Adjusting To Normal Ch. 01

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Adjusting To Normal – Chapter One

Screams pierced the darkness. Crawling across the room, the woman loudly cried for help while silently praying for a miracle. But she knew there would be no angel, guardian or avenging, to rescue her tonight. She managed to reach the balcony doors before her assailant caught her. When he stepped into the moonlight, her eyes widened at the sight of his leather gloves. Through her tears, she glanced up to his face and confirmed her worst nightmare.

“Why?” she sobbed through her pain.

“Why do you think?” his low voice responded as he turned to glance at the bedroom door.

“No!” she screamed earning another kick in the ribs. Collapsing on the cold floor, she struggled to breathe while repeating, “No. No. No. No.”

Sitting next to her battered body, he lifted her head and shoulders to his chest. In a tenderness mocked by his cruelty, he wiped her tears and kissed her forehead. He stroked his fingers across her face, neck and shoulders, and then circled the slim column of her throat with a tight grip.

“You left me no choice,” he whispered against her hair. “It has to be done.”

“No,” she rasped futilely clawing at leather encased hand. “He’s not your son!”

Immediately, the death grip was released from her neck. She watched in vain hope as he registered the meaning of her words and returned his gaze to the bedroom door. When he turned back to her, his eyes revealed the rage that had been hidden in his heart.

Her scream was immediately replaced with the sound of her last breath.

***

Scanning the end of the report, the old man sighed and asked, “Are you sure she’s the right choice for the job?”

“She’s perfect,” his companion said never turning away from the window. “They recruit from every college in the world. She’s the only candidate who meets every qualification.”

“Except for being a woman, she does seem to be a perfect choice,” the man replied closing the folder.

“You’ve never had a problem hiring women before now. Getting soft in your old age?”

“Bend over the desk and I’ll show you just how soft I am. You know what I meant,” he snapped. “You’re hardly a lady.”

“Perfect for a gentleman like you. The fact that she’s a woman will be a bonus as a distraction, no, a temptation that we hadn’t considered.”

“No family?” he asked opening the file once again.

“Plenty of family scattered throughout every trailer park in the country,” his companion answered finally turning to face him. “She’s worked hard to escape that way of life so she left them in the dust. Last semester she graduated with double majors and top honors but never bought announcements or claimed her tickets to the ceremony.”

“And now? She’s willing to drop out of grad school for a temporary assignment?”

“No,” the woman answered as she moved to one of the guest chairs. “We’ve arranged for this to be a very short assignment that will count towards credit in one of her courses.”

“When does she start?”

“She will arrive within the hour and leave next Tuesday. With the holiday, she will only miss three days of class.”

“Why would she agree to this?”

“A nice sign-on bonus. That, in addition to a consideration of permanent placement with the firm, created an offer she couldn’t refuse.”

“If she survives,” the old man mumbled.

“If she survives,” the woman repeated with a laugh. “The answer relies on her wisdom in making the right choices. Are you sure you’re not getting soft in your old age?”

***

Reaching for her bag, Eliza Wallen removed the file for the fourth time since starting her journey. Since she was the only passenger, conversation with the driver had been limited to a weather update and an estimated time of arrival. She chose to use her quiet time preparing for the assignment. And she needed to prepare.

Every time she would begin scanning the dossier, her mind wandered back to the events that had led to this opportunity. Her grades and desire had impressed her employer but Eliza knew that other graduates could offer the same and more. Her self-imposed exile from family had appeared to be the deal maker. When the nagging worry threatened to resurface, she took a deep breath and reminded herself exactly with whom she was now employed. Even if it was only temporary employment, the experience would shine on her resume.

Keystone Global Assurance had not been her first choice. No, any of the top one hundred insurance companies would have been her first choice. And she had been willing to work for the first who offered a job. KGA was considered the most elite insurance and securities investigation company in existence. Their clients’ financial information always included the same note: “Dollars reported in billions.” Their employees had similar resumes including Ivy League education, blue-blood surnames and old money. Lots and lots of old money.

Applying for the temporary assignment with KGA had included an ulterior motive. A reality check. No matter how hard yenibosna escort she worked, no matter who professed to be her friend, and no matter who confessed their undying love, one truth remained constant. She could only advance so far in life. If her mother had shared any wisdom, it was that fact.

“They love you. They fuck you. They forget you,” the woman had repeated like a mantra.

And that woman’s three-step life cycle had proven true more times than should be remembered. Keeping up with stepfathers had been difficult but remembering the names of every boyfriend, uncle and “friend who needed a place to crash until he got back on his feet” was absolutely impossible. Her mother had entertained the best of the worst. Doctors, addicts, cops and parolees had made her mother moan while rocking that tiny trailer.

Shaking her head, Eliza tucked those memories away. She would soon arrive on her first assignment and would prove to her employer that she was the right candidate. With a flick of her fingers, she removed a speck of lint from her new skirt. The sign-on bonus had been a welcome surprise providing some modest additions to her closet and a hefty deposit into her savings account.

Her college wardrobe, which had consisted of grunge items found at the local Goodwill store, would have never been acceptable in her new environment. Even her interview suit had been a sale item straight from the clearance rack of a discount store. Resisting the temptation to splurge her entire bonus, Eliza had wisely purchased a few coordinating separates that could easily present a variety of ensembles over the next week. Her remaining funds would be needed for a lease deposit when she returned to headquarters.

And she would return. She would be the golden child who represented good brains from bad blood or whatever the hell the snobs thought of her. In six days, she would present her report with infallible proof of her findings and accept the brief kudos while preparing for her next great caper. Looking at the file in her lap, she continued poring through the various attachments.

The information read like any report. Client: Arliss-Randall Technologies. Industry: Computer/Electronic design. Clients: Healthcare, Automotive, Military. Annual Revenue: 4.82 (Dollars reported in billions.) Scanning the document, Eliza assessed the remaining information quickly. Established by brothers Arliss and Randall Myers approximately twenty seven years ago, publically traded company, petitioning for name change and currently managed by Randall’s three sons.

Turning the page, she searched for the reason for her assignment. Bingo. “On July 27th prototype was reported missing.” Prototype of what? Reported by whom? Were the police involved? Why the delay in KGA’s investigation? Questions continued to form but no more answers appeared to be provided. Snapping the file shut, Eliza leaned her head back and closed her eyes.

Her orders had been simple. Publically, assess the potential threat of future issues. Secretly, find out what happened to the prototype and the person or persons responsible. No one at the facility could know her true assignment. The payout of a sizeable claim depended on her success and discretion.

Glancing to the window, Eliza noticed the change in scenery. She had been greeted at the airport by the quiet driver and advised to make herself comfortable during the seven hour drive. Abandoning the interstate hours ago, they had driven through flat rural land for a couple of hours and now appeared to be moving up a noticeable incline with curves bending in the road.

Fighting another surge of panic, Eliza reminded herself that there was a very practical reason for her client’s reclusive location. Incorporated in Delaware, the base of operations had been listed as an “undisclosed location” which the KGA recruiter had explained as a necessary precaution to eliminate potential threats. Apparently, that precaution had proven to have been fallible.

Leaning forward she asked, “I know that there’s only so much you can tell me but we’re not going to 1313 Mockingbird Lane or the former Bates Motel are we?”

Breaking from his stoic character, the driver chuckled and answered, “No. Trust me, Ms. Wallen, you will love it. Everyone does.” Reaching forward, he turned up the volume of the stereo preventing any further conversation.

“Everyone loves it,” Eliza considered in silent contemplation. Everyone loves it because, after agreeing to work with Arliss-Randall, everyone had no other choice. Recruited during their senior year of college, all employees were required to sign a confidentiality agreement restricting access to the world outside of the company’s campus. According to the dossier, the area was nearly communal providing its residents with a variety of choices in retail, healthcare, education, etc. Headhunters were instructed to balance the ratio of men to women so employees could find romance if they so desired.

Work here. Live here. Die yeşilköy escort here.

When the music in the car suddenly ceased, Eliza leaned forward to see the ornate drive ahead. The landscaping in this remote area contained an inviting blend of tropical flowers in an array of colors and various species of cacti. Straining to see the area ahead, she leaned forward clutching the headrest.

“Almost there, Ms. Wallen.”

“You can call me Eliza,” she murmured out of habit.

“No. Actually, I cannot. Strict code of ethics between Arliss-Randall employees and outsiders.”

Outsiders? Although she had been briefed on the necessity of remaining professional at all times, the thought of being considered an outsider for the next six days seemed a bit harsh.

“The employees are also residents of the campus,” the KGA recruiter had explained. “And while there is a strict code of ethics in their work, their personal lives may appear, uh, liberal.”

“Like a cult?” Eliza had asked.

“Like a commune. This is why I must stress your adherence to company policy. Personal relationships with clients are forbidden.”

Eliza chuckled at the memories of the recruiter asking if she would be morally offended by the various lifestyles she may discover within the client’s gated property. Refusing to explain the various lifestyles her mother had experienced, she had simply reminded the woman that four years in college had just about prepared her for anything.

Anything but the good life. Eliza almost squealed as the car passed through the ornate wrought iron gates and proceeded through the property. Resisting the urge to clap her hands, she mentally noted the various shops and attractions that she wanted to see during her limited visit. Subconsciously fearing a group similar to the Stepford wives, she had smiled as they passed people on the street. Normal people representing nearly every demographic category. Their commonality was the friendly wave they offered.

When the car turned a corner, Eliza gasped. No Bates Motel here. Judging from the tall blond beauty standing at the door, it was more likely the Playboy Mansion. Eliza swiped at any invisible particles hiding on her skirt, pushed the bridge of her glasses closer to her face, and prepared to meet her first contact.

Refraining from opening her door, she patiently waited for the driver to exit the car and walk to her. She carefully swung her legs around and stood to her feet. After the long drive, she was thrilled to find her land legs strong and ready. She was not prepared for the warm, humid air that immediately dampened her pristine appearance.

Offering her hand in greeting, she had to bite her lip as the woman silently appraised her attire. The black, pencil skirt and white blouse were professional yet feminine. But the severity of the tight bun in her hair and the heavy, dark rimmed eye glasses created a foreboding air. She thought it was best to repel any attraction from the beginning.

“Ms. Wallen,” the woman finally said while accepting Eliza’s outstretched hand. “Welcome to Arliss-Randall Technologies. I am Deborah Piedmont, Vice President of Human Resources. I will be your client liaison during your visit.”

“It is pleasure to meet you,” Eliza responded in a monotone voice. “It seems a bit excessive to have a VP as my tour guide.”

“Due to the nature of your visit, following the recent debacle, management wanted to ensure KGA that we are willing to comply in every way.”

“Oh,” Eliza responded, “Because it appears to be a significant shortening of my leash.”

Eliza watched as the woman’s smile tightened and eyes flashed in anger. Bingo. She was here to do a job. Not to make a friend.

Silently, the woman nodded her head and turned toward the door. Resisting the urge to remain motionless, Eliza noted the cold shoulder and followed obediently. Her luggage was being removed from the car’s trunk and loaded on a dolly. Certainly, they would manage to deliver her belongings to the correct room.

“As I’m sure you know, Arliss-Randall is managed by Jonathan, Thomas and Michael Westwright,” Deborah explained barely looking over her shoulder. “They are the sons of one of the founders, Randall Westwright. They each serve as co-chair over the board of directors. I will escort you to Jonathan’s office where they are waiting on your arrival.”

Eliza followed in silence observing the expensive furnishings surrounding her. The entrance was magnificent. A large fountain, created from stone and glass, dominated the foyer while plants and various pieces of art subtly accessorized the room. She wondered how much money was invested in a room that very few visitors would ever see.

The VP of HR quickened her pace forcing Eliza to hurry pass the water structure. Whether the woman’s motive was purposeful, personal or both, Eliza could only guess. But she did know that she had no ally in the woman.

In her review of the client file, Eliza had drawn a zeytinburnu escort couple of conclusions: 1) the perpetrator had high level security clearance to access the prototype and 2) that level of clearance was offered to very few employees of Arliss-Randall Technologies.

With only six days on her calendar, she needed to focus on the possible and probable suspects. No need to schedule interviews with any more of the company’s four hundred twenty five employees. She had her list of seven names. Seven names that belonged to very powerful people. And she was about to meet three of them.

When Deborah led her through a set of glass doors, she briskly announced to a woman sitting at a desk, “She’s here.”

“Take her in,” the woman responded without looking up from her monitor. “Jonathan and Thomas are waiting.”

Refusing to be ignored, Eliza demanded, “Excuse me? Where is Michael?”

The startled woman looked up from her work and turned toward the newcomer. Opening her mouth to speak, she paused when she got a look at Eliza. Watching the woman glance up and down her body made Eliza a little uncomfortable. Why did she care about this woman’s opinion?

“I am supposed to call him when you arrive,” the assistant explained quietly.

“Well? I have arrived,” she continued in her terse voice. Only when she witnessed the woman reaching for her phone did she then turn to follow Deborah. Seeing the men in the next room made her stop in her tracks.

The employees she had met so far appeared to be high level security guards protecting their most treasured detail. And these men were that detail. Laughing at what must have been an ill played shot, the men were standing by a putting green designed for office use. Probably custom designed for this office.

“Excuse me,” Deborah announced. “The auditor from Keystone Global has arrived.”

“Yeah, they called from the gate,” one of the men answered without looking toward them. “Let us know when she gets here.” When he took his shot on the green, he turned and exclaimed, “Oh shit! She’s here, Tommy. Damn girl, did you run?”

“Actually, I was escorted very quickly through the entrance,” Eliza explained stepping forward. “My name is Eliza Wallen and I am with Keystone Global …” She stopped when the man put up a hand.

“We know why you’re here,” he said offering his hand to shake. “I’m Jonathan. I oversee the sales and marketing division of Arliss-Randall. And that’s my brother, Thomas, who takes care of the checkbook.”

Accepting his hand, Eliza looked from one man to another. Mentally noting to request photographs before her next assignment, she quickly tried to learn each man’s features without appearing to stare. And she would have been content to stare.

Jonathan, blond and blue eyed, was about six foot five with broad shoulders on his otherwise lean build. She had met his kind before. He was definitely the all-star quarterback. Something about his grin confirmed his confidence on and off the field.

In comparison, Thomas was slightly shorter and considerably leaner. His auburn hair complimented the dark green eyes which sparkled like emeralds. He too was friendly in a little less cocky way. Oh yeah, he was the running back.

“Actually, I oversee the finance division,” Thomas clarified as he shook her hand. “My brother measures value by the dollars in his pocket.”

Eliza smiled while struggling for a reply. “Where’s Michael?” she inwardly cringed as soon as the direct words escaped her lips.

“I’m sure he’s around,” Jonathan answered, withdrawing slighting. “He knows you need to meet with us. Do you play, Eliza?”

“Play?” she asked, dreading an immediate confrontation with these men.

“Golf,” he answered with a smile. “Or anything else exciting.”

“No, I never,” she stopped before admitting that she never had the money, “I never really had the time.”

“Of course not,” Thomas added, taking his turn at the green. “Completely a double degree program in four years would allow very little time for fun and games.” Taking his shot, he turned and added, “But you’re a big girl now.”

“Who still has limited time. Can someone direct me to Michael’s office and I will find him myself.”

“Actually, I have a map of the campus for you,” Deborah said from the doorway. “With a list of office locations and employees in those offices. And here is your security card. The magnetic swipe will give you access to all areas. Michael should be in the lab which is right here,” she added, pointing to an area at the far end of the building. “Since I’m no longer needed, I will leave you now.”

Eliza stood in silence watching the woman leave her alone with the two men. Looking back to the brothers, she almost stomped her foot when she noticed that they were more concerned with their game than they were with her assignment. Without another word, she left the office and walked to the area Deborah had indicated on the map.

Swiping the card at the appropriate door, she stepped through in search of the absent brother. Only one person was in the room. Dark hair, pale skin, very thin. He squinted through his silver framed glasses as he focused on the monitor in front of him. Oh well, not every family could totally escape the geek gene. If one brother was the quarterback and another was the running back, this guy was definitely the water boy.

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