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Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Kildaran - Chapter 30

[Yes, 30 chapters down!  Plus five interludes.  And a prologue.  One more Interlude needs to be written - looks like I'll be working on that at some point - so I GUESS that the book isn't quite done.  Well, plus I'm waiting on more revisionizing and editing by Dick.
In any case - here's another chapter for you to enjoy!



    Despite the late night, Mike woke with the dawn after a restless night.  A nagging feeling dogged him, barely remembered dreams of cold and darkness.  He extricated himself from the sheets, being especially careful not to wake Katrina, and padded out to the living room.  Hughes was racked out on the couch, but sprang up almost instantly.
    “Sorry.  Couldn’t sleep any longer.  Need to get some exercise.  Want to join me?”
    Hughes stretched.  “No problem.  Yeah, if I don‘t have to leave the hotel.”
    “I‘m sure that can be arranged.  Why don‘t you go find where their fitness center, or whatever they call it, is?”  Hughes took the implied dismissal quietly as Mike pulled out his mobile and called Hardesty.
    “Yes?” came the sleepy voice.
    “John?  Jenkins.”
    “Sir?”  This response was much more alert.
    “Plans have changed.”
    “How soon do you need the plane?  She’s fueled, but I’d prefer the other crew get a little more rest before -”
    “Whoa!  Not that quick!”
    “I’m used to your, ah, shall we say precipitous departures?”
    “Point.  No, we won’t be leaving until late tonight, but we’ll be flying back home.  Does the bird have the legs for a single hop from here?”
    The reply was hesitant.  “I don’t believe so.  I’ll check on that and file a flight plan.”
    “Okay, I’ll call back later.”  He hung up without another word.  “Morning, Stasia.  Sleep well?”
    “I slept alone.  Again.”  Then she smiled.  “I suppose I shall have to adjust.  What are you doing?”
    “Just making plans for tonight.  Thought Hardesty might appreciate a little advance notice for once.”
    “We are leaving St. Louis so soon?”
    Oops.  “Back to the Valley.  Mission’s going hot.”
    “Ah.  Should we return sooner?”
    “No, they can handle the mobilization on their own.  Plus, I’m not gonna miss Cruxshadows if I’m in town!”
    “When you talk to Captain Hardesty again, please ask him to plan a stop in Washington.”
    “DC?  Why?”
    “Have you forgotten Katrina’s dress?”
    “Um -”  Danger!  Danger!  Stall!  Don’t answer that!
    “And would it be polite to strand Jack - I mean, Major Hughes here?”
    “No, but -”
    “Michael!”  She sounded vexed.  “I see you would have!”  He was saved by the suite’s phone ringing.
    “They’ve got a gym, and it’s open.   Seventh floor.”
    “Be right down.”  Hanging up, he stood.  “Hughes.  Off to do a workout.  Kat’s still asleep; I’ll wake her when I get back.”  With that, minefields avoided for now, he retreated.
    A sweat-filled hour later they returned.
    “I talked with Noemi.  Most of Katrina’s clothes are finished, and she can have them at the airport tonight.  But the dress is taking longer.”
    “Can she ship it?”
    “I asked that.  She can, but is unwilling.  She will bring it personally to the Valley when it is complete.”
    “I’m sure that’ll cost.”
    “She said she would do it at no charge, on one condition: that she be allowed to use photographs of Katrina in the dress for her business.”
    “Deal.”  He nodded at his bedroom door.  “Katrina awake yet?”
    “I have not heard her,” she answered.
    “Right.  We’ll be out in a while.”  And he walked to the door, entered, and closed it quietly.  Katrina was still asleep, nightclothes disarrayed.  He said, once, “Kat?”
    She stirred slightly.
    “Kat?” he repeated, a little louder.
    She stirred again, but that was all.
    So he opened his palm and slapped her butt, eliciting a startled squeak as she popped upright.
    “Good morning!” he said cheerfully.  “Awake now?”
    “Michael!” she said severely.
    “What?  You weren’t waking up, and we need to get going.”
    “So early?”
    “Busy day.  Now, are you going to get out of bed, or do I have to encourage you again?”
    “Jenkins.  We have to stop in DC.”
    “Bugger.  Right, I’ll refile the flight plan.”
    “Murphy strikes again.”
    “Indeed.  Just for information though, she does have the range, just, to make Tbilisi from here.”
    “Good to know, I guess.”
    Eventually they were all ready.  “The Arch should be open soon,” said Mike.  “We can do that first, go to the Zoo, or just walk around the city if that strikes your fancy.”  He looked out the window, seeing the wind stand the flags straight out.  “I’d suggest the Arch, since it’s sunny out now.  Don’t want to go up and get clouded in.”
    “The Arch, then,” said Katrina.
    “Sounds like a plan,” added Hughes.
    “How high is it?” asked Stasia.
    “I’m not sure of the exact number, but I know it’s over six hundred feet.  High enough to see quite a ways.  Come on, let’s head out.”
    The sun warmed them as they walked the few blocks to the site of the Arch.  They entered the underground, North entrance and boarded the egg-shaped tram car to the top.  The door closed.
    “Are you sure this is safe?” asked Stasia, looking nervously around at the small space.
    “Of course,” started Mike, but was interrupted by a narration:  “Welcome to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St.Louis…”
    Four minutes later, the tram stopped and the small door slid open.  They climbed a series of stairs, past other similar doors, that quickly flattened out.  Soon they were in the observation deck, a long, gently curved room.  The walls were angled out from the floor, mirroring the triangular facets of the arch.  Deep, small windows were set along both sides, the walls carpeted, and a small ledge ran along the floor to provide extra lift.  A few other tourists wandered from window to window.
    Stasia clung to Mike.  “I do not like this,” she said.
    “Here,” he responded, guiding her to the wall.  “Lean against this.  Feel how solid that is?”  She nodded.  “You’ll be okay here,” he added.  “Jack?  Stay nearby.”
    Katrina was leaning over to a west-facing window, overlooking the city.  “What’s that?” she asked, pointing.
    “Don’t know, babe,” he replied.  “I’m not that familiar with St.Louis.”  A park attendant, walking by, added, “What building do you mean?”
    “Right down there, many pillars out front, with the green dome on top.”
    “Oh, that’s the Old Courthouse.  The majestic Old Courthouse has remained over the past 150 years as one of St. Louis' most prominent architectural landmarks. The Old Courthouse was the site of the first two trials of the pivotal Dred Scott case in 1847 and 1850. It was also where Virginia Minor's case for a woman's right to vote came to trial in the 1870s.”
    “Sounds like you’ve said that once or twice,” said Mike.
    The ranger smiled.  “Maybe.  It’s still worth a look, if you have the time.  Some really neat exhibits down there, especially about the Underground Railroad.”
    “Oh, we were on one of those in Washington!  Boston, too!”
    Mike contained his mirth, suspecting that laughing at Kat in public would be a mistake.  “Not a subway, Katrina.  The Underground Railroad was a system which helped free slaves before the Civil War.”
    “It wasn’t even usually a railroad,” added the ranger with a straight face.  “Just a series of safe houses.”
    Katrina flushed.  “Oh!” she exclaimed, then returned to the window.  “That’s a baseball stadium?” she said, pointing.
    “Busch Stadium, right?” said Mike.
    “Home of the Cardinals, sure is!”
    “I’d like to see another game; can we go, Mike?”  He looked at the ranger.  “Don’t suppose you know the schedule?”
    He shook his head sorrowfully.  “Sorry, miss, the Redbirds are out of town this week.  They’ll be home again next Tuesday if you’ll be in town?”
    “Nope, maybe another visit.”
    “No better place to see a game!”  Looking around, he continued, “Nice talking to you folks, but I have to keep moving.”
    “Thanks for your time,” agreed Mike.  “Sorry, Kat.”  He leaned down, head next to hers, and peered out the window.  “See that white dome?  That’s the football stadium.  I don’t know what it’s called, though.  The Rams play there.”  Falling silent, he took in the city with her for a moment, then moved to the other side.
    “I know what we’re doing next!” he exclaimed.
    “What?” she asked, coming across the aisle.
    “Down there.”  He pointed to a riverboat moored across the river.  “On the other side of the Mississippi.  Name says it’s the Casino Queen, so I’m thinking it’s a riverboat casino.”
    “I don’t want to go there,” insisted Kat.  “I though we were going to the Zoo?”
    “Well -”  Damn.  He had all sorts of Bond lines all prepared.  Well, he could be stubborn too…
    They were back to the suite just before two.  “Kat?” called Mike, as he opened the door.  “Major?”  No reply.
    “Looks like we’re here firs - oof!”  Even an ex-SEAL could be surprised occasionally, and Stasia’s leap had caught him unprepared.  He staggered for a moment, her legs wrapped around his waist and arms around his shoulders, before recovering to close his arms under her shapely rear.  “What brought this on?”
    “I want to thank you.” she replied, kissing his neck.
    “For what?”
    “For taking me with you today, to the casino, for lunch, for spending time with me - for everything!”  She let her voice turn meek.  “I’ve been quite naughty, these past days.  I’m sure you’d be terribly angry if you knew what I’ve been thinking about every night.”
    Getting into the play, carrying her toward his bedroom, he said, “You’d better tell me.  And quickly before I really lose my temper!”
    He kicked the door shut behind them.
    Four o’clock.  Stasia was lying across his chest, dozing.  Mike heard the outer door open, so he was watching when Katrina opened the bedroom door.  Stepping into the darkness, she paused briefly, eyes adjusting to the lack of light, before continuing in.
    “You didn’t even flinch,” he said admiringly.
    She leaned over and kissed him.  “I knew that I couldn’t yet provide you all you need.  Stasia’s my friend, too, and she needs you.”  Looking down at the sleeping harem manager, a wicked gleam in her eye, she inquired, “May I?”
    Uncertain of her intent, Mike nodded his agreement anyway.
    The palm of Kat’s hand left a bright red mark on Stasia’s ass.  Eyes flying open in surprise, Stasia quickly relaxed and, with a lazy smile, said, “You have a good touch for someone so young.  Again.”
    “None of that right now, ladies!” interrupted Mike.  “Do that when we have a little more time.  Now, though, we have to get ready for dinner and a show - so up!”

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