. The time frame is Josh’s first morning back at Cardan Pharmaceuticals, after the murder attempt and his time in hiding, and corresponds to the same time period as the story posted back on June 12, 2009.

A Lonely Place

“Good morning, Mr. Cardan,” the security guard at the entrance greeted him as he entered the lobby. “It’s good to see you again; we were all so worried when you turned up missing.”

He smiled and nodded politely at her in reply. He’d entered that same door and walked this same hallway so many times before, but this time felt strange; stranger even than the first time he’d walked in as the new owner and President of Cardan Pharmaceuticals after the death of his father. Even more than they had done that first day on the job, people stood to peer over the top of cubicle walls or stepped out of offices to watch him walk by. The looks that first time had been ones of uncertainty and curiosity, wondering what the “new kid” was going to do with the company. This morning, however, the looks were ones of relief and, to a certain degree, sympathy.

“Welcome back, Josh,” the executive secretary said as he approached her desk. “I’m glad you’re back.”

“Thanks, Janice,” he replied with less feeling than he thought he should have. “Would you ask Robert Barron to come see me when he gets here?”

“He’s already here,” she informed him. “I’ll let him know you’d like to see him.”

He thanked her and proceeded into his office, settling into the chair at his desk and swiveling around to stare out the window. A few weeks ago he had enjoyed looking at the nicely landscaped grounds outside his office; now he found himself thinking that what he really needed was an ocean view.

He heard the door open and Robert Barron’s voice speaking. “You wanted to see me, Josh?”

“Grab a chair, Rob,” he instructed without turning around. “We’ve got some business to discuss.” Robert had been his father’s “right-hand man” for a number of years and knew the business of running Cardan Pharmaceuticals from the inside-out. While Joshua Cardan was officially the head of the company, Robert Barron was the one who kept things going properly. He finally turned his chair around to face his associate, and noted the odd look on the man’s face. “What’s wrong?” He asked.

Rob shook his head momentarily. “Nothing, really; it’s just that when you told me to grab a chair, you sounded so much like your father that I half expected to see Paul Cardan sitting there when you turned around.” He stared for a moment. “I never noticed before how much you favor him.”

“I noticed that myself, recently,” Josh agreed with a touch of sadness in his voice.

“He was a good man,” Rob added. “I’m just glad now that I didn’t have to attend the funeral for another Cardan. I shouldn’t need to tell you how concerned we all were when the Bitter Pill was found adrift or how shocked we all are at what really happened.”

“Believe me, you couldn’t be half as shocked as I was by it all. You don’t marry someone expecting them to try and murder you.”

“What did happen out there, Josh? All the reports we heard when you first went missing gave little hope of finding you alive; how did you get from where they threw you overboard to that island, anyway?”

“Someone was close enough to see it happen and rescued me; someone I can’t talk about right now, Rob.”

“Well, thank God that whoever it was happened to be there!”

“I have been doing just that,” Josh said, his eyes aimed down at the top of his desk. Looking back up to the man across from him he changed subjects. “Rob, you know more about how this company works than anyone I know. What would it take for us to branch out our product line?”

“Branch out? What kind of new product line are we discussing here?”

“Medical electronics; in particular, support machinery.”

Rob digested this a moment. “It’s not something that Cardan Pharmaceuticals has done before, and we don’t really have the expertise yet to break into the field and compete against the established players. We could do it, but from a business standpoint I’m not sure how the stockholders would respond to the investment risk.”

“What if I told you that I have a line on the design for a machine that would keep a donor organ alive and fully functional indefinitely?”

Rob mulled that over a moment. “Define ‘fully functional’.”

Josh held his eyes. “I’m talking about a machine that not only supports life, but also simulates the body environment so that the organ continues working as it would inside the body. A kidney would filter blood and produce urine; a heart would beat to pump blood; a uterus would continue the monthly cycle and could even sustain pregnancy.”

Rob flinched slightly. “Okay, the first two I can understand, but that last example; why would anyone want that? It’s not like they perform uterine transplants.”

“I’m talking capability, Rob. Maybe it’s not for transplants; maybe it’s for research purposes. Ever consider what it would be like if doctors could keep a diseased organ alive outside the body of the patient so that they could experiment with treatment options without prolonging the patient’s suffering? Imagine testing new drugs on tissue that unexpected side-effects won’t result in life-altering damage to a patient.”

He considered that a moment before looking at Josh over the top of his glasses. “Let’s quit beating around the bush here. Are you serious about this? Do you actually have a line on such a machine?”

“Yes, provided my request to have the technology released to Cardan Pharmaceuticals is approved.”

“How theoretical is this? Are we talking just a design that needs refined and debugged, or has this design been tested and proven?”

“It’s proven, Rob. It worked.”

He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms skeptically. “Okay, Josh; sell me on this. If this is a proven technology, why isn’t it being marketed by the person or company that developed it?”

“Because the man who developed and refined the technology is dead and until just recently all his notes were lost.”

“We don’t have a machine, we just have notes? What proof do we have besides these notes that the technology works?”

“No machine, but trust me on this one, Rob. He left behind some very convincing proof.”

“Josh, let me be honest with you. The stockholders would probably have trusted your old man enough to take his word on something like that, but you haven’t been in charge long enough to have developed that kind of rapport with them. They’re going to want something more than just your word on the proof before they approve such a business venture.”

“Don’t forget, Rob, that I still own fifty-three and a half percent of Cardan Pharmaceutical stock. That notebook had other developments that we could market faster for reasonable profit as well. I understand your points, and I appreciate your honesty, but I want to start working on this as soon as we can.” He leaned forward across his desk. “I’d like a preliminary plan for a new subsidiary of our Research Division, including your recommendations for the best person to head it up for us. I want to know which of our facilities would be the best place for it, which of our people would be the best choices to staff it, and how quickly we could set it up once I get approval to use the technologies.”

“You’re that confident about this?” Rob asked.

“I’ve read the notes and seen the proof, Rob. I’m that confident.” He reclined back in his chair once again. “There are things in that notebook that the Government doesn’t want released, but I’d already read it before they’d decided that. I’ve been privy to some information that I can’t discuss, but I can tell you that I am 100% confident on this.”

Rob smiled knowingly. “Now you’re not just looking and sounding like your old man, you’re acting like him too. Give me about a week and I’ll have that plan for you. I have some people in mind that I think will fill the positions quite well. Anything else?”

“Now that you mention it, yeah, there is one more thing.”

“What’s that?”

“I think you need a new office.”


“I think we both do, actually. I think you need a bigger office, and I need a smaller one.” He spun to look out the window again. “Yeah; I need a smaller office, and preferably one with a different view.”

“You have a great view from this office,” Rob observed.

“I’m glad you think so. You’re going to be moving into this one soon.”

“Excuse me? I don’t think I heard you correctly, Josh.”

“Rob, I’ve been sitting in my Dad’s chair for a couple of years now, trying to fill his shoes in the company that his father built. All this time, you’ve been the one keeping things going. He trusted you with this company when he was alive, and you’ve kept that trust in the time since he died. You’re the one I consult for the major decisions, and the minor ones tend to get handled by you anyway. I’m a figurehead because it’s my name on the door, and I think it would be better if I simply accepted that my position around here is more ceremonial than practical. Once the new subsidiary of our Research Division is up and running, I’m officially turning over the helm to you.”

“Josh, it’s still awfully soon after a traumatic incident in your life to make decisions like that. I’ll put together the plan for you, and if we get the go-ahead I’ll organize the new subsidiary as well. I won’t, however, hold you to what you just said. Give yourself some more time to get your life back, and then think about it again.”

Josh laughed, though the sound was dry and humorless. “Rob, I will never get my old life back. Cynthia was trying to end my life when she threw me off the Bitter Pill, and in a way she succeeded. That life is over, and when I woke up on that island a few days later it was to a new life. My marriage to Cynthia is being annulled by my lawyer, and I’ve asked my realtor to put my house on the market.”

“Where are you going to go?”

“I’m looking into buying an island, Rob; specifically, the island I ended up on that night. It has some old buildings on it that include some office space, so I’m going to set myself up an office there. I can keep tabs on the company remotely, and you can handle things without me looking over your shoulder constantly as if I knew what I was doing.”

“You’re not going to go Howard Hughes ‘hermit’ on us, are you?”

“No; I’ll still be around for company functions and such. It’s just that the island has felt more like home than the house I shared with Cynthia ever did.”

“Sounds like a lonely place to me.”

“Believe me, Rob; it will never be lonely out there.”

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Fiction for February 18, 2011

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by the always gracious Joanne, over on her blog, An Open Book. Pop on over, if you haven’t already, say ‘Hi’ to Joanne, and see what other stories are waiting for your reading enjoyment.

In this week’s excerpt from Precocious by Consent, our enigmatic Russian stranger makes another appearance, with some hints about what he knows. I hope you enjoy. P.S. If you know Russian, and spot some glaring errors in the Russian transliterated vocabulary I'm using, please let me know. My Russian is pretty much limited to "da" and "nyet," and online translators are not always the most reliable sources, particularly without a good way to check syntax and context.

Chapter 33

Friday night

He entered the small, ordinary looking house, and secured the door behind him. Most of the lights in the house were out, save those in the back bedroom. Classic Rock music played from a portable stereo in the room, set unceremoniously atop a stack of banker boxes.

The woman sitting at the old desk in the room didn’t look up from the computer screen as he entered. “Zdravstvuj,” she said. “And what did you learn today?”

“I learned that our little matryoshka doll is a better actress than she is a swimmer. Her first stroll in the ocean, and she had to be rescued from water shallow enough to stand in.” He pulled a rolling chair over and took a seat next to her. “And you, my Tasha – what did you learn today?”

She leaned back and flipped her hair back with both hands. “If I did not know better, I would think she was working for the Agency again. She is playing the Lolita on Facenet, as though she were seeking clients as Katy again, but she is being very coy when boys respond. I find no trace of any contact with her husband, or of him trying to contact her, but there is no mention of any problem between them on any of his social network pages. His comment about her is that she is visiting her grandmother in Russia, and is not near any network connection.” She made a couple of quick mouse clicks and pointed. “He has no photos of her on his page, though. What do you make of that?”

He leaned forward and scrolled through the page. “Perhaps, he is cautious that a former client will recognize her. This is interesting, though. See? A few days before Ekaterina left for Russia, they were visited by the same detective that helped bring down the Agency. Odd coincidence, no?”

“Lloyd Timmons is the police officer that arrested Polzin? I did not know that.”

Da. Apparently, he has remained friends with Ekaterina and her husband. Strange association, but it seems to have been harmless so far.”

“You do not believe his visit to be a coincidence, though. Shall I look into what this Timmons has been working on lately?”

He rubbed the stubble on his chin. “Be very careful. I don’t want to attract scrutiny from any police, and poking into a police lieutenant’s business might draw attention to us.”

She shot him a look. “When am I ever not careful? Polzin may have grown careless and foolish, but you should know that I am better than that.”

He leaned over and kissed her cheek. “You, my dear Tasha, have always been better than Polzin in every way.” He dropped his voice to a low, serious tone. “Yet, something is going on here. It has taken me much time to find Ekaterina again, and I do not want to chance losing her to an impetuous move.” He reached across her and clicked over to Katya’s Facenet page. “Were she living on her own, I would think she and her husband had split, and she was looking to make her money as she did for the Agency. Being ‘adopted’ by these doctors, though, does not fit. They do not seem to be the kind of people that would be comfortable running a brothel out of their home.”

“I have been following the Adamsons online as well. If they are aware that Ekaterina is anything but the young girl she is claiming to be, they have given no indication of it. The doctors have little on-line presence, but their sons are far more active on the ‘net. They speak of her as their sister, and comment how happy their parents are to finally have a daughter.”

He spoke towards the computer. “It is a strange game you are playing, lapochka. I wonder, though, just how many moves ahead you have played this one? Have you considered your endgame, Ekaterina, and what will happen to the other pieces in this match?”

“I do not think this is her game, mllaya moya. It seems another may be directing this play.”

He flipped through a series of screens on the computer, quickly scanning the information on each one. Katya was in her room again, logging onto her Facenet page. A few moments later, a status update appeared, commenting on the fun she’d had at the beach with her friend RikkiChickie. Just as if you were a real little girl, Ekaterina? This also does not fit – if you are just playing at being the child, why drag an innocent girl into the drama with you? If you just need the appearance of a friend, I would expect you to recruit one of the other former Agency girls, not a real child that is ill-equipped to deal with whatever you may bring upon yourself with this charade.

Is there a Master somewhere moving you about as his Queen? If so, where are the opposing pieces, and just how dangerous a game is being played here? He leaned back and lit a cigarette, which Tasha immediately took from him to smoke herself. He lit a second one to keep, and took a deep drag of the smoke. I do not like this not knowing. You are much too valuable to me to lose again, Ekaterina, even if it means I must steal you away from this game myself.

Tasha took control of the computer again, and found information on Timmons. His photo accompanied a short news story about a recent murder case he had solved, and she stared at it with raised eyebrows. “This is the man that took down Polzin?” She muttered some expletives in Russian. “Polzin must have gotten very careless.”

Are you directing this game, Timmons? You do not look like a Master, yet, you are obviously good enough to have gotten the better of Polzin. He blew smoke at the photo on the computer screen. If you have put Ekaterina in danger for your own game, lieutenant, then we may just see what kind of man you really are.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Friday Fiction for February 11, 2011

Has it really been nearly two months since I participated in Friday Fiction? It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. My absence has been primarily due to being away from writing anything since mid December, but this week I jumped back into “Precocious by Consent.” I’m pleased to post one of the chapters I wrote this week, in which Katya, still posing as adopted orphan Cathy, accompanies her friend Rikki to a beach in La Jolla.

You can find more Friday Fiction over at Homespun Expressions, hosted by Karlene. Feel free to jump in and participate, if you have some short fiction or an excerpt you’d like to share.

Chapter 31

Friday afternoon

The warm sand pushed between her toes and all around her feet with each step she took, while the repetitive sound of the surf rushing ashore competed with the noise of the beachgoers playing their games. The breeze coming off the Pacific carried a different smell than the wind through the city, and hinted of kelp forests and fish beneath the surface just a short distance offshore. There were beaches near Los Angeles, but I don’t remember ever being taken to one, Katya thought. For that matter, this is the first bathing suit I’ve ever owned. The Agency made sure we all knew how to swim, but that was to protect their investment in us, not for our own enjoyment.

Rikki dropped her boogie-board on an open spot of sand, and spread a towel out as a ground cover. Flopping down on the towel, she reached into her tote bag for a tube of sunscreen, and began to apply it liberally to all her exposed skin.

“Don’t forget your back,” Rikki’s brother said as he carried his surfboard by her. “I don’t want a repeat of last time, when Mom busted my chops because you got a bad burn.”

“Don’t worry,” Rikki shot back. “I don’t want a repeat of that burn, either.” She held the tube up to Katya. “Would you rub some of this on my back, Cathy?”

Katya knelt on the towel behind Rikki, and slathered sunscreen on the pale skin of her shoulders and back. “I take it, you sunburn easily?”

“Are you kidding? I’m a redhead. Mom says I can burn just by thinking about the sun.” She took the tube back, and applied the lotion to her legs. “You’re pretty pale, too. I don’t know if your Russian skin will tan any better than mine, but if it’s been a long time since you’ve been in the sun, you should probably put some of this on, too.”

Katya rubbed some of the sunscreen into her own exposed skin, and sat down to let Rikki apply it to her back.

When they were done, Rikki stood up and picked up her boogie-board. “Are you sure you don’t want to go back to the car and get a board, too?” she asked.

“I’m sure,” Katya replied. “I’m not a real strong swimmer, so I think I’ll just keep close to shore.”

“Okay,” Rikki said, and then ran towards the water with the board. She splashed a few steps in, and then threw the board down in front of her as a wave washed past her, flopping down on it to skim a few feet farther out.

Katya remained seated on the towel for a while, watching both Rikki and her brother paddling out beyond where the waves broke, and then riding waves in. Rikki held to her board with both hands, resting her upper torso on it as the surf pushed it shoreward, while her brother stood on his board and executed twists and turns along the slope of the waves. From time to time, Rikki would pause and wave when she reached the beach, before paddling back out to wait for the next wave.

A strange roar caught Katya’s attention, and she looked down the beach for the source of the noise. A middle-aged man was flying a brightly colored kite on short lines, making it turn and spin by pulling one line or the other. When it spun, the volume of the noise would increase, though the only time it was near quiet was when he took it far to one side or the other. The man wore headphones, and after watching him for a few minutes, she realized he was dancing with the kite. What a fun idea; I want to try that someday.

Feeling warm, she decided to cool off in the water. The wet sand had a different feel to it, and the first wave to rush around her feet made the sand seem to come alive beneath her. It flowed away from her soles, letting her feet sink a bit and covering them with swirling eddies of liquid sand. The water was colder than she expected, and she hesitated to go any deeper, until a large wave wrested the decision from her by crashing in and splashing her thoroughly.

“Just get in,” Rikki yelled from a few yards up the beach. “It feels a lot better once you’re fully in it.”

“It’s cold,” Katya yelled back.

“Oh, c’mon! You’re from Russia! This should feel totally warm to you!”

“Romania,” she corrected. “And contrary to how it’s shown on television and the movies, neither Russia nor Romania are constantly buried in snow.”

“Wimp – just get in.”

She took a few more steps out, and nearly fell over when the next wave reached her. She squeezed her eyes shut, and tried to rub the salt water from them with her wet hands, to no avail. Another wave caught her unaware, sweeping her feet from beneath her and sending her sprawling into the foamy water. Tumbling in the moving water, she fought to get her feet beneath her, but couldn’t seem to keep enough purchase on the sandy bottom to stop the surge from tossing her about. Swimming was a futile effort; her simple strokes were pointless against the strength of the surge. She needed to breathe, but by that point, didn’t even know which way led to the air, and which way led to the bottom.

Great; I come out here to help catch a serial killer, and instead I’m going to drown on my first ever trip to the beach.

A hand clamped around her arm, and pulled her up. Her feet found the bottom, and she stood coughing, blinking away the discomfort of the salt in her eyes.

Rikki’s brother stood next to her, holding onto her arm still. “I don’t know how my sister expects me to teach you to surf,” he said, with a chuckle. “If you can’t manage to stand up in three feet of water.”

“Learning to surf is Rikki’s idea. I think I’m better suited to holding the towels down.”

“Haven’t you ever been in the ocean before?” he asked.


“Are you kidding? Never?” He moved slightly to block the force of an incoming wave from hitting her. “Look; don’t let it get you down. Lots of people with lots more time in the ocean, still end up losing their footing and getting disoriented in the waves. It may not look like it from the shore, but there’s a lot of energy behind every wave. Couple that with the undertow of the water going back out to sea, and it can throw you for a loop if you’re not ready for it.”

She held to his arm as the receding water pulled at her legs. Despite the surging ocean, he seemed steady and immovable, and the smile he gave her was amused, but not mocking. He looks so young, she thought, and then shook her head at the irony of the thought. Look who’s talking about looking so young. At least he comes by it naturally, and will eventually grow out of it.

“You’re not okay?” he asked, concern in his voice.


“I asked if you were okay now, and you shook your head.”

“Oh, sorry. I’m okay. I just didn’t hear you ask.”

He snorted. “Rikki sure knows how to find ‘em. Think you can stand on your own now?”

“I can try. Maybe next time I fall under, it’ll be a cute lifeguard that comes to my rescue.”

“Like you’d know what to do with a cute lifeguard if you had one.”

You’d be surprised what I know how to do, and if Gary were anywhere close, it would be very tempting to break character and spend a night with him. She shot him a coy smile. Play the precocious flirt – that’s what the killer looks for, isn’t that what Powell told me? That he might be watching me at any time? She poked Rikki’s brother in the chest. “I may not know much about the ocean, but I know enough about boys.”

“The lifeguards that I see are all men, not boys.”

“Trust me – deep down, they’re ALL boys.” She turned back towards the shore, and walked back to the towel on the beach. She plopped down, thankful for the seawater dripping from her hair and the salty irritation in her eyes. There were subtle skills to playing a role, and one that had always been stressed in their training was the ability to force true emotions into the background, and only let those show that fit the role.

Pressing her towel against her face, she dried her eyes and emerged again as Cathy. With a little more time to compose herself, she again braved the surf, and before long, was splashing comfortably in the cool Pacific.