Don't be surprised if a Mad Hatter makes an appearance soon.
For this week's story we have a perfect world. Maybe a little too perfect.
The sky was clear, no clouds, no haze, just an even blue canopy arching overhead. The sun was hot enough to cut the chill of the pool water. When Isis shifted to reach for her drink the floating chair bobbed and she felt the water lap over her thighs, rewetting her bathing suit, and sending a shiver through her. She smiled and took a long sip of her daiquiri, setting the plastic cup back on the tiled lip of the pool before she rolled off the chair and into the water. The cold streamed over her as she cut a path to the deep end of the pool, surfacing near the shadow of the diving board. She rested her arms on the edge of the pool and wiped the water out of her eyes. Beyond the deck the garden was bright green, the lilacs waving in the light breeze. Isis rested her chin on her folded arms and kicked her legs behind her. She could do laps. Maybe ride her bike into town. There were the fliers to design for the charity auction. She hadn’t taken the new convertible out in a few days; a trip to that vineyard outside of town would keep the engine warm. She dipped back into the pool, slicking her hair back. “A party,” she decided. She hadn’t had one since she’d had the deck replaced.
“You forgot your towel,” Grace said, casting a long shadow on the deck as Isis hoisted herself out of the water.
“I need some invitations, nothing too elaborate,” Isis said, accepting the bright towel and wrapping it around her waist.
Grace nodded, sending her thick hair into her eyes. She pulled out her blackberry and began making notes. “For here or the beach house?” she asked, trailing behind Isis, not looking up from her screen.
Isis held the door for her, feeling as always, pleasantly short next to her tall assistant. “Here. I want to break in the new deck,” she said, ducking into the small bathroom between the sunroom and the kitchen. She left the door open a crack and started the shower. “Make it light, buffet style maybe, hors d'oeuvres and drinks for twenty-five.” She stripped off her suit and tested the water with her fingers, frowning. “Make that twenty-three. If I invite Martin he’ll insist on bringing his brother.”
“And you want to have some wine left in the cellar,” Grace said over the noise of the water. “So, Mrs. Waters and her brother…”
Isis dipped her head under the water, the heat chasing away any lingering chill from the pool.
“The Goulds and the Neimans. Then-“
“Just the list from the last dinner, minus Martin,” she said, working sharp smelling herbal shampoo through her hair.
“Including Mason’s friend from college?” Grace asked too evenly.
Isis could picture the smirk on her assistant’s face and flushed. She had been looking for an excuse to see Franklin again without seeming too obvious. “Sure. If he’s in town,” she said casually, glad Grace couldn’t see her face. She didn’t want to encourage Grace to tease her about this one yet. “I’m going to ride up to Pelham this afternoon. I’ll call when I have my selection.”
“So I can have Grant clear enough space in the wine cellar?” Grace said, clearly smiling.
“So you can start planning the menu. And I want a decent bartender this time,” Isis corrected, rinsing her hair. The last bartender may have been a disaster but he did manage to knock her into Franklin and get them into that silly conversation about stage effects. She finished washing quickly, suddenly impatient to be on the road and get the preparations started.
“I’ve got the printer on the line. Is the fifteenth soon enough?” Grace asked when Isis emerged in her bathrobe.
“That’s this Friday?” Isis asked, running through her schedule in her head, though she knew Grace was the last person in the world who would double book her.
Grace nodded. “You have the committee meeting Thursday and golf with Delores and Maggie on Saturday.”
Isis shrugged. “Friday should be fine. Push our tee time back at least an hour. The way those two drink we’ll need to get some mimosas in them to cut the hangover,” she said, giving Grace a wink.
She heard Grace laughing behind her, the sound fading as she climbed the stairs, Grace’s voice cut off completely when she shut her bedroom door. Despite her urge to hurry she couldn’t help stepping through the open french doors and onto the balcony. It overlooked the pool and the sprawling yard that fell away to the road on the east side. She stood, hands on the railing, legs straight, face turned into the sun, until she felt her hair beginning to dry. She smiled at the idyllic scene knowing it would be there tomorrow and the day after that. She turned, still smiling and walked back into the dim room.
There was an agent sitting in her reading chair. A woman, gray uniform standing out starkly against the pale striped chair, dark hair pulled back, spine straight, hands balanced awkwardly on her knees, blue eyes staring at Isis’s legs where they showed below the robe.
Isis fluffed her hair away from the back of her neck and went to her dresser. She selected a pair of blue striped underwear and a bra that matched. She opened her robe and shrugged it off her shoulders, catching it by one sleeve and setting it on top of the dresser. She slipped the underwear up over her hips and was working on the bra clasp when the woman finally spoke.
“You’re not surprised,” the agent said, clearly surprised herself.
Isis didn’t sigh; she adjusted the straps on her bra and moved toward the closet. She opened the door and stood, one hand on her hip, contemplating the choices. “You don’t think you’re the first one to make it in here? Do you?” she asked without looking away from the racks of blouses, dresses, slacks, and skirts before her.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw the woman stand, on her feet she might have been as tall as Grace. “You know?” she asked incredulously.
Isis selected a dark blue sundress with small light blue flowers. “Of course I know,” she said in the same ironic tone Grace had used in asking about Franklin. She slipped the dress over her head and turned her back to the agent. “Zip me?”
There was a pause and then muted footsteps across the thick carpet. Isis dug her toes into the lush fibers, pulling her hair aside to give the woman better access.
Cool fingers brushed her skin before they closed on the zipper. “You want to stay?” the agent asked, her breath on Isis’s ear as cold as her fingers.
Isis stepped away, smoothing the dress over her hips. “Of course,” she said, facing the taller woman and meeting her frown unflinchingly, “It is perfect, isn’t it?”
The frown that cut so deeply into the woman’s young face became a scowl as she looked Isis up and down, lingering on her bare feet. “You don’t care why I’m here?”
Isis shook her head. “No.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed and Isis wondered idly if she’d brought a weapon of some kind. “Do you care about anything?” she asked bitterly.
Isis smiled charmingly. “You’ve been here an hour and a half, maybe longer?”
The woman blinked and took a step back, one hand hovering near the slight bulge in her jacket, eyes questioning.
“Your hands are cold. You’re almost out of time,” Isis told her, still smiling.
“You really don’t care,” the agent said, eyebrows crawling up.
Isis nodded. “Not why you’re here, or what you had to do to get here.”
“I should make sure no one else bothers,” the agent said, smoothly pulling a stubby Glock 19 from her issue gray coat, “and they will come looking.”
Isis could see the woman’s breath in the warm air. “You won’t have time to get past my security and get back to your checkpoint,” she said, absently touching her hand to her chest, just above her heart, almost surprised it wasn’t beating harder.
The agent regarded her for a moment, then swallowed and lowered the pistol. “And if I leave quietly?”
“Then no one will see you go and you’ll be back just in time,” Isis said evenly.
“It’s not real,” the woman said, tucking her pistol back into the holster, “you don’t even look like this anymore.”
Isis looked down at her smooth legs, she remembered what it was like to look down and see a twisted, scarred mess. “I know,” she said, no longer smiling
The agent’s lips compressed into a thin white line. “One day they’re going to decide you’re too expensive to keep. They’ll pull the plug. You’ll just disappear and have no idea it’s coming.”
She didn’t sound angry, just confused, and Isis felt something almost like curiosity. “I know that too. But I’ve seen death come for me. I don’t mind looking the other way.”
The agent’s eyes widened and then she nodded. “Good luck with that.”
Isis watched her leave through the side door that led into the library. “You too,” she said quietly. She could imagine her taking the back stairs down to the kitchen and then the back door into the yard and down to the road. She would have to run to make the nearest checkpoint. And then she would be gone.
Isis turned back to the closet, tapping her fingers against a shelf as she contemplated her sandals. She chose a pair with thin bottoms that tied partway up the ankle. She sat in the chair the agent had been in, feeling the lingering cold through her dress, and tied the sandals on. Her hair went up in a neat twist, there was no point drying it if she was going to ride with the top down. She put her purse over her shoulder and jingled her keys in one hand. She stopped to look in the full length mirror near the door. Her hair looked a little severe but her dress was a perfect cut for her, fluttering around her knees, showing just enough leg. The sandals were delicate without making her toes look too long. She almost laughed at herself, worrying about how her toes looked.
“Not bad for a dream,” she said, nodding to herself and leaving the dark room behind her.