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Chapter 1 -- No Warning to her Flight

"I hate this boat almost as much as I hate the damned water around it." Hands shaking, Andi struggled to gain her see-legs. She glanced out the porthole of her cabin. The Los Angeles skyline was what most people would have seen, the city spreading and smoggy, the sun just barely peeking over the mountains on the horizon. How many people had Andi heard babbling about the way the sun dances on the waves, gold ribbons sashaying across the water, warming, welcoming a new day? That was not what she saw. She knew the only two things outside the window: the one she craved and the one she loathed. “It’s like Midas is reaching down and touching the water. It looks magical, but it doesn’t fool me for a second. I know exactly what it is… a wolf in sheep’s clothing. There’s a lot of that going on around here.”

What she craved was freedom, the ultimate goal. She loathed what kept her prisoner, that great hurdle between the Brotherly Love and the shore. A shiver ran up her back, almost causing her to abandon her plan. “Remember the goal.” She forced herself to kneel on the bed to look out the window at indigo ink water. A large wave rocked the boat, almost knocking her to the floor. She pushed down on her legs for balance. It was the jolt she needed to remind her that this was Sunday; this was her only chance.

“Pay attention!” she reprimanded herself. “There’s no time for distractions or mistakes. I’ll get one shot at this, so I can’t blow it...” The thought slipped through her lips, barely above a whisper, but too dreadful to think, or let anyone hear. Her head spun at a sound from above. It was only the breeze playing with a curtain. The sound took on a voice, first mocking then screaming inside her head, walking her through the process: ‘Get your ass in gear’. She slipped off the double bed, held her arms out to for balance then dropped her short silk nightshirt to the floor.

The image in the mirror stared back at her. “Who are you? Look what you’ve become!” Her blonde hair fell in waves around her shoulders, reaching down to her tiny waist. The image reflected across the room made her cringe. Most would find nothing wrong with what they saw – muscles toned, skin supple and clear, complexion, naturally light, tanned a golden brown, accentuating the hair. Her dark blue eyes didn’t lie, didn’t deceive. They once sparkled back; now they seemed shallow, empty, unseeing. Those eyes watched her from every angle, hundreds of them as they reflected off the other mirrors scattered in the small bedroom. She held her hands over her stomach, trying to hold back the wave of nausea she felt.

“Look at that. Yeah, a real beauty. Beauty is as beauty does. Based on my actions, or lack thereof, I have nothing to be proud of. Beauty? It’s a curse. I have the cat by the ass, don’t I? I have closets full of the best clothes money can buy. I had the world at my fingertips, didn’t I? Whatever I wanted was right there, but I sold my soul to get it. It wasn’t worth it.” She ached to scream, tired of the same conversation. “I hate you! I hate everything about you. I hate what you’ve become, you cheap slut.” The voices raged inside her mind.

A tear rolled down her cheek then the boat rolled, reminding her of the mission. For once, maybe the boat would be her friend. She pointed at the mirror. “I’m not done with you, but it has to wait for now. I’ve got a hell of a mess to clean up. You’re part of that, and you know it, so be prepared. I’m coming for you next.”

She eased open a drawer. “Oh God, don’t let anyone hear me.” Her hands were shaking as she rooted through the clothes. She couldn’t help herself – she snuck one more peek at the mirror. Her shoulders and her bottom lip slumped at the sight.

“Oh, damn it, why did you do it? Why did you give up your career for this? Why did you sell yourself short, play the dumb blonde to keep him happy? I’m as much at fault for this clusterfuck as he is. If I am honest with myself, I know that, and I have to do something to fix it. I let it happen.” Choking back that emotional aggie in her throat, she pulled on some clothes, stood, and examined herself once again. “Why do I keep doing this? It never changes. No matter what I put on to cover who I am, it will never change.”

She shook her head. Resignation or disgust? She wasn’t sure – maybe both. “Okay, let’s get this show on the road.” She pulled open the drawer of the bedside table, jiggling it past it’s stops. Before removing it from the carcass, she looked over her shoulder, waited, listened for any movement in the hallway outside. She knew everyone was asleep, drunk, stoned, dead to the world. “Don’t be so fucking stupid.” The drawer slipped out. She flipped it over and tugged the key from the tape holding it next to the bottom of the drawer. “The key to the kingdom. I hope I know what the hell I’m doing. It has to work. It if doesn’t, God help me. God help all of us.” She kissed the key and slipped it into her front pocket.

“Oh God, this has to work. This is the only way. Don’t let me fuck this up like I do everything else. Okay, swallow. Remember the plan. This is work, so I have to focus.” A deep breath was accompanied by a shiver. She opened her eyes and reached for the knob.

“Slow and steady”. She held her breath, watching her feet as she braced one on each side of the once-lush red carpet that lined the hall. Her toes were curled inside her shoes. “For Christ sake, don’t stumble now.”

Stepping carefully, eyes constantly scanning, she worked her way down the hallway, assessing each door as she passed. I wish I could see through the doors to make sure everyone inside was asleep. Her eyes always returned to her main target – the large oak door at the end. A crystal light fixture tinkled, mocking her, reminding her that her future and much more depended on her executing this last job without error.

If I fail, there will be no turning back.

Under dawn shadows, the hall was a mile long. Outside the oak door, she pressed her ear against the cool wood. No sound came from inside, no music, no muffled snores, no laughter. What about his cigar? She inched her nose closer to the jamb, breathing deep, checking for the scent of that familiar fresh cigar smoke. The stench of stale smoke and alcohol from all these other rooms has never been able to overpower the odor from Aubrey’s cigar.

“I’m sure it’s empty. It has to be empty.” She pulled the key from her pocket, held it up, hoping for divine consecration. She slowly pushed it into the lock. Sweat poured, burned her eyes, ran down her jaw. Don’t drop the key. Violent tremors in her hand made it almost impossible to get the key where it needed to be. Deep breath. She steadied one hand with the other, bent on shaking knees, and aimed for the center of the knob.

The lock clicked. Holy shit! Not so loud! She froze, sure the noise had echoed off the walls. Mouth dry, she waited to learn if anyone else had heard it. Jesus, the last thing I need is Joe or one of Aubrey’s other henchmen charging down the hall to stop me. She took one more deep breath to calm her nerves and pushed on the door, opening it only enough to allow her to see into the room. It was empty. She squeezed her body close to the frame, stepped over the threshold, and clutched the wall. I made it. So far, so good.

“Fourteen minutes. That’s all I need.” She took mental pictures of every surface, of the position of every piece of furniture. He would certainly notice anything out of place. That’s the way he was. That’s why no one knew what the hell he was doing. The son of a bitch is anally attentive to detail.

“I can do this.” She chewed on her lip. Damn, why do I always do that when I’m nervous. Aubrey always corrected me about it, hated that I did it.

The goal was right there. Fourteen minutes. She sat gingerly in his prized luscious leather chair. It swallowed her up. Aubrey always demanded the best of everything. The leather chair, the burled walnut desk, even the pens in the drawer – nothing was cheap as long as it was meant for his use. She turned on the computer.

While the laptop booted, she spun in the chair to face the credenza along the wall behind her. The window offered a view to the west where rays of early morning sun danced and bounced on gentle blue Pacific waves. The sound of the water lapped rhythmically against the yacht in some constantly ironic and bizarre lullaby. She shuddered. “I hate that sound. I will never miss that lap lap lap sound once I’m free from this hellhole.” One hand grasping the handle of the drawer, one resting against the face to ensure safe movement, maybe to muffle a potential noise… or maybe I am afraid of what I will find in there.

“Don’t squeak now. Come on, don’t let me down now that I’ve made it this far.” It slid easily. She pulled it open. “I suppose the thing about being anal is that it makes people predictable, and God knows Aubrey is that!” She pulled out an unmarked flash drive, turned back to the desk, slipped it into the USB port and let her fingers fly over the keyboard.

“Fourteen minutes. That’s all I need.” She had already timed it. “Probably the most significant fourteen minutes of my life. Shit, I can’t blow this.”

The computer was logged off, the chair back to its original position; she went through the checklist in her mind. “Okay, now get the hell out of here.” Her heart raced. Maybe this is the end of the torture, the chance of a new start to rebuild what I had sacrificed, the ability to atone for my poor judgment.

She stepped back into the hallway, pulled the door closed. Her movements light and gentle, as if passing an open pen of lions at a Roman coliseum, she started down the hall. It was done. She had what she needed. Now I just had to get it where it needs to be.


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