Disclaimer: All the characters of in this story are of my own creation. Any
physical resemblance the people in this story may have to real people is
coincidental and no infringement on anyone’s rights is intended.
Subtext Disclaimer: This story contains references to physical relationships between consenting adults, who may happen to be of the same sex. If this offends you, or you are under 18 years of age, or you reside in an area where this type of material is illegal, read no more. There is plenty of general fanfic out there for you. Go find it.
Paradise Series #3.
Storyline: Hustle, bustle and headaches abound on a fictional Caribbean island as a recently, nearly completed resort is brought to life and we follow the lives of the people who are trying to make it happen. In the middle of it all is a closer look at two strangers, two women, who are thrown together by outside forces and struggle to contend with the problems they will have to share if the Paradise Beachside Resort is to open on time, and their own emotions as strange happenings make them question themselves, and each other.
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Enjoy, I hope.
WELCOME TO PARADISE
Written by FlyBigD
The trip down the mountain was interrupted six times for each time Holly bumped her Land Rover into the back of Teddy’s, whatever it was. Some kind of hybrid atrocity that barely resembled a vehicle, she was supposed to be following it at a safe distance so she wouldn’t go careening through the trees. Regrettably, the roots covering the path proved as slippery as Teddy had predicted and though Holly did not go careening, she couldn’t seem to stop as quickly as she always intended. “I’m sorry!” She would yell out the driver’s side to Teddy’s glowering reflection in the rear view mirror. A perilous trip indeed, it did end safely and Holly was greatly relieved when the path flattened out at the base of the mountain. Still too narrow to pass, she wasn’t surprised when Teddy pulled to the shoulder, once they had gotten to the paved road. Ready to offer a genuine, heartfelt apology, she parked behind the ‘thing’ and got out. Stopping being her first mistake, the second one, the getting out of the vehicle one, was soon exposed for what it was when Teddy did the same thing, though apparently not in a forgiving mood. “I’m really sorry.”
“Where the hell did you learn to drive? In a barn?” Teddy shouted, arms held outstretched at shoulder height as she approached her boss. “What’s the matter with you? You could have shoved me into a tree! I told you to keep it in low gear and keep constant pressure on the brake!”
“I did what you told me to do!” Holly shouted back, for no other reason than she had been shouted at first. “It didn’t work!”
“It worked for me!” Smacking herself in the chest. “And a good thing it did, or else we would have both been dead by now!”
Holly rolled her eyes. “We would not. You’re just mad because I dinged that . . . what was it again?”
“A 1953 M37 in mint condition until you came along with your Cracker Jack drivers license.” Teddy said through pursed lips.
Only a few paces between them, Holly erased one. “Is that your answer for everything? Does everybody, who doesn’t meet with your expectations, get their permits in Cracker Jack boxes? Is that the best you can come up with?”
Another pace gone, Teddy put her hands on her hips. “I call ‘em like I see ‘em.”
“Well, why don’t you pull your head out of your ass so you can see better?” She smiled and rammed her finger into Teddy’s chest. “Hello! Earth to Teddy! You’d need a fucking tank to get down that, that, that slip and slide you call a road!”
Teddy looked down at the finger, then back up at Holly. “You wanna keep that attached, you better move it.”
Her face twisting into an evil smirk, Holly twisted her finger into Teddy’s chest. “Move. Move. Move.”
A dark eyebrow went up slowly, then Holly went up quickly as Teddy threw her over her shoulder. “I warned you.”
“Hey! Put me down!” Kicking her feet, she pounded on her abductor’s back. “Teddy! Put me down!”
“Oh, I’m gonna put you down alright.” She proclaimed with a wicked chuckle. “In the nearest puddle I can find.”
“Teddy! Don’t you dare! Teddy!” Holly shouted and squirmed, and did everything in her power to get loose. “Teddy! Ugh. Teddy!”
“Mess with me.” Teddy mumbled under the shouts. “I’ll show you who you’re messing with. Now, where’s a nice deep puddle?” Spinning around, she stalked towards the back of Holly’s truck. “Come here, puddle, puddle, puddle. Come to Teddy. Ahhh ha! Perfect.” Hefting her load, Teddy headed for a healthy looking body of water a little further down the road.
“NO! Teddy!” Putting more effort into getting away, Holly swung around to try and see what had gotten Teddy’s approval. “Teddy! Put me down! Teddy! These are new shoes!”
“Just consider this your morning wake up call.” Giving Holly’s butt a good swat, Teddy spun around ten times before tossing her boss in the puddle. “Welcome to paradise, Holly!”
“Teddy! Oof.” Landing on her butt, Holly sent a tidal wave of mud over the edges of the puddle, then sank into it as she flailed about. “Teddy!”
Teddy dusted her hands of the whole matter and turned around. Now, seeing the old adage of what goes around, comes around has its merits, this meant that it was now Teddy’s turn to make a few mistakes. The first one was in turning around, thereby placing her unprotected back to the enemy, which was promptly covered with mud from a hastily thrown wad from Holly’s hand. Teddy’s second mistake was in stopping when she got hit, because this allowed Holly to muster all the energy it was going to take to drag Teddy into the puddle with her, which she did after a slippery struggle. “Get off me! Let go of my leg, you witch! I said get off me! Hey! Hey! Hey! Let go of me!”
Feet planted firmly in a foot of mud, Holly had her arms wrapped around Teddy’s calf like two reticulating pythons and she used her U.S. Grade A pistons to shift the tide in her direction, and Teddy in the direction of the puddle. Growling as she pulled, she inched the one foot Teddy was hopping on closer and closer, until, at last she sank her teeth into meaty flesh for the all important distraction.
“OWWWWWWWWWW! Whooooooooooa.” Splat. Yes, a royal belly flop perfectly executed, Teddy went face first into the mud, but she didn’t stay face down for long. Leg throbbing where she had been bitten, she was up on all fours in an instant and ready to kill the first thing she could get her slippery grip on. “Where are you, you hussy?”
Needless to say, Holly had no intention of being that thing. Releasing the leg, she then went for the jugular from behind and pounced on Teddy’s back, her hands trying to get a hold of the woman’s neck. “Eat dirt, wench!”
How long the muddy battle had been going on before the headlights of a dark gray Austin came into view is debatable. However, suffice it to say that when Rolando slowed down to investigate the two parked vehicles, his ears drew him to the dirty pair, rather than his eyes, because in truth, until they opened theirs to look at him, he had no idea they were human. Standing on the road in black leather loafers, dark blue argyle socks, navy twill trousers, his standard starched, white, cotton, long sleeve shirt, holding his commemorative Golden Eye umbrella, minus the lethal accessories, he stared at a pair of bright blue and bright green eyes. His own a dark blue, they did recognize their counterparts and he addressed the people in the mud pit accordingly. “Ladies, if I may interrupt a moment?” The screaming and clawing slowed, so he continued. “Yes, thank you. Um . . . not to dissuade you from your activity, however, I would put forth as a reminder that there is a group of people gathering in that direction, who, I believe may wish the pleasure of your company, when it’s convenient. Also, in case your time pieces are no longer functional, I might also remind you that the hour is past due for your arrival.”
“Eat shit, Rolando.” Teddy growled as she dragged and crawled her way out of the mud. Covered from head to foot in brown ooze, she slung it off her arms as she stood. “I’m taking a shower and going back to bed.” She said as she placed a muddy hand print in the chest area of his clean, white shirt. Adding a shove to the artwork, she began the sloshing, limping journey back to her dinged 1953 M37.
“Slacker!” Holly shouted as she slipped from side to side on the road, before scraping enough mud off the bottom of her new shoes to gain an unsteady balance on the surface. When she did get a decent hold, she started for her Land Rover.
“Bite me, bitch!” Shouting over her shoulder, Teddy slid into the driver’s side and slammed the door.
“Fuck you, asshole!” Slamming her door, Holly started the engine.
Revving the old engine, Teddy spun the wheels as she made a swerving u-turn to yell out the window. “Only in your dreams, shorty!” Swerving again, she aimed for the path between the trees that would take her home again.
Holly shot her a bird as, she too, spun the wheels in acceleration, but she didn’t make a u-turn. Once she got going, she kept going down the paved road.
Rolando, left standing alone in the road with his umbrella, watched the two women depart and shook his salt and pepper head. “My, my, my, this is much more serious than I originally suspected.” Sighing, he felt a warm wet feeling soak through to his skin and looked down at his shirt. “It is a good thing I keep a spare in the glove box for occasions such as this.”
007 is always ready for anything, ya know.
Teddy, true to her word, did not go into work that day. She drove up the mountain to her home, discarded her ruined clothing, showered off all the mud and went to bed to get the sleep she hadn’t gotten the night before.
Holly, though she had no word to be true to, did the same thing. She drove home, to her pastel stuccoed condominium on the beach, discarded her ruined clothing and new shoes, showered off all the mud and got dressed again. Having gotten a good nights sleep the night before, she cleaned out the Land Rover before getting back in it to drive to work. A changed woman in more ways than her fresh set of clean clothes, her general demeanor was noticeably different when she walked through the glass doors of the Paradise with briefcase in hand. More confident in her stride, she strolled past people covertly checking their watches and exchanging curious glances, but there was no explanation from Holly for them to nibble on, so they cranked up the rumor mill of speculation.
Ignoring all this, Holly went into her office without a word to do some of her own cranking. Gears turning in her mind, she was ready to hit the ground running with the information and insight Teddy had given her, which she did an hour later. After going over her notes thoroughly, to commit most to memory, she emerged from her office and wrangled the first manager that came her way. “Claire, we’re having a staff meeting today in the second floor conference room at lunch. Make sure everybody knows and tell them to expect to be there awhile. I’ll see what I can do in the way of food, so they won’t have to bring their lunches with them.”
“Holly, I have a lunch engagement.” Claire told her with a smile that faded when Holly’s eyebrows went up. “I’ll cancel my plans and spread the word.” She said more solemnly.
“Thanks for the help, Claire.” Holly smiled and gave the woman’s arm a squeeze, then held onto it. “Would you happen to know where I can find Rolando?” She asked, turning Claire around so they were both heading for the lobby.
Claire chuckled. “I haven’t seen him lately, but my guess would be out by the pool. He lives out there.”
“No surprise with the tan he’s got.” Shaking her head, Holly let go of Claire’s arm. “Thanks again, Claire and the meet starts at noon sharp. If you’re late, you starve and tell everybody to hold off with their problems until then. I’ll go over whatever they have at the meeting.” She said as she walked away from the support manager.
“I’ll pass the word.” She waved and then began the quest given her. Waving at another blonde, she got Jennifer’s attention. “Staff meeting at noon in the second floor conference room. Be there, on time, no excuses and Holly is providing the fare.”
“I’ve got plans for lunch.” Jennifer protested with a frown.
“Not anymore you don’t.” Claire told her in passing. “And Holly said to save your problems for the meeting. Oh and Jenn, she said to expect to be there for awhile, so if you’ve got a hot date, I’d put it on the back burner if I were you.”
Jennifer’s frown deepened into a scowl. “Now, what’s gotten into her? Yesterday she barely knew we existed.”
“You’ll have to as her that.” Smiling because she liked the idea of ruining Jennifer’s day, Claire shrugged as well. “At the meeting.”
The papers in Jennifer’s hands got thrashed about in her frustration, but she didn’t say anything more. Going on her way, she moped back to her office to call of her lunch and dinner dates. “Doesn’t Holly know how hard it is go get a date around here?”
Holly was well aware of the feathers she was ruffling, though she wasn’t aware of that particular detail and it didn’t cross her mind as she walked from the patio bar to the pool area.
The double Olympic sized hole in the ground quite empty, there were safety chains around the perimeter to keep people from accidentally falling in, until it was to be filled in a month and as Holly walked around it, she watched the men inside install the multi-colored tile she had selected to simulate the blue/green of the Caribbean. Though dusty and incomplete, the muted colors still brought a smile to her lips at the thought of her dream coming true perfectly. Getting a few whistles and winks as she went, she waved to the beefy men below who she had come to know on a first name basis since their arrival and told a few that she’d pass what they told her along to their wives, which got a round of hooting going at the husbands. Then she came across the man that had brought her out there.
Lying in a personal lounge chair under a large resort umbrella was Rolando. In his spare shirt and the rest of the clothes he’d had on, his shoes were off with his argyle's catching the breeze when Holly walked up to pinch a big toe. “I’ve got a mission for you.” She told him when he opened his eyes.
“Ahhhh, the swamp creature has arisen.” He smiled and adjusted his chair to a sitting position. “What mission do you have for this lowly loyal servant?”
Holly swatted his feet till he moved them so she could sit down. “I’ve scheduled a staff meeting for noon in the second floor conference room. I’m going to need food for seventeen people delivered there before the meeting begins.”
“Sixteen. No, Theodora” Rolando corrected, then he scratched his chin. “That’s quite a bit of food on such short notice, Holly.”
“I know. That’s why I’m giving the mission to someone whose both smooth and resourceful, James.” She smiled. “Just get the food there and put the bill on the resort account.”
Clicking his tongue, he shook his head. “I believe cash would get better results.”
“I believe getting their name in big bold letters with a high recommendation in the tourist information brochure would get me a lot more.” Switching her grin to a knowing smile, she winked at him.
“Hmmmmm.” Smiling in appreciation, Rolando nodded. “I can see that you’ve spent your time with Theodora wisely. I’ll make sure to congratulate her on her instructional skills.” Leaning forward, he wiggled his toes. “So tell me, Holly. Did the beautiful Theodora also tell you to temper wisdom with courtesy?”
Another switch and Holly’s smile became a sly one. “Play it close to the vest and keep the snipers on their toes. I know, Rolando and I’m not going to come out guns a blazing. I’m just going to address some loose ends and do some constructive delegation.” Moving her hand, she scratched the bottom of his foot. “And speaking of Teddy. What’s the number to the phone by her bed?”
Rolando shook his head and shook a finger at his boss. “Oh, no Ms. Curtis. That’s Theodora’s personal, private line. I’ll be happy to give you the number of her cell phone, but if you want her other number, you’ll have to extract that information yourself.”
Holly stuck her tongue out at him, then smiled. “Ve have vays of making you talk, Mr. Bond. Very unpleasant vays.” She said and did her best to put on a Russian accent.
Unimpressed and laughing, he stretched out his legs, placing his feet in her lap. “Please continue. I was quite enjoying the torture.” He said in his bad British accent.
“Scoundrel.” Holly grumbled in her own voice and lifted his feet off her lap as she got up. “Gimmie the cell phone number.” She demanded with an out stretched hand.
“Ahhhh, the impatience of youth.” Rolando sighed as he proceeded to write the number down on a pad he kept handy. Tearing the page out of the pad, he handed it to Holly. “Should you need me, I’ll be twisting a few arms in the local quarter.”
The paper went in Holly’s pocket, then she bent down to kiss his cheek. “Thanks, Rolando. You’re a dream.”
“So I tell my wife every day.” Chuckling, he waved her away so he could get his shoes from under the chair. “Off you go. I’m a man on a mission.”
“And nothing too, too spicy, Rolando. I want them fed, not fried from the inside out.” Issuing the additional instruction on the fly, she took the long way back to her office, going around the east wing of the resort to where the landscaping contractor’s trailer was set up. The resort itself was finished, but the plants and the pool hadn’t been started until after that so they wouldn’t get damaged in the building’s construction, and having to ask crane operators to drive around a pool that size was explained as out of the question when she had already put in the stipulation that they were going to have to maneuver around the indigenous flora she wanted untouched. A battle of wills that had been and she suspected that changing specifications on the landscaping at this late date was going to be one also. Especially when the plants she wanted couldn’t be carefully plucked from the countryside, like almost all of the others had been. What she wanted was going to have to be imported, a four letter word in landscaping terminology.
“You want what?” Bruce, the landscaping foreman asked Holly when she told him the changes she wanted.
Holly covered her eyes with one hand. “Roses.” She repeated with a cringe.
“Have you lost your marbles?” Slamming his meaty hand down on his desk, he stared at her as though she had lost her mind. “Do you know what I’m going to have to go through to get roses down here, this time of year?”
“And night blooming jasmine.” She said, peeking between two fingers. “I want jasmine, too.”
“Well, honey. You want in one hand and crap in the other and tell me which one fills up first, because you can’t import night blooming jasmine to this island. They stopped allowing it in ten years ago.” Hands on hips, Bruce came around the desk. “The roses I can get, but it’s gonna cost ya, big time and don’t expect them to be blooming. They’ll come in all gnarly and chopped down to the quick to keep them alive for the trip. Unless . . . “ He left dangling and gave her a certain look of his.
“Unless what?” Holly asked timidly, lowering her hand.
Looking around at the people in the trailer, he took Holly by the elbow. “Come outside for a minute.”
Dwarfed beside his mountainous body, Holly went outside with Bruce. Being led further away, she waited until he felt comfortable and stopped before she looked up at him with a questioning stare. “Unless what?”
“I have some friends.” Bruce said quietly. “Friends who might be able to get you full grown rose bushes and your night blooming jasmine, for the right price.”
“Bruce.” Holly sighed. “I’m not asking you to break the law. I just want a couple of plants. If you can’t get me what I want, I’ll get them from someplace else.”
A little insulted, Bruce stood up straight. “Like where?”
“I have friends too, ya know.” She told him with a confident smile. “Friends with the kinds of connections that don’t include smuggling or extortion. Now,” folding her arms across her chest, “if you can get me what I’m looking for above board and within reason, I’ll take it and you’ll get some pocket change, but if you can’t, I’ll jingle somebody else's pockets.”
Steely gray eyes narrowed as Bruce bent down to look into Holly’s green ones. “How much pocket change are we talking about?”
“I want three full grown rose bushes, blood red blooms and three medium sized night blooming jasmine bushes. On delivery, with legitimate import documentation, I’ll pay you an extra hundred dollars per bush, over what it costs to get them here.” The Teddy clone said calmly.
“How soon and where are they supposed to go?” He asked, turning his head slightly to the side.
“You’ve got thirty days to get them here and they’re going to replace the majesty palms in the patio bar, and I’ll need a trellis built with an arbor.” Smiling again, Holly arched an eyebrow at him. “How soon will you know if you can do it?”
Bruce straightened to scratch his bristled cheek while he did some thinking out loud. “Blood red isn’t going to be easy, but it can be done in a month. The jasmine, though. Above board means I’ll have to apply for a waiver and a waiver means red tape, if they’ll let them in at all.”
“If you can talk the authorities into allowing them in, I’ll take care of the paper work.” Holly offered.
“Hmmmm, medium size, you said?” He asked and switched cheeks.
“Preferably, but they aren’t slow growers and they bounce back fairly quickly with the right care, so if I have to take them pruned for shipment, I’ll live.” A minor concession, it was better than getting down on her hands and knees to beg Teddy for clippings from her garden, which is what she thought it would take to get the woman to part with a single leaf. Nobody who puts that much effort into creating that kind of beauty wants to see it trifled with.
“Hmmmm.” Bruce murmured again. “Now, before I agree to anything, Holly. You know those roses and that jasmine are not going to like being in the shade. That’s why we picked the majesty palms for that corner. The only thing you get over there is indirect sunlight and not a lot of that.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Bruce. You’ve got some pretty creative guys hanging around. I’m sure they could figure out a way to cut a hole in the roof to put the arbor in.” Waving her hand in a figure eight pattern, she played the feat off as something simple. “You know, like an open skylight with rafters to let the rain in?”
Bruce narrowed his eyes again. “You know good and well we are not construction workers, Holly Curtis. If you want a hole punched in the roof, you’re gonna have to get somebody else to do it. We’ll put in the arbor, but we ain’t getting on the roof. No, ma’am.”
Drat. What a bunch of weenies. “Alright then, when will you know about the plants?” She asked and tucked her hand back under her arm.
“The roses I can do, but give me till Monday afternoon to do some fast talking about those jasmine bushes.” The itch gone from his face, Bruce scratched his big belly.
“Monday afternoon it is.” Holly smiled and put out her right hand. “And do you know anybody who can punch holes in roofs?”
“Get away from me woman!” Tossing Holly’s had away after he shook it, he stormed back to the trailer.
“Damn. There’s never a construction worker around when you need one.”
“All I want is a hole in the roof.” Holly told the floor as she sat with her forehead resting on the edge of her desk. The desk itself was covered in Rolodex cards and business cards from every construction company she knew of, of which none of them had jumped at the opportunity to put a hole in the roof of the patio bar with only thirty days to apply for permits, bring in personnel, bring in supplies and finish the job. These problems and a couple more being obstacles that could not be surmounted by throwing money at them, she rolled her head back and forth on the edge of the desk trying to think of someone she hadn’t thought of yet. No one coming to mind, she raised her head when a knock sounded on her door. “Come in.”
Smiling his pearly whites in victory, Rolando stepped in. “The food has arrived.” He announced, then lost his smile when he saw the line going across Holly’s forehead. “Are you alright, Holly? What is that?” He asked of the line, pointing to his own forehead.
“I’m fine.” She said sadly. “Do you know anybody who can put a hole in the roof of the patio bar?”
“A hole?” Curious, Rolando came the rest of the way in and closed the door behind him. “Why do you want a hole in the roof of the patio bar?” He asked as he sat down across from her.
“A stupid idea really.” Sighing, Holly flopped back in her chair. “I want to put roses and jasmine in the corner by the outside wall, but they won’t grow without direct sunlight.”
“Roses and jasmine.” He said knowingly. “Ahhhhh ha. Theodora’s garden has seduced you, also?”
“Me also?” Holly stared at him.
“Yes, yes. My wife loves to sit out there with the wonderful fragrances.” He smiled with fond memories. “Sometimes, after Theodora started her home, Maria and I would take our vacations on this island, just so we could go sit out there for hours on end.”
Holly sat up, a smile replacing her sad expression. “I know. Have you ever sat out there in the rain?”
Rolando laughed and slapped his leg. “Si, si! Once by mistake and we enjoyed it so much we’ve done it three times on purpose. It is a rare treat indeed.”
Getting all dreamy eyed, she propped her chin on her fist. “Yes, it is.”
“And very romantic.” He added with a wink. “Have I shown you pictures of our youngest?”
“Rolando.” Holly groaned and rolled her eyes. “Have you ever heard of too much information?”
That got another laugh out of him, then he stood and offered his hand to her. “Come, come. You don’t want to be late for your own meeting.”
Regretting that she’d scheduled it, Holly got to her feet grudgingly and took his hand. “So,” she said as she started leaning towards sad again, “do you know anybody who can put a hole in the roof of the patio bar?”
“Hmmmm, not my field, I’m afraid. Saw dust is death to a good manicure.” He shook his head, then smiled. “Although, you may consider asking that question of the person who you gained your original inspiration from. Theodora has a wider range of connections than I do, but hush, hush, you understand.” He warned. “That is her garden, if you understand my meaning?”
“I get it, Rolando. Teddy likes her privacy and I’ll respect that.” Smiling warmly at him, she wrapped both her arms around his one. “How long have you known her, anyway? You ranked at the top in her personnel dissertation last night.”
Out of her office now, Rolando lowered his voice to answer. “Ahhhh, yes. She and I have a different kind of friendship than she has with the other people she has worked with. You could call it a father/daughter relationship, though I would never dare to assume such a respected position, but, from time to time, when she wants advice she doesn’t feel her family could assist her on, she comes to me and I do my best to remain objective.” He said as they stepped onto the elevator. “She doesn’t always listen, mind you, but she knows that I am merely looking out for her best interest, which she does not always do for herself.”
“So I’ve heard.” Holly nodded. “She could have been executive vice president by now, if she didn’t like being a bartender so much.”
“This is true. She chose happiness over power.” He smiled. “Like someone else I know?”
Holly gave him a strange look. “What? Me?”
“If Theodora wasn’t going to fill that chair, I did hear rumors that another beautiful woman was being looked at with a careful eye.” Patting her hand, Rolando chuckled.
Stepping off the elevator, she turned around to face him. “Who told you that?”
“Who else, but the only person who could make it happen.” Rolando replied with naming any names.
Shaking her head, Holly sighed. “Let me guess? You call him by his first name, don’t you? Does everybody do that besides me?”
“Don’t take it to heart, Holly. I started with him when he was still referred to as the junior Mr. Patterson.” Taking her by the arm, he guided her toward the conference room. “He and I have a close relationship that isn’t representative of our stations.”
“You chose happiness over power, too?” She asked and leaned into him.
Rolando shrugged. “To me, there is no substitute for sunshine, Mother Nature’s beauty and fresh air.”
Holly chuckled softly. “Now I know why you and Teddy get along so well.”
“And who is going to great pains to have roses and jasmine put in the patio bar, hmmmm?” Smirking, he looked at her sideways.
Her expression soured at the reminder. “Not unless I can get somebody to punch a hole in the roof.”
The conference room dead ahead, Rolando pulled gently on Holly’s arm to bring her to a stop. “A moment.” He said quietly.
“What?” Holly asked in the same hushed tone.
“I have not talked with Teddy about how she intends to list her place of residence, so perhaps it would be best if no one knew where you spent the night last night and to keep wondering minds off the subject entirely, I would make the suggestion of pretending not to know why she did not come into work today.”
“Is she that paranoid or are you that protective?” Adding a strange look to the question.
Rolando sighed. “As much as I hate to think such thoughts, there are people who would gladly go out of their way to cause Teddy harm, just because of who she is and those people would jump at the chance to point out preferential treatment if they knew you had been let into her inner sanctum when they had been denied.”
Holly rolled her eyes and sighed. “Rolando, you’re giving me a headache. Could you put that in straight English, please?”
Rambling off something in Spanish, he shook his head in frustration for what he couldn’t say. “People have tried to get close to her in the past to use her to get what they wanted and failed because they thought they knew her, when they didn’t and some of those people are in that room. And, as I’m sure you’ve already realized, Teddy is not what she always appears because she is a direct line to Max, and everyone knows it. This puts a lot of pressure on her and it limits who she lets in, and who she trusts. So, to be seen as having achieved that inner sanctum would only shift the pressure to you. She has very few true friends, Holly, because of who she is and I think she would be very unhappy to lose you.”
Nodding in comprehension throughout, Holly looked up at Rolando with the last statement. “Lose me, how? You don’t think I’d use her, do you?”
“Quite the contrary, Holly.” Rolando smiled. “However, it is not my opinion that matters in this instance.” He said and turned to look down the hall at the conference room door.
“So what am I supposed to do, Rolando? Pretend like she doesn’t exist?”
“No, no.” Shaking his head, he began walking toward the conference room. “Merely make an inquiry as to her whereabouts and continue on with the meeting.” Smiling, he turned to look at her. “Remember, they don’t know the mud monster sleeps, so why tell them you do?”
Giving him another peculiar look, she couldn’t help but smile. “You’re enjoying this cloak and dagger business, aren’t you?”
“It is no different than a well played game of chess, of which I happen to be exceptionally fond.”
“I knew it. You’re loving it.”
The rain that had lulled her to sleep was gone by the time Teddy woke up hungry, close to sunset. Another shower to wake her up and a can of ravioli later, and she was ready to do absolutely nothing. Rested, but in a lazy mood, she wandered around the house doing minor chores that weren’t too strenuous for a couple of hours, then she called her parents to get a dose of guilt and then it was Max, to make sure he knew that she had gotten her dose of guilt and for a dose of his unique humor. Chuckling over his laments of parenthood, she poured herself a brandy to enjoy under the arbor and stare up at the stars. Feeling as if she was home at last, she listened until her aching sides could take no more, then she went inside to pour herself another brandy for the last call of the evening. Sitting in a particular chair out on the deck, she dialed a number she hadn’t tried to memorize, but it seemed to be there anyway. Cell phone to her ear, she listened to four rings and a click as an answering machine came on. “Phtttt.” She said to the electronic device and hung up before the message finished playing.
A half an hour of sipping brandy and star gazing later, Teddy tried the number again. The same results coming from the distant end and her’s she left the deck to finish the brandy as she walked around shutting off the lights. Dark and darker the house became until the only light left on to keep one’s toes safe from furniture was inside the massive aquarium. The gray mini-blinds bundled close to the ceiling, Teddy watched the paper cut-out fish hang still in their glass house from her bed. Two brandies worth of relaxed and two unanswered calls worth of perturbed, she rolled over on her right side to bring the other phone from inside the nightstand to the top of it. Grumble, grumble, mumble, mumble. She thought as she stared at the instrument because she didn’t like answering machines any more than she liked electronic leashes, but she had had enough of the former to make her resort to using the latter. The remote handset in her hand, she dialed another first time number as she rolled onto her back. Laying on top of the bedding, she watched her toes wiggle for a few seconds, then she had to concentrate as she punched in her number and pushed the pound sign. Listening for the electronic ‘your message has been sent’ she gave it a raspberry and hung up to watch her fish while she waited.
In the middle of an important shipment scheduling strategy session with Jennifer, Holly was sitting behind her desk, leaning way over it to point out conflicting dates on some paperwork when her pager went off. The little purple box flashing and vibrating on her hip, she raised her arm and stopped the show with her other hand as she glanced down at a strange number. Frowning, she unclipped the pager to stare at the number in a more comfortable position.
“Something wrong?” Jennifer asked, more nosy than concerned.
“I don’t know. Hang on.” Holly replied as she put the pager down to pick up the phone on her desk. Dialing nine first, she waited for the next dial tone before moving her eyes to and fro between the pager and the phone as her finger jumped around the keypad. The receiver wedged in between her shoulder and her ear, she put the pager back on her hip as the other end picked up.
“Hey there, puddle buddy” Teddy chuckled. “What ya doing?”
A smile came immediately to Holly’s lips as she sank back into her chair. “Hey there, yourself.” The pager back in place, she took the receiver in her hand. “I’m working. What are you doing?”
“Watching my fish.” Wiggling her toes too, Teddy curled her arm behind her head. “I think I need to put a fan in the tank or something. They don’t look right, just hanging there.”
Holly laughed softly. “I noticed that, but I didn’t want to say anything. Maybe you should try real ones instead of just blowing those around.”
“Ya think?” She asked with another chuckle.
“Um hmmmm.” A nod, a smile and a chuckle.
With only half the conversation at her disposal, Jennifer didn’t need to hear both sides to notice the change the caller made in Holly’s disposition. She had seen that kind of reaction before. The smile, the quick switch to an easier way of talking, the complete lack of interest in anybody else in the room. Holly’s got somebody on the side. Jennifer surmised with keen interest of her own. A demigoddess in the gossip mill, she sat quietly, patiently and pretended not to be listening so she could gather as much information as possible for distribution of speculation.
“What kind do ya think I should get? Piranha, Barracuda or Japanese fighting fish? Oh, maybe I’ll get all of them. That way I won’t have to spend any money on food. They’ll just eat each other.” Laughing at her own humor, Teddy heard a groan in her ear. “No? You don’t like that idea?”
“No, I don’t. I’m not going to watch a feeding frenzy over a plate of ravioli.” Holly said with baleful conviction.
A date. She’s making a date. No wonder she changed her tune about doing everything herself. She’s making room in her schedule for some afternoon delight, maybe? Listening intently, Jennifer played with her fingernails.
“Oh and speaking of hungry fish, how did work go today?” Teddy switched subjects with a slightly less jovial tone. “Did you come out swinging?”
“You could say that. Hang on a second.” Smiling more secretively, Holly was reminded that she wasn’t alone by the questions and covered the mouth piece with her hand to speak to her operations manager. “I think we’re done for today, Jennifer. Why don’t you go on home? I’ll review the rest of the schedules tonight and get with you about the discrepancies in the morning.”
“Are you sure? I don’t mind waiting.” Jennifer said with a smile.
I bet you don’t. Holly thought and returned the smile. “This is going to take awhile and I’ve already kept you too long as it is. Go home, get some sleep and I’ll see you in the morning.”
Rats, rats and double rats. She thought about having to leave when it was just starting to get juicy. “Alright, if you insist.” Jennifer said instead and rose to her feet. “I’ll see you in the morning, Holly.”
“Good night, Jennifer and do me a favor, please.” Swiveling her chair to the side, Holly leaned it back to put her feet up on the corner of her desk one by one. “Would you close the door on your way out?”
“Sure. Be happy to.” The operations manager lied with a smile. Getting dismissed with a friendly wave, she walked out of the office and grudgingly closed the door securely behind her. “Now who has miss fancy pants got a fancy for, I wonder?” She asked herself on the way down the hall.
Holly counted silently to twenty before she removed her hand to resume her conversation with Teddy. “I’m back.”
“And speaking of barra, barracooooodas.” Teddy sang. “How is Jennifer this evening? She can’t be happy about working late.”
“She’s not and from what I understand, she wasn’t happy about having to cancel her lunch plans for the staff meeting I called.” Wiggling her butt to get more comfortable, Holly leaned way back in the chair and closed her eyes.
“A staff meeting, huh? Did my little puddle buddy come out slinging mud?” Chuckling the question, she heard Holly laugh. “Is that a yes?”
“No. I didn’t come out slinging mud.” Winding down to a chuckle, she shook her head at ‘puddle buddy’. “I was cool, professional and well prepared, thanks to you and you should have been there. I think Rolando wanted to give me a standing ovation by the time it was over.”
“Oooooo, that good, huh? I’m sorry I missed it then. Did ya do some constructive delegation while you were breaking out the whips and chains?” Teddy inquired trying to envision the management staff huddled in the corner cowering while Holly cracked a whip over their heads.
“Yessssss, Teddy.” Holly sighed. “My little power monopoly has been dutifully distributed for the greater good of the resort and my sanity.”
“Glad to hear it. You were looking a little frazzled the last time I saw you.” She said, then added an amendment. “Well, I think it was frazzled. It was kind of hard to tell with the mud and all.”
“Back to that, are we?” Asking petulantly, Holly opened her eyes to stare at the ceiling.
“Are you still mad I threw you in the mud?” Teddy asked hesitantly.
“Are you still mad I dinged your M-whatever?” Holly asked in return.
“M37 and no.” She answered with a smile. “That old war horse has been hit with a lot worse than your puny little truck.”
“You’re starting again, Teddy.” Holly warned her.
“So? Wadda ya gonna do?” An impish grin on her face, Teddy lifted her head to look at the bruise on her calf. “Bite the other leg?”
Holly winced at the memory. “Sorry about that. I didn’t really hurt you, did I?”
Chuckling, Teddy put her head and her leg back down. “Ya left a nice set of dental prints, but don’t worry. I took some rabies vaccine before I went to bed. I stopped foaming at the mouth about an hour ago.”
“Liar and I don’t have rabies.” She said with a glance at the ceiling. “I should see about getting a tetanus shot, though. There is no telling what germs I picked up from your putrid hide.”
“Putrid! Putrid!” Teddy shouted and started shaking a finger in the air. “I’ll have you know there are a lot of people who would snap at the chance to be where you were today, honey and nary a one would be worrying about getting germs, either.”
“Is that right?” Holly asked slyly. “Do a lot of wallowing around in the mud, do you?”
“Don’t you worry about that. That’s my business and you just remember what I said.” Dropping her hand, she slapped her thigh. “These babies are a highly sought after commodity. I have to beat people off with a stick to keep them from drooling all over them.”
“Must be hell.” Holly laughed and shut her eyes to try to bring the image into her mind.
“It is. It is. You don’t know what I go through.” Teddy said in a serious tone and kept on with the line she was shoveling out. “People all the time throwing themselves at my feet, begging me to just let them look at my legs and having to drag them around when they latch on like some crazy person. Having to step over them when they faint. It’s a curse, I tell ya. I’m cursed with these legs. People just can’t get enough of them.”
“Stop it.” Holly begged with one hand holding her aching side.
Teddy didn’t miss a beat. “That’s why I work behind a bar, ya know. I have to keep them out of site or I’d have people grabbing at them every minute. Hey, you think you can put some bobbed wire around the bar or maybe an electric fence? I might need it if I have to wear shorts. You’re not putting me in shorts, are you? I can’t be held responsible if you do, ya know. There is no telling what will happen if I show some leg. They might go crazy and come over the bar at me. It’s happened before, ya know. That’s why I had to leave the Dunes. They made me wear shorts once and they had a riot on their hands. It was madness, I tell ya. I barely got out of there alive. I had scratches all over my legs. Not a pretty scene. Not a pretty scene at all.” She said with sadness in her voice. “I had to go to therapy after that. I’ve just never been the same since.” Ending with a sigh, Teddy listened to the effects her tall, leggy tale had wrought on her boss.
Tears streaming down her face, bent forward holding her stomach, Holly couldn’t speak for laughing so hard.
Satisfied that she had played her part well, Teddy chuckled under her breath as she tried to help Holly along in the same area. “Breathe, Holly. Breathe.”
Her imagination working against her, Holly managed to calm down enough to talk, after a few minutes of sporadic bursts of hysterical laughter. “Don’t ever do that again.” She ordered between halted attempts at catching her breath.
“What?” She asked in amazement. “You didn’t like Dr. Teddy’s cure all for what ails ya? Lots of people swear by it.”
“Don’t start! Don’t start that again. I can’t take anymore, Teddy.” Wiping her damp cheeks, Holly took a couple of deep breaths to clear her head.
“Okey doke. I’ll let ya off the hook for now.” Teddy relented with yet another chuckle. “Hey, I just thought of something.”
“Oh, dear God.” Holly groaned.
“No, no. It’s about work.” She assured, then continued. “What time am I supposed to come in tomorrow? You never said.”
“Work. Ummm.” Deep breath. Deep breath. Deep breath. Okay. “Well, I usually get here between 5:30 and 6:00, but you can come in whatever time you want. Oh, wait a minute.” She said and snapped her fingers. “I’ve scheduled a staff meeting for seven tomorrow morning. You’ll need to be here for that.”
Teddy stuck out her tongue. “Seven? Ugh, that’s early. Why so early?”
“I’ve got some projects I want to put on the table.” Holly explained with another wipe to her watery eyes. “By starting early I can sort out any problems the same day.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Fluffing her pillow, Teddy sat up a little higher as she slipped into manager mode. “What projects have you got for me?”
“Getting those transfer requests signed, for one thing. If we don’t get those people here, they won’t have any uniforms to wear and you’ll be putting the stock away by yourself, which reminds me. I’m going to need those order adjustments, too.” Drumming her fingers on the arm of the chair, she sighed. “Jennifer is already screaming about last minute shipments and David is bitching about having to redo the expense reports for your department.”
Teddy smiled. “I’m just a big old thorn in your side, huh?”
“Aim about a foot lower and you’ll be getting warm.” Holly laughed.
“Hmmmm. How about if I make it up to you?” Teddy asked and got comfortable again.
“With what? Another cram session over a bowl of ravioli and a mud bath?” Chuckling the question, she shook her head at the day she had had with Teddy as hostess.
“Nope. How about a meal served fresh from the grill on a relaxing picturesque landing overlooking a tropical paradise.” She offered in a hushed lilting tone, then switched to her normal voice. “And you can help me pick out what fish I should get for the aquarium, since you didn’t like my first suggestion.”
“I knew there was going to be work involved.” Holly rolled her eyes. “When?”
“Well, I won’t bother asking when is best for you, because all you do is work, sooooo how about Saturday? You can come up early and we can go through the fish book I’ve got around here somewhere while I whip up something delicious on the grill I’ll have to haul up from the garage, and scrape all the rust off of.”
Holly turned her head and shook it at the invitation that was going good. Was being the operative word, of course. “I’m drooling with excitement.”
“You will be once the rust is gone. I’m a whiz with open flames.”
“Alright. It can’t be any worse than eating out of a can. Saturday, your house. I’ll be there.”
“With bells on?”
“With a fire extinguisher.”
“I thought so.”
A gorgeous, clear sunrise was lighting up the sky in her rear view mirror as Holly drove to work. Relaxed and unhurried, she took the road that ran along the beach, letting the fresh salty morning air set the pace as the warm wind on her face washed away the sleep two cups of coffee hadn’t. Glancing at the sea from time to time, she watched the dark waves roll in to break on the white sand and smiled. “I’ve got to come this way more often.” She told herself as gulls called to one another from shore to sky. Her destination coming closer, she watched it grow larger through the windshield and noted the way the aqua colored exterior blended with the morning sky. An unplanned feature on her part, Holly wondered if it looked the same from Teddy’s deck. The thought inspiring a heavier foot on the accelerator, she arrived at the Paradise not long after and had a mixed reaction when she saw the M-whatever parked in the lot. “Why so early my ass.” She said as she pulled off the road. Spinning the steering wheel one way, then the other, the Land Rover was brought to a stop in the space beside the dinged vehicle. Shutting off the engine and pulling the parking break, Holly got out of her truck to check out Teddy’s. No layer of dew on the body told her the tall brunette hadn’t camped over night, so either she had been lied to or Teddy had been looking for something to bitch about. Suspecting the last option, she removed her briefcase from the passenger seat and set out on an altered course to her office that would take her through the patio bar.
Deep into building a database for inventory control with a six month projected window, Teddy sat on a stool at the bar, on the customer side, with the laptop, her coffee maker from home, her briefcase, backpack, transfer requests, order adjustments and an insulated Piper Shoals mug as her only company since she had arrived at the resort an hour and a half before. Preferring the quiet and fresh air to the artificially cooled stuff swirling around the room designated as her office, she typed sporadically on the keyboard, inputting formulas and test data while drinking her breakfast. The monotonous sound of waves in the periphery of her mind, another noise joined it and she looked up from the screen to find a blonde woman staring at her. “We don’t open till ten.” She said and immediately went back to what she was doing.
“Good.” Jennifer smiled as she walked over to where Teddy was sitting. “That means I’ve got you all to myself.”
“Lucky me.” Teddy groaned. “What do you want, Jennifer?”
“Nothing much.” She said, moving a little closer. “I just thought I’d stop to say thanks for Jeff. I didn’t get the chance to do it properly the other day.”
“You’re welcome and I’m busy.” Straight forward, Teddy couldn’t help but chuckle despite herself. “What did you do to him this time?” She asked without looking up.
A little closer, Jennifer slid in beside Teddy to look over her shoulder. “I told him that if he ever messed with my shipments again, I’d send his rich wife the pictures I have of him and his secretary taking dictation on the beach in their birthday suits.”
“Where did you get pictures like that?” Frowning, she glanced over her shoulder.
“The man is an idiot, Teddy.” Smiling wickedly, she put her hand on Teddy’s shoulder. “After he tried to harass me the last time, he took a business trip to the Twin Dunes when I was working there. I took the pictures from my office window.” Shaking her head, she closed her eyes. “I had to call in sick the next day from an overdose of nauseating exposure. Then I burned my zoom lens.”
Chuckling silently, Teddy dropped her hands to her lap. “Too much male flesh for you?”
“God, it wasn’t him.” Throwing one hand in the air, Jennifer opened her eyes. “His secretary is hideous, I tell you. The man has absolutely no taste in women. Just look at his wife! Miriam could stop an eight day clock with that face she’s got and you’d think, with all her money, she’d do something about it to save us the misery of having to look at her.”
“Okay, I’ll have to give you that one.” Teddy remarked with a hint of disapproval in her tone as she refocused her attention on the computer. “Miriam isn’t much to look at, but she’s got a good heart to go with her money and she deserves better than Jeff.”
“Hmmmm, okay. I’ll give you that one in return.” Jennifer nodded and leaned lightly forward into Teddy’s shoulder. “Nobody deserves that pig.” The statement made, she received no response, to her disappointment. Being dismissed again, she stuck her head over Teddy’s shoulder to see what she was doing. “What’s that?”
Ready to be alone again, Teddy rolled her eyes. “An inventory control database.”
Something to latch onto, Jennifer leaned in a little further. “We have those already.”
Really ready to be alone again, she turned her head to tell Jennifer this when she saw another blonde in the bar. “Holly.” She said calmly, though with a look of confused astonishment. “I didn’t hear you come up.”
“Holly?” Jennifer asked and backed up two paces to put some breathing room between herself and Teddy when she spotted her boss. “Good morning, Holly.” She said nervously, fingering the top button on her blouse.
“Good morning, Jennifer.” Holly nodded. Holding her briefcase behind her back with both hands, the leather case bounced against her legs as she started toward the pair with no outward signs of emotional reaction to what she had walked in on a few moments ago. “Morning, Teddy. How’s your ankle.” She asked as an acknowledgement of Teddy’s presence.
Teddy really didn’t know what kind of reaction she expected Holly to have at finding Jennifer hanging all over her, but whatever she thought might happen, it didn’t have anything to do with her ankle. “My ankle?”
Slowing as she approached them, Holly looked down at Teddy’s feet. “Yes. Rolando relayed your message that you wouldn’t be in yesterday because you had slipped on some steps and twisted your ankle. I’m hoping it’s better today?”
Green met blue a moment later and Teddy was sure she saw a mischievous twinkle in Holly’s eyes. The blatant reference to Holly’s comment about her needing anti-skid on her stairs, she wondered how Rolando had come up with the story, but didn’t wonder long as she had to dive in head first to the smoke screen or risk exposing it as a ruse. “Much. Thanks for asking.” She smiled insincerely to make sure Holly knew the jab hadn’t gone unnoticed.
Once the niceties where done and Jennifer figured she hadn’t gotten caught at flirting, she felt safe to reenter the conversation. Snapping her fingers to get their attention, she peered at Teddy’s feet. “That’s right. I forgot to ask you about that. What did you do, trip over those size elevens again?”
Happy for the chance to slip back into their hate/hate relationship to solve the one too many blondes problem she was having, Teddy, gave Jennifer the merest of glances and an unfriendly tone. “Don’t strain yourself with compassion, Jenn. You might break a nail.”
Holly hid her smile with a bowed head as she made a detour around her operations manager to be on her way. “I’m glad you’re feeling better.” She said and kept going until she was almost at the door leading into the resort. There, she stopped, after losing a hasitly fought battle against being snotty. Maybe it was because she only had two cups of coffee or because Teddy hadn’t offered any of her’s, but whatever the case, Holly felt a little onry at the moment and decided to dish out some paybacks for the mud bath she had gotten the day before, which had irreparably turned her brand new pair of white spiffy tennis shoes a muddy brown. Snapping her fingers, to signify a sudden burst of memory, she then turned around to point on of those fingers at her target and decided to use Teddy’s reputation for self-sufficent independance as a stick to poke her with. “Teddy, did you get the transfer requests for your department filled out?” Asking with a managerial inquisitiveness.
She knows that. Why is she asking me that? “Yes, I did. I’ve got them right here.” Teddy replied with raised eyebrows and a hand on the documents.
“Good. Then stop by my office before the meeting, so I can sign them. They need to get into the system this morning.” Holly instructed in a friendly, but not overly so manner.
An odd smile on her face, Teddy shrugged. “Sure thing.”
Harpoon aimed and ready to be fired, Holly made the presentation of taking her leave again, then did another about face and put on a mildy concerned expression. “Are you going to need any help getting around? I can have someone bring you a wheelchair, if you think it’s going to be to difficult for you with that ankle. We have the motorizied kind. You can put your things in the basket.”
Jennifer slapped her hand over her mouth and turned her back on Teddy as her body began to shake with silent laughter.
There was a short pause as the air around Teddy began to bristle with electricity. Then her left eyebrow went up, her eyes narrowed to thin slits, her jaw clenched and her congenial expression turned into a glower. “That won’t be necessary, thank you. I’ll manage.” She snarled as her upper lip began to twitch.
“As long as you feel comfortable.” Holly sighed, shrugged and smiled. “I’ll see you in my office and there’s no hurry. Take all the time you need.”
“I’ll be there.” To kill you, you little brat. Just wait till I get my hands on you.
“Good. Jennifer, you’ll be at the meeting?” She asked and got a wave of acknowledgement, though it could have been interpreted as a ‘go away’ wave, considering the woman was half bent over. “Have a good morning, all.” Holly said as a farewell and left, whistling down the hallway toward the lobby.
A low continual growl following the departure, Teddy began picking the paper up off the bar to angrily shove in her briefcase.
“Do you need some help with that?” Jennifer chuckled.
As an answer, Teddy turned a glare on the blonde and took slow menacing steps in her direction.
Sucking her lips into her mouth to fail at hiding her smile, Jennifer’s eyes got really big around as she backed up with her hands held in a defensive position. “Guess not.” She laughed and bolted towards the door, her high heeled pumps carrying her to safety.
“Blondes.” She cursed the species as a whole, though she knew Jennifer didn’t fall into the category because her hair color was courtesy of Lady Clairol, but she didn’t care. Blonde was blonde right then and she didn’t like any of them.
To be continued -- Part 4
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