Taylor Kendall regretted her only decision of the day. The sale's agent at the bus terminal in Boston told her the line ended a few miles short of her ultimate destination. The bus driver warned her it was at least five miles from the last bus stop to Sagamore Place. He also cautioned her that Terrace View Road was really nothing more than a steep, gravel incline. It was barely fit to travel with a four wheel drive never mind walk. He advised her to call the local cab to take her directly from town to the front door of the old estate. But, Taylor, the ever frugal graduate student, was trying to save money and decided to walk.
"What's a five mile hike?" She mocked herself as she wiped sweat from her slightly pink brow.
The late spring day was unseasonably warm. Her heavy backpack made the temperature that much more unbearable. Taylor, quite literally, carried the weight of her world on her shoulders.
"I'm in good shape. Five miles is nothing!" She huffed as she shifted the backpack again. "Well, it ain't nothin' when you're carrying every God damn thing you own, stupid."
Taylor started to look around for a place to rest when she noticed the woods seemed to be thinning out on the east side of the road. On more careful inspection, she noticed a low rock wall set in a few feet from the shoulder. The layered rocks appeared to rise from the earth itself and grow with each step forward Taylor took.
"Just like a good Yankee stonewall should," Taylor said.
She picked up her pace feeling reenergized by the simple marker of civilization. It didn't matter that it was only a common artifact from the pre-Revolutionary American civilization. Civilization was, after all, civilization. A couple of dozen steps later and the carefully balanced stones were too high to easily climb over.
"Should have jumped it when you had your chance there, Taylor," she mumbled to herself.
When Taylor reached the marble pillars that guarded the entrance to Sagamore Place, she found herself shivering in her sweat dampened clothes. Old shade trees lined either side of the hard packed, dirt drive way. They not only provided a dramatic archway but they blocked the direct sunlight enough to cool the air by at least ten degrees. Of course, the view of the ancient Victorian house at the end of the drive could also have contributed to the chill Taylor felt down her spine.
"Gotta love that old gothic New England charm," she whispered and the trees rustled in agreement.
The house itself was enormous with twin turrets at either end. A wooden porch which appeared to wrap itself around the first floor only added to the bulk of the imposing structure. In spite of the architecture, there were obvious signs the building had been poorly maintained over the years. As she drew closer, Taylor observed roofing shingles were missing, paint was peeling off of parched wood, the window shutters were hanging at odd angles, and the windows were so filthy they reflected more light than they admitted.
Taylor smiled thinking she might look as run down as Sagamore Place after her long journey from the bus stop. Running her hand through her shoulder length brown hair, she hoped it didn't look as grimy as it felt. She cautiously climbed the creaking stairs to the front door. Wiping her feet on the moldy mat, Taylor took a deep breath and knocked. Nothing. Another, louder knock. Nothing. Taylor tried the door knob and gently pushed the door open.
The foyer was dreary. Layers of dust covered everything from the marble floor to the mahogany banister of the once grand staircase. Taylor imagined the entryway must have been quite impressive in its day. Today, though, it was a fading memory of wealth from a bygone era. It stunk of decay.
"Hello? Anybody home?" Taylor tried a little louder and coughed on a floating particle of grunge.
"Hey," an alarmed voice called from another room.
A young woman rushed into the foyer. Her t-shirt and jeans were covered with dirt and grease. The bandana covering her hair was equally grubby. Wisps of blonde hair escaped out around the edges. But, it was the woman's eyes that caught Taylor's attention. Deep, dark circles stained the pale skin to underline the dull blue eyes that were wide with fear. Taylor didn't think she had ever seen another person so afraid in all her life.
"I'm sorry, didn't mean to startle you. I'm Taylor Kendall. You know, I won the summer internship," Taylor explained in a rush.
"No, no, go around to the side of the house," the girl hushed. "The help can't come in the front. Hurry. Go before she sees you."
Taylor's question was interrupted by a shrill voice from the top of the stairs, "BAILEY!"
"Sorry, Madame, I was gonna try to show her...," the young woman seemed to shrink an inch or two as she began to explain.
"Enough of your excuses!" The stout woman shouted before lumbering down the stairs. "Apparently, I can't trust you with the simplest of matters. After you serve dinner tonight, it's right to bed for you. Maybe that will help you to remember your chores."
"Yes, Madame," Bailey flinched.
"Really, it's my fault," Taylor tried to intervene on the young woman's behalf. "I just walked right in. Didn't knock loud enough, I guess."
"Bailey was told to watch for you and see to it that you were acquainted with your position here. And informed about the rules!" She paused as she stepped next to the cringing young woman to hiss, "Imbecile." Then the portly woman turned her full attention to Taylor, "I am Madame Philomene Isabelle DuPrey. You should address me as Madame. Always!"
Taylor fought hard not to smirk. Now that Madame DuPrey had stopped shouting, she seemed to be effecting an obnoxious, fake French accent. The woman might have been fiftyish, Taylor guessed. She was barely five feet tall and could easily have been just as wide. Her gray hair was pulled back in a tight bun. The Madame was sweating profusely from the strain of her short walk down the stairs to the foyer and her testy reprimand of Bailey.
"Miss Kendall, your internship with us is a rare opportunity. It is a chance to explore the mysteries of the writing process with six exquisite but, alas, troubled authors," the fat woman smirked. "Of course, I will expect you to earn your keep. You won an internship, not room and board. That you will have to work for. There are no free rides at Sagamore Place. And there is so very much to do before our guests join us next week."
"Yes, Madame, tell me what needs doing. I'm ready to get my hands dirty," Taylor gave a big smile and hoped Bailey and Madame DuPrey would smile too but that did not happen.
"Bailey, show Miss Kendall to her quarters so she can put her things away. Then she can help you finish in the kitchen," Madame DuPrey dismissed the pair with a waive of her hand.
As she hobbled off to an adjoining room, Taylor wondered how the Madame managed to balance her girth on tiny feet stuffed in to shoes at least a size too small.
"Yes, Madame, whatever you say, Madame," Bailey muttered under her breath behind the departing woman's back before pointing to Taylor. "You, come with me."
Taylor followed Bailey back out the front door. Once down the steps, she almost had to jog to keep up with the double time pace Bailey was setting.
"Hey, do you mind? Would you slow up a bit?" Taylor finally stopped in her tracks and dropped her pack.
Bailey spun around, "You, stupid, lazy shit! Quit whining and follow me. What are you trying to do, get me in more trouble?"
"I'm sorry about that but I didn't know, I mean, how could I know something like that, you know...,"
"Yeah, sure. Sorry is really gonna help me out," the blonde shook her head at the pathetic apology.
"Can't we start over?" Taylor held out her hand, "Please, call me Taylor. Is it okay for me to call you Bailey?"
"Just shut up and follow me," Bailey turned away and resumed her harried steps.
Stunned by the young woman's venom, Taylor picked up the backpack and followed in silence. When they rounded the far side of the house, their path became uneven. Once hard packed earth had been broken down by too little care and too many feet. The way was strewn with rocks and thorn covered vines. Several broken liquor bottles littered the patches of overgrown grass. Bailey stopped at the door to the bulkhead.
"We go in and out this way. Your room is down cellar, under the stairwell to the kitchen. There's a separate toilet and sink down there too. That's the only one we're allowed to use. To wash, we have to use the outdoor, cold water shower under the kitchen window. Madame DuPrey demands we shower every morning before five; regardless of the weather."
"Sounds like a miserable way to start the day," Taylor smirked. "Is your room down in the cellar too?"
"I wish," Bailey complained but did not explain her comment. "Look, I can't waste any more time with you. I've gotta get back to work. You should stow your stuff in your room and change into something you don't mind getting ruined. We're cleaning the stove," Bailey called over her shoulder as she disappeared down the bulkhead stairs.
"Yep, good old gothic New England charm," Taylor shook her head with a grimace and followed.
"What the Hell is that suppose to be?" Taylor was horrified by the metal monster that filled a quarter of the kitchen.
"It's a stove," Bailey barked without glancing over at the summer intern. "A very old, very big, very smelly, very dirty beast of a stove. What else could it be, stupid."
"I guess it doesn't have a self cleaning setting," Taylor hoped to make Bailey laugh but received a withering look instead.
Bailey was kneeling on the massive top scrubbing the surface around the burners with steel wool. The ancient appliance was caked in grease and thick black soot. To Bailey's credit, the ventilation pipes leading to the outside and the back splash wall of the stove were sparkling clean down to the original enamel painted, blue surface.
"How long have you been working on this?"
"All freakin' mornin'," Bailey sighed as she stopped scrubbing long enough to answer Taylor. "Why don'tcha take a picture, it'll last longer," she finally growled.
"Are you gonna stand there starin' or are you gonna help clean this monster?"
"Oh, yeah, sure," Taylor stuttered. "Where do you want me to start? What should I do first?"
"Grab some steel wool and get to work on the oven. This is a wood and coal burner so it's filled with ash and shit."
"You've got to be kidding me! Only if you brought some with you," Bailey mumbled the last word, "wuss."
Ignoring the insult, Taylor opened the oven door. Two beady, black eyes twinkled up at her from the darkness into the day lit kitchen. Before she could slam the door shut, a four legged flash of gray sprinted out of the oven, up her arm and down her back.
"Oh my God, get it off, get it off me!" Taylor flailed her arms as she screamed.
"Relax, it hit the floor already," Bailey managed to cough out the words between fits of laughter. "I told you there was shit in there. Real, honest to God, mouse shit."
Taylor held her tongue as she forced herself to relax. Yelling at Bailey over a sophomoric prank would make her feel momentarily better but would definitely confirm her status as a wuss. She decided it was better to go along with the joke.
"Very funny. How many more little friends do you have in there to greet me?" Taylor asked with an infinite patience she reserved for dealing with disruptive children.
"Their not my friends, lady," Bailey's laughter stopped immediately. "Look at this place. It's filthy! There are mice and bugs and garbage everywhere. I thought you were some big time college girl. You're suppose to be so smart. Right? Right," she rolled her eyes. "So, you should know, better than normal folks, that a dump like this gots all sorts of creepy crawly stuff runnin' around and goin' on."
Taylor knew Bailey was deliberately mocking her. She was being baited. But, Taylor lost her will to hold her temper when Bailey turned back to work; an unspoken gesture to ignore Taylor. She tossed the wool pad at the condescending blond.
"You're right, it's my own fault." Taylor held her hands up in defeat, "Somebody as bright as I am should know better than to trust a shit nosed punk ass like you."
"I ain't no punk, bitch," Bailey hopped down from her perch to confront Taylor. "I'm nobody's hoochie."
"Really, well, you certainly could've fooled me," Taylor sneered. "You play the game. You talk like you're a whore. You let Madame DuPrey treat you like her own little bitch. She yells and you whimper. She sends you to bed without your supper and you just say, 'yes, ma'am, thank you, ma'am.' Oh, wait, maybe she sends you to her bed without your supper? Is that what you're all about, Bailey?" Taylor was smugly satisfied to see the other woman lose her arrogant swagger.
Bailey's once rigid shoulders slumped and her eyes filled with tears. She silently turned around and climbed back onto the stove. The sound of scrubbing was occasionally interrupted by a sniffle.
Taylor cheeks flushed with regret. She didn't mean her rebuke to be so vile. But, her purely hateful tone carried the unintended but undeniable message of intolerance. Her air of superiority evaporated under the heat of embarrassment.
"Hey, I'm sorry. Please don't cry. It's none of my business what you do on your own time…,"
"It ain't my time," Bailey interrupted without looking up. "I'm on work release. That's why Madame get's to tell me what to do and when to do it. She pushes me around but she can't make me sleep with her. I ain't nobody's bottom bitch, not any more, not ever again," it was almost a whisper. "My place is in the shed out back. She has me locked in at night to make sure I don't try to run off on her or steal anything."
"That's horrible," Taylor gasped.
"It's better than spending the last three months of my sentence in a six by eight and punkin' to a hard ass lifer," Bailey wiped at her eyes with her shirt sleeve.
"What did you do to end up there?" Taylor couldn't keep the emotion from her voice.
Bailey glared at Taylor, hating the sound of pity, "I strangled my stepfather in his sleep."
Taylor remained silent as she studied the other woman's features.
"What're you thinking?" Bailey continued to glare.
"Well, locking you in the shed at night might not be such a bad idea after all."
"I didn't really murder my stepfather," Bailey replied with sullen resolve to tell the truth.
"Didn't think so," Taylor flashed a smile of relief. "You don't seem the murdering type. Want to tell me what you did do? But, hey, if you don't want to tell me, I totally understand. After all, I mean, crime is, well, it's a personal … thing…,"
"Possession of an unregistered fire arm. One year minimum mandatory," Bailey provided, "no if's, ands, or buts. Not that anybody would've tried to make any for me."
Their conversation abruptly ended when the back door slammed open. Dust and small bits of plaster fluttered down from the ceiling in a sudden rush of cold air. Standing in the open doorway was the ugliest man Taylor had ever seen. He was well over six feet tall but no more than a hundred and fifty, hundred and seventy pounds. Sallow skin was pulled taunt over the prominent bones in his face and hands. Strands of lifeless gray hair swirled around his head as if caught in a wind that was all his own. He wore big black leather boots, brown wool pants and turtle neck sweater, and a heavy black winter coat even though it was over eighty degrees outside. His arms were full of short logs of chopped wood.
"For the cooking fire," his voice echoed as if spoken from the bottom of a empty well.
"Or maybe from an empty grave," Taylor thought to herself with a morbid fascination.
He dropped the wood with a resounded bang next to the stove. Taylor jumped but Bailey merely eyed the man.
"Thank you, Igor," Bailey's smile was one of sweet innocence which was betrayed by her dripping sarcasm.
Grabbing a fistful of her shirt, the man pulled her nose to nose, half lifting her off the stove top, "Don't be cute! Get to work!"
The man tossed her and Bailey slammed against the hard steel splash wall. Her stifled squeak of pain gave him a chuckle before he stomped out the way he came in.
"What was, who was that?" Taylor moved to Bailey's side and helped her sit up.
"That was Igor," a slightly breathless Bailey gave a broad smile for the first time since Taylor had met her. "Don't know his real name. Just call him that to bug him. Otherwise, he doesn't say nothin' to me. I think he's Madame's zombie slave or somethin' like that."
"Why tease him if he's gonna manhandle you?" Taylor lifted Bailey's shirt to make sure she wasn't injured and found a number of bruises across the woman's back.
The jarring clang of metal slamming against metal snapped Taylor from the depths of exhausted sleep. She fought to break loose from the covers as she rolled off the narrow cot in the room under the kitchen stairs. Landing hard on her ass on the damp cellar floor amid a tangle of sheets, she let out a yelp. She tried to calm herself with a deep breath before finally extricating herself from the knot of linens. Taylor managed to drag her weary body to her feet and climb up the stairs to find out who was making such a terrible racket in the middle of the night.
"What the…," Taylor bit back harsh words when she found Madame DuPrey standing in the middle of the kitchen slamming two pans together.
"You lazy, girl," Madame scolded. "I've been trying to wake you for forty five seconds. You sleep like a dead thing."
"Ah, I'm sorry," Taylor squinted against the glare of the bare light bulb illuminating the sparking clean kitchen. "Bailey and I worked really hard yesterday to finish this room. Guess I overslept. What time is it anyway?"
"Four o' five."
"In the morning?" Taylor glanced out the grimy window and saw darkness.
"Of course," Madame said with a sneer. "How else will you be ready for breakfast at five and to start work at five fifteen? Now, go! Go out and shower. You're filthy. You not only sleep like the dead, you are beginning to smell like them too."
With that pronouncement and a wave of her hand, Madame ambled back through the swinging door into the pitch black hallway.
"Yes, Madame. Whatever you say, Madame," Taylor mumbled under her breath.
Taylor's muscles throbbed with each step down the stairs. She wondered if she would be able to move tomorrow after another brutal day of scrubbing. Bailey was not wrong about Sagamore Place. It was old, and dirty, and filled with all manner of vile creatures.
"Although, I'd take bumping into a mouse over Igor any time," Taylor chuckled to herself as she grabbed her shower supplies from the chair in her cramped room.
The predawn air was crisp. Dew covered the grass, chilling her bare feet. She hurried her steps up the path to the shower under the kitchen window. Taylor began to worry when she heard the water already running.
"Please be Bailey. Please, let it be Bailey. I don't think I could stomach seeing Madame naked this early in the morning," Taylor whispered. "Then again, I don't ever want to see Madame's bare butt."
Shivering under the sputtering water spray stood a wet and very naked Bailey.
"Thank you, God," Taylor was truly grateful.
"What, what you thankin' him for? It's fr, friggin' cold," Bailey stuttered the curse.
"Hey, I'm glad it's you and not our landlord I'm staring at," Taylor grinned when Bailey laughed out loud.
The light from the kitchen window barely brightened the shower area. Of course, calling it a shower was being more than generous. The contraption was nothing more than a garden hose duct taped to the side of the house. A sprinkler head had been screwed on to it giving the cascading water more of a rain like effect. Below Bailey's feet was a piece of plywood; a futile effort to keep the mud down. Just out of the splash range was a wooden bench.
"Can I leave my stuff over here?"
"Ya, it'll be safe enough," Bailey stepped out from under the water and grabbed her towel. "The raccoons are back to bed by now and the squirrels aren't up yet."
"You make it sound like the vermin have little furry schedules," Taylor laughed.
"No kiddin', even the rats around here have a routine. I don't know about you but I think it's better to know what's likely to come crawling out of the dark and bite me in the ass," Bailey explained as she tried to dry herself with the tattered remains of what was once a cheap hand towel.
"Hey, I've got my bathrobe so you can use this. I was only going to dry my hair with it," Taylor offered her fluffy pink towel. "That dishrag will never get you dry."
Bailey hesitated a moment. She reached out a tentative hand but did not take the offering. Taylor had to close the short distance between them in order to hand the woman the towel.
"Thank you, so much," Bailey's voice cracked has she held the gift close to her chest. "I'll wash it by hand and get it back to you tonight."
"Keep it, I've got another and…, oh my,…son of a piss,…geeze," Taylor squealed as she stepped under the frigid spray.
"Try to keep breathin' through your nose so you don't pass out," Bailey advised as she dried herself.
"Can't breath, heart stopped," Taylor shuddered under the relentlessly cold spray.
"You're just trying to get out of cleaning the bedrooms," Bailey chuckled, pulling on her jeans.
"What 'bout the first floor…, mother of…," Taylor's gargled cry was drowned out when she turned to face the frigid water.
"Don't know nothin' 'bout the first floor. Madame said we be haulin' boxes from the attic to set up the guest rooms."
"Do you think I'm clean enough?" Taylor asked when she took a side step away from the tormenting water.
"Ya, squeaky," Bailey answered without looking up as she tied her sneaker. "Hey, Taylor, what kind of stuff are you studying at college?"
"I'm working on a masters in English Literature," Taylor sighed after wrapping herself in the soft warmth of her bathrobe.
"Whatcha do with that kind of …," Bailey stopped because she didn't know the right word.
"Degree?" Taylor saw Bailey shrug unsure so she continued. "Ya, masters degree. Well, my Dad thinks I'll be the best educated book store clerk in Boston. But, I want to stick with it and get a Phd so I can teach at the college level and do research."
"Oh," Bailey knew she was way out of her usual social circle with Taylor.
"What about you? When you finish here, what's next?" Taylor asked before sitting on the bench next to Bailey.
"Ain't no master's degree waiting on me and that's for sure," Bailey started to get up, feeling the need to make a quick escape but Taylor grabbed her arm.
"I wasn't being mean. I really want to know what you think you might do in the fall. Or, what you want to do," Taylor tried to explain.
"Why? You want to know if I'm gonna pick up where I left off? Is that it? You think I'm gonna run right back to the gutter they dragged me out of, don't you?" Bailey hissed.
Bailey was surprised that no further defense was attempted, "Then why do you want to know?"
"You asked about me because you're curious. So, I guess, I asked about you for the same reason," Taylor explained.
"Well, I don't want to talk about me with you or Madame or Igor or that probation guy," Bailey pulled free of Taylor's grasp and stomped back to her shed.
Taylor sighed heavily. The morning had been going so well and she ruined it with an innocent question. It seemed everything at Sagamore Place required a great deal of patience and tremendous effort.
* & * & *
Breakfast had been a quiet affair. The four occupants sat around the kitchen table for a full fifteen minutes and ate hot cereal in complete silence. Room temperature water was the only beverage provided. Taylor yawned halfway through the meal which drew a warning frown from the Madame.
"I miss my tea," Taylor thought as she followed Bailey out of the kitchen toward the attic after they cleared the plates.
They had been informed that the rooms were named, not numbered. Their job was to go to the attic and find the boxes for each of the rooms and unpack. Madame expected all six rooms to be cleaned and set up by evening. She made it very clear no excuses would be accepted. Taylor worried what that kind of threat would mean for Bailey.
"Okay, I doubled checked and this is the last box for the Algonquin Room," Taylor announced after setting the box on the round, cherry wood table near the fireplace.
"The bed is made. The fireplace is closed off so we don't need to do anything there," Bailey gave a big grin. "All that's left here is unpacking these last few boxes."
Taylor noted one was already open, "What's in 'em?"
"Really old magazines. Like from 1915, 1920. Why would anybody want junk like this cluttering up the place?" Bailey pulled one out and began to wave it around.
"Easy there. That is a mint condition Vanity Fair. It's worth a bit of money." Taylor took another faded magazine from the box, "Wow, Vogue. Bailey, I think there's a trend here."
Taylor went back to the box on the table.
"Here we go! Playbill, theater reviews, a copy to the screenplay for A Star is Born…Dorothy Parker!"
"She at the bottom of the box," Bailey cracked.
Taylor ignored the joke, "We are in the Algonquin Room and here is a round table. Dorothy Parker was part of a writer's circle known as the Algonquin Round Table. She wrote for these magazines during the 1900's. And she won an Oscar for co-writing A Star is Born, I think. I bet all the rooms are a sort of weird little shrine."
"So," Bailey was clearly unimpressed.
"It's like a theme park for writers. They pay to come here, relax, talk about what they do in an environment that idolizes the greats of the past."
"Well, I don't think the folks in Florida need to worry about this idea catching on. It's boring. What happened to this Dorothy anyway?" Bailey asked.
"A couple of bad marriages, a heartbreaking affair, she got really cynical which cost her jobs and friends. I think she died alone in a hotel. Not a happy ending."
"Great, dull and depressing." Bailey laughed.
"Such is the fate of many a writer."
"That's why I want to be a painter," Bailey whispered without looking up from the box at her feet.
Taylor felt a rush. Bailey was trusting her enough to reveal part of herself.
"If you'd let me," Taylor replied, "I loved to see you work sometime."
"I'd like that too."
"And I went to jail for havin' one gun?" Bailey shook her head in disbelief staring at the wall of rifles before her.
"It's a wacky, upside, downside world," Taylor agreed. "Under no circumstance, can you have lawn darts but you can have a gun as long as you got a piece of paper from city hall. But, I guess, that's the difference between civilization and anarchy, between laws and chaos, between having a registration and not, between a museum quality weapon and a common hand gun, between...,"
"Havin' cash and a big time lawyer and havin' nothing and nobody," Bailey finished the statement.
"Absulutin' fuckin' tively!" Taylor agreed with a sad sigh. "Hey, it's getting late and we have one room to go. We'd better get a move on or we'll lose out on dessert of something."
"But...," Bailey seemed to be groping for the right words. "You haven't told me 'bout it yet."
"Whose room is this, I mean, oh jeez, you know, who wrote the stuff in here," Bailey's limited knowledge of literature left her feeling very inadequate at the moment.
"Oh that," Taylor didn't think Bailey was paying attention when she talked about the writers behind the themes in the other rooms. "Well, let's see what we have here. Hunting rifles on one wall, stuffed trophy heads on the opposite...,"
"Whoa, you mean those animals were alive once upon a time," Bailey gestured over her shoulder at the marble eyed heads coldly staring into the forever of infinity.
"I think so. Yep, I'm pretty sure they all had bodies way back whenever. Anyway, we got guns, lots of guns, dead animals, the room is named Macomber, there are Cuban cigars, a map of Spain carved into the desk top; my guess is Hemingway."
"Holy Cow! You mean to tell me, Mariel Hemingway wrote a bunch of hunting books?"
"Ah, no, no, she didn't," Taylor was stunned.
"I'm just teasing," Bailey smiled brightly at Taylor's sigh of relief. "I know she had a sister."
"Taylor, relax. I'm only funnin' ya. After all, I got my GED. Well, I almost got it. Just got to take the test. But, even I know who Ernest Hemingway was," Bailey gave a wink.
"Wow, you had me going. I thought...I mean, it seemed," Taylor was unwilling to continue her explanation.
"You thought I was pretty ignorant. That's okay, 'cause I am stupid. But, even dumb people get some of the basics." Bailey reassured.
"Shit! Bailey, I've had it with that kind of attitude! You are anything but stupid. God Damn it! How could you get so far and think, never mind say out loud, such a foolish thing about yourself," Taylor's fury made Bailey take a step back toward the door. "You're smart enough to get out of prison early on a minimum mandatory. You manage to figure out how far you can push your luck with Madame and Igor without getting seriously hurt. You constantly pump me for information that I know you're going to use to get you some place other than the gutter you so proudly claim you started out in. So, don't you dare tell me that you're stupid! It doesn't cut it with me."
"Taylor, take a breath before you faint dead away on me. I'm not kidding or pulling on your sympathy when I say I'm stupid," Bailey raised her hands in truce. "I was stupid enough to get caught with my step father's gun in my coat. Mom begged me to toss it in the river for her. She said, he'd told her he'd use it on her next time she got him mad enough. And, that was most nights after a case of beer. I was afraid for her. I wouldn't never have believed she'd call the cops to turn me in while I'm runnin' her errand," Bailey wiped at her dripping nose with a sleeve. "Guess, she wanted me out of the house or something. You know, Taylor, all she had to do was tell me to get lost and I would have been long and good gone."
"Did she ever come to see you after you were arrested?" Taylor was compelled to ask.
"Once. She came into the visiting room, sat down, and said, 'S or S,' then got up and walked out."
Taylor raised a questioning eyebrow.
"My step father use to threaten us with S or S before the beatings would start. It meant 'snap it or suffer' and even the little guy understood what that meant," Bailey explained as simply as she could.
"Too bad the jail guards couldn't figure out you were being threatened," Taylor supplied.
"That's not what they're getting' paid to do," Bailey shrugged. "Anyway, we still got one room to go or Madame is gonna be really pissed off."
"Right, the Whitman room."
"Think it's for Walt Whitman?" Bailey shyly ventured her guess.
"Madame hasn't been that transparent with any of the others. So, I'm gonna guess no before we even see the décor."
"So, who else could you hook up with Whitman in such an obvious way?" Bailey asked.
"Lincoln, I think he wrote a book and Whitman loved him," Taylor tried to gather her thoughts. "Dickinson was a contemporary of his but their styles and careers were so drastically different that it couldn't really be her. Still, there was the gay thing."
"What 'gay thing' are you talking about?" Bailey was puzzled by the comment.
"Good old Walt was out before out was even thought about. Boston banned his writings. Emily was rumored to have had some sort of extra sisterly relations with her brother's wife."
"Ya know, if they taught this juice stuff in school then these dead guys would be easier to remember," Bailey huffed as they entered the room. "It makes them seem human, almost."
Taylor went to the large pine writing table in the center of the room. She ran her fingers across the letters carved into the lower left hand corner of the table top. R-O-C-K-L-A-N-D.
"Ginsberg, Allen Ginsberg. He's the theme," Taylor was disgusted with herself for missing the earlier clue.
"Explain please," Bailey started to unpack the top box on a pile of neatly stacked boxes.
"Ginsberg felt a great connection to Whitman because of their writing styles and sexual orientation. Rockland is mentioned more than a dozen times in the poem, HOWL."
"What's with Buddha?" Bailey held up the small statue. "It looks like there's a shrine in this box."
"Probably. Ginsberg was into that. We might also find stuff about Jersey, college literary magazines, William Carlos Williams, Kerouac, civil rights, and suicide," Taylor listed as she went for the second stack of boxes near the windows.
"Oh, for God's sake, him too? Don't any of you writers die by natural causes? I mean, all of 'em seem to be so friggin' sad," Bailey pulled Chinese trouble dolls out of the box.
"Don't include me with this crowd. I'm a reader. I research. I'm no writer," Taylor clarified.
"That's too bad," Bailey spoke softly but Taylor heard. "You're a good story teller."
* * *
Taylor headed for the shower with heavy feet in the predawn hours. While she was desperate to wash the filth from her body, the thought of the icy embrace from the outdoor shower dampened the appeal cleanliness usually held for her. She wanted to be brave. She wanted to stand under the cold stream without her teeth chattering but that was not likely to happen. It was cold out and cold water would only increase her pain and suffering. It would sap her strength even more than the hard day's work ahead of her.
The shout was followed by a loud smack of flesh on flesh. Taylor knew instantly the sound came from the shed. Without a second thought, she raced toward the rickety, parched wood structure.
Bailey was on the ground. She struggled to get on all fours. Igor kicked her hard in the ribs. Taylor didn't even think as raced forward and jumped on the man's back. He was stiff and cold and strong as an ox. Igor shook her off with little effort. She landed with a thud on the ground next to the whimpering Bailey.
"STOP!" The fake French accent was momentarily forgotten. "What is going on?"
"Madame, the girl bit me," he held out his hand like a wounded child searching for comfort.
"My poor, suffering bastard," she kissed the offended limb. "Go back to bed, my dear heart. I will make things right."
The three remained quite as the hulking figure trudged back to the house. Taylor could not believe her eyes. Igor was cradling the hand close to his heart. But, she was unsure if he was soothing the hurt or treasuring the kiss.
"Absolutely ridiculous," she mumbled before turning her attention to Bailey. "What's the damage?"
"Bruises, nothing," Bailey was struggling to get her breath.
"As for you two, you'll do his work today. All the shutters must be nailed shut. The ladder is in the basement." With a wicked gleam in her eyes, Madame pointed at Bailey, "This incident will go in my final report to your probation officer. I believe, he'll consider an incident like this to be assault or battery or some such thing."
"Please, Madame, I'm sorry. It'll never happen again. Just give me another chance," Bailey was begging.
"You hurt him, you little...,"
"Wait a minute!" Taylor had had enough silliness for one morning, "That guy is built like an oak tree. There's no way she hurt him. And, aren't you even gonna ask her what happened?"
Madame glared at Taylor but turned her focus to Bailey when the girl got on her feet.
"It was totally my fault, Madame. Ig..., I mean, he just came to let me out like usual and I flipped out for no reason. Please, can't we keep this between us. I'll do anything to make it up to you and him."
Taylor stood stock still as she listened to Bailey squirm. The lie rolled off the young woman's tongue like it was easier than the truth. The hand print bruise on Bailey's face made Taylor worry how bad the truth really was.
"An added week on your stay should make up for the unpleasantness this morning, don't you think?" Madame's grin revealed yellow teeth.
"More than fair, Madame," Bailey agreed.
"Fine. No showers. No breakfast. Get yourselves dressed and get those shutters closed," Madame commanded.
"Yes, Madame, thank you, Madame."
Taylor felt tears gathering in the corner of her eyes as she watched Bailey grovel.
* * *
"You're mad at me," Bailey stated once the final nail was driven in to close the final shutter.
It had been a long, torturous day. The pair started with the shutters on the third floor and worked their way down. The sun was hot and the wind was none existent. Both women baked in the heat. Combined with hands torn raw from the dried, splintering wood, and it was safe to say Taylor was miserable.
Taylor was too exhausted to go any further. She turned her back on the house and slid down to rest against the cold stone foundation. Bailey joined her.
"You don't understand. It would be six more months inside, easy. Maybe even more than that. I can't do no more hard time. I can't be nobody's punk ass no more."
The two remained silent. The trees rustled for the first time all day.
"Huh?" Bailey was clearly confused.
"The sentence should be, 'I can't be anybody's punk ass anymore.' Tell me how badly he hurt you," Taylor continued to stare straight ahead.
Bailey shrugged, "Igor tried to grab my tit, I bit him, he bitch slapped me, end of story."
"He kicked you too."
Bailey rubbed her sore ribs. She nodded agreement. She wondered when pain became so second nature to her that some of life's little hits were so quickly forgotten.
"Hey, I've got an idea," Bailey announced. "Our work is done. The sun's still out. And, you stink," Taylor frowned at the remark. "Okay, we stink. Let's take a shower."
"Together?" Taylor's voice cracked.
"Come on, that water's damn cold. The two of us together should generate some body heat." Bailey watched Taylor slowly nod agreement before she finished her thought, "Besides, you know how we prison girls are."
"I'm starting to get the feeling I'm about to learn what you mean by punk ass," Taylor let Bailey pull her to her feet.
"Naw, you're really bottom bitch material. Do you have any idea how much money I could make off of you inside?" Bailey lead the way.
"No, but I'm sure you're gonna tell me all about it while you scrub my ass."
"A woman after my own heart," Bailey laughed out loud.
The pair had no idea they were being watched by two sets of eyes.
Taylor wasn't really sure what to think. In the two days since their first shower together, Bailey and she had silently agreed to continue to shower together. They worked during the days getting Sagamore Place ready for the expected and honored, paying guests. Before the heat of the day was gone, the two would help each other wash away their accumulated sweat and grime under the cold water spray. It was gentle and teasing and just a tad erotic but nothing more than that. Taylor wasn't really sure if she wanted it to be something more than that. Maybe a summer fling on the other team would be interesting, enlightening even. But if things didn't work out, as most summer flings went, Bailey could get really hurt. And, if Bailey got hurt, would she make certain Taylor got hurt too?
"HEAVEN ABOVE, HELP ME! EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY! ALL OF YOU, COME AT ONCE!" Madame's shriek rattled the house to the rafters; fake French accent and all.
Taylor dropped the scrub brush she was using to polish the brass door knobs on the guest rooms. She silently cursed the interruption. She was certain this was some stupid bit of theatre Madame was playing out for them. Just a little drama to get the blood racing before sending everybody back to the tedious boredom of their daily chores.
"Our guests are arriving at any moment. They're nearly a day early. No time left to make ready! No time left at all! I'll be ruined!" Madame wailed before she swooned into a dead faint.
Igor was behind her, right on cue, to catch her limp body. Lovingly, he lowered her to the foyer's cold marble floor. He began to fan her with the stiff long fingers of his right hand while showering her forehead with kisses from his colorless, chapped lips.
"Oh, for God's sake," Taylor rolled her eyes at the act.
"You should thank God he caught her," Bailey mumbled with a hint of irritation.
"Got that right. There's no time left to repair a gaping crack in the front lobby's floor," Taylor whispered in reply.
"I heard that! You are a vicious, spitefully thin girl," Madame's eyes snapped open and she pointed an accusing finger at Taylor. "I won't forget it either. Another opportunity with be most welcome to correct your horrible manners. Now, however, there is no time for such pleasantness. Instead, we must prepare for our guests as best we can. You two, start dinner and be ready to greet our company the moment they arrive. Bring each to the library. They already have their assigned seats. My sweet, dear, boy, you must help me upstairs so I may make myself more presentable," she cradled Igor's pasty white face in her pudgy hand.
Without a second thought, Igor picked Madame up and carried her to the stairs.
"I haven't seen a move that graceful since Swan Lake," Taylor muttered to a stoic Bailey.
"Tonight's menu is on the table in the kitchen. Each item is to be served exactly as described to the minute prescribed. I'll tolerate no mistakes. You have been warned!" Madame hollered like a longshoreman as Igor whisked her off to her room.
"This ought to be a barrel of fun," Taylor grimaced.
"Well, let's just keep our fingers crossed that nothin' bizarre happens," Bailey crossed her fingers and started for the kitchen.
"Nothing bizarre? You've got to be kidding me? Have you been with me this whole week or what? The entire situation is, to turn a phrase, bizarre." Taylor swallowed hard, "It's also more than a little creepy. That woman, God only knows why, is faking a French accent. Her disposition vacillates between a drill sergeant and some fragile virgin out on her first date. Her boyfriend with the nasty temper, looks like he's three days dead and just waiting around for the grave to get dug. Then there's you. You let them lock you in a dingy shed at night because you're a criminal on work release and the arrangements here are so much better than prison. And me, I'm just going along for the freak house ride of the century because I 'won' a stupid internship."
"Oh, that stuff? That's no big deal," Bailey waved her hand in dismissal. "I'm talkin' serious bizarre! You know, like drugs, underage sex, and all that Hollywood shit. You know, doin's that can land me inside again takin' serious hard time," Bailey patiently explained as she reached out for Taylor's hand to lead her to the kitchen.
Taylor let out a heavy sigh, "I'm starting to wonder where they sent the runner up."
* * *
"Okay, since when is a Bloody Mary considered a main course?" Taylor grumbled as she struggled to mix the drink. "And, how safe is it to serve the same person a fresh one every thirty eight minutes?"
"Tonight, it's his dinner," Bailey nodded her head toward the tanned faced figure with tight gray corn rowed hair sitting on the floor wearing an orange and black caftan, "her dinner. I'm guessing from his or her smile that it's safe enough for him, her, it, ah, whatever."
Taylor gave a grin at Bailey's confusion, "That would be Giuseppe. For you to understand the writer, the human soul before you, I'll quote the most important of Giuseppe's poems. 'I be neither he nor she nor black nor red nor white nor you/ I be/ It must be enough for you to be me/' There're another seven hundred stanzas but you get the idea that Giuseppe seeks to be androgynous, multi culture, multi racial,..."
"Right!" Taylor stopped her work to look at Bailey, "Giuseppe's writing is a reaction to mass classification. Giuseppe tries to strip away all the markers from life that are meaningless after death."
"Oh yeah, well breathing is meaningless after death but I'd hate to have it stripped away at the moment, thank you kindly."
Taylor let out a sigh. She had no suitable argument against Bailey's logic and decided to go back to bitterly mixing the drinks designated as the writers' main course.
"Can't you be happy that the most difficult food we have to serve tonight is mini hot dogs?" Bailey finely broke the silence. "Look at 'em. The six of 'em are sittin' happy as pigs in shit getting' stinkin' drunk and all we gots to do is pour," Bailey added a half cup of orange juice to the half cup of vodka already in the glass on the bar.
Taylor glanced around the room. Bailey was right. Each of the literary luminaries were sitting silently getting sauced out of their minds as they waited for Madame. They had paid a small fortune for this exclusive writer's retreat to jump start the creative process. Taylor tried to shake off the feeling of dread wrapping itself around her. She believed beginning the retreat with a drinking binge was truly dooming the writers to failure.
"This can't be part of the program," Taylor complained out loud again. "Alcohol and writing are traditionally a disastrous combination. It leads to nothing but dead ends; writer's block, bad marriages, children, and hack attempts at literature."
"Taylor, I'm sure you're right, 'cause you're always right, but can't you see your way to go along on this one so I don't have nothin' much more to cook?" Bailey pleaded.
Taylor grudgingly nodded her agreement.
"Thanks, cause I'm really tired," Bailey's whispered reply was interrupted by the double doors to the room opening.
"My honor guests!" Madame made a grand entrance with Igor, dressed in an ill fitting, outdated tuxedo, escorting her. "I'm so sorry to be the last to arrive. Please forgive me. If you remain seated here in the library then my servants will provide for all your needs before our communal bedtime."
"Communal bedtime, my ass," a tall man with a ruddy complex cursed. "No woman's sent me to bed since my mamie got herself lynched. I ain't goin' back to that no how, no way, ma'am."
"It seems we can still count on Mr. Hix to provide that southern charm the world so desperately lacks," a woman, slamming back Manhattans, dressed in a finely tailored, conservative blue skirt and jacket casually observed. The straight backed hard wood chair seemed perfectly suited for her rigid frame.
"No, no, my talented darlings, I must insist on no petty bickering between yourselves. To do so will invite my merciless wrath." Madame's motherly tone suddenly turned icy, "You were first to break the first rule: silence unless spoken to, Mr. Hix. It is only fair then that you should stand and introduce yourself first."
The big man struggled to his feet from the low, cloth covered chair he had been lounging in. He had downed almost a case of domestic beer and three tiny hot dog weenies.
"I didn't mean to offend you none, Madame," he tipped his cowboy hat as he stuck a thumb in the waistband of his pants. "I'm the down to earth kind. I tries to say my peace plain and simple like. So's most folk can understand my meaning. For those of you that don't know me, my given name is Redman Hix. I hail from much south of here," he gave a smile and a wink. "I'm from the great state of Texas...,"
"NEVER TRY TO LIE TO ME AGAIN!" Madame interrupted with a deafening shout. "Your name is really Roger Hixon. You were born and raised in the north. The small but pretentious state of Connecticut, to be exact. Your parents, insurance sales representatives, sent you to Texas to attend an elite prep school which would position you better to get into William and Mary. God knows, your grades weren't going to get you a seat in the freshman class of 1973. SIT!" Redman sank into his chair. "Let me read a short passage of your most celebrated work to the group for their edification."
Igor handed her a leather binder from the bookshelf. She flipped several pages. The room was still as the rapidly sobering writers waited.
"Ah, yes, here it is. From the book, A MAN'S MAN. The chapter is called Hunting. 'It's tusks were still dripping warm and clotting, red blood; the last sign we'd ever see of our aborigine safari guide, may God rest the boy we could not find enough of to bury. The beast snorted, pawing the dirt, sending warning of its intent to gore any creature foolish enough to stand in its brutal path of destruction. I am that foolish but I am no creature. I am a man. Armed with only a shotgun, two bullets, and my nerve...,' What absolute drivel! Thankfully, you have not written another book since so you have done limited harm to your readers."
The group let out a chuckle. It could have been from the pent up nervous energy or glee at Redman's reprimand. Madame would not suffer even that small transgression of her rules. She glared around the room searching for the biggest grin. The room fell silent once again.
"Driscoll McGee!" Madame's voice dripped with insincerity, "How lovely that you are enjoying yourself at the expense of an equal. You and Redman first published the same year."
Driscoll snorted in disgust at the comment, "True but I was much younger than he."
"STAND UP! When I speak, you sniveling losers are to STAND! Now, McGee introduce yourself to the group."
"I am Driscoll McGee." Standing, she smoothed her perfectly combed platinum hair. "I have produced numerous articles for the magazine, Voices Of Reason, as well as having written several books on modern etiquette. I was born in Germany where my father was stationed while in the service. I have lived in many foreign countries and most states in the union during my army brat time. Currently, I choose to live on a ranch in Montana; far from the bustle and poor manners of urban life."
"Ranch?" Madame questioned. "I thought it was more of a compound. You know, a place for like minded, like spirited, like colored people to..., what's the phrase, my dear boy?"
"Hold up and hide out, Madame," Igor replied as he handed another leather binder to the woman.
"That's right. Let's see, ah yes, this is from your 'etiquette' book, CIVIL BEHAVIOR FOR UNCIVILIZED TIMES. 'In the current permissive climate, where diversity and equality are the watch words, people of breeding are often forced to associate with the baser elements of society. While it is necessary to maintain polite interaction during daily routines, it is essential the class structure be preserved at any cost. One must never hesitate to draw a line in the sand between us and them. If the line must be maintained by lethal force then so be it.' This was not published in the United States or in English, for that matter, was it, Driscoll?"
"How did you get that? It was only released yesterday!" The woman fumed.
"Under your Nome de plume, General Order, in Germany only, right? Or is the French leaflet version still planned to move forward for Paris and Quebec?" Madame smiled broadly.
"I'll have my lawyer eat you for lunch!"
"No, you won't. It's not this kind of writing you want publicity for, is it? You want to fund your racist views and agenda with polite books on cooking, entertaining, and manners. You came here hoping to recapture the words of the gentle, all American McGee. A truly fictional character who has been steadily slipping from your grasp. Sit down." Madame turned to the well dressed black man sitting in a regal chair near the fireplace. "Are you comfortable, Mr. Alexander?"
"Yes. Please, Madame, my name is Ashton Alexander. I would appreciate it if you addressed me as such. Mister is a slave term," the young man pronounced from his chair before sipping his Cognac.
"Of course, Ashton Alexander. You should know the roots of social address better than any. After all, it was your great, great, grandfather who ran the slave trade along the African coast for years. The main group currently supplying African children as slave soldiers to the various wars in the region and to eastern kings for who knows what purposes is headed by a first cousin of yours, right?"
"Not a first cousin, no! He is third or fourth or something. How should I know?" Ashton took a deep breath before continuing, "He's caught in the trap left by centuries of the slavery trade. The man is only trying to keep himself and his people alive and safe in the economic void created by the oppressors."
"So, it's tolerable for him to sell his neighbors' children into a living hell? For those that don't know, Ashton wrote a provocative article calling African men to action last year. It ended something like this, 'Look to your skin. Is it dark? Is it like the night sky? Is it like the rich soil that yields fresh harvest? Is it like the fatherless boy in chains before you? It might seem like it is but scratch the surface and see the white. You have lessened yourself to their level in the name of survival. You must rise up! You must be better than the oppressors. You must reign supreme in your own land before you can claim the world. Not to do so will mean you are nothing but women, whores for the white oppressors.' Did I capture the essence?"
"Yes," Ashton smiled broadly. "If you thought I would be embarrassed then you are mistaken. I believed those words when I wrote them and I believe them now."
"Yes, I'm sure you did and do. Even though you've never been to Africa and your ethnicity is actually Spanish with some Jamaican elements. But, that's neither here nor there. You've lost your writer's voice. That's why you're with us or I should say that's why your oppressive, white agent sent you to me. He needs you to find your edge again." Madame smiled at Ashton who remained defiantly seated, "why do you have the whole bottle of Cognac?"
"You have female servers. I will take nothing from the corrupt hand of a woman," he grinned at the gasp around the room. "If the black man is going to reclaim his God given place in the world then women must be shown their place. For too long now, women have usurped our power and destroyed our pride. Women must learn their place. They are for satisfying their husband's desires and nothing more."
Before anybody in the room could protest Ashton's statement, Madame let out a shrill scream, "BAILEY!"
"Ah, shit," the woman cursed as she moved to the center of the room. "Yes, Madame?"
"You were instructed to serve Ashton his drinks, were you not?" Madame's teeth were clenched.
"He got the bottle and glass himself. He wouldn't answer me when I tried to talk to him," Bailey explained in a soft voice.
"Moron! Back to the shed! No food, no water, no shower! Go or I might decide to send you back from where you came!" Madame's spittle was flying as she screamed at Bailey.
Igor moved forward and grabbed Bailey by the elbow. He roughly dragged her from the room amid several attempted protests from the writers and Taylor. Ashton continued to smirk.
"You're a real piece of work," Redman scowled at Ashton.
"I find myself stunned to be agreeing with Hix but this display was quite outrageous," the previously silent Eliyahu Shukhman spoke.
The last of the authors, Puanani Wanaka Moananani Berulo, began the traditional Hawaiian prayer of cleansing from her seat on the sofa next to Shukhman.
Taylor tremble with rage. She was torn between chasing after Bailey and going after Madame. Her fear for Bailey actually being sent back to prison stopped her. She remained standing behind the bar as the din in the room rose with the authors' agitation.
"ENOUGH!" Madame barked and the room fell silent once again. "All of you have room assignments. You will go to them at once. We will begin again tomorrow. Go, now! You have given me a frightful headache. Go, before I decide to cancel the entire retreat. What will your agents and publishers do if I send you back to them tonight as hopeless cases?"
The group muttered as they left their chairs. However, they quickly cleared the room. Taylor and Madame were left alone.
"Taylor, I would so love a glass of water," Madame requested.
Bring the tepid water across the room, Taylor decided to take a chance, "Madame, may I check on Bailey before I go to bed?"
"Certainly," Madame smiled and sipped the water. "Both of you may have a can of beer and the rest of those little weenies if you like. Job well done!"
Taylor was stunned to silence. She could not believe what she was hearing. Waiting with her mouth hanging open only caused Madame to laugh.
"Girl, you seem to be trying to catch flies. Go ahead and take what food you want and the beer to Bailey. The shed will be left unlocked tonight. Thank her for all her hard work."
"I don't get it. Aren't you mad? Wasn't tonight a disaster?" Taylor pressed the woman.
"Not at all, my foolish girl. Tonight went better than expected. All our guests are stupid, vain, bigoted, hateful, shallow liars. Personality traits they have desperately tried to hide from the world." Madame chuckled, "And now they know that I know who they really are. Their days of hiding are over. Just wait until you see them start to sweat tomorrow."
"And they paid for you to expose them," Taylor stared at Madame in awe.
"That, Taylor, is the sweetest part of this scam!"
"Bailey? Wake up. You are awake, right? Bailey! Are you in there? Come on! Answer the door, will you?" Taylor spoke directly to the parched, wooden door of the shed. She muttered under her breath, "I feel like a dweeb just standing around here."
"Taylor? What the Hell are you doin'? Madame DuPrey's gonna be pissed enough at me without you …hanging, without you…making noise, without you…, what the Hell are ya doin' out there anyway?" Bailey's voice was hushed but filled with fear.
"Relax, kiddo! Madame told me to come out and check on you. She even sent some leftovers with me for our supper," Taylor shifted the small brown bag she was carrying and began to look through the contents under the dull moonlight.
"Well, that's great but how're ya gonna get in?" Bailey's nervous voice took an agitated turn.
Taylor spun the knob and the door swung open, "Guess I'll just have to walk in, right? Act like I own the friggin' place, right."
Taylor winked at a stunned Bailey as she sauntered passed. She tossed her friend a can of beer before flopping down on the only piece of furniture in the sparse shed; a narrow cot. The springs shrieked a dry, rusty objection to her weight.
"Madame sent you here to check on me. Igor didn't lock the door tonight. You got food and brew in the bag." Bailey stopped and waited for Taylor's affirmative nod, "So, which one of us hit our head and which one's been smokin' weed?"
"I wish, my friend, it was as simple as a head injury," Taylor sadly, shook her own head as she pulled her beer free of the bag between her legs. "Drink up, Bailey. I come to you half drunk but full of sobering news." Taylor held up her beer in a somber toast, "The Sagamore Place Retreat is one colossal joke. It's nothing but a swindle; a low budget scam, at that. Madame's playing these writing snobs for fools. She wants the money and couldn't care a bit of spit about the workshop. She's probably teasing us too but that's merely a sideline for fun. Consider it pro bono torment. The retreat is the meal ticket. The whole thing is a great big rip-off and waste of our precious little time."
"What? What are you talking about? Madame's some kind of guru, savior, second coming for those jerks. She speaks and they shut up to listen," Bailey could not keep the bitterness toward the writers out of her voice. "They'll do anything she tells them to do. She demands they drag out to woods, to a dump of a cold ass house, and then feeds them junk food for their bellies as well as their minds. And, they worship her like some kind of god. You must've seen it in the pallor. The look of awe on their faces when she waddled into the room. It was like Shakespeare himself rose from the dead with a new play in one hand and sonnets for everybody in the other."
"True! And an excellent analogy, by the way," Taylor grinned. "But, wait a minute, have some dinner before we go on and on about Sagamore Place. There are weenies on a toothpicks. Now, you sit and listen," Taylor patted the mattress and held out the bag of food to the obedient and hungry Bailey. "Madame told me herself this was some sort of 'sweet scam," Taylor made quote markers with her index fingers.
"Cripes," Bailey mumbled around a mouthful of hot dog weenies. "Are you sure she's not pissed at me or nothin' else that would send me back behind bars?"
"I'm sure she's not pissed about anything you did. Madame says, she thought the event went well. Even told me to take a can of beer for you and me after I asked to bring you some supper," Taylor smiled at the faint blush in Bailey's cheeks.
"So, I don't need to be watchin' for cops with a bright orange, DOC jumpsuit comin' up the road for me?" Bailey gave a little grin.
"Nope. Well, not tonight anyway."
Taylor studied Bailey as she licked her lips to clear the grease away. In the bare bulb light, Bailey appeared so young, so vulnerable. It exposed her skin as fair and soft with few lasting scars. However, it also revealed her porcelain potential for real and permanent physical damage.
"You are lovely," Taylor's voice sounded husky from the beer even to her own ears.
"Sure I am. I'm a honest to God beauty queen, don't ya know," Bailey chuckled. "All those Hollywood types been knockin' on my cell door for a year now but I keep sayin' to get lost."
"Bailey," Taylor leaned forward to whisper in her ear, "you're the most beautiful woman I ever washed with."
The kiss caught both woman off guard. Taylor let her lips take Bailey's in a warm embrace. It warned nothing of passion. It was only a gentle moment of reassurance between friends.
Bailey opened her eyes as they slowly separated, "Wow, that was really nice. It's the best thing that's happened to me in for…ever, I guess. Thank you, Taylor."
"How 'bout this? Is this okay too?" Taylor leaned in for another kiss which was slightly bolder than the first. "Unless, you're just into guys. Exclusive deal, like. And, there's nothing wrong with that either. I'm okay with whatever you want," Taylor worried she was pushing too hard and would end up showering alone again in the cold, dark dawn.
"I ain't seen no guys 'round since I got here?" Bailey smirked.
"Well, there's Igor," Taylor wanted to bite her tongue out when she saw tears form in Bailey's eyes. "Oh, funk me, myself, and I'm sorry. My mouth has a way of wrecking everything I say when I drink. It's even worse when I'm drunk as a skunk like now."
"Hey, it's okay. It would've been funny anywhere but here," and she whispered, "to anybody but me."
Taylor eased a shaken Bailey into her arms. They held onto each other as they both struggled to fight back their emotions. It would be far too easy for slightly drunken tears to lead to a type of comforting neither of them was sure they were ready to give. So, crying in front of each other was out of the question tonight.
"Hey, tell me, what are those boards for?" Taylor continued to rub Bailey's back as she asked about a discarded but neatly stacked wood pile in the corner of the dingy shed. It was a question designed to distracted rather than inform.
"My paintings. There's no canvas or paper around but there's plenty of left over boards from repairs on the house," Bailey sat up and dried her eyes. "Wanna see one?"
"Oh, very much so," Taylor stole an innocent kiss from Bailey's salty, hot pink cheek.
Bailey blushed deeply. She rose somewhat unsteadily to her feet and went to the pile. After a few minutes of searching, Bailey cleared her throat. She stood bringing one of the boards with her. Several heartbeats thudded in her chest before she finally turned the board around, revealing the brilliant colors on the other side.
Taylor swallowed her gasp at the site. The old piece of wall board was transformed with shape and color and texture. Lush green and rich black anchored the work while yellow and white and layers of thick paint wove details of turns and twists. Letters were carved into the paint in a seeming liberal order but they teased the mind with a message buried inches beneath the surface;
No Re d
T A Y
A fully erect phallic symbol stood at the bottom of the work as if awaiting an invitation.
"Bailey, it's lovely. I, I can't stop staring at it," Taylor tried to look at Bailey but the painting kept drawing her back. "It's, quite simply, a beautiful work of art," Just like you, Taylor thought to herself. "Where did you get the paints?"
"I found an old box under the bed. It had paints and brushes." She chuckled, "It even had some recipes for making paints from flowers. But, I haven't had to do that, yet."
"Did you paint before you came here?" Taylor stood to inspect the painting further, closer.
Something about the painting was nagging Taylor. It was a familiar sort of sensation. She felt like she had seen this painting or one like it before but she could not place where.
"Did you study modern art at school?"
"You're kidding, right?" Bailey missed Taylor's serious grimace. "My school thought modern meant World War 2."
"Basquiat! Of course, it's Basquiat," Taylor accused Bailey with a wagging finger.
"Excuse me? What are you talking about?" Bailey was completely confused by Taylor sudden change in tone.
"The technique, the style, it's Basquiat. What kind of a scam are you trying to run on me, Bailey!"
"I don't have a clue what you're talking about," Bailey gently laid her painting on the floor before turning her full attention to Taylor. "I think I've been yelled at enough for one day. You should go now."
"Not a chance," Taylor snapped the reply and grabbed Bailey by the front of her shirt. "You play dumb real good. Act like you don't know 'nutin' but, it's obvious from that painting, you know a lot about modern art. So, who are you working with? Tell me. Is it Madame Duprey? Igor? One of the writers? Tell me the truth!"
Taylor shoved Bailey back against the wall. Bailey hit with a solid connection. A piece of the loose board fell to the floor with a solid smash. It revealed an hollow cubby hole inside the wall. The space was packed with plastic bags filled with small amounts of brown and white substances, a couple of spoons, and a few syringes.
"Drugs?" Taylor thought she would cry as she looked between Bailey and the proof of a duel life. "You're using drugs. You're tossing away a chance at starting over for drugs!"
"That ain't mine! Never saw it before." Bailey stepped toward Taylor and Taylor moved towards the door, "Please, wait, don't leave like this. You got to believe me. I don't know anything about that stuff. And if you talk about it…everybody'll get the wrong idea. Nobody's gonna believe me over you. I'll go back to prison. Please, you can't tell anyone."
Bailey, you're a pathetic loser," Taylor spat before heading out the door.
The warm breeze that accompanied the gentle sunrise the following morning did nothing to improve Taylor's dark mood. She was still brooding over her stupidity for trusting Bailey. The thought of Bailey using drugs had never occurred to her. It didn't even seem to be a remote possibility until Taylor saw the proof of the deception with her own two eyes.
"Of course, she's into drugs and God knows what else. She's barely an adult and already has done time for gun possession," Taylor reprimanded herself. "Guns, drugs, prostitution; don't they all go together like coffee, cream, and sugar?"
A booming voice from behind the house broke Taylor's train of thought. A passionate pleading filled the words echoing in the distance. It drove Taylor forward, toward the source. Puanani Wanaka Moananani Berulo, the writer of inspirational self help books, stood in the back field overlooking the lake. Her ceremonial robes whispered in the soft, summer wind. Her voice rose as she raised her hands high above her head. Startled birds abandoned their nests and took to the air in search of safety.
"Forgive us, all knowing one, for we can not forgive ourselves well enough. Nor can we ever know the true nature of things well enough. Not until the sun sets and a new moon wakes to take flight across the darkened skies. Until then we are left to wait, panting, under the flicker of your distant, jubilant stars."
Taylor's foot snapped a dry twig and Puanani abruptly stopped her heartfelt oration.
"I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt...," Taylor began to offer an apology.
"Don't even think about using what you heard here as your own work." Puanani held up the tiny tape recorder in her hand, "I have absolute proof it's my intellectual property. Exclusively, mine! I have a squad of New York, bastard lawyers sitting around waiting for file lawsuits on my behalf. I'll drag you into court faster than ink dries, you snoopy, little shit!"
"No, really, I'm not a wri..., but even if, I wouldn't, never steal,...," Taylor tried to explain.
Puanani was hustling past the intern when she stopped to level one last threat, "If you ever sneak up on me again, I'll kick your ass from here to the Pacific Ocean!"
Taylor stood red faced and breathless watching the writer race toward the house. Taylor's whole body was shaking but not from fear. She was very angry, furious, in fact.
"You fucking pretentious faker! Who in their right mind would steal those sappy, ridiculous lines, anyway? Why would people 'wait panting' under the stars? Dogs pant, stupid, not people. And the 'true nature of things' is meaningless. What things? Afghans? Lug nuts? Razors? Huh? What things are you talking about? And stars can not be jubilant. Emotions belong to humans not planets. Like Catholics, celestial bodies have mass and not much else, you imbecile!"
"Sounds like your new career as a critic is off to a brilliant start this morning."
Taylor spun around to find a barefoot Bailey walking up from the lake. Her pant legs were rolled up and wet along the edges.
"Oh, great, you! I certainly don't need you this morning either," Taylor turned her back on Bailey and headed to her room under the stairs.
* * *
The stench coming from the kitchen made Taylor gag. It was a sour smell somewhere between filthy old sweat socks and New Orleans' gutters at 4 am on Ash Wednesday morning.
"What are you cooking?" Taylor ran to open a window while burying her nose in her shirt sleeve.
"Sauerkraut, corned beef, cabbage, Brussels sprouts," Bailey paused as she lifted one of the lids to check on the contents, "and hard boiled eggs. Oh my God, Taylor keep stirring!"
Bailey dropped her spoon and made a mad dash out of the kitchen door. Reluctantly, Taylor went over to mind the steaming pots. She could hear Bailey retching outside. The young woman was losing what little dinner she had eaten the night before.
"You okay?" Taylor asked a gray looking Bailey upon her return to the kitchen.
She received only a short nod before Bailey resumed her post at the stove. Taylor went to the table and found her daily chore list. Tracing her finger down the scrawl that passed for Madame's penmanship, she found her jobs for the day. Her singular service during breakfast involved the bar. Taylor was once again on liquor duty.
"Sangria, mulled cider, and whiskey sours? Whatever happened to orange juice for breakfast? What the fuck kind of workshop is this anyway? Addiction 101! Is everybody in this friggin' Hell hole addicted to something?"
The slamming of a pan shut Taylor up. She turned quickly toward the stove. Taylor was greeted by one very angry chef waving a very slimy spatula at her.
"GET OUT! Get out of my kitchen this instant! I might have to put up with stinking food and spitting pans and a stove that won't stay hot enough but I don't gotta put up with the likes you!" Bailey stepped menacingly closer to Taylor.
"Guess that's a sensitive topic for somebody like you, huh," Taylor was smug as she grabbed her list and left Bailey alone to finish preparing the odorous breakfast.
As soon as Taylor finished blending the whiskey sours, the guests began to gather around the dining room table. They looked like a clan of bears awakened early from hibernation. Each of them in some state of haphazard dress. From a bathrobe to yesterday's dirty clothes, the writers presented themselves for the morning meal. None of them had washed yet.
"Boy, are they in for a treat," Taylor thought about these pompous writers and the so very cold outside shower.
Madame made a grand entrance. Her floor length ball gown and perfectly coiffured hair was in direct contrast to the writers. Madame seemed to sparkle in the dim morning light.
"Bon jour, my sweets! I trust you slept well," Madame nodded to all her guests before settling in her chair at the head of the table.
"Aspirin," groaned Guiseppe, the Bloody Mary slurping poet. "Please, just an aspirin and room temperature water."
"Ya, I'll have that too," Driscoll McGee muttered.
"Haven't you ever heard of 'hair of the doggie,' my friends. Taylor pour the cider for everybody." Madame commanded over the half hearted protests of several writers. "BAILEY, where is breakfast?"
Bailey raced into the room. All the color had drained from her cheeks. She slammed a bowl of sauerkraut and a plate of corned beef on the table before hurrying back to the kitchen. Before anybody dared to comment, Bailey rushed back in with the Brussels sprouts, eggs, and cabbage. Taylor notices Bailey's features were turning a strange shade of green.
"Now, that's my kind of breakfast," Eliyahu Shukhman rubbed his hands together.
"Reeks like my granddaddy's farts!" Added Redman and both men went into fits of laughter.
Bailey fled the room in a full run. Taylor was sure she heard the back door bang open.
Puanani began to pile her plate high with the vegetables, "I don't eat meat."
"Of course, you wouldn't," Ashton scoffed as he took two pieces of meat and three eggs. "Girl, get me whiskey!"
Taylor inwardly grimaced at the command. However, she went to the bar quickly to fetch the drink. She remembered how much trouble Ashton had caused Bailey the night before. Taylor wanted to avoid anymore problems today.
"We start this morning by breaking bread together. Immediately after the meal is finished, you will all return to your rooms and write twenty pages on the experience. You may not come out of your rooms until assignment is complete. To ensure compliance, the doors shall be locked from the outside," Madame took a big bite of cabbage.
A general uproar broke loose around the table. Whining, pounding fists, and cursing continued for several minutes until Madame had enough. She stood and hurled her plate against the far wall, silencing the room.
Not one sound. Taylor was sure each of the writers had stopped breathing entirely.
"Finish your breakfast." Madame spoke softly and resumed her seat, "Taylor, be a dear, and get me a Sangria."
* * *
With the writers locked in their rooms, Madame told Taylor and Bailey they had the rest of the day free. Taylor wanted nothing more than to take a shower and wash the stink of breakfast off her. However, a knock on her door interrupted the plan. Taylor was not surprised. She figured Bailey would try to plead her case at some point. Part of her wanted the woman to come to her room and explain but another, larger part of Taylor's heart wanted nothing more to do her. The convict presented the potential for too much trouble. As irrational as the thought was, Taylor could not keep from feeling Bailey had betrayed them both.
"Go away," Taylor muttered as she sulked on her bed. "Leave me alone, for God's sake."
The steady knocking persisted. Taylor began to wonder if anybody had ever gone mad listening to such a noxious sound. Didn't the CIA use certain sounds to get barricaded suspects to surrender? Was she sacrificing what was left of her mental health just to ignore Bailey? Taylor gave in with a curse. She flung open the door.
"WHAT?" Taylor all but screamed.
Bailey simply removed her blouse in reply. Her creamy skin and firm breasts were plainly visible under the bare cellar light bulb. Taylor tried to swallow but her mouth was too dry. Next came Bailey's jeans. The echo of the button's pop and the zipper's sigh rang in Taylor's ears. Bailey stepped out of the pants at her feet; two steps closer to Taylor.
"Check me out. Look anywhere you want for track marks. There aren't any. I don't use drugs, never have, never will. Don't know where the one's in the shed came from but they weren't mine. They're gone now. You can search the shed or me anytime you want. I guarantee you won't find nothing illegal in there or in me," Bailey held her arms out straight to expose pristine, unscarred skin.
"What are you doing?" Taylor's head was spinning from the scene before her. "Put your clothes on. I'm not gonna search you? I'm not gonna search your room. I'm your friend, not your parole officer."
The shear irony of the statement stung Taylor deeply. It certainly seemed like she was acting the part of a parole officer the night before. She never gave Bailey a chance to explain the contraband. She didn't, for one minute, give Bailey the benefit of a doubt. Taylor suddenly felt like the world's biggest hypocrite.
"I'm sorry. You didn't deserve the way I treated you last night," Taylor said and Bailey nodded agreement.
A chuckle broke the silence of the moment before either woman could respond. Igor stood at the bottom of the cellar stairs. He paused, staring, at the sight of a naked Bailey, fully exposed under the harsh, glaring light bulb. A sick leer spread across his dirty face as his pants seemed to grow tighter in the crotch.
"Move it, now," Taylor grabbed Bailey by the arm and pulled her into the room. "Igor, get lost!"
Once they were both in the small room, Taylor slammed the door shut. She twisted the fragile, chrome lock before wedging her backpack between the door jamb and the wall. The only piece of furniture, other than the bed, was a rickety wooden chair. Taylor grabbed it and secured it under the door knob at an angle.
"That should keep him out," Taylor ran her hand through her grimy hair. "And keep me from the showers for a while."
"No, it's my fault you felt you had to do this," Taylor blushed as she stared at Bailey. "Why don't you get under the blankets? We'll wait a little while to make sure Igor took the hint."
"Any suggestions on how to kill some time?" Bailey giggled as she climbed into the bed.
"Huh?" Was all Taylor could get out.
"Well, last night we were doing pretty well until...," Bailey didn't finish that sentence. "We could pick up where we left off."
"Wanna? Still?" Taylor's command of English was escaping her with the prospect waiting in her bed.
"Taylor, take off your clothes and get over here," Bailey was out of patience.
"Yes, ma'am," Taylor almost fell in her haste to strip and get in bed next to Bailey. She cuddled for a few minutes before asking, "Are we just snuggling or more than that?"
"After what I've been through this morning, it is definitely 'more than' snuggling. Besides, we haven't quite finished your bottom bitch lessons, now have we?"
Their initial burst of laughter faded quickly to chuckles which ended with kisses and soft moans. Neither woman could hear the mechanical whirling of the surveillance camera hidden in the wall over the beating of their own hearts. Neither woman knew a couple at the far end of Sagamore Place was watching them on close circuit television and enjoying every moment.
"Four wasted days! Four days of essays on the nuances of brushing our teeth and folding our napkins without so much as one worthwhile critical assessment," Eliyahu fumed as he paced around the living room, his red wine sloshing out of the glass with each unmeasured step.
"Don't forget locking us in! Can't even get out for a breath of fresh air," Guiseppe griped clutching his Bloody Mary, "or a little hunting."
"You hunt? I thought you were a peace loving member of the global community of beings. Or some new aged crap like that?" Driscoll slammed down another Manhattan.
Ashton let out a snort of laughter, "Good one, McGee! Tell us Guiseppe, will you go hunting the little forest creatures with a pillow case so you don't intimidate them and ruin their self esteem?"
The other writers, restless with the haltingly slow pace of the last few days, were quick to jump in on the teasing. Guiseppe took a long swill of his drink before losing control. His empty glass became airborne and shattered the closest window. Gales of laughter erupted from the writers.
"You pretentious fuckers! If I want to try something new then I will. A man is never too old to learn."
"You're a man?" Eliyahu choked on his wine.
"Shut the fuck up, you jack ass. You know I'm a man but if you want me to prove it to you…,"
"The androgynous movement is losing another card carrying member. Please somebody pinch me and tell me it's only a nightmare," Ashton fanned himself for effect.
"Well I, for one, would be happy to pinch you, son, but this ain't no nightmare," Redman grinned and licked his lips at the thought of Ashton's firm butt. "Seems our fairy friend has finally found his balls."
Total chaos ensued as Guisseppe went for Redman's throat. Driscoll and Puanani tried to get between the pair while Ashton hooted encouragement for the brawl.
"That's right, let's all devolve at once," Eliyahu shook his head but did nothing to intervene.
Taylor, who had been tending bar, managed to interrupted the argument by ringing an old hand held school bell. Madame warned her that she would need to keep control of the room with the obnoxious clanging. All eyes turned to Taylor. She tried to suppress an inner tremble at their angry glares.
"Madame said, no shouting or fist fights," Taylor couldn't believe she had to tell authors something so basic about acceptable behavior.
Bailey entered the room and took in the scene. If she was surprised, she hid it well. She gave a quick wink to Taylor.
"Madame sent me to tell you, she doesn't feel well. You have drained her 'muse' with your 'pedestrian' writing skills," Bailey stumbled over the odd words she had been instructed to repeat. "She says, you should do some soul searching this afternoon and night. Tomorrow she expects better work or withdrawals from the program."
"You can tell that bitch to go fuck herself!" Guiseppe screamed like a madman.
"No, I can't tell her that," Bailey smirked at the irate man. "You'll need to deliver the message yourself."
"You think this is funny, girlie? You think wasting our valuable time is clever of that fat sow? Do you?" Guiseppe focused his anger and frustration on Bailey.
"No," Bailey's face remained the picture of innocence but her voice carried her contempt, "no, I don't think it's funny at all. I think you're all pretty pathetic."
Guiseppe barreled toward Bailey. Everyone in the room knew he intended to strike her but none of the writers moved to stop the assault. Taylor reacted instantly. She vaulted over the bar to land between Guiseppe and Bailey.
"You'll do," Guiseppe snarled as smashed Taylor in the eye with his balled fist knocking the young woman to the floor. "What's happening to me? My God, what have I done?" He stared at his hand in awe.
"Son of a…," Bailey tackled Guiseppe and the two tumbled over Taylor in a graceless heap.
"ENOUGH!" Madame appeared in the doorway to end the pandemonium with one word. "You should be ashamed of yourselves! Taylor! Bailey! Get out of my sight. I'll deal with the two of you later. Guiseppe, my poor baby, are you hurt? Let me help you."
"Him hurt?" Taylor sat up clutching her eye. "He smacked me in the face!"
"Come on, Taylor, don't try to argue. Let's just get going," Bailey hung her head as she helped Taylor to her feet and back to the kitchen.
"Sweet, sad, Guiseppe, come to Mama," Madame spread her arms wide and, much to the group's horror, Guiseppe buried his face between her ample breasts. "I think, I know the exact thing that will make you feel wonderful again."
"And I think, I'm gonna vomit," Puanani took a long drag of tequila straight from the bottle.
Madame eased Guiseppe back so he was standing on his own. She pulled a pen from her dress pocket and pressed it firmly into his hand.
"Go to the table and write something special for your Mama, yes?" She patted his tears dry with her stubby fingers.
Guiseppe nodded but was speechless. He made his way to the table by the broken window cradling the pen in his hand.
"This is far too insane for me. I'm going to pack and go. Call me a cab or get your driver to take me to the nearest city but I'm leaving," Puanani stood to make her dramatic exit.
"Really?" Madame raised her eyebrows in surprise. "I wouldn't think anything was 'too insane' for you, Wanda."
The room went deathly still. Only the scribbling of pen on paper could be heard. Puanani slowly turned around to face Madame DuPrey. She let out a low snarl before she spoke.
"My name is Puanani Wanaka Moananani Berolu. It means flower stem beautiful sea green gem. My grandfather named me in honor of the earth and sea. I don't know why you would call me…," Puanani was interrupted by Madame DuPrey's cackle.
"Oh dear, don't try to fool me. I've been around for a very long time and there isn't a block I haven't stood on," Madame bared her teeth. "You are out of your league, Wanda Beryl. Your grandfather didn't name you. A social worker named you. You were raised in an orphanage until you were fourteen. That's when you killed your roommate because, and I quote, 'everybody liked her better.' The court found you criminally not responsible because of a serious but untreated mental illness. Tssk, tssk, so sad. You stayed in the state hospital for ten years. Somehow, you reinvented yourself as Puanani, the poet. You certainly impressed your doctors who declared you fit to be unleashed on the world. Perhaps, the doctors are right. Perhaps, Puanani isn't crazy but the question remains, what about Wanda? Is Wanda still sick in the head?"
"Must you be so cruel," Driscoll turned away from the scene with tears in her eyes.
"I don't need your pity," Puanani spat at Driscoll. "And so what, I did time in the nut house? Big deal. Consider it research for a brilliant writing career."
"Yes but would your gentle, poetry reading fans consider the murder research as well?"
"Juvenile records are sealed!"
"Obviously, not as sealed as you'd like, Wanda," Ashton laughed so hard his sides hurt.
"For goodness sake, he's right, for a change," Madame stated with a smug air. "Now, Wanda, don't make me get ugly with you. Sit down next to Guiseppe and write something or I'll be forced to write a press release." Madame turned her full attention to the rest of the group, "I came down because I made a mistake. One of the essays handed in was quite good. In fact, I want to read it to you. It shows promise. It's the beginning I've been searching so futilely for. The title is, After His Redemption…,"
"Oh, no," all the color drained from Redman's cheeks.
"…, SCREAMING. I am madness incarnate, driven by desire, a craving, no, lust, yes, lust for firm flesh; narrow, puckering holes which beg for seminal release to feed their inherent emptiness…,"
"Oh God," Redman was weeping. "I thought I dreamed that. Didn't think I really wrote it down. Oh God!"
A chuckle broke in from the far side of the room injected joy between the sobs, "It seems our big, tough man's man is, honestly, a man's man. Who'd a thought it?"
"Shut up, Shukman," Redman coughed on his tears.
"Boys behave. I'll have no fighting. At least, I'll have no more fighting today," Madame fluffed her hair back from her face with a flourish.
"How 'bout good, old fashion blood letting?" Ashton pointed to the table were Guiseppe and Puanani were working.
Guiseppe had sliced his hand open on a shard of glass from the smashed window. He dipped the pen Madame gave him in the blood to scrawl several words on the paper before him. And then he would re-dip. Puanani had stopped writing and just stared with morbid fascination at the man sitting next to her.
"Dearest, tell Mama what you have written so far," Madame requested patiently. She was in no way alarmed by the grisly display.
"I wrote, I'm writing, it may not be very good," Guiseppe appeared exhausted.
"Go on, for me," she encouraged.
"Okay," he cleared his throat. "The battle rages. I hear the fighting on all sides. There will be no escape. No retreat from the high ground. Even if there were a break in their defenses, I would not, no, could not run from my duty. I will fight to the last bullet, to the last drop of blood, to the last sweet breath in my collapsing lungs."
"He's the pacifist?" Driscoll whispered to Ashton.
"Don't forget, androgynous too. Seems Guiseppe secretly lusts after a good fight like Redman looking for a tight ass," Ashton mumbled back.
"Is your bottom on Red's list?" Driscoll hushed in Ashton's ear.
"Thought you didn't associate with 'baser' elements of society," Ashton let his hand rest on the middle of her back.
"When I finish with you, you won't be baser anymore," she gave a grin that sent a shiver down Ashton's back but he was unable to reply when Madame shouted.
"Igor, please help Guiseppe to his room, the Macomber Room, so he can rest. Oh, and do something about his hand. Redman, you can take yourself back to the Whitman Room. I think you've done quite enough today. The rest of you, I don't care where you go. But, I'd better have descent essays by tomorrow morning or else," Madame's warning was met by silence.
* * *
"Ouch," Taylor flinched back, away from the cold. "You do realize you're hurting me, right?"
"Then hold it yourself," Bailey dropped the ice pack in Taylor's lap and walked over to the sink. "I've got dishes to do."
"You're mad? What are you mad about? I'm the one that got hit," Taylor couldn't believe Bailey had the gall to be angry.
"You weren't suppose to get hit. You were suppose to stay out of the way. Don't you ever think before you act?" Bailey spun around to wave a soapy finger at Taylor.
"I did think. I thought about you. Thought about taking care of you," Taylor quietly defended herself.
Bailey glared. She put her hands on her hips as she stalked toward Taylor.
"You think because I slept with you that we got somethin' goin' on? What? You think you love me or somethin' like in the movies? Well, let me bust your little bubbles right now. I don't love you. We just fucked, that's all. You don't need to try and protect me because I don't need you and you can't even protect yourself. So, stop with the hero bitch routine, already."
Taylor could feel tears stinging her eyes but she didn't want to let them fall. She didn't want to seem so fragile in front of Bailey. She didn't want to cry just because Bailey didn't love her. She didn't want to cry just because she loved Bailey. She didn't want to cry but she did.
"Oh for cripes sake!" Bailey tossed her hands in the air and went back to the sink.
Taylor wiped her tears away quickly. She want to apologize but she really wasn't sure what she did wrong. Before she could start to speak, Igor came into the kitchen. Bailey anxious turned to face Taylor.
"For you," his voice rattled deep in his chest as he handed Taylor a brown, paper sack.
Taylor opened the bag and saw green, "Shit!"
"Bitch," Bailey whispered.
"Why?" Taylor looked to Igor but he shrugged and left without answering. "Bailey, what's going on? Why am I holding a bag of money?"
"Well, you're not suppose to be," Bailey leaned against the sink with a deep sigh. "I was suppose to take the hit for a grand. Until you came running to my rescue. You got walloped and so, I guess, you got my money."
"Bailey, what the Hell is going on?" Taylor's hurt quickly faded as her anger reared up.
"Madame told me to egg on either Puanani or Guiseppe. She said if they flipped out then she'd give me a grand not to report it to my parole officer." Bailey rubbed her eyes trying think of the best way to explain the situation, "You said, the whole retreat is a scam, right? I'm only tryin' to get in on a piece of the action."
"You're letting her buy you," Taylor sneered.
Bailey watched as Taylor fingered the brown bag, "You're right. I would've let her buy me but I'm not the one holding the money now, am I?"
"No, you're not the one with the money. You're also not the one with the black eye," Taylor stood and stuffed the bag inside her shirt before heading downstairs to her room.
Early the next morning, Bailey found the daily chore list left on the kitchen table. It noted three of the communal bathrooms on the second floor which needed to be cleaned before the guests rose to start their day. She decided it would be better to get moving on the dirty task and leave Taylor to work on breakfast. Bailey scratched a quick note for Taylor to let her know where to begin with the meal. It was easier to write the message than face the angry intern. The pair had not spoken since Taylor righteously accepted the Bailey's punch money the night before. Bailey's note simply stated, 'me cleaning toilet, you making eggs.'
Both women had been able to maintain a silent distance throughout the previous evening. There was little work for them to do. For the most part, they stood in separate corners of the living room waiting to freshen drinks. Madame kept most of the writers writing late into the night. She released the writers individually to retreat to their rooms only after they completed an acceptable writing assignment for her. Dinner was suspended. Not even appetizers were served. However, liquor service for the group continued throughout the ordeal. Full bars were also available in each of the writer's rooms. Madame sent Taylor, Bailey and Igor to bed around midnight. She remained in the living room working well into the small hours of the morning with two of her most 'difficult' writers to date; Driscoll and Ashton.
Bailey started with the bathroom between Jackson Room and Algonquin Room. She assumed the two writers were still behind the closed door of the living room working with Madame. Even if they had been allowed to go to bed at some point between the witching hour and Bailey's early morning cleaning duty, Driscoll and Ashton should still be sound asleep. After all, it was only a little after five in the morning.
Entering the darkened bathroom from the hall side door, Bailey realized immediately one of the two other access doors was ajar. Candle light spilled in from Driscoll's room and flickered invitingly across the chilly, tiled floor. Bailey stepped into the bathroom and eased the door shut behind her. She heard low and steady moans drifting from Driscoll's room. An occasional grunt broke the rhythm. Her curiosity got the better of her judgment and Bailey peered into Driscoll's room through the crack in the door.
"Say it again," purred Driscoll as she viciously jerked the leash in her hand, resulting in another grunt.
Bailey was stunned to see Driscoll standing over a red headed woman on her knees before her. From Driscoll's hand, a chain leash trailed down between the two bodies. Bailey guessed it connected to a collar around the red head's throat. The red headed woman's hands were bound behind her back with shiny silver handcuffs and her face was held firmly against Driscoll's furry center with Driscoll's left hand. Bailey felt herself get a little weak kneed at the erotic sight. Driscoll stood triumphantly naked as she rode the face between her thighs. The obliging red head wore slightly more clothing. A leather bra, panties, and black, high heels graced the lusciously full form of her body.
"Say it again, my sweet, helplessly weak bitch," Driscoll pulled the leash harder.
"May I, may I," the deep voice echoed in Bailey's ears. "May I please, eat you, Ma'am."
Such a familiar voice coming from such an odd place. Now that Bailey was looking beyond the salacious details she could see the truth. The red head's pale skin was powdery makeup. The red hair was a wig. The full female body was a thin male with strategic padding.
"Ashton," Bailey breathed.
The couple paused for a moment. It was as if they questioned their own ears. Bailey realized they heard her and made a hastily escape. She was able to suppress her laughter until she was half way down the back stairs.
"The woman hater is a submissive cross dresser and the racist is a color blind dominatrix," Bailey giggled to herself as she bounded down the last few steps.
"You're never gonna believe what I saw," Bailey spoke in a stage whisper as she skidded into the kitchen.
Taylor was at the stove. Her stone like features gave Bailey more than a hint the woman's demeanor had not soften overnight.
"Never mind," Bailey's mood completely deflated with one hard look from the intern.
"Can you read?" Taylor's question came out in a bark.
A small question which carried enormous pain. Bailey squared her shoulders but did not answer. Instead, she went to the cupboard to gather the plates for breakfast.
"I'd like to know," Taylor's voice cracked a little this time. "I know, I have no right to ask but can you read?"
"I can read enough," Bailey defended herself without turning to face her accuser.
"I can read the stupid chore list and fill out forms and…,"
"How 'bout a book? Can you read a book?" Taylor scraped the scrambled eggs from the pan onto a serving plate.
"No," Bailey sighed and set the stack of plates on the table before slouching in a chair. "I'm too stupid. It don't make no sense at all to me. Sometimes, I think reading is just a scam. Something that smart people say they can do just to keep dumb people out of their way."
"I understand why you might think that, Bailey. But, reading is not a scam. It is a tremendous gift. Reading is freedom. And, not being able to read is going to make the rest of your life one long struggle against poverty," Taylor set the eggs on the table and sat down next to Bailey.
"No kidding," Bailey rolled her eyes. "Now tell me something I don't know."
"I can teach you how to read."
"Right," Bailey glared at Taylor, "so, I'll be your do-gooder summer project for college? What will you call it? The summer I helped a dope or Me and the Moron? Oh, I know, Parole and Prose?"
"Stop," Taylor shook her head at the venomous outpouring. "Forget I asked anything at all. Like I said to start with, it's none of my business. Let's just get set up breakfast."
Taylor stood and left Bailey alone at the table with a stack of empty plates.
* * *
Taylor went for a walk after clearing the breakfast dishes. Madame announced a free morning for the writers and staff alike. There were no chores or tasks scheduled until lunch time. Taylor ended her walk near the barn. She decided a little exploring was in order.
Even though there were no animals, fresh hay was strewn about. Taylor imagined it was to help set some sort of scene for the writers during the retreat. She climbed up to the hay loft and was pleasantly surprised. The hay was fresh and the sun had warmed the space to an inviting temperature. Taylor found herself drawn to stretch out full length in the sweet, soft hay.
She tried to push away all thoughts of Bailey as her body settled in the hay. The younger woman, with such few social skills and limited educational resources, was a constant plague on Taylor. She wanted to help Bailey but the younger woman consistently rejected her efforts. The only thing they had in common was screwing around in bed. That thought gave Taylor a big grin as she drifted off to sleep.
She was dozing lightly when the slam of the door woke her. Hushed voices made their way across the lower barn to the back wall. There was an urgency about the unintelligible words. Taylor was cautious as she peered over the edge of the loft to see who else had sought refuge in the barn. She recognized the odd pair immediately.
"Drop your pants," Redman demanded.
Eliyahu did as he was told.
"Drop your draws," Redman continued.
Eliyahu did as he was told.
"Bend over the hay stack," Redman unzipped his fly
Eliyahu quickly turned and bent over.
Redman moved closer to the exposed bottom. He grabbed the pasty pale, sagging ass cheeks with both hands. Taylor eased back from the edge of the loft. Her mind raced with the scene below. She was having difficulty making sense of it. Both writers were behaving completely outside their characters. If this were a fictional account then the plot would be totally unbelievable to Taylor's reckoning.
Redman was the classic tough guy. Safaris, big game hunts, jumping off of bridges while secured with a narrow bungee cord; were all claims to fame of the legend. He was also a well known as a ladies' man. His history with women read like the Hollywood society column. Age, color, marital status made no difference to the writer rogue. Fortunately for him, everyone of Redman's conquests claimed he was the most considerate of lovers. A profound statement when one considers the players involved. Redman's skills in the sack were being compared again hundreds of men and women.
Eliyahu, on the other hand, was the folksy writer of children's stories. He shared his life with a middle fifties years old lady friend. They shared a house and life but there were rumors the two did not share a bedroom. Eliyahu embraced the concept of the individual first. He espoused the concept of each being as a unique and special entity entitled to equal power with all other beings. He challenged children and adults to seek total balance in all aspects of their lives.
Taylor didn't get it. The liaison below did not match up with the established histories of the men involved. Watching Eliyahu bow silently to the sexual demands of Redman just didn't fit into everything she previously understood to be true of the men. However, the squeals of pleasure rising from the lower barn indicated to Taylor that she was definitely missing something important. Taylor crept back to the edge of the loft to watch and learn more than she needed to know about the pair.
Taylor stood under the sputtering shower head. She shivered violently against the frigid temperatures assaulting her overheated flesh with every forth or sixth hit. She, however, did not move herself away from the tiny cold jets spraying her body. She stood still to endure the water's purification properties for as long as humanly possible. Her clothing, soaked to the fiber, clung to her chilled and pasty colored skin. The silhouette it created revealed her body in a way she had never publicly allowed before. However, at that moment, she could not have cared less about concealing her attributes from hungry eyes.
"Are you okay?" the question was asked from a million thoughts away from Taylor's present state of mind.
"You must be cold," the voice tried to be light but concern colored the tone.
"Frozen, really. Frozen solid! But still, I can see it…, I can still see them. They're stuck here in my head," Taylor whispered without opening her eyes or stepping back from the icy torment. "I just can't manage to block that memory out. Can't seem to forget it."
"Taylor, come out from under there. You'll catch pneumonia if you stay wet and cold too long. Come on, let's get you warmed up," Bailey finally betrayed her fears for Taylor's well being and stepped closer to the shower with arms spread wide.
"He just stuffed him, you know?" Taylor's eyes opened under the blinding splatter of the water jets. "Right up that guy's ass! No permission or by your leave, I might add. All the while, I sat there in the hay and watched like it was the super duper championship of sex or whatever. The worst part is, I enjoyed watching them."
"What?" Bailey was totally confused but her embrace remained an open invitation.
"I saw them, damn me! I saw Redman burrow like a rabbit into Eliyahu's butt. All the while, Eliyahu squealed like a greased pig in heat at some county fair or something."
"Taylor, for God's sake, what are you talking about?" Bailey pulled Taylor for the shower and they both tumbled down to the dusty dirty.
"Bailey, I watched that guy get sodomized," Taylor blushed and turned her head away from Bailey "and I enjoyed watching it as much, if not more than the two of them enjoyed themselves."
Bailey was quiet for a moment as the confession made itself clearly understood in her mind. The words echoed and twisted as they took shape. Her interpretation of the information created a singular voice screaming the truth at her:
"Taylor watched other people!"
"Taylor watched other people have great sex!"
"Taylor watched other people have great sex and she orgasmed."
"Taylor watched other people have great sex and she orgasmed."
"But, you weren't with her."
Bailey moved away from the shivering woman before speaking, "Taylor, that's kinda…, well it's pretty sick is what it is."
"Yah, I know," Taylor, still in need of cleansing, stood back up to return to the shower.
Bailey grabbed Taylor's hand forcing her to stop. She pulled the distraught woman back down to sit beside her. Bailey continued to hold Taylor's trembling fingers as she thought about what to say.
"You know what? It don't make no sense to me," she finally spoke. "Redman acts like such a big, tough guy. I wouldn't have thought about him bein' gay."
"Ya," Taylor nodded in agreement, "especially with Eliyahu. A guy looking like Redman should be with Ashton."
"Listen to you, the critic," Bailey laughed. "Well you're wrong about Ashton 'cause he's with Driscoll."
"Never would have guessed that one," Taylor turned to Bailey in surprise.
"You also probably never would've guessed that Ashton likes to dress up like a little white slave girl and Driscoll plays a…dom…oh damn, what do ya call it?" Bailey drummed her fingers against her head trying to remember the right word.
"Right, that's it. Dominatrix!" Bailey snorted, "Now that was something to see."
Taylor hung her head, "What's happening to us? None of this makes any sense. You and me watching people screwing around. Strangers having kinky sex. And they're doin' it with people they would NEVER have regular sex with. Then there's me. I can't believe I'm saying this, I slept with a woman."
Bailey let go of Taylor's hand.
"What are you saying?" Bailey stammered. "Are you trying to tell me I was your first time? How long have you known you're a lesbian?"
"I'm not a lesbian."
"Well, you've been doing a great imitation of one," Bailey grabbed Taylor by the shirt front to shake some sense into her.
"Hold it, hold it, wait," Taylor took both of Bailey's hands and kissed them. "I wasn't trying to be insulting. I just didn't want to lie to you. Before you, I never thought about loving a woman. It never once crossed my mind until I saw you."
"And now?" Bailey relaxed a bit and let her hands caress the cool, wet skin beneath them.
"I can only think about loving you. Bailey, I'm madly in love with you," Taylor confessed.
Bailey shuddered at the word. Her childhood had been a testament to the sick cruelties people hid behind those four letters. She fought her deepest instinct to run as far away from proclamations of 'love' as she could get. Instead, she held her ground when Taylor leaned forward to kiss her. Bailey realized she lost her last chance to get away when her body began to react to Taylor's gentle touch.
"Oh man," Bailey sighed after the kiss, "I'm so totally, hopelessly, completely fucked!"
"Not yet but I'll take care of that very soon," Taylor grinned, her shame over her voyeurism momentarily forgotten.
* * *
The raised voices from the study echoed down the full length of the hallway. Madame smiled broadly as she casually sauntered toward them. There was an unusually light spring in her heavy step. A sense of satisfaction bloomed in her chest with the growing anger evident with each word spoken behind the heavy wooden doors.
"You only hate me because I say what I think," Giuseppe shouted in complete frustration.
Ashton snorted a laugh before replying, "No, I hate you because you really think what you say."
"You fancy pants little son of a…," Giuseppe was about to launch himself at the smug Ashton when the door to study slammed open.
"Mon Dieu! What is the ruckus? Are you having trouble with something? Is somebody bothering you? Come and tell your Mama."
Giuseppe immediately shifted his attention to Madame. He raced to her and threw himself at her feet sobbing.
"Now that is a sight we've seen far too much of lately," Puanani complained. "Get up, man. For God's sake, Madame is a suppose to be a resource for all of us. She's not your personal wet nurse."
Madame sniffed with an air of annoyance, "Don't call me a resource, it makes one feel like a library. Now tell me, what's going on here. Tears and loud voices do not make for a pleasant writing environment."
"They've been fighting again. Always some foolish thing or other," Driscoll supplied while rubbing her aching head.
"Yes, this time it was extremely entertaining," Puanani continued. "They were arguing about whether you're watching television or a movie if the movie is on television."
"MOVIE!" Giuseppe shouted from his spot on the floor.
"Television," Ashton smirked back.
"Just another glass of water on the deck of the Titanic," Driscoll sighed in disgust.
"That's a good one, my dear. Wherever did you get that?" Ashton chuckled.
"A book, maybe," Driscoll frowned. "You know, I use to remember all sorts of minutia like that. Lately, I can't seem to focus enough to recall the words."
"When we go back home, maybe we should schedule a doctor's appointment for you?"
"We?" Driscoll mouthed behind Ashton's back.
"Where are the others?" Madame scanned the room for the missing members of the group. "ASSISTANCE!" Panic was clearly evident in her shrill voice.
Instantly, Igor was at the door behind her, "Madame, how can I be of service?"
"Those lazy girls, Redman, and Eliyahu are missing. Get their sorry asses back in this house immediately," Madame hissed before pushing Giuseppe away from her with the toe of her shoe. "The rest of you are to do your work. Twenty pages, any topic. Do it!"
* * *
Taylor made her smoothest move to date. While in a particularly deep, probing kiss, she managed to get one hand up Bailey's back and unhook her bra. Sure it was something every high school boy knew how to do but Taylor was trying to learn techniques on the run, so to speak.
"Basquiat?" Bailey broke the kiss to question.
"Huh?" Taylor's reply was less smooth than her previous move.
"You said, my painting was like Basquiat, remember?" Bailey sat up and re-hooked her bra, "Tell me about him, her, whatever it is. What has Basquiat got to do with me?"
"Now? I mean we were doin' something already," Taylor's whine was ignored. "Okay, so he's a painter. Well, was a painter. Lived in a box in Central Park. Hung around with Warhol and Madonna. OD'd on heroin, I think. Not sure about that. Too soon to tell if his work will last. Somebody made a movie about him. It's on cable all the time." Taylor winked, "Now, can we get back to what we were doing."
"No, not yet. Think about this. I never painted before I got here. You didn't sleep with women."
"Lust after," Taylor corrected and tried to plant a kiss on Bailey's cheek but was pushed back.
"Down girl. Okay, Redman was a big ladies man now he's nailing Eliyahu…,"
"A guy who didn't sleep with anybody, or so the rumor goes," Taylor interrupted.
"Right. And Ashton hated women, especially white women but now he's a transvestite slave to McGee…,"
"…a neo-Nazi," Taylor whispered the ending. "Puanani's sensitive poet cover has been blown away."
"Still a poet but a two fisted drinker. The angry kind of poet." Bailey squinted a look at Sagamore Place, "It's haunted, Taylor. Or possessed or something. It's trying to change us."
A shout from the back door drew their attention. Igor was awkwardly running toward them. His fist shaking as he cursed.
"Now, why couldn't it just change Igor?" Taylor wrapped her arm around Bailey waiting to see what trouble Igor would bring them
"You lazy shits! You get to work right now. Madame is so pissed off, it ain't even one bit funny!" Igor's words echoed across the yard.
Bailey turned Taylor's face away from the raving man. She cupped both cheeks in her hands and kissed Taylor. It was hesitant at first. A sweet and slow meeting of lips to start off. Then her tongue found its way passed Taylor's bluing flesh to warm her skin and steal her breath.
"Wow," was all Taylor could manage to utter when Bailey reluctantly withdrew.
"Did you hear me? You listening or what?" Igor towered over them waving his hands to emphasize the words.
"It would be somewhere between 'listening' and 'or what,' Igor," Bailey replied without breaking eye contact with Taylor.
"Are you teasing me? You no account convict trash, I'll show you how to act with descent people," Igor screamed.
He grabbed Bailey by the front of the shirt and pulled her away from Taylor. With a balled fist, he smashed her in the mouth. Taylor sat stunned for the moment. She heard the solid hit of fist to flesh and almost felt the vibration through the brief contact of Bailey's leg against her shoulder.
"That's it," Taylor growled.
As she rose to her feet, Bailey passed her on the way back down. Taylor tackled Igor. She used his height against him by landing hard on his knees. The two tumbled to the ground.
"Don't you ever touch her again," Taylor bit him on the shin.
Taylor released her hold when Igor kicked her hard in the back with his free leg. She wiped the blood from her mouth as Igor clutched his wounded limb and howled in pain.
"Next time, just ask us nice!" She punctuated the sentence with a kick of dirt in the man's direction.
Bailey touched her arm and drew her attention back to what really mattered. There was a large purple bruise forming on Bailey's lower jaw. Blood was pooling in the woman's mouth and drooling out the sides.
"Ice," Bailey was barely able to mutter the request around her bleeding and swelling lips.
"Come on," Taylor wrapped her arm around Bailey's shoulders and escorted her safely back to Sagamore Place.
* * *
Madame stormed into the kitchen with the full fury of her girth creating a slight breeze in her wake. She struck an intimidating figure in spite of the elegant, floor length ball gown she wore. However, the occupants of the kitchen were unimpressed with her display. Taylor sat on the table cradling Bailey in her lap and holding an ice filled cloth to the woman's injured mouth. Several previously discarded rags were carelessly tossed on the floor at their feet.
"What…," Madame's tirade was brought to an abrupt halt by Taylor's stone cold voice.
"You should shut up! You're lucky the two of us aren't walking to town to get the cops. Do you realize that freak of a zombie doorman punched Bailey in the mouth?"
"Garce," Madame was smug.
"Well go ahead and yuk it up, lady," Taylor sneered. "Laugh while you still can. You see my good friend, Bailey, is currently the property of the state. DOC sent her here for an opportunity to train at life skills and not to be a punching bag. They take a very dim view of folks who abuse their prisoners. Especially, prisoners as young and pretty as Bailey. Makes for bad press among the voters. Did you know, last year alone, DOC sent fifty work release supervisors to jail for abuse?"
Madame swallowed and sweat started to creep down her forehead, "I never touched the girl."
"Igor did. And, everybody here knows Igor only does what you tell him to do."
"Okay, enough with the games," Madame put her hands on her hips, dropped the French accent, and was ready to make a deal. "What do you two want?"
"It's a wash, I should think. You forget Bailey's previous violent encounters during her stay here and we let this slide," Taylor suggested with a shug.
"My tooth," Bailey gargled from behind the cloth.
"Oh, right! Igor broke her back tooth. You should pay for it to be fixed then add a little something for pain and suffering, untold humiliation…,"
"Spill it!" Madame snapped. "How much?"
"F…five…," Taylor started.
"Six," Bailey added.
"Yep, that's right. Six grand will do the trick."
"Fine. Any chance either of you will be cleaning rooms today or is manual labor too abusive to ask of you?" Madame snorted.
"We'll start in Giuseppe's room," Taylor gave a big smile, "right after Bailey finishes up with the ice pack."
"Twenty on and twenty off," Bailey's voice was muffled behind the ice filled cloth.
"Fine," Madame swept from the kitchen and managed to keep her giggle to herself until she was on the stairs leading to her room.
* * *
"DOC sent work release supervisors to jail?" Bailey asked as she polished the desk near the gun rack.
"I don't know," Taylor was gathering the dirty laundry. "I made it up. Call it creative talking."
"Mom use to call it lying."
"True, but your Mom also let you go to prison for something your stepfather did," Taylor grunted while bundling the linens. "We shouldn't use her as the yardstick of all things moral."
Needing to keep their conversation going Bailey asked, "Did you see that one of the guns is missing?"
Taylor stopped her work. She took a moment to survey the gun rack. Sure enough, one of the double barrel guns was gone.
"Looks like Giuseppe decided to do a bit of hunting after all," Taylor dropped to one knee to look for any escaping socks under the bed.
"Probably," Bailey moved the manuscript entitled HUNTED from one side of the desk to the other in order to finish polishing the surface. "Guess that's what he's working on at the moment."
"Uh, huh," Taylor was reaching under the bed and couldn't hear Bailey too well.
"Hey Taylor, do you really think," Bailey's voice softened with each word even though she was being braver than at any other moment in her life, "you know, that I'm, you know, what you said?"
"What I said?" Taylor was scanning the floor for any other stray laundry, "What did I say?"
"You know, when you said, uhm, when you told Madame, that, well, I'm…pretty."
Taylor stopped working. Her heart ached with the question asked. Bailey really didn't know the truth about herself.
"No, I don't think you're pretty," Taylor confessed.
Bailey kept her back to Taylor. Disappointment was evident in the way her head dipped forward and shoulders slumped.
"I think you're the most beautiful woman I've ever met. And, I can't believe that you even gave me a second look," Taylor crossed the room and wrapped her arms around Bailey.
"Liar," Bailey sniffed and wiped away several tears.
"Never about that. Bailey, you are lovely," Taylor breathed in the woman's ear and felt a tremble run through the blond.
Bailey settled back against Taylor's chest as Taylor untucked her shirt. Warm fingers worked their way up to Bailey's breasts. Bailey reveled in the strength of Taylor's caresses against her sensitive nipples.
Taylor whispered, "I want you, right now."
Bailey felt Taylor's left hand snake its way back down to her belly button. Gentle finger tips explored the soft skin long enough to raise goose bumps.
The voice in her ear grew deeper, more urgent, "Gonna get that pierced when you get out."
"You think so, huh," Bailey shivered in anticipation as Taylor's fingers traveled under the waist band of her jeans.
Taylor chuckled when she felt how ready Bailey was for her, "Oh ya, I'm gonna get you pierced. Everybody will know you're mine." Bailey gasped as much at Taylor's words as from her touch, "My bottom bitch, you're mine."
Bailey lost all focus. Her only thought was of the fingers tormenting her with their wickedly slow pace. Her body moved on its own trying to rush Taylor's hand.
"Ya gotta take me first. Can't own me without taking me," Bailey muttered.
"As long as you understand, you're mine now," Taylor lifted Bailey off her feet with the force of the thrust. "Say it, say it when you come."
"Yours," Bailey gasped at her release, "your bitch, your bottom bitch."
The two stood shaking in the aftermath of their climax. Their bodies supporting each other as their senses reeled in pleasure. They were alone with each other in a perfect universe of their own creation.
"Good girls," spoke the voice from the doorway. The fake French accent shattered their moment of perfection.
"SHIT!" Was the only response the pair could verbalize.
Somewhere, beyond the walls of Sagamore Place, a shotgun fired.
It was getting too dark to continue the search. The occupants of Sagamore Place were straggling back to meet up at the front steps as planned. Madame was already sitting in a large wooden rocker on the porch sipping ice tea. If she was worried, she hid it well.
"Hola," she called to the weary search party.
"Do you think you could've gotten off that fat ass of yours and helped us?" Ashton snarled.
"Somebody had to remain here in case he returned," she gave a smug smile as the group gathered. "It's a good thing I did because that's exactly what happened. Giuseppe came back more than an hour ago and he was in need of medical attention."
"Why didn't you call us?" Driscoll asked as she sat down with a thud and a groan on the bottom step.
"Oh, poor chere! You are so exhausted. I rang the bell to call you all in but nobody heard it, I guess," Madame sipped her tea with a smile.
"No way," Bailey whispered to Taylor. "I would've heard that damn bell in the next state. She told me if she ever rang it and I didn't come runnin' she'd turn me in for trying to escape."
Taylor nodded in agreement. The big cow bell's ding a ling echoed for miles around the lake. She was certain Madame was lying but not sure why the woman needed to lie.
"How hurt was the runt?" Redman asked before mopping the sweat from his brow with his shirt sleeve.
"Luckily, only a small bump on the head. He was shooting at a dear and the shotgun's kick knocked him over. I had my servant bring Giuseppe into town for treatment. He'll go straight home from there. So sad, he won't be able to finish my program. No masterpiece from him, I'm afraid," Madame shook her head and tisked.
"How did they go to town? What did your servant do, carry him?" Puanani shouted in frustration at the wasted time.
"Oh, I have a vehicle stored on the property. None of you were to know about it. I didn't want any of you tempted to leave me early. But, Giuseppe's health is worth revealing the secret." Madame stood and sighed, "I just wish he had written a little bit of something before he got himself hurt. Too bad for him to waste the chance of a lifetime."
Madame turned her back on the group and went inside the dilapidated house. Slowly, the tired writers followed her. They were silent as they filed inside Sagamore Place.
"Taylor, she's lying," Bailey took Taylor's hand and pulled her toward the shed. "Giuseppe finished the manuscript he left on his desk."
"Are you sure?" Taylor didn't want to question Bailey but she knew the woman's reading skills were limited.
"I can understand 'THE END' on the last page of book, Taylor," Bailey sounded annoyed.
Bailey shrugged, "I'm sorry too. The end was just about the only thing I could read. I couldn't even understand the title."
"Bailey, when the summer is over, when you get released, I would really like to teach you to read," Taylor blushed slightly as she spoke.
Bailey stopped walking and put her hands on her hips, "I thought you were gonna get me pierced?"
Taylor turned to find Bailey with a sly grin, licking her lips, "Oh, I'm gonna do that too. You got no choice about a belly button ring. From me to you, with love."
The two women met half way and wrapped their arms around each other. It was such a grueling day they should have been completely exhausted. Instead, they could feel their strength growing with their passion. Bailey made the first move. Her hand slipped into Taylor's back pocket and began to kneed the cheek.
"Wanna go to my place?" Taylor breathed in Bailey's ear before nibbling the lobe.
"No time for that. I need you now. Let's go to the shed," Bailey murmured.
The pair stumbled the last few feet toward the shed. They never broke contact as they made their way along the overgrown path. When Bailey tried to push the door open, it wouldn't budge. The rusted padlock secured the door. Bailey bumped it with her shoulder again and only got the padlock to bang against the latch.
"Damn it!" She hissed. "Get a rock or something so we can break the lock."
"Wait," Taylor yanked Bailey behind her, away from the shed. "Look at that puddle."
Bailey saw the large, dark puddle on the ground next to the shed. She had stepped into it as she and Taylor groped their way along the path. Bailey was willing to ignore the soggy sneakers in her efforts to get laid. But, she was quick to realize it was more than dirty footwear that caused all the color to drain from Taylor's face. Bailey followed Taylor's line of site to her own feet. Even in the half light, she could see the white shoes had gone all red.
"Blood, it's blood. A whole lot of friggin' blood," Taylor almost gagged on the words.
"Shit, Taylor, what's going on here?" Bailey could feel her heart racing. "What should we do?"
"Well, screwing now would be tasteless," the thought ran through Taylor's head faster than she could stop it. "We should, we, we need to get help. That's the right thing to do. Let's get some help."
"Wait, wait," Bailey was breathing heavily, "who are we gonna get. With all that blood out here, I'm guessing Giuseppe's inside and dead. With a padlock on the door, then somebody else must have killed him. And, the somebody else would be one of the people in the house right now. If you go running in there for help, the killer might go after you."
"I'm sure it was Igor and Madame who killed him," Taylor started to lead the way to the house. "They didn't go out searching with us. Madame made up a lame story to explain Giuseppe's disappearance. We both know she lied about the manuscript. It definitely was them. Has to be them. I'm sure of it. So, we stay away from her and Igor and get one or two of the others to help. End of story."
"End of freedom, too," Bailey spoke softly.
"What are you talking about? Nobody will think you're involved. Besides, you've been with me the whole time," Taylor was annoyed with Bailey's obviously illogical conclusion.
"No, I mean when the police start the investigation the retreat will be shut down, cancelled. My work release will be over. I'll have to go back to prison for the last couple of months of my sentence."
Taylor stopped in her tracks. She hadn't thought that far ahead yet. Bailey was right. The cops would have to send her back to jail. Taylor felt her anger rise at the position she was being forced into.
"We can't keep this a secret for the next two months, Bailey. Regardless of how I feel about you, I'm not willing to risk my future so you get to finish up your sentence here instead of where you belong," Taylor would not face Bailey as she spoke.
"I wasn't asking you to do anything to help me. I know you better than to think you'd put yourself on the line for me," Bailey's voice trembled with her reply.
"Really? What's that suppose to mean?" Taylor turned on Bailey with a snarl.
"You're like every other 'do gooder' I've ever met. You say all the right things but there's nothing behind it. No actions, no risk, just a load of talk. Blah, blah, blah, bullshit!" Bailey vented before storming away from Taylor and off toward the lake.
"Well," Taylor was almost speechless, "fuck you too!"
* * *
"What a ghastly story? I can't believe you would tell me such a vile tale. You should be ashamed of yourself, young woman," Driscoll fanned herself with several sheets of blank typing paper.
Taylor went to the Jackson Room hoping to find Driscoll and Ashton together. Instead, she found Driscoll sleeping on the settee. Deciding telling somebody was better than telling nobody, Taylor recounted the situation surrounding the shed. Driscoll was clearly upset by the details but her disbelief stunned Taylor.
"Get out of my room at once. I'll hear no more of your crazy talk," Driscoll seemed a bit wild eyed.
"Look, we need to find the others and get in touch with the police somehow," Taylor drummed her fingers on a book sitting on the coffee table in front of her. "Where's Ashton?"
"Ashton Alexander. You know, the guy you've been hanging all over since the retreat started," Taylor glanced at the title of the book on the table, A SEVERED HEAD.
"I don't know what you're talking about. I'm a married woman. Now, what is it that you want? As you can see, I'm in the middle of a writing exercise," Driscoll waved the blank pages in front of Taylor.
"Oh no," Taylor's heart sank as she connected the room's author to the current occupant. "Driscoll, have you ever read Iris Murdoch's work or heard about her?"
"Of course, she's very popular and a lovely woman."
Taylor felt tears forming, "Driscoll, Iris Murdoch died in 1999. She had Alzheimer's."
"Don't be ridiculous, I saw her the other day. She's working on a new piece," Driscoll bit her lip as she tried to remember. "The title escapes me at the moment but it'll come to me."
"I should be getting back to work," Taylor stood as she spoke in a hushed voice. "Can I get you anything?"
"No dear, I'm fine," Driscoll smiled broadly. "But, if you see that strapping big, black man around, tell him I'm lonely."
Taylor nodded as walked out of the room. Tears trickled down her cheeks but she waited until she closed the door behind her before she dried them.
"Pathetic, isn't she?" Ashton was leaning against the door jam to his own, adjacent room. "Still, she's a great screw even if she's getting to be brainless! You know, the best part of the whole deal is, she can't remember enough to talk about our liaisons."
Taylor glared as the man laughed, "Don't you think we should get her to a doctor or a hospital. The earlier the diagnosis, the faster the treatment can start."
Ashton let out a full belly laugh, "Treatment? Fat load of good that'll do her. She'll still wind up in a home; a demented old moron sitting in her own filth waiting for some minimum wage teenager to come clean her bottom. Let the woman have a bit of fun before she's too lost in her own mind to enjoy life. And, leave what's in the shed alone. None of us want that kind of press, or need the police snooping around our lives, or to lose an opportunity to learn from Madame."
"You can't be serious? There's a man hurt or dead out there and you want me to ignore him," Taylor stepped closer to Ashton as she ground out the words.
"Ignore it until I finish my manuscript," Ashton directed. "I've got two chapters, maybe three to go. Keep your mouth shut until I'm done or I'll make sure your little girlfriend ends up worse off than old Giuseppe. And, trust me, Giuseppe is very dead."
"Are you trying to threaten me?" Taylor couldn't believe what she was hearing.
"No, I'm promising you that if you run your mouth, your prison bitch will be on the menu for every horny, black lesbian on her cell block. And I'll make sure they'll hurt her, badly. They'll mess her up so much you'll wish she was never born."
Ashton grinned when he finished. He gave Taylor a small slap on the cheek with a wink. He turned and went back into his room. The door slam accentuated the power behind his words.
Taylor trudged back to her room under the stairs. Her head was pounding. She was having trouble breathing. The burden of the day's events weighed heavily on her but the threat against Bailey was smothering. Taylor thought she might pass out if she didn't lay down soon.
"Are you okay?" Bailey was sitting on the floor in the far corner of the room. "You don't look so good."
"What are you doing here?" Taylor asked even though she was relieved to see Bailey safe.
"I've got nowhere else to go. Do you mind?" Bailey didn't know what she'd do if Taylor put her out.
"Come here," Taylor opened her arms wide and Bailey hurried into the embrace.
Taylor couldn't stop the tears.
"What's wrong, Taylor? Didn't you find somebody to help us?" Bailey cuddled closer in an effort to comfort her lover.
"Please, just lay down with me. My head is killing me. Please, I'm so afraid, please. Hold me, don't let me go," Taylor sobbed harder than she'd ever cried in her life.
"Never, I'll never let you go, I love you," Bailey promised before guiding Taylor to the narrow cot.
Bailey rolled over and allowed herself a luxurious stretch. It took her a few seconds more to clear the sleep from her head. She felt pleasantly fuzzy. Images from the previous evening flickered in her waking mind. Bailey smiled broadly at the memory of Taylor's hands, lips on her body. Then she realized she was alone in Taylor's bed. Bailey didn't need to look far for her lover. Taylor was sitting inches from the bed with her chair propped against the door, writing furiously.
"What're you working on?" Bailey asked in a half yawn.
Taylor looked up, then down, and then back up, "I'm trying to figure it out."
"Figure out what?" Bailey curled on her side and tugged the blanket snuggly around her naked body.
"Sagamore Place," Taylor relaxed a little and smiled. "Good morning to you too."
"Oh yeah, good morning," Bailey yawned again. "I forgot my manners. You must've worked me too hard last night. I'm exhausted," she paused briefly, "and sore."
Taylor blushed all the way up to the tips of her ears.
"So, what are you trying to figure out about Sagamore Place?" Bailey asked.
"All the rooms are named and decorated in honor of dead writers," Taylor explained as she drummed her pencil against the paper in her lap. "The six guest rooms are; Holland, Jackson, Algonquin, Whitman, Macomber, and Room 18. Giuseppe's room was the Macomber Room which memorialized Hemingway. Giuseppe morphed into a hunter, fighter wanna be. A shadowy reflection of Hemingway's public persona. Hemingway lived life hard and fast and committed suicide with a shot gun."
"Giuseppe was killed with a shot gun," Bailey sat up as the connection hit her for the first time.
"That's right. Now, Driscoll's room, Jackson, is themed for Iris Murdoch. A free spirited sort who died of Alzheimer's. After sitting and talking with Driscoll today, I'm certain she has the same disease," Taylor wiped away a stray tear, "very sad. Ashton is in Dorothy Parker's room. He's completely adopted the sneering, self absorbed, selfish character that made Parker admired and despised."
"He wasn't much different from that when he got here," Bailey reminded Taylor.
"Point taken. Redman is in the Ginsberg's room which totally explains his behavior in the barn with Eliyahu."
"Eliyahu is the Oscar's place," Bailey remembered something from Taylor's earlier explanations.
"Right, Oscar Wilde," Taylor put pencil to paper and scribbled. "And, Puanani is in the Dylan Thomas' Room 18."
"What does it mean?" Bailey asked as she got out of bed to find her clothes.
"One writer dead, one writer dying, and four writers to go," Taylor sighed as she watched Bailey's firm ass get covered up by her jeans. "So I think, we need to worry about Puanani the most because Dylan Thomas drank himself to death."
"What about the others?" Bailey spoke around a mouth full of cloth as she pulled on her shirt.
"Let's see, Wilde fell into disgrace and died broke and Ginsberg killed himself."
"What about Madame?" Bailey sat back on the bed to face Taylor. "Do you think her room has a name too?"
Taylor had not thought about it. She struggled for a minute trying to formulate a response.
"Does it matter?" she finally asked.
"It could," Bailey replied. "How's this sound? You get breakfast and I'll sneak into Madame's room when she leaves to go eat. I'll bring back anything that might give you a clue to the room's writer."
"Maybe I should sneak into Madame's room," Taylor thought she might have a better chance of gathering the right clues.
"If I get caught then it'll just be a couple of more months in jail. But, if you get caught, you could lose everything you worked for, Taylor." Bailey gave a sad smile, "You wouldn't want to risk something like that, would you?"
* * *
Breakfast was almost over before Madame noticed the difference in servers, "Where's my little convict?"
"Bailey started the room cleaning, Madame," Taylor answered as she tried to keep her hand from shaking while she poured the Irish Coffee.
"Oh," was Madame's only comment.
Taylor hurried back into the kitchen. She leaned against the sink taking in deep breaths in an effort to calm her nerves. If she did not settle herself down, she was certain she'd make herself sick.
"Taylor, you alright?" Bailey's voice sounded clipped.
"Sure, how'd you do?" Taylor's question was cut short when she turned and found Bailey behind her holding a blood soaked rag around her hand. "What happened?"
Taylor guided Bailey to the sink. Gently, Taylor unwrapped the wounded hand and set it under a light trickle of water in order to wash away the excess blood.
"I thought it was a pen," Bailey flinched as the water made contact with the open wounds. "I was trying to copy the room's name. No scrap paper. Used my hand. Didn't hurt at first."
Taylor's head was swimming. She really felt sick to her stomach now. The sight of blood and Bailey's admission she injured herself was too much to take in so early in the morning.
"I got to sit. You keep your hand under the water," Taylor stepped back and sat down heavily in a kitchen chair.
"No, Taylor you got to read it. Tell me what it means," Bailey pulled her arm out of the sink and stuck it under Taylor's nose.
Taylor saw the letter J before she looked away trying not to gag.
"Her room is dark and filled with horrible things." Bailey flopped into the chair next to Taylor, "Whips, chains, leather belts, and she's been watching us. All of us."
"What?" Taylor's eyes went wide: the pain in her belly easing with the rising of her anger.
Bailey nodded as she dabbed at the blood seeping back into the grooves in the cuts on her arm, "Monitors for every room. Video tapes everywhere. The smell was the worst. Like old women's underpants or something."
Taylor took Bailey's arm in her own hands and examined the letters cut into the skin, "Juliette."
"Like with Romeo?"
"No," Taylor frowned. "Shakespeare wasn't into to bondage. You said it didn't hurt when you cut yourself?"
Bailey looked away, totally embarrassed, "Taylor, it felt good. It made me feel like I do when I'm with you. Really with you."
"Marquis de Sade."
"What?" Bailey was confused by Taylor response.
"He was a writer with a thing for pain and suffering, other people's pain and suffering."
"Don't forget humiliation and degradation," Madame's voice did not surprise either Taylor or Bailey; the pair did not have very much good luck. "I, for one, find the voyeur aspect much more enriching."
Taylor stood. She kept her body between Bailey and Madame. Taylor had expected some sort of weapon to be leveled at them or Igor to be present in order to threaten them. However, it was just the fat old woman in her dressing gown and slippers.
"Now what?" Taylor asked. "What are you going to do to us?"
"Why, whatever do you mean?" Madame seemed taken back by the question. "I expect you finish your work here while the writers complete their retreat. What else would you expect?"
"But, Giuseppe's dead," Bailey stayed safely behind Taylor.
"Prove it. I guarantee you will not find one shred of evidence to that wild accusation," Madame swirled and gave a short curtsey, "because it's not true, of course. Besides, Giuseppe's agent sent a telegram just this morning saying he received Giuseppe's newest manuscript last evening. The agent says it's brilliant. Giuseppe has gone into seclusion until the publication. Very Hollywood of him, don't you think. Nobody will be able to reach Giuseppe until February of next year." Madame smirked, "The agent wired me $25,000 as a thank you."
"Perfect," Taylor mumbled with some grudging admiration. "If you're gonna be wicked you might as well be good at it."
Madame chuckled at the remark, "As for my living space, which was broken into not more than an hour ago, it will be as chaste as the Pope's and pure as rain by the time the police get here."
"You called the police?" Bailey paled.
"Of course not," Madame smiled when the pair gave a sigh of relief, "I sent my servant to town to fetch them."
"Oh God," Bailey whispered.
"Are the police going to find a suspect for the break in?" Taylor felt caught up in Madame's game.
"Who can tell with police? They might find nothing today then tomorrow they might find heroin out in the very clean shed. The shed my little convict has sole access to," Madame was solemn. "And, they just might find my missing diamond earrings in the room under the stairs."
"Tell me how to keep the cops from finding those things?" a visibly shaken Taylor pulled out a chair for Madame to sit.
"You stay for the rest of the internship and keep your mouth shut." Madame sat with a flourish before pointed at Bailey, hissing, "You're going back to jail tonight. I'm going to send you to town with the police so your parole officer can come get you. I'll tell them my clients complained, unfairly, about having a violent prisoner among them during the creative process. It shouldn't add any time to your sentence. Once summer is over you two can hook back up and tell anybody you want the ridiculous tale you concocted." Madame winked, "Joe and I will be onto a completely different scam and brand new identities by then."
Taylor drummed her fingers on the table. Long moments passed in silence. She realized Bailey was waiting for her to speak first. Taylor glanced at Bailey and looked away quickly. Her shame was too great.
"Bailey, I can't," Taylor heard Bailey sob over her words. "It's only a few more weeks. I'll come and find you in September. I can't get into trouble here. My scholarship could be withdrawn. And my parents…,"
Bailey let Taylor's words spin out unchallenged. She could argue with Taylor about right and wrong, good and bad but it would serve no purpose. Bailey knew her lover well enough to know who Taylor loved most.
"Do I have time to pack?" Bailey interrupted Taylor's litany of excuses to ask Madame directly.
Madame grinned like a wolf, "You take only what you got on your back, bitch!"
* * *
Bailey waited behind the white line. She wasn't going to do one thing the guard didn't direct her to do. It had been fourteen months inside the filthy walls of the state's only women's maximum security prison and Bailey was not about to do anything to delay her release.
It seemed Madame was not as good as her word. The police found heroin in the shed. Even though Bailey tested clean she took the plea agreement from the DA's office. It came down to either accepting possession for personal use or face trial for dealing. Bailey accepted the lesser charge and the sentence of an additional year.
Her first few days back were spent in solitary. It was the guards' way of exacting some small punishment for her failure at work release. They had hoped Bailey would be different than most of their charges. She pretended not to notice their disappointment in her.
Bailey passed her time alone imagining Taylor's frantic attempts to reach her. She could picture the woman arguing with the guards and camping out in front of the prison. Bailey could almost hear Taylor's passionate pleas to see her friend and lover. When Bailey was released to the general population, she found out the sad truth. Nobody had been looking for her. There were no visitors turned away at the prison gates, no letters, no cards, and no care packages. Nothing.
As months went by with no contact, Bailey started to repair her life. She made a connection with literacy volunteers in the prison library. For once, time was on her side as she tried to learn the basics of reading. There was little else to do in the television free prison. Shortly before her scheduled release, Bailey obtained her GED. It did nothing to mend her relationship with the prison guards but I did make her feel better about herself.
"Step forward," the guard behind the wire mesh spoke with a mouthful of tuna sandwich.
"Looks like you had no valuables?" The man's eyebrow raised as he anticipated an argument.
"That's right, sir," Bailey stared at her feet, "I got nothing to start over with."
"You're wrong about that. You get your release papers signed by the governor himself. Keep 'em with you at all times in case you get stopped by the cops. Their records might not be up to date. Might still list you as remanded to DOC. Show 'em these and they'll leave you be. Then you get $25 and a one way bus ticket to Boston," the man smiled when she looked up to take the items. "Stay away from trouble, girl. We don't want you back again, okay?"
"Yes, sir," Bailey nodded as she followed the other guard out into the daylight.
Bailey made her way to the bus stop in front of the prison. The schedule indicated a bus would be by in half an hour and then again four hours later. There would be nothing after that until the next morning. Bailey curled up on the bench to wait.
"Maybe Taylor is on the way. Maybe she's been waiting for me to get out," Bailey thought to herself as her eyes closed. "I'll give her some time to get here."
Sun rise the next morning found Bailey snoring on the bench under the bus stop sign.