Warnings: This title contains sex and violence.
Word Count: 35,025
When I first saw Jenny I knew neither who, nor what, she was. And I certainly couldn't guess what a volatile catalyst she would become in changing my whole life. Hindsight is always the best vision. But I was flying forward so completely blind.
My assignment appeared unremarkably routine. As the law firm's most junior member, I was dispatched to get a document signed by one of our oldest, most prestigious clients.
Horace Atherton's estate lay ninety minutes drive past the city limits, and I had already gotten lost twice in the surrounding hills. It was nearly dark now. Almost frantic, I glanced at my faux Rolex and vehemently cursed my tardiness.
Abruptly an immense wrought iron gate loomed before me. While I identified myself to the speaker grid, I shot a quick glance into the rear view mirror. My short, wavy brown hair was fine, although I frowned at the thinning patch on top. Much too soon, I thought, for a mere twenty eight year old man to be losing his hair. I hastily adjusted my Thai silk tie and hoped I looked more presentable than I felt. Distress and pain do have their rewards though, as my anxiety had driven the pain of Linda's recent, abrupt departure completely out of my thoughts for once.
I heard no verbal response as the automatic gate swung ponderously opened for me. The sprawling, heavily wooded estate is completely walled. I figured it had to be this far out of town just to accommodate its overly grandiose size. As I drove up the long, serpentine driveway, my thoughts reeled about how my own inexperience and lateness might reflect negatively on the entire firm. I tried to plan out some damage control, but it was probably a lost cause already. Such a simple task, and I knew I had botched it so badly.
When she opened the front door, I might have thought her a domestic maid. Then I felt a vague disquiet, although I couldn't say just why. She wore a plain black frock, without any adornment or jewelry. It was mid knee length, and I noticed she had bare legs and flat heeled plain black shoes. Her stark black attire sharply contrasted with her pale, smooth skin. She looked about five feet six inches tall—that magic height that seems neither short, nor tall. Later, I also realized she was neither heavy nor thin. She was almost too right to be real, except for her manner.
Keeping her chin and eyes lowered, she struck a rather servile pose. Her dark, lustrous hair hid her face like black velvet stage curtains. I stared at the top of her head, while she seemingly looked directly at my shoes. Several seconds passed in tableau, until the moment was shattered by a loud, rude command from somewhere inside the mansion.
"Jenny!" commanded a distant male voice. I thought I saw her flinch just a little. "Bring that man in here now!"
She—Jenny—glanced up for just an instant, revealing deep dark brown eyes. Then she lightly touched my arm as a natural gesture to enter, and I stepped into another world.
As the door closed behind me, Jenny stepped forward to lead me down the hall. I realized I had crossed the boundary into incredible wealth. I strode over fine Persian rugs over marble inlaid floors, past rare Renaissance paintings and ancient Greek sculptures that seemed more museum pieces than home decorations. And everywhere there was dark wood, utter silence, and the smell of fine cigar smoke and rare old brandy. The very walls themselves exuded it.
Jenny walked ahead of me, as silent as the house itself. She turned right into a large room lined floor to ceiling with bookshelves. A fire burned briskly in the stone fireplace at the far end. Behind a large mahogany desk a stern old man sat facing me; seemingly well into his seventies, with a hard craggy face, thick main of white hair, and a clearly once muscular physique. A fresh cigar was burning in an exquisite glass ashtray whose value I wouldn't attempt to estimate, despite having made careful studies of the things I myself hoped to own someday. A depleted Baccarat crystal decanter sat beside a large, empty snifter glass.
"Mr. Atherton?" I ventured.
"Of course!" he snapped at me. "Who else?" Swiveling in his leather chair, he curtly addressed the girl. "Get out!"
Quietly she left the room. I realized she hadn't spoken a single word to either of us since my arrival.
"Don't just stand there!" he barked at me. "Give me those damn papers!"
I sensed I was in far over my head in this situation. Instinctively I emulated the girl and silently approached his desk, handing over the portfolio.
I ceased to exist as Atherton quickly read through the pages. I involuntarily tensed when he growled over a couple of passages. At one point, he glanced up at me with an unreadable expression. I suspected he was either going to offer me a seat, or else he was trying to find the most vulnerable spot to put the knife into me. In the end he did neither, merely returning his attention to the remaining pages. I studied a large collection of antique fireplace pokers he kept near the burning hearth—priceless, no doubt.
Grabbing an ornate fountain pen Atherton finally scrawled his signature on the documents. I saw him briefly struggle to hold that writing implement, as if perhaps his right hand was cramping in arthritic pain. It didn't slow him down as he thrust the portfolio back at me commenting, "I want my copies back by Wednesday. You know your way out. Goodbye!"
And that was the end of that. I was slightly disappointed that Jenny did not appear as I left the house alone.
* * * *
I think it would all have meant nothing, except for the blatant ribbing I got the next day back at the office. During mid morning break the predatory dynamic duo, Mark Jacobs and Bob Kaufman, caught me unaware in the coffee room.
"So, how was the old curmudgeon?" asked Bob cheerfully while he refilled his cup. Behind his coke bottle lens glasses, his bulging blue eyes pinned me like a hapless insect.
I failed to notice his old pal Mark stalking up behind me. "Who?" I asked, confused.
"You know who!" Mark abruptly hissed in my ear. "Horace Atherton, of course."
"Uh, fine...I guess," I muttered. "I really wasn't there long enough to find out." They stared at me as if I were an innocent freshman pledge, soon to be hazed by my older frat brothers. I shifted my weight uncomfortably, trying to figure out this private game of theirs.
that moment, our office manager, Sally Lester, waltzed into the room. She had an unmistakably British accent, while being quite tall, amber haired, and still considerably attractive. Having taken this job immediately after her graduation with honors from Harvard, her position had always been completely secure with the firm, and she knew it.
a quick glance, Sally surveyed our three-way standoff, evidently noting that I was poised on the losing side. "Ooh, and just what are we nattering about today, children?" she asked archly. She had this glorious way of getting to the heart of any matter.
"Uh, nothing much, Sal," Bob replied. He relaxed his gaze and busily poured creamer into his coffee. Over his shoulder he nonchalantly added, "Danny boy here just got his grand initiation by the Ghoul."
Sally frowned slightly at the disrespectful remark, but then asked, "Is that true, Daniel? Did you meet Mr. Atherton?"
Before I could respond, Mark gleefully chimed in, "He sure did! And if he's like the rest of us, right now he's probably worried to death that he's managed to insult our firm's most valuable client."
And definitely counting down the minutes to his termination," added Bob, with nasty relish.
glared at them, and they seemed to wilt like old lettuce. "I think you two are overreacting. I'm sure Dan has nothing to worry about."
To my amazement, Bob sighed. "Yeah, Sal's right." Some of the wind was going out of his sails. "Atherton's done it to all of us sometime during our tenure here." He half-heartedly slapped his meaty hand on my back. "Welcome to the club, kid."
"He does this to everyone?" I mumbled, not feeling all that much better.
Sure," Mark nodded. "Whenever he needs some personal service, he always asks for the newest member of the firm to do it."
stared at them. "Why?"
Didn't they tell you to never ask 'Why,' Councilor? Well, there are two current theories," Mark continued without waiting for an answer to his first rhetorical question. "The first one is that in order to keep his business private, he never wants to see the same person twice."
"And the second one," Bob jumped in eagerly, "Is that despite all his wealth, absolutely no one wants to deal with that crazy old hermit. This is possibly the only way he ever gets to meet anybody new."
Without thinking I blurted, "But he wasn't alone!"
Bob and Mark looked at each other, mystified. "A guest?" Bob ventured.
"Fat chance," Mark countered, shaking his head. "Maybe a servant?"
"A family member?" I suggested.
"Impossible," Bob replied. "We do the estate planning, and there are no family members. Trust me."
Mark scratched his balding head. "Oh, God. Could she be a Sim?" He looked directly at me, bushy eyebrows raised almost to his receding hairline.
Now I was flustered. "I don't know. How can you tell?"
"Well, it's not so easy these days," Bob admitted. "The definitive test is always the identification number on the bottom of their left foot."
Mark chortled, "But asking them to show you isn't a very good idea! If you're wrong, that lady is going to be very insulted."
"Hey, Danny, can't you tell real from fake anyway?" Bob teased me, causing my status symbol watch to burn on my wrist until I wanted to rip it off and throw it as far away as possible.
I was rescued by Sally, who had been silent during that exchange while preparing her lunch at the microwave. Now, however, she spoke up sternly. "No, she is absolutely not a Sim. He's prohibited from owning any more of them."
"And just how do you know that, Sal?" Mark asked instantly, looking as if he desperately wished he could recall those words a moment later.
"It's our firm's business to look out for the personal needs of our clients. And also for their privacy. You'd best never forget it." With that she turned and strode towards the door.
Bob cleared his throat. "Uh, Sally, just one more thing? Is the story true that Atherton actually saved the boss's hide during the war—and later loaned him start up money for the business? And that Atherton pays four times the standard rate because no other firm will touch him?"
Sally peered at him for just a moment. "No comment," she said crisply, and walked out.