I promised I would post the last portion of the little story I wrote, Gorta and the Hole. I revised it and made it a short story, so the last seven pages are gone, but I’m hoping to include it in a collection of stories from prehistoric times, probably within the next few months. If I do publish it, it will be on Amazon.com, and I will make note of it on this website, if it’s still here (see the Home page for an explanation).

Meanwhile, I do have another short story you might enjoy. I hope the little pictures I added show through, but if they don’t, they’re just what I think these characters should look like.  Here it is.

CREATURES OF THE FOREST

By Harriet Darling

A young pixie called Emerald was on his way home after finishing his job helping a sick child. It was a hot day so he decided to cut through a section of the forest that looked nice and shady. “It’ll just take a few minutes,” he assured himself. “Nothing can happen to me in just a few minutes.”

But as he started onto the path through the trees, the sun went behind a cloud and the leaf-laden branches hanging over the path cut off the warmth and light that had been there just a moment before.

Emerald, now shivering a little from the abrupt cold, stopped short and whispered, “Oh, no.” He wondered if he should keep walking, or turn back. “Oh, there’s nothing here that can hurt me,” he told himself sternly. “It’s only trees, and I love trees.”

A dead log lay beside the path just ahead, and Emerald saw an indentation in the log where he might sit if he were tired. “But I’m not tired,” he murmured as if explaining to someone. He kept walking, but just as he passed the indentation, a large brown and green thing suddenly burst out of the seat and flew straight into Emerald’s face, screeching loudly and flapping pea-green translucent wings.

After screaming in terror, Emerald calmed down a bit and assured himself, “It’s only a wood nymph.”  But he was actually terrified; the creature was twice his size, and fluttered far too close to his face, laughing and pointing at him.

He could hear the gravelly voice of the nymph jeering at him: “Little pixie, the woods are no place for you! This is my domain, I’m the one in charge here, and you are not welcome!”

Emerald squeezed his eyes shut and told himself, “That is not true; the wood nymph only belongs in tree trunks and dead logs; she is not in charge of the entire forest! She cannot hurt me, and she has no business threatening me!”

But in spite of this seeming confidence, Emerald knew that at least the nymph could flutter around his face and perhaps cause him to stumble, or fall into a hole or off a cliff. She did have a certain amount of power over a pixie. Even the fairies steered clear of wood nymphs despite their magic, which was usually strong enough to conquer most any other creature.

The only ones who could walk fearlessly through the forest were the elves, who were taller and stronger than any of the other magical creatures of the forest. But Emerald was no elf.

The next thing the little pixie knew, he was out of the shaded trees and running just as fast as he could on the path, which was now sunlit once again. In explanation to no one, Emerald muttered as he ran, “This is why I stay out of forests. Now let’s hurry on home before that creature comes after me.”

And he ran all the rest of the way home.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE:  Well, the pictures didn’t come through, but the story did.]

20. December 2014 · Comments Off on · Categories: ---

 

 

 

20. November 2014 · Comments Off on THE BEACH MYSTERY · Categories: ---

THE BEACH MYSTERY

Sixteen-year-old Jackie Victor stood beside the archway in the only home she’d ever known, and distantly observed as her mother’s friends and co-workers streamed past her.  They said things like, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” and “She’s gone to a better place,” and other inane platitudes she’d heard people say at funerals.  All she knew was that her mother was gone, and she would have to leave Malibu for the utterly uncool town in Ohio where her father now lived with his second family.

She had to leave Malibu.  Leave her beach and her wonderful life, the only life she’d known since her father left them when she was nine.

“I can’t go before I solve the mystery,” she told herself, “and I have to say goodbye to the beach.”

When she asked her father to take her to the beach, he refused.  With no car and no money of her own, she had no idea how to get there.  Ten miles was just too far to walk.  But the mystery was not going to solve itself.  And she simply could not leave without seeing the ocean and the beach just once more.

After all the mourners had left, Jackie’s dad turned to her and said, “Now go and pack your things; we’ll leave in two hours.  And put on a dress and heels; those overalls look terrible.  I was ashamed for all your mother’s friends to see you, a 16-year-old girl dressed like a tomboy.”

“But I can’t!” she exclaimed. “I don’t even have a dress or heels.  And I have to say goodbye to the beach, and solve the mystery.”

“For heaven’s sake, what mystery would you have to solve?” he asked impatiently.

“The mystery of the posters.  It would only take a few minutes . . . please?”

“I said no!”  He turned away as his cell phone rang.  “Hi, honey.  No, we’re just getting ready to leave.  We should be there in about 18 hours.”

Jackie backed out of the room.  How could she do what had to be done?  Maybe she could run away and hitchhike to the beach.  If she ran away, her dad would have to go without her – he’d just told his new wife he’d be home in 18 hours, so he probably wouldn’t wait until she came back.  And he wouldn’t know where she’d gone.  Then she could stay here, and live in the house alone.

Ignoring her dad’s command to change and pack, Jackie sneaked out the back door and raced to the highway.  It wasn’t long before a car full of teenage girls stopped for her.

“Thanks so much!” she exclaimed, climbing into the back.  “Can you just drive me to the beach?  It’s only ten miles to Park Road, and then left to the shoreline.”

The four girls in the car agreed and passed her a bottle of something, which she refused.  The driver, whom she knew as Pat, said, “Oh, hey!  I remember you.  You’re the nerd who always wears those overalls.  Why doesn’t your mom drive you to the beach?”

“My mom is dead,” Jackie said flatly.

“Oh, kid, I’m sorry,” Pat said; the other girls were silent as they located the road to the beach.

Jackie stopped them before the turn.  “I can walk from here,” she said.  “Thanks a lot.  See ya!”

Waving to them, she cautiously crossed to the short beach road and was at the shoreline in five minutes.  She stood on the beach and gazed off to her left, and then to her right, and found that instead of saying goodbye, she was angry with her father.  She absolutely did not want to move to Ohio, where the closest ocean was five hundred miles away.

The mystery had intrigued her from the first time she’d seen the posters.  Pinned up in many different places at the beach on different days, they said things like Solve the mystery! What’s the mystery? Who knows the answer? and What’s the solution?

As she waded along the shore through softly breaking waves, she came to a new poster.  It was a large one, and it read, See Your Audi Dealer –- Call 1-800-MYSTERY!  So that was it – nothing but an ad for a car.  Disappointing.

“But, mystery solved.”  Jackie shrugged.  As she continued to walk in the sand and think, she soon realized that she simply could not live alone in her mother’s house.  She didn’t have a job and had no idea how to pay the bills her mom used to stress over.  Sighing, she shook her head.  She would have to “bite the bullet,” as her mom often said, and go with her dad.  Maybe it would be okay, she thought.

She stopped and gazed for a long moment toward the horizon and the setting sun, then muttered, “I guess this really is goodbye.”

She turned finally and began walking back toward the highway.  Pretty soon a car carrying an elderly couple stopped for her.

“What are you doing out here alone, child?” the woman asked, concern in her voice.

“I’m just going home to find a dress and heels so I can move to Ohio with my dad.”

 

08. November 2014 · Comments Off on THE ULTIMATE PARADOX · Categories: ---

I signed my name, Laurie Wentworth, for the last time at the bottom of the lab notes page, and the date, November 30, 2021. I was excited to realize that the device was finished, and I would need no more lab notes. All the notes now would be in my personal journal, documenting my first trip into time.

As I left the lab late that evening I felt a sense of loss, something I hadn’t really experienced since David died. My late husband, Professor David Wentworth, M.S., Ph.D., and tenured professor of Physics at U C Berkeley for 23 years, had passed away just a year ago. And I was about to complete the work the brilliant Dr. Wentworth had begun when he started his Ph.D. thesis the year I was born.

Aside from the truly devastating sorrow I’d known when David died, since then I had felt only hope, hope that I could someday finish his life work though many years his junior. And tomorrow, after a year of demanding 60-hour work weeks, would be the culmination of his efforts to invent the first true time travel device.

All I felt then was eagerness to begin the final test. The next morning, Sunday, if all went as planned, the device would definitively prove David’s thesis, that there could be no paradox in time travel. He had died before he could prove it, and I believed his heart had given out from the stress of the mockery and disbelief of his colleagues.

In physics, it was always commonly accepted that time travel was impossible because of the Ultimate Time Paradox, the idea that merely entering the time stream of the past would alter it, thereby making it impossible to return to the traveler’s own present. Tomorrow, if all went well, I would prove that my David had been right all along and his detractors had been wrong: there was no such thing as an Ultimate Time Paradox.

Before his heart problems had confined him to bed, David and I had succeeded in sending several items up to six days into the past, and had observed them returning at the time we had set. During this past year, I myself had succeeded in sending both a kitten and a monkey back more than a week in time, and they had returned none the worse for the trip.

The prototype device itself had been designed to look like a wooden bench, its controls embedded in an armrest. There was a sensor within the controls that would allow the traveler to move in space, and to monitor the area of arrival so as to avoid appearing in the midst of a tree or inside the walls of a building.

My lifelong interest in history had given me the necessary basic information for my trip. During the past week, I had collected the right kind of currency, clothing, hairstyle and everything else I might require if the machine worked as I hoped it would. And now I was just about ready to take the next step.

Tomorrow, December 1, 2021, I would jump back eighty years to try and prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor that precipitated the Second World War.  My grandparents had both perished in this war, as had David’s great-uncle.

*****

I didn’t sleep much that night and, early on Sunday I rushed to the lab, already dressed in my 1940s clothing. I set the machine’s controls for 4:00 p.m., Monday, December 1, 1941, and entered the coordinates for a quiet park I knew of in Manhattan. It was not far from the offices of the New York Times, where I intended to hook a journalist’s interest in my quest.

Wearing a forties-fashionable green calf-length skirt and a white cotton blouse with a Peter Pan collar, I checked the mirror one last time. My hairdo was simple; longish and light brown in color, it was naturally curly so I’d need no hairspray or mousse, two items I was normally never without. I rarely wore makeup, but what could have been a problem were my piercings, two in each earlobe and one in my eyebrow, along with a scarlet rose tattoo on my neck. My grandmother’s pearl clip-on earrings covered the holes, and I removed the jade hoop above my eye which left two tiny holes that most likely wouldn’t be noticed. I would need to use stage makeup on my tattoo and keep an eye on it to be sure it didn’t reappear.

I wore low-heeled black pumps and stockings with seams, and carried a small handbag I’d bought in a vintage shop. My SynthaFur mink-style jacket would be warm enough, and looked real enough that it wouldn’t raise questions.

I couldn’t be sure what effect the transition into the past had had on the kitten and monkey, though they were both still alive and seemingly in good health. Hoping it wouldn’t shake me up too much, I pushed the switch to START, pressed the button and braced myself. Very slowly, the lab walls began to shimmer and a low buzzing, gradually increasing to a thrumming hum, seemed to pierce my ears with needles. But before it became unbearable, it stopped and my bench and I were surrounded by grass and trees. Had I succeeded?  Had I actually traveled in time?

I stood up, grabbed my bag and case from the bench and rushed to the edge of the park where there was a newsstand. The newspaper confirmed that it was indeed December 1, 1941.I had made it! I hadn’t expected to feel quite such a thrill. I braced myself against the side of the news shack as I stood taking it all in.

Since it was early December in New York, I had expected cold, possibly even a blizzard, and wondered why I hadn’t bothered to check the weather for this date. But it wasn’t even snowing, though it obviously had been. It was cold, and I was thankful for the fur coat.

Around me was a typical New York winter afternoon: sludgy snow drifts shoved up against the curbs; dark clouds mixed with the dingy white overcast; and there was enough chill in the air to make me wish I’d worn gloves. I could see a few Christmas decorations, but nothing like what I’d come to expect in my time.

Far fewer people streamed down the sidewalks, many of them carrying heavy bags. The streets were much narrower than in my time, and the few cars and trucks that ambled down the thoroughfare were old even for that time; I knew that few new cars had been built during the Depression.

Once I stopped trembling with excitement and could remove my hand from the support of the newsstand, I set off along Fifth toward West Forty-third, gazing in wonder around me. The store windows in this late-Depression year were so much sparser than in my own time, but I saw a number of dresses similar to those in the vintage store where I had bought my costume.

I passed several men and women who made me think of the droves of homeless in my New York, but they weren’t panhandling and none seemed as aggressive as those in my time. One bag lady came near and smiled at me, put a hand on my fur-covered arm and muttered, “I remember…” as she strolled by.

At the first intersection I came to, I was shocked to see a policeman directing traffic instead of a traffic signal. Just like in the movies, he stood in the center of the road, his white-gloved hands pointing in different directions and his whistle trilling inside his friendly smile. I was tempted to ask for directions just to hear his rich, thick Irish brogue; he looked as if he’d just stepped off the boat from County Cork.

I finally reached 229 West Forty-third, and made my way up the stairs to the editorial offices of the New York Times. The trim, well-dressed receptionist glanced up from her phones and raised an eyebrow.

“I’m looking for a Mr. Jack Mathews,” I said. “Is he in?”

“I’m sorry, but he’s away right now. May I have him call you?”

In my own time, I would have given her my cell number. It was obvious I’d have to stay somewhere nearby, so I quickly decided to find a hotel. “No, thanks,” I told her. “I’ll be back.”

I had brought $400 in 1941 bills, which in those days was a fortune. The idea of getting a room at the Carlton gave me a thrill, but the hotel wasn’t nearly as luxurious as it is now. But there was a comfortable bed, windows overlooking the avenue, and working heaters, so it didn’t bother me much.

*****

Early next morning, wearing the same skirt with a pale yellow sweater I’d stuffed in my bag and my cozy fur, I set out to the Times building. The offices weren’t open when I arrived so I ducked into a café next door to enjoy a plate of ham and eggs, which cost me an amazing seventy-five cents. I tipped the waitress a half-dollar, and felt as if I’d cheated her.

I almost literally ran into Mr. Mathews when I returned to the newspaper office. When the receptionist told me who he was, I put my hand out to shake his. He grinned insolently and ran his eyes up and down my body. Reminding myself that almost all men were chauvinists in the forties, I ignored it and shook his hand.

“Just call me Jacky,” he said with a smirk.

I said, “Jacky, my name is Laurie Wentworth. I have to speak to you in private.”

“Well, I guess my desk is out, then. But we could go to your place,” he said, a cocky grin between the attractive dimples in his cheeks.

When I suggested the café where I’d had breakfast, he shrugged his assent. We were soon settled in a booth and, when the waitress came over, Jacky ordered “a cup of joe.”

Some demon made me say, “A half-caff Mocha Latte, please.”

“Huh?” the waitress said, frowning. I shrugged, with an inner grin.

“Never mind. Just coffee, please.” Smiling as persuasively as I knew how, I leaned over and took Jacky’s hands in mine. “I know you’re not going to believe this,” I said, “but please just listen for a moment. I’m from eighty years in your future, the year 2021, and I’m here to avert the event that set off a second World War in my time.”

Jacky grinned and nodded. “Yeah. You’re from the future. Uh-huh.”

Seeing he was humoring me, I told him, “The Japanese are planning to attack the air base on the Hawaiian Islands early next Sunday morning, and this incident will push America into the European war.”

He smirked. “The Japanese aren’t allied with Germany as far as I know.” A snicker told me he wasn’t willing yet to suspend judgment. So I brought out the big guns.

“For the past few years,” I said, leaning toward him and speaking quietly, “a team of women code-breakers, called the Signals Intelligence Service, have been working with the Japanese diplomatic code.”

Jacky suddenly became serious and leaned back, narrowing his eyes and focusing on my face.

“One day last September,” I went on, “one of them found a correlation that no one else had seen. This connection led other code-breakers to some similar links. Shortly after that, the SIS began working with the U.S. Navy to build a ‘Purple’ analog machine, something that could decode Japanese diplomatic messages. Right now some people on the president’s staff know all about this, and have been trying to convince his advisors of Japan’s imminent entry into the war.”

“Who told you that?” he asked, his eyes still narrowed. “I only just learned of the SIS last week, and I didn’t think any other laymen knew about them. Now you’d better tell me who put you up to this, or I’ll call the police. Or are you some kind of fortune-teller?”

“I’m no fortune-teller,” I assured him.

Sitting back on his bench, he barked, “Was it Hank Roberts from the Post?  Or, I know, it was my brother. Mark knows the kind of woman that might influence me; it’s got to be him.”

I shook my head, digging out the copy of an article I’d brought along and handing it to him. As he skimmed it, I pointed out, “You can see that it’s dated 1946. It says a note from Tokyo, instructing the Japanese embassy to destroy their code machines, was intercepted and interpreted to mean that war was to be declared on December 6, 1941.”

“Yeah,” Jacky said, reading. The article also said that warnings had been sent to American military commanders in Hawaii, the Philippines, Panama and San Francisco, but the message to Hawaii had been delayed, not being delivered until after the bombs were dropped on the morning of December 7.

When he finished that article he looked up. “Do you have anything else?” he asked, avoiding my eyes. I couldn’t tell if he still didn’t believe me, but decided to go ahead anyway.

“Well,” I said. “Okay, here.” I pulled out a movie poster I’d brought along from the 2001 film, Pearl Harbor, and slapped it down in front of him, along with some photos I’d cut out of magazines. They were of four U. S. soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima, a dense column of smoke rising over Nagasaki after the second atomic bomb was dropped on Japan, and the USS Arizona burning after an explosion during the attack. I knew they were compelling pictures, but after a brief examination Jacky said, “It’s gotta be Hank. Whoever made up these pictures was very good at faking it. I could even tell you how they did it.”

I sighed, shrugged and shook my head. He was obviously not yet convinced. He got up and left the café without finishing his coffee.

*****

Returning to my room at the Carlton, I sank down on the bed, dejected. I peered at the cars and people three floors below, wondering if I should just give up and go home. As I hunched over the window sill, thinking this whole thing through once again, I realized I knew where to find something that in my time hadn’t been located until after the end of the war. It was an article written in mid-1940, and published in England and Canada.

I took a cab to the New York Library and found it in the Periodicals section. It warned Great Britain, the U. S., and Russia, and their allies, that Japan’s diplomatic postures were faked. I made a quick note as to where I’d found it, located a place to eat lunch, and went back to my hotel. I couldn’t resist doing some window-shopping in the afternoon.

On Wednesday, with time running out, I stopped Jacky outside his office, wishing not for the first time that I had a DVD player, or even a video from the History Channel, to show him. Forcing myself to ignore his ire, I pleaded and begged that he just listen to me. After a while I could see a small grin peeking through his sternness, and he said, “I’ll write the story if you’ll sleep with me.”

I put a teasing note in my voice as I laughed. “I intended that to be my next suggestion.” I took his hands and pulled him close to me, close enough that he could feel the heat of my body. “I’ll even fix your breakfast tomorrow morning,” I murmured, with a sultry smile.

He looked me over once more, his irritation turning to ardor. “All right. I’ll look at your evidence. And you can tell me about that hole in your eyebrow and the rose on your neck.”

I laughed and ignored that, realizing those oddities were adding to my intrigue. “Great. Come with me,” I said. We hurried to the library where I found the article again and showed it to him. It read, in part:

“On the morning of September 3, 1939, Jonathan Creek, a newspaperman and intelligence officer stationed in Toronto, Canada, sent a coded cablegram to the office of Chester Walters, Speaker of the House of Parliament. This message said that Creek had proof positive that the Japanese diplomatic corps had been sending coded messages to their spies inside England, warning them of a likely attack on the islands in the Pacific within two years.”

He finished reading it and turned to me. “Well, I can’t see how you could have faked this article,” he said. “I think I need some time. Okay?”

I nodded and took another long look at him. He was awfully cute, and it had been a year since David died. I let him see me looking him slowly up and down, and he seemed to think I was interesting, too. So I decided to sleep with him while he thought about it.

*****

When we went over all of my evidence again on Thursday morning, Jacky just couldn’t help scoffing at first, even after all I told him about my era and what had happened since his own time. But between my sweet smiles, and a few more promising eye contacts, he finally agreed to write the story. He even convinced his editor to run it on page one, though he warned me that he’d lose his job if it didn’t pan out.

His story omitted the time travel aspect and, as he was sworn to secrecy about the SIS findings, he contented himself with summarizing the article I’d shown him. He did a phone interview with Jonathan Creek, who confirmed the details, and ended with a statement that military bases on the Pacific coast should pay particular attention to communiqués warning of airplane sightings. He also wrote of what “could” happen if the attack came.

He typed -30- on the manuscript, and said the story would run in Friday morning’s paper.

I didn’t see Jacky again until early Saturday evening over drinks in his studio apartment. After he’d gone to sleep on Saturday night, knowing the news wouldn’t reach New York until after 2 a.m., I fixed a snack and turned on the radio to see if my plan had worked. There was nothing but music and news, none of which broke a story about a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. I listened until after 4 a.m., several hours past the time the announcement should have come. When I realized that there had been no interruption to tell of a Japanese air attack on the Navy base, I was positively thrilled.

“It worked!” I yelled, and Jacky sat up in bed, startled awake at my shout.

He processed what I had said and how I looked, sitting across the room at his kitchen table, and smiled crookedly. “Congratulations!”

I didn’t know if he believed me even now, but I was thrilled that my efforts appeared to have succeeded. Bouncing up from the table, I began dancing round the kitchen. When he joined me, wrapped in his sheet, I kissed him soundly and had to quickly dodge out of his embrace or we would have ended up in bed again.

Jacky narrowed his eyes at me and walked over to his desk. “It didn’t happen?”

“Yes!  Aren’t you glad?”

“Sure, I guess. Unless…” He poured himself a cup of coffee and stood, looking very cute in the sheet.

“Unless what?”

“Well, you could have been wrong about the attack.  Or…”

“Or?” I stood, hands on my waist, waiting for what I knew he was going to say.

“Or, you could have been lying all along.”

“But what about the evidence I showed you?”

“Very compelling,” he admitted, turning back to sit on the bed. “But the only real proof would be if the Japanese admitted they’d been planning an attack.”

“Do you think they will?”

“Do you?”

“I don’t know. I just know I wasn’t lying, and I wasn’t wrong. Pearl Harbor wasn’t attacked, and now the Japanese won’t join the war.” He shrugged; how could we know the story had succeeded?

After breakfast and a few more kisses, Jacky walked me back to the Carlton to say a last fond, and slightly regretful, goodbye.

Still thrilled and excited about my success, I forgot to worry about how my own time might have changed. I checked out of the hotel and walked back to the bench I’d left in the park just a week ago. Chasing away a drunk sleeping off his late night, I set the controls to return to my own time. As the white walls of the lab shimmered and took form around me, I couldn’t help shivering with the thought that David’s theory would soon be proven. Maybe they’d award him a posthumous Nobel Prize.

*****

I set out hesitantly to the university administrative offices where the morning paper was always delivered. I read the date, December 7, 2021. I had made it back to my own time and everything looked just the same as when I’d left. My David had been right. There was no Ultimate Time Paradox! The attack had not taken place, but things were just as they had been when I left.

I was excited and pleased; his work had been vindicated! I rushed home to think about which devastating world event I would change next: Warn the people of New Orleans about Katrina? Keep Amelia Earhart from disappearing? I might even witness Jesus’ crucifixion. Maybe I’d visit David before we met, just to see what he was like and to hint about the future of time travel. I shivered with joy. My David’s theory would finally be proven. Oh, the papers I would write!

A few weeks later I walked into the university library to do some research and happened to glance at the headline on a Berkeley newspaper. It was announcing the upcoming eightieth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. I frowned as I looked at it. Could this be an old edition, or maybe just a typo?

I sat down in the nearest chair and read the article’s opening paragraph which began: “Christmas Day 1941—A Day That Will Live in Infamy.”

09. October 2014 · Comments Off on PORTRAIT OF YVONNE · Categories: ---

My name is Payton Browning. I had been Marketing Director for a major nonprofit foundation in Honolulu for five years when I met Yvonne Dumont at a charity ball. Yvonne was slim and stunning in a slender pale green satin gown, set off with emeralds sparkling in her tiny ears and an emerald bracelet gracing a delicate wrist. After just one dance, I had already begun to think I might be falling in love.

On our first evening out together, we went to a luau on Waikiki Beach. After settling down around the low table, I said, testing her just a little, “I adore these luaus, don’t you? They always have such interesting food. I love to try new food. Are you game for some poi?”

Looking straight into my eyes, she said, “I hate poi, don’t you?” I was impressed in spite of myself; no faking for this stunning young lady.

We danced under the stars while I sang softly into her ear, and later, when I saw her to her door, instead of telling me what a fascinating time she had had, all she said was, “Next time, let’s go to a place I know where they have karaoke music. They won’t care how badly you sing.”

Although I was a little stung by that, it appeared that Yvonne was a very sincere and honest person. She was quite beautiful, too; I was always gratified to watch as men caught their breath when she walked by.

I daringly declared my love for her on our fourth date, and she assured me that she loved me too, even though I was only a working man with an average income. She said she saw potential, and would be happy to help me to get ahead in the world.

As we continued to date, I have to admit, if I were being honest, that there were times when I wondered what she could possibly see in me. Though I was well built and slender, with what people told me was a beautiful smile, and might be considered nice-looking, I was no hunk. I also wondered whether I could really afford her in the long run. But it was a foregone conclusion that the next time she kissed me, I’d forget all about these worries.

If pressed, I would have to agree that she was an expensive date. She wanted to go to every charity event I set up, even though I was not required to go, and when we attended these events, she coaxed and wheedled me into renting a luxury car or arranging a limo for us. Then she usually spent the evening comparing her jewelry and attire with that of the wealthy ladies who paid admission, or flitting from man to man, “making contacts,” she said. It was quite true that her job as personnel manager for one of the luxury hotels required her to do a lot of networking, but when she did this, I was often left to drink away my loneliness on the sidelines.

Yvonne adored the multitude of fine restaurants in Honolulu, and hinted often to be taken on luxury cruises to the other islands. And it was only the third time I bought her a jewelry gift that I saw how much sweeter she could be when the gift was made of diamonds.

Yvonne

Payton stood silently on the threshold as I unlocked my door after our fourth or fifth date. I could see him wondering if he should ask himself in. He could barely keep has hands off me, but when I reached over and took his face between my hands and kissed him tenderly, he stopped thinking entirely.

“Thank you for a wonderful evening,” I whispered softly. I wanted him to strain to hear me, aware that my voice sent shivers through him.

“Thank you, Yvonne,” he said sincerely. He stood silently for a long moment, just staring down at me, until I smiled, curled my hand behind his head and gave him a quick peck on the lips. I could hear his heart hammering in his chest; he was eager for me to ask him in, I knew. But I turned and stepped through the door, pulling it shut behind me without looking at him again. Always leave them wanting more, my mother had told me.

I watched through the peephole as he stood there a moment longer, then turned to hurry back to the taxi whose meter had been running for the past ten minutes. He dismissed the cab and began the long walk home, and I knew he’d never even notice the distance while he floated on air.

The next evening I took special pains as I dressed for our anniversary dinner—it was already three months since I’d met Payton, and I still enjoyed our dates very much.

***

Just a few weeks ago, I’d met a new man. Michael, the hotel manager, had been showing a young up-and-coming artist around the hotel, and he stopped me as I was leaving for a meeting.

“I know you’re on your way out, Yvonne, but I’d like you to meet Al. He’s a rising young artist in the islands, and he wants to offer several of his paintings to the hotel for display for a month.” The gentle-looking man, maybe fifteen years my senior, shook my hand gravely; his hand was dry and his handshake firm—more like a businessman than an artist. I wasn’t quite sure how I should react—Michael gave no indication of his own attitude toward the man.

“That sounds great,” I said, thinking it would be a safe comment. “What kind of art do you do? Orchids?”

“Not much, no. Mostly I do sort of impressionist art,” he said. A large leather folder came out from under his arm and he opened it, presenting photographic prints of several very attractive pictures. From a quick glance, they seemed to be both city and countryside views, and there might have been something quite different about them. But I had to go.

“Works for me,” I told Michael as I rushed out, not failing to send a sweet smile to the good-looking artist.

I met him again the next evening at a Chamber of Commerce meeting, after which I began posing for him. It wasn’t long before we were having an affair, meeting in the late evenings, often right after a date with Payton. Al knew about Payton, but I wasn’t sure yet whether I should drop the younger man and lose out on the great places to go, in favor of an aspiring but relatively starving artist, so I didn’t want Payton to know about Al.

But I’m greedy, I thought; why can’t I have both of them?

Payton

One evening, as I waited for Yvonne to get ready for our dinner date, I noticed a new painting in her apartment. A raging seascape, the light and movement in the painting made it very difficult to tell that one wasn’t looking through a window at an actual live scene.

When she came out of the bedroom, I said, “That painting has an odd beauty, doesn’t it? There’s something special there, but I just can’t figure out what it is. The artist is excellent; who is he?”

I moved toward the painting to see if I could make out the signature, but she quickly pulled me away to help her with her coat and said, “Where are we going? I’m starving.”

Though I broached the subject a couple more times during dinner, she seemed to evade the question each time and I never did learn the name of the artist. But she was particularly sweet to me that evening, and I hoped she’d invite me in for a nightcap.

Yvonne

Once back inside my apartment that evening, after a quick goodbye kiss on Payton’s cheek, I rushed to the bedroom to change, quite satisfied with the lavish evening just past. It hadn’t been easy diverting Payton’s interest in Alex’s painting, and I wondered if I shouldn’t hang it somewhere else—in my bedroom, maybe.

Soon, wearing a comfortable but sexy blue jersey dress, I peeked through the curtains to make sure he had left. It was a quick three blocks to Alex’s, where I climbed into bed beside him and congratulated myself on my power over both men.

The next day, I met Payton for lunch. As I sat down, he said “You look fatigued, sweetheart.” He gazed into my eyes and I almost felt guilty.

“I know,” I said. “For some reason, I just didn’t sleep well last night.”

 ***

I modeled for Alex regularly, but insisted that he leave my face out of his paintings, just in case Payton saw one. His artistic strength was not in portraits anyway, and often I was only there to provide inspiration.

After a few weeks of seeing him, it was obvious that Al was in love with me. He tried to persuade me to come and live with him, assuring me that even though he hadn’t earned a lot of money yet, it was just a matter of time. His agent assured him that he had a big future ahead of him, and I couldn’t help but agree. His paintings were definitely amazing.

But Payton had a good job with a healthy income now, and I have to admit I enjoyed the balancing act. So I did my best to keep Al on a long lead.

***

Al and I were in bed together late one night, after he had finished his newest painting. He sat up, took my hands and said, “I’m going to show my new painting in Italy next month! My agent is working on an exhibit in Milan or Florence! Won’t that be thrilling?”

“And could I go with you?” I asked. “I’ve never been to Europe at all, and I’ve always wanted to see it. What’s the subject of the painting?”

“Some canals in Venice,” he said, “and it just might be the best thing I’ve ever done!”

“I’m so glad you’re happy,” I said as we twined in the bed together. “You’re a wonderful artist, and it’s about time you were appreciated!”

The next day while Payton and I were lunching, he told me he had something very important to talk to me about. I suggested we go somewhere quiet and private, thinking he had some news about a promotion or an idea about us moving in together. I still hadn’t brought up the idea of my going to Europe next month, but maybe this would be my chance.

That evening, as we waited for our dessert, Payton took my hands in his and made his announcement. “I’ve just learned that my Uncle Herb Browning died back stateside.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said, having no idea how close he’d been to this uncle. But he didn’t even notice my sympathy, and went on.

“He’s left me twenty million dollars!” A big grin split his face, and his eyes sparkled. He poured a glass of champagne and waited for my response.

“Oh, my God! Twenty million? You inherited forty million dollars?” I couldn’t believe it! So much money! I was really glad I hadn’t let Al come between me and Payton.

Grinning as if he’d never stop, Payton took both my hands in his. “And I’d absolutely adore to spend some of it on you. I got this for you today.”

With a satisfied grin, he handed me a sleekly wrapped package. I opened it to discover a Gump’s silver box, inside of which was a spectacular diamond and ruby bracelet.

Payton

Yvonne and I spent the next two days window shopping, and planning our new penthouse apartment. She asked my opinion on silverware, on wallpaper, and on which expensive pedigreed dog she should buy. She seemed to be stepping up her campaign to convince me that she loved me desperately, simply because I was “so much man”—nothing to do with the inheritance—and before long I invited her to a luxurious, romantic dinner.

Before we even ordered drinks, I could wait no longer and presented her with a five-carat pear-shaped diamond ring.

“I want us to get married,” I said.

“What?” she asked, as if this was an entirely new idea to her.

“I want you to marry me,” I repeated. “Will you?” She smiled and seemed thrilled, slipping the ring on her finger immediately, but I was a little worried about her response. It seemed just a tad uncertain.

“Oh, I’ll have to think about it, sweetheart,” she said.

I couldn’t even eat for the next ten minutes while she thought it over, turning her left hand from side to side to admire how the lights danced off the diamond.

“Tell you what,” she said finally. “I’ll give you my answer next Friday night, if you’ll make reservations at the Beachcomber Inn. Okay?”

“Absolutely!” I said, thrilled that she would seriously consider my proposal.

Yvonne

I wasn’t just stalling about thinking over his proposal. I really did want to think it over carefully. Marriage would be such a very big step—giving up my artist would be essential, but would I have to give up all gorgeous men, forever? And Payton was sweet and very, very generous, but would he want to burden me with kids?

On Friday at the Beachcomber, one of the most exclusive restaurants on the island, I gave Payton my answer. After thinking over the pros and cons—twenty million dollars, even if it did involve having kids, versus an aspiring, not-yet-discovered artist who might someday be famous, maybe—the only possible answer was, Yes!

Payton

Several weeks later, I found my bride-to-be hanging a new painting in the dining room. She told me it was a wedding gift. It was painted in a style that looked similar to the painting I’d seen in her apartment earlier—the intriguing seascape. The seascape had disappeared, but this one was a large, mostly gray painting of a volcano whose eruption was just about finished. One could see the devastated forest on the slope, and a small village in the distance almost covered by the lava flow. It might have been depressing and morbid, but instead seemed to instill an odd sensation of hope. But I still couldn’t see the artist’s name.

Yvonne told me she would be interviewing a wedding planner the next day, and asked me to meet her for lunch. After we ate, she sat back and grinned, much like a satisfied canary-eating cat.

“We have to select a wedding site,” she informed me. “The planner I spoke to has three possibilities, and she wants you to accompany us to look them over.”

“Certainly, darling,” I nodded. I had quit my job by now, and aside from an occasional golfing date, my days were disappointingly bleak while she worked, or shopped and spent my money.

The first site on the itinerary turned out to be the Island Golf & Country Club, where Yvonne hoped to garner a membership after the wedding. Entering the grounds through a high white wrought-iron gate, at the end of a long curving drive, we caught glimpses of the lush golfing greens and the Mediterranean-white clubhouse and resort. Gently breaking waves were visible along the shore, and everywhere we looked there were clumps of exotic flowers and swaying palm trees. As we got closer to the clubhouse, I was overwhelmed by the sight of a magnificent waterfall off in the distance. Elegant and graceful birds dipped into the river or rested on a lagoon that was crossed by a small, romantic-looking bridge.

“We don’t have to look any further,” I said. “This is an ideal spot for our wedding.”

The wedding planner and Yvonne grinned at one another, and the deal was closed. I couldn’t help gloating that we wouldn’t even have to look at the other two sites.

***

That evening, as we perused what must have been the fiftieth wedding magazine, I told Yvonne, “Honey, tomorrow I’m invited to the Albemarle Museum of Art for a private showing of a new exhibit. You see, part of my inheritance makes me a museum Board member.”

“I’ve been at that museum,” Yvonne said. “All I saw were a lot of abstract paintings and some statuary. It’s interesting, but not really my cup of tea. You may like it better.”

“Well,” I told her expansively, “you don’t need to go if you don’t want to.”

She declined to accompany me, citing appointments to select invitations and bridesmaids’ gowns, and to have her nails done.

***

The next morning, I followed the smug curator through the closed museum to the new art exhibit. As a new member of the board, I merited special service. This would be my first glimpse into a world suddenly opened to me with the inheritance of my uncle’s fortune.

I didn’t know much about art, but I enjoyed the sumptuous luxury of the Albemarle. As we reached the Special Exhibit Room, James Robard, the long-time curator of the Albemarle Museum of Art, swept a hand theatrically at a large painting on the twelve-foot wall. “And here’s our latest addition, Alex Devry’s new painting.”

It was something like nine feet wide by five feet high, set in a gold leaf frame and matted on a velvety, almost insubstantial blue fabric. It hung alone on the stark white wall so there was nothing to distract the eye. The topic was a shimmering canal in old Venice, with the grand and noble ancient buildings standing watch on either side of a lovely arched bridge spanning the center of the canvas. The artist had used abundant shades of blue—in the sky, the water, the sunlit mansions, and in the striped shirts of the two gondoliers.

“Alex Devry is a respected artist whose works have increased in value over the recent past,” Mr. Robard explained. “It was a coup of the highest order that I was able to convince the artist to hang his latest painting in this museum. He resisted me for weeks, preferring, he said, to take this particular painting to a European gallery; something about the model.

“But I persisted until Alex could no longer hold out,” he nodded smugly.

“Congratulations,” I said. “This painting is quite nice, I agree. But where could the artist have seen my beloved?”

The curator turned to search my face, but saw no lightness there, only a sincere question in my eyes. He turned back to the painting and shook his head.

“But it’s just a bridge in Venice.”

“Yes, but her image shimmers in the water.”

The curator squinted to focus more closely on the painting, then backed up to stand ten feet away, slowly shaking his head.

“Are you sure? I don’t see anything.”

“And there, in the clouds! Can’t you see it? She’s so beautiful!”

No doubt now, the curator obviously thought; I was demented. Obviously wondering how to get rid of this odd new Board member, he decided to try humoring me.

“Okay… Do you want to move on to our next collection?”

“No, I just want to bask in my dear one’s beauty. And look, over here I see Yvonne’s own sweet hands.”

“Yvonne…?”

“Tell me, what’s the title of the painting?”

“Uh… Portrait of Yvonne.”

***

On my way to her apartment, I worked out the truth. Yvonne had been the model for the Devry painting I had just seen. The curator had said the artist finished it only recently, so Yvonne must have been seeing him lately. And she hadn’t said a word to me. I wondered what else she hadn’t told me, and decided to confront her.

Marching into the apartment living room where Yvonne was flipping through bridal magazines, I attacked. “What is there between you and Alex Devry?”

“Alex?” she said, taken aback. “I don’t know Alex Devry. Isn’t he an artist?”

Incensed, I rounded on her and demanded that she tell me the truth. “Your image is right there in his painting,” I shouted, caring nothing for the neighbors. “You can’t deny you posed for him.”

Caught, she admitted it. “Okay,” she said, “so I posed. That doesn’t mean anything.”

“But you just said you didn’t know him,” I accused suspiciously.

“Well, I know him, yes. But there’s nothing between us.”

“You don’t deny you posed for him?”

“Well, no. But just because I posed doesn’t mean there was something between us. It’s you I love, Payton—don’t you know that?”

“Well, if you love me, why did you lie to me? And why didn’t you tell me about him before?”

Silence. I stood for a moment staring angrily at her. Then I nodded and turned to pace around the room, trying to calm myself. Pausing in front of the painting on the wall, I studied it without saying anything. Then I stalked into the bedroom where the other painting now hung above her bed. The two new paintings were indeed signed by Alex Devry. She watched me without saying anything.

Finally I turned to leave, trying to look as if I accepted her excuses. But I had privately decided to find out more, even if I had to hire an investigator.

A few days later, my research had confirmed all of my worst suspicions. I also learned just how important my recent financial windfall was to her. My investigator had found several creditors who had been promised the entire amount due in just a few weeks, after we were to be married.

When I confronted Yvonne again, she broke down and admitted the entire affair with Alex Devry.

“It happened before I fell in love with you,” she wept. “But I can’t keep lying, I was dating both of you at the same time. I’m really sorry, Payton—for seeing him behind your back, and for lying to you. I promise that it will never happen again.”

I paced around and around the apartment, this time not calming down at all. Actually, I couldn’t be certain it wouldn’t happen again. As she watched me, she became more and more anxious and finally asked, “What are you going to do, Payton?”

“I don’t know,” I gritted out between my teeth. “Maybe I’ll just make sure it can never happen again.”

“What do you mean?” She tried to stop me as I strode toward the door, but I pushed her aside. Feeling that I had nothing left to live for, I headed for the artist’s studio.

Yvonne

When Payton pushed me, I must have fallen and hit my head. I lay unconscious but awoke just a few moments later, realizing that Payton was so angry, he might do something terrible. Should I call the police? But what’ll I say? My fiancée is going to kill my lover? They probably wouldn’t even care. Maybe I can catch him. I rushed out the door but he was no longer in sight. I thought he’d probably taken a taxi, since his car was still there.

I rushed back inside and dialed nine and then one, but stopped just before the last one. It had better be the police, I thought, and turned to the phone book to find the number of the local police precinct.

I didn’t explain the situation very well, but the Sergeant who answered the phone said he would send someone to Alex’s place right away. I paced back and forth while I waited to hear, and wondered just what was going to happen now.

Payton

After I knocked Yvonne down and stormed out of the apartment, I headed off to Alex’s studio, possibly to kill him. But within a few blocks I’d begun to simmer down and start thinking.

“I’m not a killer,” I reminded myself. “This is stupid.”

I stopped in at a bar and realized I couldn’t kill Alex now, anyway. Yvonne would have warned him, and she had probably already called the police. As I cooled off, I decided I should just sit back and analyze the situation, as if it were a problem in marketing for my foundation.

I went through the choices I could see: I could kill Alex, or I could kill Yvonne. Or I could kill myself. On the other hand, I had no gun or knife, so beating him to death would have to do. I would confront him and, if he refused to back off, maybe I’d hit him. I hadn’t hit anyone since I was 14, but adrenaline was surging in my veins and I thought I might really be able to do it.

But as I swallowed whisky after whisky, I soon realized that hitting Alex, and probably getting hit back, didn’t seem like such a good idea after all. I knew it would be a while before I stopped loving Yvonne, even though she had betrayed me, and I didn’t really want to take her out of the world. And I certainly didn’t want to kill myself.

As for Alex, I told myself, I’m not really a violent man. I’m a compassionate person who worked for a humanitarian foundation and arranged charity events. I don’t kill people.

But if not death, what? There were only two other choices: to do nothing and just get on with my life without Yvonne, or to ruin them both.

As soon as I thought of this alternative, I smiled. I hated Alex, and felt betrayed and devastated by Yvonne’s actions, and it felt right that I should get back at them. And then I could move on.

I went home and, for the next few days, ignored Yvonne’s frantic phone calls. I frowned in confusion and puzzlement when a police detective tracked me down to question me about my threats to kill Alex. A week went by and I heard nothing more from my former lover.

But meanwhile, the Albemarle Museum exhibit was closed and two newspaper art critics reviewed the work Alex was showing in local galleries. They apparently didn’t like his paintings, and three of the four galleries requested that he remove his pictures. Somehow, the offer from Italy to show his “Portrait of Yvonne” fell through. And when the fourth gallery was purchased by a new owner, Alex’s paintings found themselves on the floor in a stockroom.

As for Yvonne, the new owner of the hotel where she worked expressed dissatisfaction with the current management and replaced it within the week, including her. When she tried to use the contacts she had made at charity events, she found that oddly enough, no one recalled her name. Her diamond engagement ring and her ruby and diamond bracelet provided her with income for the rest of the year, but Alex, believing he had lost his creative edge, no longer seemed so enamored of her.

When my private investigator told me all this, I smiled. “Alex was a fantastic artist,” I said, shaking my head. “It’s too bad he couldn’t paint this situation—he could certainly have done it justice.”