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The Empress

 Premiered August 22, 2003

Chapter Twelve


"What if you slept, and in your sleep, you dreamed?  And what if, in your dream, you dreamed you died and went to heaven, and there you picked a strange and beautiful flower?  And what if, you awoke, and found yourself holding that flower in your hand?  Ah yes.  What then?" [1]

Dawn's dream was equally perplexing.  Anna appeared again, dressed in her full regalia.  A whirling mist surrounded and partially concealed her.  Dawn strained to see the woman, as her tiara fell to one side, followed by all of her other gold and lapis lazuli ornaments, beginning at the upper portions of her body and ending at Anna's lower extremities.  Abruptly, Anna turned and fled.  Off to the right, a figure with the style and grace of Sisi began walking in Dawn's direction.  Abruptly, she met Barb, the Old Woman -- as the two of them seemed to recognize one another.  Their attention was quickly captured by someone further to the right, someone who turned out to be Demi, approaching them.  Dawn wanted to know more, and began moving toward the three women.  But all three backed away and disappeared.

Dawn immediately awoke, feeling perplexed but rested.  She didn't understand her dream.  But then she hadn't understood any of her dreams lately, until they manifested themselves in her daily life!  She would probably have to wait for this one to appear as well.  She yawned, thinking that profound, precognitive dreams were a lot less exciting when they showed up every night.

After dressing and prepping for a noon flight out of Flagstaff, she had a hearty breakfast and some light conversation with Demi.  Everyone else, according to Demi, other than Alex and Sisi had already eaten breakfast.  As Dawn ate alone with Demi sitting at the table with her, the hostess casually mentioned at one point, "I don't know where Alex and Sisi are.  Sisi is usually pretty punctual about breakfast."

Dawn chose to keep eating rather than risk a comment on why Alex and Sisi were not at breakfast.  She could feel a twinge of discomfort as she contemplated how Alex and Sisi might have spent their evening.  Dawn realized she had no claim on Alex.  But when one is on the verge of flying off on a dangerous mission with someone, there is an implied relationship between the two people.  One doesn't just pick someone out of the hat with whom to risk one's life.  'It would be nice,' Dawn thought, 'to know the other person's priorities are in keeping with your own.  It's one thing for Alex to spend the night with Sisi -- if indeed that's what he did.  But it's quite another when he's about to leave with another woman for parts unknown (terra incognita except in the annals of mystery and adventure)!'

Demi seemed to be reading Dawn's mind. "I'm glad you and Alex seem to get along.  It's going to be a very unique and strange relationship the two of you are going to be developing.  Let's face it: there are no books on this kind of relationship, and no workshops to tell you how to do it."

Dawn tried to smile.  "It's pretty clear we can expect to encounter nothing we expected."

Demi was delighted with Dawn's understanding.  Enthusiastically, she replied, "Exactly!"


Dawn's next stop, with her luggage in hand, was a return visit to the laboratory.  Don Carlos had indicated he wanted to see her before she left, and Dawn decided now was the best time -- what with Alex still listed as "missing in action".  As she entered the laboratory, Don Carlos' face lit up.  Dawn had a momentary concern for the safety of the other people in the lab, and for the greater Phoenix area for that matter.  But Don Carlos had already distanced himself from any critical equipment or experiments.  He was the kind of man who liked to plan ahead -- a characteristic which was probably responsible for his still being alive.  He had already considered possible clumsiness bear traps which might lie in his path, and had gone over in his mind ways to prevent his setting any of them off.  It was a reasonable precaution.

"Good morning," he said, having previously decided such a greeting was reasonably safe.

"Good morning, Don," Dawn replied.

Gesturing to her large purse, and the overnight bag slung over her shoulder, Carlos asked, "Do you go everywhere with your luggage?"  He made it sound like an attempt at humor.

From Dawn's viewpoint, it simply meant she had her gold at hand, still secreted away in various parts of her luggage and person.  It also meant she had several changes of clothes, recently acquired with the help of Demi, and available just in case.  But for Don, she simply replied, "All women need a large purse.  It gives them a feeling of security."  Then she gave him her best smile.

Don Carlos swallowed hard, as if under some great test of his manhood.  Then he slowly and carefully opened a drawer and pulled out a small revolver, one designed for the smaller hand of a female.  It was the latest fashion statement for any pistol-packing mamma.  With extra care, he set the revolver on the lab bench and then set a small package of bullets next to it.  With some effort at control, he said, "David thought you might want to have a weapon to carry.  Alex will have one, and if you're not adverse to it, you might want to carry one as well."

"As a matter of fact," Dawn replied, "I'm not adverse to it.  I'm even a pretty fair shot."  To make her point, she picked up the weapon, checked to see if it was loaded -- it wasn't -- handled it enough to get the feel of it, and then aimed it with both hands.  "Nice piece," she commented.

Don Carlos' response was less enthusiastic.  "Then, I don't suppose you'll need me to show you how to fire it."  His voice carried a note of disappointment -- he had looked forward to playing the part of the manly protector, helping the relatively defenseless female.  No such luck, apparently.

Dawn sensed his disappointment immediately.  "Why don't you show me anyway?"  She quickly added, "I'm always open to the possibility of learning something new."

Don smiled broadly, and began the process of pointing out several features of the gun, giving her the benefit of his vast expertise on the subject.  Dawn replied with the appropriate low murmurings of oo's and ahh's -- even when he was showing her something of which she was already well aware.

Alex showed up in the middle of the lesson, only to be stopped dead in his tracks as he saw what they were doing.  The idea of cardiac arrest momentarily flashed through his mind as he saw two notoriously clumsy people casually handling a deadly weapon.  But then he realized both of them appeared to actually know what they were doing with the revolver.  He was pleasantly surprised.  Seeing Dawn's luggage nearby, he casually said, "Looks like you're ready to go."

Dawn turned to Alex, and replied, "Anytime you're ready."  Then she took a closer look.  Alex had all of the characteristics of someone who had simply not had enough sleep the night before.  But at the same time, someone who did not seem to mind in the least -- as if the event (or events) that had kept him awake were sufficiently agreeable as to make one voluntarily give up many hours of sleep time in order to indulge in said event(s).  Skeptically, she asked, "Are you ready to go?"

Alex, still in a slight fog, replied, "About as much as I ever will be."          

Dawn looked skeptical, as Don Carlos asked, "Are you okay, Alex.  You look tired."  Alex waved his hand in denial, but said nothing.  Don turned to Dawn, laughing at the apparent discontinuity.  "You be sure and take good care of Alex."

Dawn grimaced, wondering just who was guarding whom!


The trip back to Flagstaff with Koco and her monster truck was notable for four reasons.  The first was Alex slept for virtually the entire trip.  Really slept!  This was no drill!  He was wiped!

The second was that Koco was able to fill almost the entire time with tales of the state of Arizona, her friends, and herself; all in their never ending quests to secede from the Union.  Koco did manage to insert a third point which caught Dawn's attention: A comment about the Phoenix, the bird that periodically arose from the flames of its own making. 

It seems the word, "Phoenix", derived from the Sumerian word for Ben-Bird.  The implication, according to Koco -- who was in turn quoting Zecharia Sitchin -- was that the Phoenix was in reality a rocketship.  As Dawn thought about it, the description of the Phoenix did, in fact, correspond to a rocketship rising up from the flames of its rockets, and then flying off as if it were a bird of some kind.  It was, Dawn mused, a very strange interpretation, but one that worked.

The fourth and final item of interest on the road trip to Flagstaff concerned a deck of Tarot cards which Koco had brought along to give to Dawn.  It was called the "Cosmic Tarot Deck", and seemed particularly well done.  Dawn had seen various decks before, but in looking through the recently gifted one, she came across three cards, that of "The Magician", "High Priestess", and "Justice".  All three cards had a quality about them that immediately caught her attention.  For on each card showing the figure of a man and woman, the eyes were drawn showing light from the lower portion of their eyes and extending down in flaring beams.  All three of the pictures reminded her of the light behind Alex's eyes in her precognitive dream about him.  To a lesser degree, they resembled David's eyes, when he was in his element.  But, of course, the drawings were much more intense.  Dawn had first thought the light in the eyes, beaming light rays down and out, was an indication of a person's great love for another.  But now she began to wonder if they meant something else.  She was still thinking about it, when they boarded their flight for the City of Angels.


Banks in Los Angeles are in something of a quandary.  On the one hand, they want buildings which stand out and thereby encourage people to come and deposit their money.  On the other hand, they don't want buildings which stand out and encourage people to come and take their money -- particularly during riots or other local, festive holidays.  The bank Dawn and Alex visited, was a compromise between the two extremes.  It had the old world fashion of massive structure as a means of suggesting a solid, secure and safe place.  But it also had the external trappings of banners and ribbons to imply a bazaar or art festival.  Apparently, on this particular day in mid June, there was some kind of local celebration, and the bank was milking it for all it was worth.  Such milking is, of course, an LA tradition.  It's what LA, in fact, does best.

Dawn had already convinced Alex to stop on the way from LA International to the bank, in order for her to buy a new, very fashionable and very expensive dress from one of the local purveyors of fashionable and expensive female apparel.  "How else," she had argued, "Can I pull off the charade of being a rich, spoiled-rotten female if I don't dress the part?"  Alex, in the face of such overpowering logic and rationale, had had no response worth mentioning.  Dawn also insisted she continue to wear her blonde wig, and Alex submit to enough make-up to disguise himself as well.  He thought it was a bit overdone, but had no really good, logical reason to object to Dawn's caution in disguising his appearance.

Their entrance into the bank, with Dawn in all of her glory and Alex some $1100 poorer, was in the grand, old-European, modern-French style, i.e., with bravado, assumption of total authority, and enough hubris at having to mingle with the masses to have intimidated the Czarina of Russia.  Dawn walked up to the attractive lady behind the twin desk plates of "Reception" and "Deborah", and announced, "I'm here to see the president of the bank.  And I'm in a hurry."

Deborah (whose last name was not "Reception") was appropriately intimidated.  However, she did have enough moxy to reply, "I'm afraid he's in court.  Something about 'misappropriation ...'"

Dawn cut her off.  "Then who is in charge?"

"The vice-president," Deborah tentatively offered.

Dawn gave Deborah the look of one-last-moment-of-patience.  "Miss Deborah.  I want to see the vice-president.  Now!"  Alex stepped forward slightly, as if to emphasize the demand.

It turns out there were a slew of vice-presidents at the bank.  Deborah knew this, and also knew she didn't like most of them -- particularly the senior vice-presidents.  They were all, she had long ago decided, pompous asses!.  There was no way she wanted to call any one of them and pass along this rich woman's demands.  That would be putting young, fragile Deborah between the rock (Dawn) and the hard place (any one of several senior vice-presidents).  'But,' Deborah suddenly thought, 'There was Frank!'  Deborah liked Frank (and Frank liked Deborah -- feelings bank policy specifically forbade).  Frank was suddenly Deborah's only port in a storm.  She immediately picked up the telephone to call him.

"Frank... I mean, Mr. Lawrence," she said, her voice only moderately under control.  "There's a very important person here who needs to talk to you."  Then, pleadingly, "Could you please come down to the main lobby to meet her?  I can't leave my desk."  She seemed relieved as she listened to the answer.  After a quick and deeply felt, "Thank you", she turned back to Dawn and said, "He'll be right down."

Frank was true to Deborah's word.  Dawn had barely enough time to look around condescendingly and pass verbally on the lack of proper decor in the bank's furnishings, employees, and long term prospects.  As Frank approached, he was all gallantry.  To Dawn, he said, "I'm Mr. Lawrence, vice-president of the bank.  How may I help you?"

"To begin with," Dawn replied, her voice appropriately incensed, "a little privacy."

"Of course!" the vice-president replied.  "We can use my office."  To Deborah, he added, with considerably more passion than necessary, "Thank you, Deborah."  Then he turned and indicated the direction for Dawn to take -- which turned out to be a rough approximation of the actual direction she had already begun walking in.

Unfortunately, there was a slight diversion in the initially intended course.  On Deborah's desk, in the right hand corner were miscellaneous artifacts of the working woman's desk, complete with several plastic file holders filled with a variety of vertical, manila files.  There was also a small photograph of a child and his dog, a small square container of pencils and pens, and a small round dish of staples.  As Dawn turned with a certain amount of huff and self-importance, she inadvertently swung her purse -- the heavy, gold-laden backpack combination.  The swinging, potentially lethal accessory of the woman's art managed to hit and knock to the floor the complete inventory of this corner of Deborah's desk.  As the items went flying, Dawn hesitated, and then instantly deciding her role called for ignoring the conflagration, walked away as if nothing was amiss.  Dawn was playing the part of The Empress, the powerful, fulfilled woman capable of managing or attaining any goal.  As such, she could not be imagined to take note of such trivia. 

Alex almost lost it, but had seen enough of Dawn's work to quickly dismiss the event and follow her.  His only fleeting concern was that Dawn might later be identified by her modus operandi.  The vice-president, meanwhile was considerably more surprised.  Fortunately, for him he quickly decided his position was such he could not demean himself or his client by taking note of the action.  Fortunately, Frank had taken the series of lectures given by the bank on Proper Pomposity in the Boardroom, and thus was well equipped to ignore the various artifacts crashing onto the floor.  Deborah, on the other hand, was simply stunned.  And without Alex's experience and Frank's formal training, she had no apparent choice but to get down and clean up the mess.  Which she did, her mind immersed in a jumble of thoughts.

Frank caught up with Dawn just in time to escort her into the executive elevator.  But then as Alex followed them in, Frank said to him, "Excuse me..."

Dawn gracefully put her hand on Frank's arm and said, "He's with me."  Frank acquiesced immediately and selected the appropriate third floor as the elevator's next stop.

Coming out of the elevator, they entered a wide hall which led to a balcony overlooking the main lobby.  Glass walled offices ringed the upper level, with each office opening up to the balcony.  Each office was thus afforded an excellent view of the lobby area, and in turn each office somewhat on display itself.  Some degree of privacy was afforded by the angle of view from the lobby to the back of each office.  The only other, 'authorized' admission to privacy was curtains across the outer glass walls, but which were only marginally useful as the bank's policy was to generally leave the curtains open.  This afforded the higher ranking executives the opportunity to keep tabs on the lower ranking officers.

As they approached Frank's office, Dawn felt an overpowering sense of discomfort.  She almost stumbled -- a move which was immediately apparent to Alex, but which the vice-president, leading the threesome, did not see at all.  Dawn looked down into the main lobby, trying to guess the cause of her anxiety.  Then she saw it.  Anna!  She was apparently with four men, none of whom looked as if they had any business of their own in the bank.  As Dawn looked down in stark disbelief, Anna slowed her purposeful walk into bank, as if picking up on something herself.

"Ms. Lenki," Frank said, interrupting her thoughts.  Dawn turned to see him looking at her expectantly.  Then she realized he was allowing her to enter the office first.  Dawn didn't dare take another look in Anna's direction, and immediately ducked into the office.  Taking the chair furthest from the door (and thus from the window and the view from down below), she set down.  She then looked at Alex.  He had been watching her closely, but not understanding.  He simply looked bewildered, holding his hands with palms out, saying in effect he had no idea what was happening.

Then as the vice-president sat down, opened a drawer, and pulled out several forms, Dawn made a comment which Frank was never likely to understand, and to which he devoted only a mere two seconds in attempting to decipher it.  "I'm glad we decided to use your office, Mr. Lawrence.  The main lobby below, particularly the entrance, seemed so... Patronizing."

Frank looked blank, while Alex took a slow, deep breath.  Turning to the window, he took up the stance of what might have been considered appropriate for a body guard ready to repel invaders from outside the office.  One hand went to his weapon neatly lodged in its shoulder holster, while the other pulled the curtains closed.  Alex left just enough of a crack for him to see out, and yet reduce the chance of anyone recognizing him from outside.  Two senior vice-presidents on the other side of the building, took immediate notice of the closed curtain, but each decided to bide their time before taking action, thinking perhaps some customer was looking for a bit more privacy -- the only circumstance for which closing the curtains was permissible...  And indeed the only reason the curtains existed in the first place.

Down below in the lobby, Anna was still feeling something, and looked around the room.  The closing curtains caught her eye and she looked up at the office where Dawn, Alex and Frank were now concealed behind the light brown and green, decorative curtains.  Silently, she made note of the office's location as she approached the receptionist's desk.  At the same time, Deborah saw Anna with the four men trailing behind her, and quickly began putting the more precious items from her desk into drawers.  She then braced for the new arrival's first move, thinking only that two arrogant and intimidating women arriving within an half an hour of each other was more than Deborah was likely capable of tolerating.

Frank, meanwhile, only momentarily nonplused by the closing of the curtains -- and with an immediate vow to open them the second Dawn left -- asked her business.

Dawn smiled pleasantly and condescendingly.  "I'm taking a holiday in the South Seas this year, visiting friends in Sidney and New Zealand.  I may perhaps do a bit of skiing on the southern island.  Switzerland is such a bore this time of year!"  Dawn dismissed Switzerland with a subtle hand gesture.  "I will be taking care of several items of business before I go.  You know, the usual things: appropriate letters of credit, powers of attorney, and so forth."  As the banker seemed to be properly impressed, Dawn continued, "My immediate concern here is to make a small transfer of funds."  Handing him a small slip of paper from her purse, she added, "From several accounts to a group of others, all out of state."

Frank looked at the slip of paper containing eleven account numbers and a dollar value of some fifty million -- conveniently split into appropriate amounts per account!  It was the dollar amount that gathered his immediate attention.  He was about to hesitate when Dawn added, pointedly, "I'm in a bit of a hurry.  I'm sure you can handle the details."

Frank replied, his voice a little scratchy, "Yes, of course.  I will, naturally, need some form of identification..."  Dawn handed him her passport, along with others papers testifying to her identity and authority -- one of which was wholly fabricated.  Frank took them, looked them over, and said, "It will just take a few moments for me to go into the computer."

Dawn was gracious.  "Of course."  Then, smiling at Frank's initial reaction to the photo in her passport, she added, "I've just recently decided to become a blonde.  Woman's prerogative."

The banker smiled in a modest agreement, handed the passport back to Dawn, and then turned to his right, to begin calling up the accounts on his computer, including signature cards and other details.  Dawn looked in the other direction toward Alex who was still staring out the office window toward the main lobby.  Alex turned back to look over his shoulder at Dawn.  He had seen Anna and the four men, but had not recognized any of them.  He suspected these five were the ones to whom Dawn had referred, but only because of their appearance: one forceful woman and four accompanying bodyguards.  But then he had lost sight of them.

For several moments, no one said anything.  Frank did his banker thing, with Dawn cooperating whenever necessary.  As they finished, Frank smiled.  "Everything certainly appears to be in order," he admitted.  "The actual transfers will take a few minutes, but it's not necessary for you to wait.  I can handle everything from here."  Frank put on his confidence persona.  It fit him well.

Dawn stirred, as if to leave.  But then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Alex make some sort of signal.  Instead of the traditional "hurry-up' signal of a rotating hand, he was holding his palm flat and straight.  Dawn guessed it to mean "stall" -- or that the coast was not clear.  (Of course, in Los Angeles, it almost never is.)  Dawn turned back to the banker.  "I'll wait," she replied.  "Something my daddy used to tell me.  Never leave anything to chance.  It's the kind of thinking that made him very wealthy."

"Of course," Frank said.  He continued to smile, not knowing quite what to say next.

"So," Dawn said, buying some time, "tell me about you and Deborah."

Frank's mouth dropped, in a distinctly un-banker like style.  Alex's eyes rolled up, as he tried to imagine Frank's reaction without having to turn and look at the banker.  Dawn continued to smile.


Getting out of the bank was simpler than they had hoped.  Once the bank transfer had been completed, and after a few more minutes of stall (with Frank admitting to his current affair with Deborah), Alex signaled to Dawn it was time to leave.  Dawn asked for an alternate route out of the bank -- supposedly in order to avoid the riffraff in the lobby.  Frank obliged with instructions, and Dawn and Alex left with dispatch, quickly out-distancing the banker. 

As they made their way to the elevator, Dawn could see an office across the way, with its curtains now drawn and a man standing outside, his arms folded in the traditional pose of the armed, plain-clothes security guard.  Dawn could feel Anna's presence, but no one stood in their way.  Another man stood at the elevators, which Alex and Dawn walked past on their way to the rear stairs.  The man didn’t seem to take notice of either of them.  The disguises Dawn had insisted upon, were working -- at least for the moment.  Of course with Anna the result wasn’t as clear.  She might have been as intuitive as Dawn.

Once outside the bank, both of them breathed a bit more easily.  Dawn then waited just inside while Alex retrieved the limousine they had rented.  Once inside the limo, the two of them relaxed and each took a deep breath.  Then they looked at each other.

"Your friends..."  Alex began, questioning the identity of the woman and four companions.

"A patronizing group, I know," she replied, partially in code in the event the driver was listening, "But they have their moments.  I'm just glad we didn't have to stop and chat."

"So am I," Alex replied, with considerable emphasis.

Then Dawn reached over with her hand to wipe off a bead of sweat from Alex's face.  "You may need to clean up when we get to the airport," she said.  She did not add that Alex's make-up was being marred by a few beads of sweat.  Or that the cosmetic disguise she had insisted upon, might very well have saved them near the elevators. 

"I must admit," Alex said, changing the direction their unvoiced conversation was heading, "As a high-brow, overbearing and obnoxious witch, you should get an Oscar.  Very convincing!"

Dawn checked Alex's smile for intentions, decided there was nothing serious there, and replied, "I rather object to your patriarchal tone.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a witch, any more than being a medical doctor.  It all depends on what one does with their talents.  And the truth of the matter is that witches were Druids and pagans.  Druids were extremely religious, and pagan is just another word for environmentalist.  You should avoid the male chauvinist role.  It doesn't become you.”

"I'll keep that in mind," Alex answered, "In case they ever offer me the part."

Both of them smiled at each other, tapping into a rare moment of genuine camaraderie.


At LA International, they bought tickets for a flight to Sydney.  Then, after a casual stroll about the airport, they quietly headed for one of the restaurants.  In a prearranged fashion, they met a friend of Alex's, who ushered them out of the terminal to her mini-van.  They were on the road within ten minutes, heading south.  Dawn set in the back seat, while Alex joined the woman named Michelle in the front.  The suspicion of a former relationship between the two people occurred to Dawn, but she decided not to pursue the matter.  With Alex's apparent hoard of lady friends, Dawn decided anything was possible.  They were out of the LA area and on the highway south, when Dawn took the opportunity to doze for a few minutes.  Before she knew it, they were entering the outer environs of San Diego.

The drive though San Diego brought back more than a few memories for Dawn.  But they were soon through the city, and crossing the border into Tijuana, Mexico.  It was then Michelle asked the question that had been on her mind.  As they waited in the line of vehicles on the United States side of the border, she said, "I'm delighted to drive you down to Tijuana, Alex.  It's been a delight to see you again.  And to meet you, Dawn.  But I am somewhat curious.  Why didn't you just take a plane?"

Alex smiled in a good-natured sort of way.  "You know me and privacy, Michelle.  Leaving the country via air, you have to show your passport.  This way is a bit less public."

"You really think someone cares?"  (Michelle was young and naive.)

Alex laughed to hide his true feelings.  "You never can tell."

Dawn groaned slightly, and wondered what Alex had ever seen in Michelle.  Other than her young, firm and wonderful body, her lightly tanned skin and shimmering hair, her...  Oh, never mind!

Michelle left them off at a Tijuana hotel, supposedly where they were to spend the night.  As soon as Michelle had gone, Alex and Dawn hired a driver to take them to the local airport.  There Alex acquired a private plane for the flight to Mexico City.  The plane turned out to be a reject from the local Tree-Top-Airlines consortium, but did have enough room for a pilot, two passengers, and their carry-on luggage.  It also afforded Dawn an unparalleled scenic tour of the miscellaneous mountains, cactus-strewn plains, and dried up river beds along an approximately sinusoidal route between Tijuana and Mexico City.  It was a ride comparable to the most advanced adventure ride at Disneyworld, only much longer.  More like hanging from a kite, one which was in turn tied to a four wheel drive vehicle running the Baja in the off season.  There was also the added feature of the lack of assurance that anyone would survive the trip.

The night was spent in a moderately priced tourist hotel in Mexico City, the Oberoi Continental.  The couple slept on twin beds, and any dreams Dawn might have had, were overshadowed by her constantly grabbing the sheets and headboard, trying to ground herself while her psyche was still reliving the flight.  It was a clear-air-turbulence kind of night. 

The next morning afforded little relief.  They had decided not to hire a rental car in that a credit card would be required.  Instead, Alex had located a driver with his own set of wheels, and which for a hotly-contested, negotiated price would take them wherever they wanted to go.

Leaving part of their luggage with the hotel's concierge (but not Dawn's backpack/purse nor a backpack Alex had brought from Phoenix), they headed out.  Dawn had also insisted on checking out of the hotel and thereby having their passports returned.  It seemed the prudent thing to do.

Thus fully equipped and loaded for bear, they were ready for the next phase of their journey:  From Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) to Teotihuacan and the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon.


Anna Zedek had a presence such that she inevitably received immediate attention upon walking into any room.  The secretary had promptly inquired as to her business, and just as quickly escorted her to a room reserved for the more imperial of clients.  For Anna truly was The Empress, not the understudy role Dawn had momentarily assumed. 

As the secretary returned to her desk, Anna went inside the private room, closed and locked the door, and without hesitation set down behind the immaculate desk.  She quickly entered her code into the computer/communication keyboard, and then set back to wait.  Five minutes later, Nathan's face appeared on the console.

"Where have you been?" Nathan demanded.

"I received your message in the limo.  I rather assumed you would want me to wait until I was in a secure communications location."  Anna did not even flinch at Nathan's tone, dismissing his demanding attitude in the same manner as she had done many times before.  "Was there some sort of hurry?  We still have a few years left before the end of the calendar," she said in a faintly mocking tone.

Nathan ignored the oblique insult, having learned from past experience it gained him nothing to attend to Anna's refusal to acknowledge his superiority, especially in private.  Instead, he concentrated on business.  "And the news from the bank?" he asked.

"Nothing yet," Anna answered.  "I left instructions for our man at the bank to check at the end of each day, beginning tomorrow evening.  He will report directly to you if he finds any large sums of money being moved."

"Good," Nathan replied.  "I have another..." (Nathan almost said assignment) "mission you might find interesting."  When Anna's silence implied she had yet to be convinced, Nathan added, "It appears our associate, Gilbert Lenki, may not have been as loyal as we might have hoped."

Anna's outward expression was subdued and business-like, hiding a more intense emotional response inside.  "Are we talking hearsay, or do you actually have some evidence?"

"I have enough facts to convince me to investigate further," Nathan countered, his voice rising to his "full-authority" level.  "Through a rather exhaustive computer search, we have found a link between him and an Alexander Dukas in Colorado.  Mr. Dukas is now, apparently, a fugitive from our justice.  I've assigned Kurt to the effort, however, and I'm sure he will be successful."

Anna's internal feelings flared as Nathan recounted his findings.  On a cellular level, she knew this wasn’t good news.  Security could have been compromised by Gilbert, imperiling her own plans. 

Nathan, unaware of Anna's personal agenda, quickly added fuel to the fire.  "There's also something quite unusual.  Lenki's body is missing."

"Missing!?" Anna reacted.  "How can it be missing?  It's a dead body!"

"It was taken from the hospital.  We don't yet know how or why."

"Some sort of cult thing?  Did he have followers?"

"It's being looked into," Nathan replied.  "Meanwhile, we've also uncovered the fact he was planning an unauthorized trip to Mexico City.  We suspect he was taking his alleged fiancé, but whom we now suspect was merely his personal secretary."

"Where is she now?" Anna asked, almost conversationally.

"She is temporarily at liberty.  She diverted us on a merry chase to Chicago, but it's only a matter of time before we locate her.  Michaels is on top of the situation.  After losing track of her in Seattle, he has ample motivation to find her forthwith!"

Anna thought to herself that Michaels was in deep trouble.  At the same time, she decided not to rub the salt into Nathan's wound with a comment about his having been outwitted by a female.  Instead, she remained silent, apparently thinking about what Nathan had told her.

Nathan then got to the point of his call.  "We are also aware that Mr. Lenki had recently had communications with a group out of Sedona, Arizona, who are now hovering around Tlamacas!"

Anna straightened involuntarily.  Things were suddenly becoming very serious indeed.  "Who are they?" she blurted out, her poise momentarily at risk.

"Their cover story is they're looking for UFOs."

Anna almost laughed.  "You're worried about some nuts, some fruitcakes from Arizona?"

"My concern," Nathan corrected her, "Is that Lenki was on his way to Mexico City, and it's a short drive from there to Tlamacas.  Quite possibly the 'nuts' -- as you so aptly described them -- may have had some connection with Lenki."  Abruptly, he added, "I need someone competent to check this out."

Anna's expression implied she was amenable to Nathan's suggestion.  Quickly, she made her decision on the basis of her own reasons and personal agenda -- notably distinct from Nathan's.  The portion of her thinking which he heard was, "I'm on my way.  I understand Tlamacas is quite lovely this time of year."

Nathan grunted at the feminine observation, while Anna continued to smile, her mind already planning a million details.


[1]  Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Chapter Eleven -- The Emperor

Forward to:

Chapter Thirteen -- The Sun



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