From the Dangerous Woman Vault: The World's Most Dangerous Woman: The Manifest Destiny.

The World’s Most Dangerous Woman: The Manifest Destiny

I

“Gracious, what a tintinnabulation,” said the comely red-haired woman as she took a sip of Irish Breakfast tea from her Clarice Cliff cup. “Divulging state secrets is a dangerous game when you overestimate your cunning and the moral fortitude of the people you proclaim to be arming with knowledge, Mr. Quicksilver.” She primly adjusted the collar of her black turtleneck sweater.

“I thought if people knew how they are being controlled and manipulated that they would rise up and demand change, Miss Lyme.” The lanky young American man sitting in the chair seemed agitated and upset, completely taken aback by the predicament he found himself now. He had barely escape arrest and came across the border that evening to make his way to Niagara-on-the-Lake to the farmhouse he now found himself seeking asylum of sorts. The cozy office where the conversation was now taking place hardly seemed like the hub of international intrigue. The consultant he was now speaking with was known to the most powerful players as the world’s most dangerous woman, yet Miss Magnus Lyme seemed dainty and whimsical; her gracious, calming demeanour gave no hint of her secret role in world affairs.

“It took them hundreds of years to set things up just the way they like them, why would they want to rock the boat now?”

“Are you serious?”

“Completely.”

“But they are being oppressed, degraded, stalked – enslaved!”

“Yes, but they have cultivated an identifiable group of people they can blame for their personal failures, and thus do not have to make the effort to create true progress and can settle for the status quo. It is a dreadful way to live one’s life, but obtaining paradise is a terrifying idea to most. As long as everything seems functional and they have their trinkets, amusements, and elixirs, people will forgive almost any sort of abuse. Some will even go so far as to justify it and declare it to be the best way to live one’s life and do everything in their power to enforce it on future generations.”

“I find that hard to believe. You wrote two exposés when you were a journalist.”

“I do sympathize with you, but you still have not grasped what has happened. You gave it your absolute best and most clever effort to expose corruption to the corrupt and they turned on you from both sides of the equation. They will not thank you for exposing their deficiencies to the world and pointing out that people are allowed to wear worthless paper crowns by rigging the game and not because they are special and superior.”

“Did they turn on you?”

“Of course, they are impossible people, but it did not stop me from doing things from a more sensible angle. You are up against two of the world’s most powerful organizations – the Circle in the Sky and their sworn enemies La Nuit du bas, both that have been in existence since the late eighteen hundreds and have weathered numerous whistle-blowers before you and survived. They become more powerful no matter if they are naked emperors strutting proudly down the street. You managed to inoculate them from further harm by getting the populace to become adjusted to the tyranny.”

“I’m a wanted man, Miss Lyme. I can spend the rest of my life in prison, or worse, they could kill me. I need you to help me.”

“Then tell me how you fell into this quagmire in the first place.”

The man fell back in his chair and sighed. “I was hired at Hildebrandt International Security Corporation right out of university. It was a lowly, contract position.”

“They are a front for the Circle.”

“I did not know that at the time. They had a government contract to overhaul their security systems so that hackers wouldn’t steal classified information.”

“But you somehow did just that.”

“Not at first. I was let go shortly after I was hired because I wouldn’t join the ranks. I landed on my feet, getting a job at the Intelligence Agency.”

“I am listening.”

“I was hired on my expertise in securing their systems.” The man paused.

“Go on.”

“It didn’t take long for me to see what was going on. The Agency was encouraging young naïve kids to ‘live out loud’ on social media sites so they could not only start gathering information about every move these kids made, but also began a program to encourage them to do certain risky things so they could shame them or keep them in check later on. They were controlling their behaviour as they were following their every move, turning average kids into raging narcissists who had no idea they were being built up to be humbled, willing to do anything to stay alive when their delusions all came crashing down on them.”

“When did you get the idea to gather information on the information-gatherers?”

“You know the underground anarchist group the Manifest Destiny?”

“I do. They proclaim to be a subversive group who gather classified information from various governments and disseminate it publicly on various sites with high traffic.”

“Right. I gathered what I could and put out feelers. Their leader Harrison Jones contacted me personally and encouraged me to give them what I had.”

“Mr. Jones’ family has deep ties to La Nuit and they are the second most prominent members of African-American descent in the organization, and were, in fact, the first black American members to join. The Destiny is a front that is neither underground nor anarchist. You were fooled to infiltrate the Circle’s operations.”

The man’s eyes widened in fear as his hands trembled. “I had no clue.”

“The organization is a sham and a front for La Nuit to remove the Circle members so that they can replace them with their own men. Did you keep any proof of your dealings with them?”

“I did. I have a memory stick of everything right here.” The man reached into his plaid shirt pocket and gave the stick to Miss Lyme.

“I will have a look at this later. Are you absolutely certain that the idea of leaking documents was your idea and not Mr. Jones'?”

“Now that you mention it, one of my colleagues, Hayley Barnes is the one who nudged me to do the right thing.”

“Did you do so to impress her?”

“She is a pretty good-looking woman who told me how much she finds rebels attractive.”

“She is one of Mr. Jones’ operatives. She knew of your affiliation with Hildebrandt and assumed you were a Circle minion. I know the rest of your story.”

“I was assured complete anonymity by Harrison. I thought my name was leaked by accident, but I guess it was all part of the plan once I outlived my usefulness. I don’t know what to do. The government will throw me in jail and the Destiny will vilify me and torment me with their anonymous terrorist campaigns.”

“The latter’s campaign hinges on you caring about their mud-slinging, which can be turned around and be used to your advantage. As for the former, you will stay here tonight and tomorrow we face the problem directly. I must play with my dog Helmut and my mule Orson or they will become sulky and throw a tantrum. I will make enquiries and proceed from there. Good night, Mr. Quicksilver.”

II

The following morning, Miss Lyme wore her white silk shirt and matching skirt and flew on her private plane to Washington, DC where her client was once an employee. Her enquiries were most telling, and it would not take long for her to resolve the matter efficiently.

When she arrived, she took a cab to Mr. Quicksilver’s former place of work and headed for his superior’s office, walking past the secretary and knocked on the door.

“Red Queen!” spluttered the man as he jumped up from his office chair.

“There is no need to call me that, Mr. Harlow. Miss Lyme will do.” The woman sat down in a chair and opened her briefcase as the man sat back in his chair, looking more relieved, but still uncertain. “I will be brief and to the point: I am here because Mr. Davies Quicksilver is my client…”

“You know where he is?”

“I have come to ask you not to have him arrested or killed.”

“He has to pay for what he has done, Miss Lyme.”

“He has inside information on the Manifest Destiny, Mr. Harlow.”

The man looked up intensely. “What are you offering?”

“Did you know Mr. Harrison Jones funds the Destiny with his father’s wealth?”

“La Nuit has been trying to gain a foothold here for the last year and expand their espionage division.”

“They already have a mole here by the name of Hayley Barnes. She was the one who hatched the scheme in the first place.”

“In other words, we have someone less sympathetic who can fall for this leak publicly?”

“Precisely. What say you?”

“Deal. We’ll handle the optics. We can say she tried to frame Davies Quicksilver for treason.”

Miss Lyme handed over a memory stick. “All the information you need is right here. You can take a look…”

“No, no, I trust you. You never lie.” The man frowned in disgust. “That little trollop slept her way to the top here.”

“Only to find the top floor of the tower was a prison. Good day, Mr. Harlow.”

As Miss Lyme walked out of Mr. Harlow’s office, the man gave a faint smile in spite of the trouble and the visitor who thankfully did not wear her red dress. That smug little Barnes woman was about to get her comeuppance albeit temporarily and for that, he relished what he was about to do. Though he could never tell his superiors openly, he owed the Red Queen a big favour.

III

After leaving the Agency’s office, Miss Lyme made a quick stop to the Jones’ sprawling mansion where one of her maids had been an employee as were dozens of others who secretly gave her information on the world’s most elite players. She knocked on the back door, where a pretty and voluptuous maid with a Russian accent appeared.

“Maggie! How nice to see you. They are not home, come inside. I will make you some tea.”

“No need, Katerina. This visit shall be a short one. I need to know how are the Jones’ finances. Their son Harrison tricked a client of mine to reveal some rather sensitive information without considering how he would manage to go up against the Circle and La Nuit.”

“Yes, you are referring to the Quicksilver man. The finances of the Jones’ are not as plentiful right now and they cannot keep up with the charade for long.”

“What has happened? I thought they were on solid footing.”

“Wife made a foolish choice in lovers and he demanded millions to keep quiet because she told him too much about their illegal activities to stay rich. They hired private investigator to find his weak spot, but she could not find anything anywhere.”

“Is he still giving them trouble?”

“Yes, he is back demanding more. He is a careful man. They have tried to assassinate him four times, but he is like ghost.”

“Their son Harrison has his phony group called the Manifest Destiny…”

“Yes, his father has been insistent he use it to full capacity now.”

“That is telling.”

“He said to him to stop an enemy, you must take away what makes them powerful and then take over them.”

“Yes, I see what he means. I would suggest you resign from this post immediately as they will have more financial burdens by the end of the day.”

“Excellent. I must get back to Moscow soon. I have a study I am about to conduct on the effects of teaching children how to think for themselves and what happens when parents do it for them. This assignment has given me much insight.”

“Thank you for all of your help, Dr. Chekov. Don’t forget to come over to my house before you leave for home.”

After bidding her friend good-bye, Miss Lyme returned to her plane, changed her outfit to a vibrant yellow knee-length sleeveless dress and after making a few enquiries, headed for the maximum security prison where Miss Hayley Barnes was now being kept. Miss Lyme was known to those inside the penitentiary as a consultant, and they had agreed to let her see Miss Barnes in an interrogation room within minutes. Miss Lyme sat down across from the surly young woman and looked at her serenely.

“Miss Barnes, you are now in serious trouble.”

“Thanks to you!”

“I did not tell you to goad a smitten and suggestible idealist to divulge state secrets on behest of La Nuit. That you managed to do all on your own without any prodding.”

“Harrison promised me a promotion in La Nuit! I have been toiling there ever since I was a frosh. They paid for my education so I didn’t have to work as a stripper anymore.”

“At a very steep price since what you were expected to do is far more degrading. I am here to negotiate with you.”

“What can you do for me? I’m up the creek!”

“The way Mr. Quicksilver was up the creek and he is now a free man, yet he is still in great danger. The Circle may have decided to look the other way, but La Nuit is still a threat to him.”

“What are you offering?”

“You are but a mere expendable foot soldier, but the Jones’ have more to lose. Tell me what Mr. Jones told you to do.”

“What’s in it for me?”

“At the very least, La Nuit will not kill you. I have called my lawyer Athena Tallman to represent you on the condition you cooperate with me and very few people terrify La Nuit and the Circle more than she. If you have something of value, both she and I can spare you.”

The woman considered before she spoke. “Harrison’s family made some mistake. I don’t know what, though. His father's business rival Joseph Hildebrandt was wiping the floor with whatever mistake they made. Harrison needed to do something to pull the company out from ruin.”

“Just what I expected. Thank you.” Miss Lyme got up from the chair. “Ms. Tallman should be here within the hour. Good day.”

IV

That evening, Miss Lyme put on her long red gown and made her way to the posh night club where Mr. Harrison Jones was known to frequent. She made her way inside and walked up to the table where Mr. Harrison looked up, trying to hide his surprise and rage. It was known to the elites of the world that when the Red Queen wore her iconic dress, the game was over.

He remembered what his father told him about striking at an enemy before they had a chance to strike at you. “Do you think you can stop me? My followers will hound you at every waking moment, calling you, posting every piece of information about you until you break,” he sneered.

The Red Queen was not rattled. “Your army of empty shadows can do so much to keep your father’s company alive after your mother had her foolish affair with your father’s sworn enemy. Every second they obsess over me is a second they hand to me on a silver platter, Mr. Jones. They become consumed with me as I go about my life. I am used to dealing with angry hordes. I have calmed them and I have incited them in my life.”

“That’s what you say now!”

“Your father tried to destroy Hildebrandt by proxy. The Destiny would have hacked into the computers of his company and planted evidence that Mr. Hildebrandt was the mastermind of the leak, destroying his company and the threat to your father. The government and Mr. Hildebrandt have been informed of the plot and Miss Barnes has revealed as much. It is over.”

“I can still strike at you with the Destiny.”

“Anger from impossible people means nothing to a sensible woman like me. I have my garden and animals and I have inoculated myself from the taunts of the powerful bullies in suits who could not destroy me despite their best resources and cunning. A mob needs direction from a leader who assures them they can remove any threat to their flawed ideology, and they pick on easy prey such as emotionally weak and naive little girls with no protectors. When the target has no respect for their games, they become fearful that their fantasies of owning and controlling the thoughts of others have no effect. I go on, but they will waste their lives searching for my every word and fact, never realizing it all adds up to them ignoring the real problems in their own lives that destroy them with nothing to show for their misplaced rage, while I enjoy my paradise to the fullest without giving them a second thought because I know who they are without ever having to know their names or faces and they will never know me with the vast data at their disposal.”

“I will get you for this, Lyme.”

“I told your superiors at La Nuit of your games.”

“They’ll cut off my funding!”

“La Nuit no longer has use for you, and the Manifest Destiny is out of business. Let them bravely go after the government as they go after them and you for treason. Good evening, Mr. Jones.”

With her client safe from harm, Miss Lyme left the building so she could return to her animals and garden to enjoy all the blessings of her quiet, peaceful life.

The World's Most Dangerous Woman: Me Ne Frego

I

Miss Lyme and her friend Anala Gupta were sitting in Miss Lyme’s basement that had been converted to a metalwork studio. Anala was a goldsmith and a professional jeweler by trade, and while Miss Lyme like to work with silver clay and was a capable metalsmith, she used her talents to make artwork.

“Maggie,” Anala said after she soldered a gold bracelet, “You have a fine work space here.”

“Yours is far superior to mine and is a delightful place to make the finest of jewelry.”

“Because that is my livelihood. Yours is a mere indulgence…”

“I used to teach it, or have you forgotten already?”

“Will you ever go back to it?”

“Not likely. I was blacklisted as a journalist when I began teaching, which lasted a year or so, and then I began my consultancy business as it was more lucrative, and in tune with my talents and strengths. Metalworking is the way I express myself creatively, although when I began to dabble in it, it was the way I thought out my cases when I was infiltrating the Circle in the Sky.”

“It is a pleasing solitary undertaking.”

“I never quite ever did it alone. My former boyfriend Hunter Colby used to watch me before he partook in it himself, though he would make art pieces, while I made jewelry. It was the way we spent quiet time together.”

“It sounds lovely.”

“It was.”

“Is there any improvement with his condition?”

Miss Lyme shook her head sadly. “No.”

“I am rooting for him.”

“As am I, yet nothing I can think up has helped.”

“It is possible that you need to find a new perspective elsewhere to ponder it.”

“Yes, but perhaps I ought to consider a trip to Latvia to go watch the White Wagtail. I do enjoy watching their beauty and grace.”

“I’ll join you. I would love to meet one of your former boyfriends to compare him to your current one, and it would be more interesting if he is conscious.” Anala got up to stretch her legs, and went over to the shelf to pick up a book that caught her eye. “This is a fascinating book, yet I do not recall seeing this in your collection before.”

“I lost my original run of them when I was forced in bankruptcy, and just recently re-acquired the entire set. That is Eugenia Voight’s book on the sculptor Edmonia Lewis. Ms. Voight was a scholar who studied female artists and wrote biographies on them…”

Just as Anala was about to reply, there was a loud banging at the front door.

“Ah, the frantic sound of a client.”

Miss Lyme nodded as she pulled her black turtleneck sweater. “Yes, I will have to see what the tintinnabulation is about this time.”

She walked up the stairs and answered the door where a cowering man in a business suit looked wild-eyed at her.

“Welcome to the Path to Paradise,” she said, “Where the greatest of fears are chased away with the kindest form of bravery.”

“You’re the Red Queen?”

“I am.”

“I need you to read the Tarot cards for me.”

“An economic crisis plagues you? Come inside for a cup of tea and we’ll discuss your impossible quandary with sensibility.”

II

“My name is Barry Stone, and I work for a banking president in New York City. Hatfield and Littlejohn,” the client said as he began to compose himself, “To be precise, I am a speechwriter and personal liaison to the press for my boss.”

“I am listening,” replied Miss Lyme as Anala sat beside her and listened intently.

“My job was simple: try to negotiate positive coverage regardless of whether the reporter was just a reporter, or was affiliated with either La Nuit du bas or the Circle in the Sky.”

“I see, but how would be in the business of discerning them?”

The man smirked. “My graduate thesis was on those two groups.”

“That is very intriguing.”

“I went the Bonhomme School – a private university in Somerset, Pennsylvania, which, you may be aware, are something of renegades who have a tangential connection to Queen’s Heights.”

“They are a tiny school founded by one the sons of the celebrated Hughes Brothers,” replied Miss Lyme, “It was Ethan Hughes’ son Morgan who opened it, and it is still in the family. Ethan’s eldest brother Hammond was the famous science fiction novelist married to Dr. Verity Lake and he lived in the Heights.”

“Ethan was an architect who designed his son’s vision, while the youngest brother Dr. Garret Hughes helped found the university’s psychology department that was similar to the one he guided in Queen’s Heights.”

“And you went to school there?”

“For both my undergraduate and graduate degree, but as you know, they are unconventional, and part of our education is to be aware of such cabals who wish to subjugate us.”

“But you took your talents to a bank.”

“My boss was paranoid about them both. He knew he had to do business with them, but in such a way that he didn’t have to be blackmailed or subjugated himself. I was his secret strategist, showing him how to avoid becoming their servant. I was fairly good at the job, but as I never was in either cabal, I didn’t know things the way you know them. I have both of your books, and they filled in gaps, though I understand both your books are required reading there now.” He looked at the walls nervously, until he saw something familiar on the wall and pointed at it. “They had that prose on the wall in one of the buildings at the foyer. I always thought it was odd, and never thought about it until I seen it just now.”

“That was Alena Love’s second to last musing,” Miss Lyme said warmly, “It was inspired by Hammond Hughes.”

“I had no idea who said it, but that it has a connection to a Hughes makes sense.”

“Alena was particularly fond of him as he was as eccentric and sensitive as Verity. He wrote later they were discussing what the best way to start a conversation was and how to set oneself apart from the others honestly and without gimmicks, and that was her answer to him.”

“I guess I missed that nuance back then.”

“Yet you are here because there is something else you missed.”

“I am not sure who is behind things or why, but someone has figured out my real job within the bank, and is trying to isolate me.”

“Go on.”

The man took out his smart phone, swiped it several times, and then gave it to Miss Lyme, “That is my brother Nevil. He is the black sheep of the family, and a musician, who is sporadically employed. That’s him getting into a drunken brawl, and somehow, someone thought to record it, post it on social media, and now a newspaper is running an article about it.”

Miss Lyme read the article. “Mentioning you, though there is no reason for the connection.”

The man took the phone back, and then swiped several more times before giving the phone back to the Red Queen. “Then, forty minutes later, here is a video of my ex-fiancée having a row with her husband who is accusing her of having an affair, which I seriously doubt, but again, this hidden video goes viral, and another major daily reports on this non-story, and again, out of the blue, mentioning me, and even speculating that the ‘other man’ may be me, even though I live in another state, and haven’t had anything to do with her since she and I parted on good terms because our careers took us in different directions.”

Miss Lyme watched the video linked in the article, read the article, and returned the phone to her client. “It is a coordinated attack, and an opening salvo. It is a game of Go where the point is to surround you until you have nowhere to move.”

“Both newspapers are fronts for La Nuit du bas.”

“Yes, both had once been properties of the La Croix family, until they were killed in a plane crash a few years ago, and then both were sold to separate La Nuit-backed media companies, which makes this attack more insidious than you realize. Usually, they will pick a single media company, and have them disseminate information as to insure a highly-choreographed campaign.”

“Will you take my case?”

“Yes, of course, Mr. Stone. I will need to know of anything that your employer had asked you to do recently, and I will begin to make my inquiries from there. I would strongly recommend you stay here until I can get a firmer handle on your case.”

The man nodded as he kept looking at the musing that until minutes ago, was a mere quaint enigma.

III

You can just start at Hello

There are so many people spinning around the world.

There are so many faces to meet on your journey in life.

But some of those faces move you speak and you want to open up your heart so they can hear the chords of your heart roar their name.

How do you start talking?

How do you show who you are to those faces?

Should you be clever, funny, witty, wise, profound, gushy, or detached?

It is not the words that guide you.

It is the motive in your heart that brings you to the places you want to go.

You don’t need a plan or a script.

You don’t have to fret about the first word to say.

Because all roads begin at a single word.

Hello.

Hello is the word that takes you everywhere you want and need to go.

It is such a simple word to say.

But it is the key that unlocks new worlds as it touches hearts.

Just say hello and your heart will take care of the rest…

IV

As Miss Lyme was in her office making phone calls, and scouring her databases for information, her client burst in looking ashen.

“What has happened?” she asked.

“I just got a phone call from a journalist wanting to know what I had to do with funding some group to fund their use of a biochemical weapon that creates some virus! What is happening?”

“Who is the reporter? What group or virus did he mention by name? What did you tell him? Just write down everything that’s transpired so that I have information I can verify and follow.”

Mr. Stone sat down quickly wrote down everything as he then gave the notebook to Miss Lyme as he looked desperately at her.

“I’m doomed!”

“Nonsense, we will clear the matter up in a day or so. Whoever is behind this attack on you is in a desperate bind as well, and wishes to terrorize you because if you were rational, you would be able to easily figure out the scheme, its motives, and who was behind it.”

“I can’t even think straight.”

“That is the entire point of this exercise. Do not answer your phone or check your email. If you behave impossibly, this tintinnabulation will explode out of the control in short order, which is the point of this charade. I am sensible, and your tormentor doesn’t want sensible reactions. There is a guest bedroom, and I advise you lie down and rest. When it is time for action, I will let you know.”

Mr. Stone looked sad as he nodded and left, just as Anala returned with a notepad and sat down on the sofa in the office.

“He is terrified.”

“He is.”

“I have found out much about the newspapers who have printed those peculiar canards.”

“I am listening.”

“They are both La Nuit properties that are in much debt, and there is a rumour that they both may be sold to another La Nuit company that specializes in squeezing assets by selling their real estate holdings. It seems as if there are factions within La Nuit that are at odds with one another.”

“That is a very telling common thread.”

“Is it enough?”

“It gives me a map to the motive, here is the problem,” Miss Lyme noted, “Two embarrassing videos crop up within the same hour at two different newspapers – neither of which are owned by the same company, and the one newspaper that should have debunked both stories was completely left out of the loop and caught unawares.”

“Which newspaper?”

“The Somerset Ortgeist. While it is not owned by the Hughes Dynasty, they are neither a La Nuit nor Circle-owned paper. They have always been neutral and many of their students graduated from Bonhomme, and I am willing to bet, someone there would have been a cohort with Mr. Stone.”

“You think this is significant?”

“It is crucial to understanding this peculiar dilemma. Whoever benefits the most from this scheme managed to distract the Ortgeist. When I called the editor, she had no clue that one of Bonhomme’s alumnus was being targeted by other newspapers. She has assigned a reporter to look into the story, but they are having an uncharacteristically busy news day.”

“Do you know who is behind this complex game?”

“Mr. Stone’s ex-fiancée’s current husband is a likely player. He set up an argument with her in order to film it, or he was set up by someone else who did.”

“He is with La Nuit?”

“Or he is an affiliate to someone who is, but I have nothing as of yet to confirm or refute that theory. They are all about theatre, and this game reeks of it.” Miss Lyme took her laptop and loaded the video of the argument as Anala got up and came over to watch. Miss Lyme studied the video intensely before stopping the video and pointed to a hanging coat that was barely visible in the video. She enlarged the frame, and then typed in the address of a web database as she began scouring images before nodding confidently.

“What is this image that has gotten your attention?”

“It is a tactical morale patch.”

“I have never heard of such a thing.”

“They are military emblems to boost morale, always an inside joke to keep the insiders feeling smugly superior to the outsiders who do not know their Shibboleths.”

“Is it a clue?”

“It is a red herring used to confuse me, as whoever is setting this up knows that my grandfather Douglas Oxley was a renowned professor studying militaries.”

“You are certain it is a false clue?”

“Yes, I am. It is peculiar for a banking scandal to come along with the threat of a deadly virus, and a smear campaign, and someone with a coat that has a morale badge. It is overkill.”

“Meaning it is all a choreographed siege.”

“Precisely.”

“So how do we find out?”

“My cousin Danny had done stories on morale patches when he was a journalist in London, and he may know something about this peculiar one. Even though it is a false clue, whoever planted it had to have insider information all the same, and we can begin to see how this man is connected to this game. We can pay him a visit to see if there is a nuance to this one we need to know.”

V

“Maggie!” Danny Leo said happily as he greeted his favourite cousin with a hearty embrace, “It is great to see you! You are looking as lovely as ever.”

“I always like to visit my absolute favourite cousin,” she replied as she touched the sleeve of her form-fitting white dress. Danny turned and smiled at Anala. “I see your partner in mischief has come for the wild ride.”

Anala shrugged her shoulders as she gave a cherubic smile. “Each time I come, I am inspired in my goldsmithing, and come up with a bold new line. When I rescued that group of hostages from a king’s secret dungeon, I created one of my most popular line of bangles with chain links that open in various ways. One can sit and wallow about all the injustices in the world, or one can do something about it in such a way to bring levity and bravery to others.”

“Wallow? That has never been a Carrington trait. We are a family of proud adventurers.”

“Most of mine family is of the same ilk, save for my cousin Najina who wallows that she has not yet found a way to become enviously wealthy without having to earn it as she believes her beauty should have already done its magic trick.”

Danny chuckled. “Oh yes, I have heard about your cousin. She has quite the reputation in New Delhi, and, like many others, I have sympathy for your uncle Ritesh Gupta, especially after she auditioned for a reality show…”

Anala shook her head grimly, “Many still talk about the unfortunate incident. Needless to say, she did not make it to the program.”

“But we did make it to Toronto to ask you about this morale badge,” Miss Lyme said sweetly as she took her tablet and swiped it to show her absolute favourite cousin a clear image of it. “Do you know anything about it?”

Danny nodded, “That’s a very dodgy one.”

“How so?”

“Because represents two groups: the official military one, and the secret group of neo-fascists called the Foresight Bundle.”

“I have heard of them,” said Miss Lyme, “But as they do not have affiliations to either the Circle or La Nuit, I do not know as much about them as some of the other fronts backed by those cabals.”

“The Bundle began about ten years ago, when several US soldiers were dishonourably discharged. They murdered a Jane Doe, which our Jane Doe solved as part of her second article, but while their original leader is in jail, they are still operating as far as I know. I recognized that morale badge, and found out it had its origins in the division the founding member of the Bundle. He appropriated it as a secret code in his group.”

“And now they have some plot that is targeting my client. Of that I am certain.”

“They need money to stay in business. That’s why their founding leader killed that Jane Doe: she was tricked into bankrolling them until she stumbled upon the truth. Unlike other groups, they like the finer things in life.”

“Anything finer thing in particular?”

“French cigars. There aren’t many, but they smoked Robuste Chaud, which isn’t just expensive, but very hard to procure.”

Miss Lyme and Anala looked at each other and smirked. “I do believe one of the Feather Duster may have a clue for us. Arjana happens to be working for someone in the Parisian arm of La Nuit who is one of the owners of that peculiar brand of cigar. Perhaps the link is more intimate than what would first appear, and Monsieur Abdou Faucheux would have much to gain if Mr. Stone is out of the way as that company is hardly on solid footing itself.”

Anala nodded. “I am certain we will discover that Robuste is a money-laundering front for the Bundle.”

“I wish I could come along,” said Danny as he grabbed his blazer, “I’d like to see how this case of yours ends, but Jane Doe is going undercover for her latest story, and she won’t be checking in until tonight.”

“I am sad that you cannot come along, but we must make a point of doing a case together,” Miss Lyme said warmly before she and Anala headed for the airport where Miss Lyme’s private plane was waiting for her.

VI

 “Arjana! How wonderful to see you,” Maggie as she gave the beautiful and svelte African woman in the maid’s uniform a big hug and kiss as they entered the Faucheux mansion in Paris, “You radiate even more these days.”

Arjana pulled back while holding Miss Lyme’s hands, “Maggie! I am so happy to see you. You look beautiful in your yellow dress. It means a solution is just around the corner.”

“We are trying to cut a problem off at the pass. You know Anala.”

“We have met once before.”

“Arjana is quite the Renaissance woman,” Miss Lyme said proudly to Anala, “She specializes in Picassiette mosaics, speaks six languages fluently, and when she is not working as a translator, she is a professional welder.”

“A welder?” gasped Anala.

“Oh yes,” giggled Arjana sweetly, “I am autodidactic by nature and the strangest things catch my attention. I learn, master, and then I work in the field to learn more.”

“She makes her own cars to drive, too.”

“Wow,” Anala said impressed, “You can build motors, as well?”

“It was a challenge until it became child’s play. My brothers were all jealous at first, but now I make each one a new car for his birthday every three years.”

“And when you are not making cars, you are having another sort of escapade as One of the Feather Duster.”

“It is a fun and delightful adventure and more entertaining than watching television or surfing the Internet,” Arjana replied, “I watch the buffoons pretend to be important, and after I finish laughing, I tell Maggie, and then after we all laugh for another good long time, we protect the innocent and hold the guilty accountable for their games. It is like watching a play except I do not sit around and do nothing – I can make a difference by jumping right on the stage when the actors are too busy remembering their scripts and fixing their costumes.”

Miss Lyme smiled. “I need to know Monsieur Faucheux’s role in this current farce.”

Arjana led both women to the den where she pointed to the computer. “I already keyed in his password. All of his files are there.”

“Thank you,” the Red Queen said politely as she went through the files. “These are for blackmailing people within La Nuit.”

“It is how he maintains his wealth,” replied Arjana.

“Now, this is very interesting,” Miss Lyme replied as Anala looked at the computer screen, “A Mr. Renforth Arvin is part of that very dubious group of neo-fascists who is connected to this case.”

“Who is Renforth Arvin?” asked Anala.

“The elder brother of the man who staged that fight with Mr. Stone’s former flame, according to this file. His is the first file, and is marked a priority.”

“And yet the Bundle uses Robuste as a front to fund their operations. Why blackmail Mr. Arvin? To get a bigger piece of the profits?”

“Perhaps it is greed, or something an emergency has arisen requiring to cover the expenses quickly.”

Arjana nodded. “Faucheux has invested in a winery that hasn’t been accused of fraud.”

“That would do it,” replied Anala.

“But that would leave Mr. Arvin in a bind,” said the World’s Most Dangerous Woman, “They would need to replenish those funds themselves, and would go to a bank to cover their immediate debts, did not want the bank to do any digging and discover the connection between Mr. Arvin, the Bundle, and Robuste – or La Nuit, whom they would not want to be made aware of their games and vulnerabilities. Mr. Arvin knew of Mr. Stone through his brother’s current love, and saw an opportunity to find a bank not affiliated with either cabal, but to make certain their expert was removed or too distracted to see the ruse or who was behind it.”

“And so they began a campaign to discredit Mr. Stone.”

“Mr. Arvin went to a La Nuit bank, they would have forced him to use one of their banks with much higher interest rates where they had enough to blackmail him and keep him in place by making him do their bidding on far more dangerous games. He was trying to secure the best deal without being pressured or threatened. He must have heard about Mr. Stone through his brother’s significant other, and began to plot.”

“And then he planted the seeds of distrust in him, and they had their fight where Mr. Arvin recorded it.”

“He choreographs the optics, in such a way as to place Mr. Stone in the crosshairs, clearing the way to line his own coffers at La Nuit’s expense.”

“It is a risky way to become wealthy.”

“What about the virus?”

“That would be something the Bundle would seek, and Mr. Arvin most likely thought connecting Mr. Stone to them and their plans would make him panic. It did, but he came straight to me instead. It was the only flaw in his plan.”

Arjana nodded. “He needs funding to feed his ego and gain fortune. He thought he had so many wrinkles and tangles, that no one could follow the trail to him.”

“And yet we did,” replied Anala as she looked at Miss Lyme. “The remark about his single mistake in his plan reminds me of one of the musings on your wall from Alena Love.”

“About perfection? Yes, it is one of my favourites, as it reminds me to not become obsessed with flaws.”

“Mr. Arvin was obsessed with hiding the flaws of his plans to the point of having one that would be his undoing.”

“And that is the reason it is about to all unravel. I have a red dress to put on, and we have a scheme to stop as soon as our plan lands.”

“What should I do?” asked Arjana.

“Make a copy of these blackmail files, email them to me, and I will go to La Nuit with them to humble them and your now-former employer. You have cars to make and beautiful artwork to create. Your job here is done.”

VII

The Persian Carpet weaves the riddles of time and space

For the Persian Carpet is wise enough to keep inside its very fibres the intentional mistake.
One wrong.
Deliberately so.
For only the Creator can be without flaw.
A beautiful carpet.
Intricate, complicated, colourful, and beautiful.
But one wrong. 
Intentionally so.
So not to offende the Creator…

VIII

The two women arrived at Mr. Arvin’s office building as Miss Lyme wore her usual red dress to signal that the game was now over. He worked in a high-rise, but when she entered the building, there were screams of “The Red Queen!” as people began to run.

Anala whistled. “They know of you.”

“This place is crawling with La Nuit members. We must remember to keep a note of who is doing the running as they must have their own sins to hide.”

The two took the elevator to the top floor where the running and yelping continued while Anala used her smartphone to videotape those doing the screaming for future reference. When they reached the boardroom, Miss Lyme flung open the door where there was a meeting take place.

“Mr. Arvin, we have much to discuss,” she said sternly as the other executives in the room began to tremble and blanche, “You cavort with fascists who wish to unleash a virus on those who they erroneously see as inferior to them.”

“What are you talking about?” he said angrily.

“The Foresight Bundle. You and your brother are both members.”

At this comment, the executives ran out of the room.

“You’re going to destroy me!”

“Nonsense, you’ve done that to yourself.”

“Those brutes always want more, and I can’t do anything unless I keep them happy!”

“No denials?” asked Anala.

Miss Lyme looked unimpressed. “I do not care one whit about their demands or needs.”

“Don’t care?” shrieked Mr. Arvin.

“Or, as your defeated kind once said, ‘me ne frego,’” Anala quipped defiantly as she realized Mr. Arvin had no inkling about the Black Shirts or even the roots of fascism in the first place. She sighed and shrugged her shoulders, though she knew the effect was not lost on the Red Queen.

“They’ll kill me if I don’t deliver them each a Mercedes!”

“I have informed the authorities of their plans, and now federal agents are introducing them all to a holding cell. They will be too busy fighting for their freedom to worry about what kind of cars you can afford them. My concern is my client Mr. Stone…”

“They’ll kill me,” Mr. Arvin screamed, “Why did the moron Stone have to come to you? He was supposed to think he was smart enough to handle it himself! The Bundle will kill me…”

“Mr. Arvin, you have nothing to fear from the Bundle…”

“The hell I don’t! They’ll kill me!”

Before either woman could say anything else, a screaming Mr. Arvin grabbed his suitcase, smashed a window open, and jumped to his death just as security ran in and saw the scene.

Anala shook her head. “He feared murder by the Bundle so much that he saved him them the trouble.”

“He panicked when he saw me because he forgot that Mr. Stone had me as an option. He had planned everything meticulously.”

“Not quite. He allowed Faucheux to blackmail him.”

“The stress was too much for him. The police were supposed to be here in a few minutes to arrest him.”

Anala sighed. “And now they can remove what his left of him from the sidewalk. So much spectacle, and yet Mr. Arvin dies for no reason at all.”

“It is a dreadful end to any man, yet his fate was entirely avoidable.”

“He wished to harm your client and shame him into a grave. The human race has much to answer for, Maggie.”

“It does, yet the answers they give are as maddening and nonsensical to the questions they create. Do you need a ride to the airport?”

“Yes, if you do not mind.”

“Of course not. I do have to fly off to Toronto, but after I send you off back to India before then. I do cherish our time together.”

“As I do. It is never a boring visit. We must make it a point to go to Latvia to see the White Wagtail. After witnessing something as distressing as this turn of events, sweet birds would restore much serenity.”

“I will give you a list of dates when you return. Let us leave this depressing scene. My client is safe, my fee will be paid by his employer, and there is no reason to stay here.”

IX

Her case was over, and she had one more stop to make before she returned home. She still wore her red dress as she made her way to the nursing home in Toronto where the staff knew her by sight, but did not understand the significance of her dress or the nature of her job. They greeted her warmly as she made her way to the room carrying not her usual briefcase, but a large bouquet of white roses.

Miss Lyme placed the flowers inside the vase beside the stand next to the bed, and sat down in the chair as she sighed sadly at the comatose Dr. Hunter Colby. She picked up his hand to feel his wrist as she did whenever she visited him. She would always begin by asking if he had enough of her, or did he wish for her to stay. His pulse would race until she asked if he preferred for her to stay. He wished for her company, and she complied. This time was no different.

“Hunter, I’ve come to see you again. Your father is doing well, though he wishes you were out of this horrible state, as do I. You and I worked on quite a few cases together when I was infiltrating the Circle, but why you cannot awaken is a mystery still beyond me. You indicate that no one is artificially inducing this condition in you. You express a strong desire to awaken, and yet, there is nothing I have been able to do to pull you out of this wretched slumber. If you awaken, I would be more than happy for you to stay with me. You’ve expressed as much yourself. Do you know why you’re stuck in this vortex?”

She felt his pulse and sighed. “You’ve no idea, either. I’ve asked my mother, and have spared no expense looking for an expert who could shed light on this horrific travesty. This is profoundly unfair. There must be some solution.” She shook her head. “It is beyond odd, Hunter, that this should happen to you, given we interviewed more than one person this way – and I had never done it while I was infiltrating La Nuit du bas. Hunter, I am going to ask one small favour from you. I am absolutely convinced someone is inducing this state. I have moved you to the finest and safest facility outside of Queen’s Heights, and I am trying to convince your father to move you to into a facility in Queen’s Heights because if there are dark forces harming you, then it is in your best interests to be there so no more harm can be done to you. If there is some way that you are being harmed, try to take some sort of note of it. I don’t think it is a hypnotic suggestion, for what it is worth. If there is a common person, phrasing, anything at all, try to remember. You know I will do my absolute best for you.”

She watched him sleep as she wondered how to undo the damage, and bring peace to his troubled soul as he was a kind-hearted man who did not deserve to be stuck in the horrific prison of sleep. All she could do was talk to him with kindness and fondness, knowing it lifted his spirits, yet it always felt like failure, no matter what she said or how kindly she said it to someone who touched her heart and moved her soul.

A Dangerous Woman Story Studio update

It looks like there will be one more One Shot coming in a week.

twmdwmnf.jpeg

It is one that was half-written since about 2014, and was patiently waiting its turn in the queue, and now seems like a good time to finish it.

I didn’t think I would have the time, but there is actually one more One Shot from this series, along with a couple of stories in the magazine, but I want to finish them all in 2019 because I want to get to the next leg of the story arc.

As for the first wave of Magnus Lyme Mysteries, there are three more in the popper, and I am working on the next one called Chick Bait. I am eager to get through these as well so the second wave of stories can be done — ones where Miss Lyme is infiltrating the Circle in the Sky and romancing Dr. Hunter Colby. We know a lot about her first love Dwennon Garrison as he has been spun-off into his own mystery series of short stories, but very little about the enigmatic Dr. Colby. Dwennon wasn’t supposed to be a character: he was to be her unnamed first boyfriend with his older brother Felix in one of her short stories; but then Dwennon seemed to speak to me, and my plans had changed.

I make no secret that I adore four male characters: Dwennon, Hammond Hughes, Phil Lipton, and Theodore Nathanial, and out of that list, Phil is the most patient as I had him in an unpublished manuscript since my early twenties with no connection to Magnus Lyme. Eventually, when I began writing in a Matriarchal-style, the two characters clicked, and paths opened wide for me.

I have an art book I have to do, and that means A Dangerous Woman will most likely be on hiatus until June, and it is the reason I want to squeeze in one more short story.

I have another series in the works that is structural in nature, and the novella will have two separate and unrelated stories told in the same novel style. When this will come out, I have no idea.

I have a course to finish, a move, and a book to write, among many other things, but I am still actively working on Dangerous Woman stories and venture in general. My problem is to find a profitable way to take it to another level. There is a definite readership for them, and there is a supportive base for them, but I need to shore up and settle a few things after surviving a shocking, unpredictable, and horrific year.

I need to look after myself, as well. It has been a shitty year, but I triumphed. It is hard to believe that I got through everything that fell on my head at the same time. You heard of the trope “dropped a bridge on him”?

Well, someone dropped a universe on me, hoping to keep me dead and buried, but never mess with an eccentric Serbian punk.

We survived holocausts and oppression, and we are still around to tell you how much all the Establishments suck.

And we don’t forget. We are stubborn little punks.

So there is much in the cosmos that has a lot to answer for to me personally, but my life still goes full steam ahead.

The scoreboard this year?

Universe 0, Alexandra Kitty ∞.

And I wasn’t looking for a fight. I was looking to teach others innovative and important things as I write books, and do constructive and kind things in the world as I looked after my family and animals.

C’est la vie, motherfuckers.

I go on with my life with my favourite character of them all, a prim and proper punk by the name of Magnus Demeter Lyme, who is there with her adoring creator all the way.

Stay tuned…

The World's Most Dangerous Woman: A Summer Shower

I

Anala Gupta and Miss Magnus Lyme were sitting in the latter’s metalwork studio in her basement working with precious metal clay. They were working with silver clay as they were enjoying one another’s company. Anala was making a ring while Magnus was using a stylus to write on the flattened clay. Magnus wore a black turtleneck sweater and pants, while Anala wore a vibrant purple sari with yellow embroidered sari as she had just attended a wedding of a cousin in Niagara Falls and decided to spend a week visiting her good friend Miss Lyme who lives in the Path to Paradise, a farmhouse in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

“This is quite exciting,” Anala mused as she admired her handiwork, “I have not tried to work with the clay form before. I mostly work with gold, platinum, rhodium, and palladium bars, rods, or sheets.”

“They do have clay in gold,” Miss Lyme said brightly, “Though it is very expensive and using it for my usual work would cost me a small fortune.”

“What are you doing with it? You don’t seem to be making jewellery.”

“I am writing notes of my last case. After the clay dries, I will fire it in my kiln and then put it with the others, though I suppose I could use a torch instead.”

“It is an extravagant way to record your cases.”

“Yes, but there is something thrilling about doing it. When I have finished, I will record my greatest one in gold and spend an outrageous fortune on it.”

“That will be your great indulgence.”

“After two the last two years of recalibrating myself, I relish every indulgence I can.”

“Like your beautiful flowers.”

“A house is not a home without them.”

“I knew you loved roses, Maggie, but I did not realize you grew orchids as well. I always admire the ones in your living room.”

“It is something I picked up when I was in my early twenties,” Miss Lyme said as she thought of her favourite flowers lovingly. “There is something quite exquisite about them.”

“How did the orchid-passion come about? Was it a sentimental nod to a boyfriend who seemed to hold promise, but then made the error of asking to marry you, not knowing of your world-famous declaration of singlependence?”

“No, there was a murder case I had to solve, and the victim loved orchids. She had no peace in her tortured existence, yet she found serenity growing them, and all those flowers responded beautifully to her gentle care. She had no living relatives when she died; so I picked up the mantle, as it were, and always made certain there were orchids in my house, though there was those two harrowing years when I could not, and gave them all to Annie. When I moved to the Path to Paradise, she had cultivated the originals which she kept as she also grew attached to them, but gave the new ones to me so I finally got around to it again.”

“You are the sensitive type, dear Maggie. It is the reason we have bonded as friends, and the reason you are an able detective. Did you find her killer?”

“Yes, but it was a haunting death all the same, and it was then when I decided I would do my best to work toward a goal of preventing such a tragedy from ever occurring in the first place. When I began as a consultant, it was the first time I could keep that promise in earnest, and now my orchids have flourished beautifully.”

“You have spared many people from being murdered by the Circle in the Sky and La Nuit du bas.”

“Yes, but there are times I wish I could have added her name to that list, and it will always sadden me.”

“As it would sadden me as well. Unfortunately, for my cousin Najina, what saddens her is the prospect of having to find real employment as she has been unable to have a successful career as an Instagram model and influencer.”

“I thought she was making in-roads. What happened?”

“She alienated nearly all of her followers by telling them they were hideously unattractive next to her.”

“Gracious, what a tintinnabulation. I trust your uncle Ritesh is not being vexed too much by it.”

“She drives him mad with her demands and grand diva fits. He tells my father of all the ways he wishes to find a cave faraway from New Delhi to drop her off before moving to another continent without a forwarding address.”

“He is too much of a soft touch to do that to her.”

“And she knows it.”

Just then, there was loud and frenetic knocking broke their conversation as Miss Lyme ran up the stairs and opened the front entrance as two older men in suits and ties pouted and furrowed their brows in unison.

It was the Prime Ministers of Tuvalu and Andorra standing angrily side by side.

“Gracious, this is quite unexpected,” said Miss Lyme before she smiled serenely, “Welcome to the Path to Paradise…”

She stopped when both men furrowed their brows anew and raised the hands.

“Who is going to start?” asked the Prime Minister of Tuvalu.

“It might as well be me,” sniffed the Prime Minister of Andorra who cleared his throat, “You are the Red Queen.”

“I am.”

“Hmm, do you read something other than just the playing cards…”

“Could you read us the Kabufuda…not Hanafuda because it is not that sort of problem…” chimed in the Tuvalu Prime Minister.

“And not the Tarot or the Runes because it is not that sort of problem.”

“Kabufuda?”

“You are not familiar with such a deck?” asked the Andorran Prime Minister.

“I am, as I am fluent in Japanese and am very familiar with their cultural nuances, but the point of…”

“You do not make allowances for unique problems?” asked the Prime Minister of Tuvlu.

“I take it this is a political problem, gentlemen with some special considerations.”

The Andorran Prime Minister turned to his companion testily, “Kabufuda? Honestly. Why not Akahachi deck? It is more appropriate for the kind of deck we need to read – Red Eight cards that are as enigmatic as our quarrel!”

“Why don’t you two gentlemen come inside and I can put a kettle of tea as you both tell me what unique problem has it that you both wish me to read a special deck for just the both of you.”

As the men marched in, Miss Lyme noted that they came alone.

She looked at them as she closed the door. “Neither one of you feel in danger.”

The Andorran Prime waved his hand dismissively as Anala came upstairs to satisfy her curiosity. “We are no danger, but we have a bet and we wish for you to be the adjudicator.”

“Adjudicator? What kind of bet?”

“Who can fool the Circle in the Sky the longest. Though my nation of Tuvalu has less than ten thousand citizens and is only second to Vatican City as the world’s smallest nation, we are a brilliant people who have managed to keep both cabals away…”

“Bah!” sneered the Prime Minister of Andorra, “We have over seven times the population as your Tuvalu, and we are all a wise lot who can keep away those insufferable cabals at bay far longer than the whole lot of Tuvalu…”

“Gentlemen, I do not see how I could possibly serve as referee. My consulting fees are not cheap, and how long would you expect me to oversee this competition?”

“Ah, that is the beauty of our plan,” said the Andorran president, “We have a strategy to lure both cabals to our country, and the Prime Minister who can outwit the cabal the fastest wins the bet.”

“What are the stakes for the dangerous gambit?”

“We wish to create a trading block,” said the Tuvalu Prime Minister, “And whoever wins becomes the senior partner.”

“I see.”

The two men then studied Anala before the Prime Minister of Andorra finally spoke.

“You are a diplomat, Miss Gupta, here on official business?”

“No, a goldsmith,” she smiled, “I just came from a cousin’s wedding, and this is not the sort of thing any Indian diplomat would need to wear when consulting the She-luminati.”

“In addition to being a talented goldsmith, Miss Gupta is also one of my trusted sources who is very clever and brave. Why don’t we all go to my office to discuss this wager.”

As the two leaders headed in the direction Miss Lyme waved with her hand, her companion leaned over and whispered. “What is at stake?” asked Anala.

Miss Lyme sighed, “Who gets top billing in their trading block.”

“I did not realize Tuvalu and Andorra had one.”

“They wish to start one.”

“Isn’t the geographic logistics a little inconvenient?”

“Indeed.”

“Do you think this was their idea – or did someone in their inner circle plant the seed because they are members of La Nuit or Circle and they have a plan?”

“It is the most likely scenario, and they wish to bait me into this game for another purpose.”

“You must allow me the pleasure of joining you on this absurd escapade.”

“I’d have it no other way. I will make some inquiries to see what we are dealing with as our two bickering clients haven’t clued in yet themselves.”

II

The two men had spoken at length to the Red Queen, and they decided they would both stay at the Grand Empress hotel in Carnivalia as Miss Lyme promise to resolve the issue. When they left, Miss Lyme made a few more inquiries, and then went to change in a flattering and elegant white sleeveless shift dress as Anala changed into a black t-shirt and denim jeans.

“Anala, you usually wear something more fashionable.”

“Yes, but after listening to an hour and a half of crowing and bragging, I needed to remove all pretence from my wardrobe to counter their chest-thumping.”

“Yes, such impossible behaviour,” sighed Miss Lyme, “The both need a dose of sensibility.”

“So how do we begin on such a case based on both vanity, gullibility, and lunacy?”

Miss Lyme sighed, “They all are based on those three vexing qualities, in varying degrees, but this case takes them all to new levels.”

There was yet another knock at the door as Anala threw her hands in the air. “Just wear the red dress now to frighten them away. I do not know how you put up with those people! I would triple my fees if I were you!”

Miss Lyme smiled as she walked over to the front entrance and opened the door, but who she saw made her laughed in delight and jump up and down as she clapped her hands.

“Mama! It has been far too long!” she said as she hugged her mother happily.

Dr. Nikki Oxley was a well-known experimental psychologist whose own brand of peculiar research was dubbed Mind Wild. She was brave, brilliant, eccentric, and subversive, all while piloting her own plane that often served as her lecture room, and yacht she operated as her other classroom. Her students adored the wild, yet proper British ex-pat, and she was usually travelling around the world to conduct her daring, but always globally thrilling experimental escapades.

“Magsybelle!” her mother said loudly in her posh British accent, “I flew back to see how you were getting along. This latest experiment is taking all of my free time, and I have about another year to go, but after that, I assure you, I am coming to live with you for good.”

“How thrilling! It will be like old times where we had adjacent condos in Dundas. Come in, Mama, and I have just started a new case…”

“Excellent, I will love to see you in action.”

Just then, Miss Lyme’s companion came to introduced herself as Miss Lyme made the proper introductions. “Mama, this is Anala Gupta, a goldsmith from New Delhi who has helped me on some of my cases, though we are also friends who enjoy metalworking our studios together. Anala, this is my mother Dr. Veronica Oxley.”

“I have heard much about you, Anala, as well as received this exquisite gold ring my daughter commissioned from you for my birthday.”

Nikki modelled the ring as Anala looked proud. “I am happy you are wearing it, Dr. Oxley…”

“Please, call me Nikki.”

“I have also heard many wonderful things about you as well, Nikki. Your adventures in psychology sound very exciting.”

“It is all in the name of understanding the world and the atom of reality. Now, what mischief are you two young ladies are you up to today?

“The prime ministers of Tuvalu and Andorra are having a competition of sorts and wish for me to referee it.”

“They wish for you to settle a bet?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, Magsybelle, I thought you were a global consultant for the world’s most powerful players.”

“I am, and this bet is a first for me…”

Anala piped in, “They took issue that she did not have a special code word for global wagers, and even then, they could not decide on whether it should be the Kabufuda or the Akahachi deck.”

Nikki made an indignant face. “I have a very good mind to lecture those two fools for bothering my daughter with such trivial nonsense…”

“No need, mother; I have discovered this is a mere ruse by a third party who is distracting these men and using them as a proxy to deceive me.”

At the news, Nikki became angry, “In that case, when I find out who decided using world leaders as a proxy to upset my daughter, they will rue the day they ever messed with my child…”

“I have my red dress that will strike enough fear in them, mama. Why don’t you sit down for some lunch, and I can tell you everything I have discovered this far?”

III

Dr. Oxley pursed her lips when her daughter explained the details while holding a Clarice Cliff teacup.

“Ugh, what dreadful predicaments your clients throw at your feet expecting you to clean up their horrid messes. I would triple my fees if I were you.”

“That’s precisely what I said to her,” concurred Anala, “Just before she opened the door.”

“She did,” Miss Lyme said sweetly, “But I do not believe most people could afford them if I did. My services do not come cheap.”

“Considering that her tools in her studio cost tens of thousands of dollars, Nikki, I believe her venture is a profitable one. That, and she is a very good employer who pays generously enough for me to buy those same kinds of tools for my studio in New Delhi.”

“So, these two world leaders are being led by their noses, Magsybelle?”

“Yes, and I do not believe it is a coincidence that whoever is behind this impossible bet chose nations of small populations.”

“They wish to draw you out.”

“Hoping I see this as silly, given the modest size of their populations. If you combine the populations of both of them together, it is well below one hundred thousand. There must be a common denominator aside from their sparseness.”

“Have you any leads, Maggie?”

“I have a promising one.”

“Which is?” asked Nikki.

“That both countries are to be a part of a social engineering experiment headed by Dr. Hedwig Grightmire.”

“Heddie? Ugh,” groused Nikki, “She is a pompous boor who gives her husband Thane Eastaughffe a run for the money in that department.”

Anala smirked. “You know the loathsome Dr. Grightmire?”

“We were both graduate students at Oxford, and she resented how much younger I was than she was, and she also was none too pleased that Addison Lyme declared his love for me, and did not notice her – and said as much with the implication he should smarten up and go out with her.”

Miss Lyme smiled warmly. “But he followed his heart and married you.”

Anala looked at her friend, “Forever changing the course of history by producing the world’s most dangerous woman. You never met him, have you, Maggie?”

“I was an infant when he perished in a freak accident.”

Nikki nodded sadly. “Well, Magsybelle, if this nonsense involves Heddie, and you believe you are being baited, then there is a possibility she wishes to strike at me through you.”

“But to hold a grudge this long, Nikki?”

“You don’t know Heddie. She always has to be proven right.”

“I find it interesting that the timing of these clients came right when you stopped in. It cannot be a coincidence. It means Dr. Grightmire has been keeping tabs on you, Mama.”

“And using world leaders as bait.”

Anala cracked a grin. “Only the best for your only child, Nikki.”

“If that were the case, then my Magsybelle would have a far better adversary than Heddie.”

“Now that I have some idea of the personal nature of this case, it is time to pay a visit to one of Dr. Grightmire’s other sworn enemy.”

Nikki and Anala looked puzzled. “Who would that be, Magsybelle?”

“Her husband’s current mistress. Dr. Emerens Kabore from Burkina Faso, who just so happens to be a visiting professor this year in Toronto.”

Nikki got up as she nodded. “What are we waiting for, ladies? Let us pay her a visit and see what she has to say for herself.”

IV

Dr. Kabore pursed her lips and furrowed her brow as the Red Queen relayed the news. She was none too pleased as her lover Thane had just left his wife Heddie for good, and now the insane Heddie was concocting yet another diabolical plot to bother everyone around her. Emerens – Emmie to her friends – never understood how Thane could have married a La Nuit troll in the first place. Emmie knew all about La Nuit du bas as well as the Circle in the Sky, but avoided both of them completely.

But then when her career faltered, she began to suspect not joining a cabal was ruining her life.

She still didn’t take the bait.

But she was working alongside Thane, who was a miserable sot and she told it to his face on a day that was not a pleasant one to begin with. They got into a screaming match, and then for whatever reason, he began to sob uncontrollably.

Apparently, he talked himself into being a trapped animal because Heddie was a stalker who joined La Nuit in university because the man she was in love with married some British nut.

Now that the British nut and her daughter were sitting in her office, Emmie could not understand the insult. Dr. Oxley was sane, polite, and comely, though her voice was very crisp and loud.

After Thane cried on Emmie shoulder, she began to feel sympathy for him, and then before she knew it, she had a torrid and completely improbable love affair with him.

And one day he decided that Heddie was the actual British nut, and he left her.

Emmie could not complain as Thane was softening as his spine was finally strengthening.

But now that Heddie had some idea of seeking revenge with a complete and total stranger she barely knew decades ago in school, there was a very good chance she was going to get back at Emmie as well.

She decided it was best to cooperate with Miss Lyme and her mother. She used her laptop to tell Thane about it, and he was overjoyed at the thought of cooperating if it meant that Heddie would be stopped.

He apparently had one piece of furniture from their marriage he took with him when he left – and he thought it could explain Heddie’s sudden thirst for revenge.

Miss Lyme and Dr. Oxley seemed to immediately clue in and agree to drive over to the condo he was now sharing with Emmie to see what the clue may bring.

V

Anala admired the condo as Miss Lyme looked at a piece of peculiar Art Nouveau-style table with her mother. “That table is out of place with all of this grand African art. You can tell it was brought in from someone else.”

“It isn’t a real Art Nouveau table. This was a very rare and exclusive line that was a homage to the era, particularly to art dealer Siegfried Bing’s shop in Paris.”

“If it isn’t a genuine antique, but is as valuable…”

“Far more valuable,” replied Nikki.

“Then what is it?”

“It is a Prism table. You have not arrived unless you have one.”

“Do you have one, Maggie.”

“No, as I prefer delivering than arriving.”

Anala looked curiously at the singular desk as she examined it. “What a puzzle this table seems to be. It is like a toy.”

Miss Lyme smiled as she opened an inner box. “They are unique, but if you know which series a table belongs, you can riddle out how to open them. My mother did three research papers on the men who bought them and how their tables reflected their thinking patterns. These are hand-made with secret compartments.”

“You believe the vendetta was sparked by the removal of this table?”

“I believe Dr. Grightmire hid something in this table, not counting on her husband to flee the nest and to take this table with him, as this happens to be a rare line with a more feminine appeal.”

“Was it her table?”

“No, and it is an odd choice considering Dr. Grightmire’s taste veer away from the continental.”

“Did Dr. Eastaughffe purchase it to annoy his wife in the passive aggressive way spineless husbands do?”

“He speaks very little of his life prior to his marriage to her, and I suspect this unusual purchase has sentimental value, or did when he was hounded by her to obtain a Prism table…”

“Another passive aggressive strategy. I do wonder what Dr. Kabore saw in him. Is this table some ruse to pull you in considering your mother studied such furniture?”

Miss Lyme opened another compartment and smiled as she looked at the contents. “I doubt it as these papers are quite damning to her.”

“What are they?”

“Proof that she is working as a double agent for the Circle in the Sky. Even if this were planted, I would verify these documents before I made a move, and judging by the contents and coded language, she would be in deep trouble with both groups. If this were an attempted frame up, it would be a very dangerous gambit. If anything, if it were a ruse, it would be one for me to aid her, not try to harm me or my mother.”

“So why place them in the table?”

“That is the question I need to answer. Dr. Eastaughffe knew she kept them in there, and it is the reason he took the whole table, but…”

“But what?”

“Why not just take the papers and leave the table behind?”

Dr. Oxley looked deep in thought. “If the table is a bargaining chip, there must be another reason to take it. Perhaps his wife promised it to someone as collateral.”

“The documents are damning, but both husband and wife are playing a game. I do believe that not even Dr. Eastaughffe knows why this table is a valuable bargaining chip, but he knows it is critical to his wife in some capacity. There is more to the story than meets the eye, but I need to know more about this table. Very few people know about its more enigmatic Shibboleths and symbolic meanings.”

“Nikki?”

“I can tell you about the psyche of the men who desire them.”

“My former boyfriend Dwennon Garrison knew some of it as he studied my mother’s papers when he was earning his undergraduate degree in psychology, and even my mother conceded that his insights were brilliant, though at first she thought I had given him help, though I did not.”

“Isn’t he the one who gave you that hideous quilt?”

“Gracious, it is a lovely quilt given to me with pure love and kindness.”

“No wonder she questioned his judgement.”

“How dreadful.”

“So is that quilt.”

“Gracious, Anala, it was a lovely gift…”

Nikki nodded, “You are talking about that Linnie O’Malley quilt.”

“Yes, but only as a tangent.”

Her mother studied the piece of furniture more carefully before getting on the floor and looking under the table. “This one is a little different than the other ones.”

“What do you mean, Mama?”

“It looks rather flimsy on the bottom.”

Miss Lyme crouched down to have a look. “Someone tampered with this, and then tried to fix it.”

“That would destroy its value.”

Anala looked knowingly. “So it is not collateral in its value. Do you think Dr. Eastaughffe knows?”

“Considering how much he was crowing about it, no. That may be why his estranged wife became upset. She may not want him to know it.”

But she could not bank on him not trying to sell it to a dealer. There is something else, and I doubt he would let us remove this to see what it is covering up. I will have to have a chat with the manufacturer about it, though they tend to be tight-lipped about the secrets.”

Anala made a quizzical face, “Could you not ask your former boyfriend Dwennon Garrison? Perhaps he would know…”

“I am not in contact with him in any capacity.”

“Is he unpleasant to deal with?”

“Oh no, Dwennon Garrison was a fine young man…”

Miss Lyme raised her eyebrow. “A fine young man? You did nothing but complain about him and his deficiencies for the two years we were dating. What did you call him? A potty-mouthed unilingual college graduate who works for a tabloid.”

Dr. Oxley waved her hand dismissively. “He truly loved you, Magsybelle, and it was a pity you have not reconciled with him.”

“Why would I? He is still in La Nuit, mother.”

“That didn’t bother you the first time.”

“It most certainly did bother me, and it bothered him, too.”

“He said it?” asked Anala.

“He more than said it. I discovered too late that he had tried to procure us false identities and two plane tickets to Peru when he was discovered. The Top Tier of La Nuit made an ultimatum to him, but I broke things off with him so that he would not face serious consequences.”

“Did they think you were involved?”

“They knew I had no clue. They were monitoring us, and he wasn’t very good at it as it tried to do it all at once. I told him he was being impetuous and love struck, and that was it. We went on numerous romantic getaways, and I suggested he wanted a longer vacation without interruption, though they did not think that was his reason. His brother Felix was always keeping a close watch on him and was the one who tipped them off.”

“I heard it on good authority that Dwennon has become estranged from Felix and misses you terribly.”

You heard it? From whom?”

“Bobo.”

“Weasel?” Miss Lyme gasped. “You are still in contact with Weasel? Does he know I wish for him to return my Oliver Cooke painting?”

“Weasel?” Anala spluttered, “What kind of a man is named after an animal associated with betrayal?”

“Bobo Starsky was once one of my most trusted sources,” Miss Lyme explained, “He was a lawyer and held a PhD in psychology, but fleeced the rich so he could fund his secret animal sanctuary in a Brazilian rainforest…”

“It is even larger and more stunning…” Nikki said matter-of-factly.

“You have been there recently?”

“I just came back from there. Deena gives her regards to you.”

Miss Lyme looked at her mother as she raised her eyebrow anew. “I see. And you have elected Weasel to be your spy on my former boyfriend with whom I have had no contact with for twenty years.”

“Dwennon still pines for you as Bobo has informed me…”

“I wish he wouldn’t pine. He got married…”

“He is divorced now.”

“I am sorry to hear it, but he should move on as I have.”

“With that dawdler Bradley Stoney?”

Miss Lyme made an incredulous face. “Braddie is hardly a dawdler…”

“He only has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and merely graduated magna cum laude, and is an aspiring magician who only knows English and French. Dwennon has just received his Master’s degree in psychology, graduated summa cum laude when he received his Bachelor’s, and is now working toward his doctorate, all while now being fluent in several languages, and having a newspaper column in a very prestigious Chicago newspaper…”

“Which is owned by La Nuit, nullifying any pretence of prestige. Besides, have you forgotten Dr. Hunter Colby? He was a multi-lingual man with a doctorate, and our relationship did not end well.”

“Dwennon is obviously bettering himself in preparation of being a more suitable partner for you…”

“Gracious, I most certainly hope not, as I will not be getting back with Dwennon, Mama…”

“What makes you that certain?”

“For starters, he is still in La Nuit…”

“Something that can be easily remedied if you liberate him after he grovels at length to you…”

“Grovels at length? Mother, please…”

“There you go with your ‘mother, please’ nonsense. Such impossible behaviour when you know what the sensible thing to do is speak to him honestly…”

“Sensible? Dwennon and I have nothing in common anymore. He has made his choices, and I have made mine, and nothing can be done about that…”

“Your entire career as a consultant revolves around negotiating releases from both La Nuit and the Circle. Sooner or later, Dwennon will come in some way to you to seek his release, and when that happens…”

“I will negotiate that release objectively and professionally, and wish him well on his journeys as I relish my own with my declaration of singlependence. I do not wish to rekindle a relationship with him, especially as Braddie and I are happy together. Gracious, what a tintinnabulation.”

“That is right,” Anala chimed in, “I have even read that rousing declaration as you wrote it in silver clay and have it framed and hung on your studio wall. It was a very moving and inspiring declaration, particularly the part how marriage is for the birds.” Both Miss Lyme and Anala looked at each other and began to snicker mischievously.

Nikki remained unconvinced. “You are telling me you do not keep tabs on Dwennon at all, given your penchant of knowing hundreds, if not thousands of members past and present as well as their ranks?”

“I do not keep tabs on Dwennon. I have no idea if he is still on the bottom rung of La Nuit, or if he made some lateral shift or moved up the ranks. I have seen his column when I was living in Chicago for a year…”

“You mean the year where you were living in the same hotel room where you two frequented?”

“I did so to let go and heal, which I have done. I do not wish him ill, and have very happy memories of our time together, but Mama, I have a different life, and have grown as a person.”

Anala looked mischievously inquisitive. “There is a simple way to resolve this matter. Is this Dwennon more attractive than the very handsome Bradley?”

“No,” Miss Lyme and Dr. Oxley said in unison.

“Then that settles it. I, too, would settle for a godly-looking bilingual aspiring magician as most people choose a single language to converse with each other. It would drive my cousin Najina in New Delhi mad with jealousy as she has more than once decreed that her spouse shall be far better-looking than who I would be able to attract.”

“Braddie is very sweet. He gave me four rabbits. Listen, we have wasted enough time here. I need to find out about the table and the authenticity of these documents. Dr. Eastaughffe seems to be a man who only knows half a story, and I need to find the other half before I can riddle out how does this compromised table and its contents have to do with encouraging two prime ministers to make an impossible wager.” Miss Lyme took out her smartphone and began to take pictures of the Prism from every angle.

VI

It was past midnight when Nikki Oxley noticed the light from under her daughter’s office door. She knocked, and was not surprised that her daughter was at her laptop, furiously typing away. She sat down across her desk as she noticed a peculiar framed photograph on the bookcase.

“Who are those three redheaded children sitting with you, Magsybelle?”

“They were at IKEA when I was inspired to take a picture with them on the showroom sofa.”

“It almost looks like a family portrait.”

“Many of my clients think so when they first see it, and then try to read me and covertly try to manipulate me from it.”

“And then you humble them.”

“It serves as a subtle reminder that I can read their minds, and lay red herrings for them to catch.”

“Are you up to your hacking again?”

“This isn’t hacking. I was looking through Interpol’s database of stolen art.”

“Do you think that table was stolen? Or just a red herring?”

“It wasn’t stolen, and it is not a red herring. It is a chess piece in a game that goes beyond Dr. Grightmire’s sham of a marriage. She is a pawn, and is being manipulated precisely because someone knows of her hatred of you.”

“She is a proxy.”

“So is her husband. So is his new-found love. So are the prime ministers of Tuvalu and Andorra. The question is which one us is this chess master’s proxy: you and me?”

“And you think the Prism table is the key to unlocking the mystery.”

“The table is a private joke. Whoever set up this game is very clever and thrives by the strategy of divide and conquer. Someone threw Dr. Eastaughffe with Dr. Kabore, knowing full well the former would find the courage to leave his wife despite the fact that these two professors are very different, and under any other circumstance, Dr. Kabore would not give Dr. Eastaughffe the time of day. Dr. Grightmire dislikes him, his mistress, and you. Two unrelated nations are thrown into a peculiar and unlikely wager, with the same antagonistic strategy to prevent everyone from seeing the obvious. This entire case is a sham, Mama, and settling this wager is as fruitless as trying to stop it from raining. I need to ignore this farce and go straight to the chess master. It comes down to a table, and who is the real target of this ruse. That table is meant to be a ruse of some sort, but knowing why will clarify this game immensely.”

“The table was tampered with and had incriminating files.”

“Which were all legitimate. I checked, but Dr. Grightmire would hardly be the first La Nuit member to keep self-incriminating files in her house. They are all encouraged to do it; so that their supervisors can blackmail them with it should they get out of line or become inconvenient.”

“Have the Prism people gotten back to you yet?”

“Yes, they know of the table in question, and have sent me the photographs of the original as well as the drafting plans for them.”

“And?”

“No photograph shows the bottom of the table, and the plans have no mention of a metal based-bottom.”

“What if you asked Thane permission to remove it?”

“Then I face a red herring, and go off on a tangent. I am supposed to remove that sheet of metal. I do not want to fall for the bait. My instincts tell me not to look there.”

“What about confronting Heddie with the papers?”

“Again, if I do that, I trigger the dominos to fall in the precise way the chess master wants me to trigger them. If I am too predictable, I will miss the obvious. Whoever is beyond this game can use both a domestic dispute as well as an international dispute toward the same ends at once.”

“So what’s to be done?”

“Anala wasn’t factored into this game as she wasn’t supposed to come here or extend her stay just so we could have our metalworking mischief.”

“I see, throw the person off with an unexpected cast change.”

“It will unnerve the person just enough until I find out what is so significant about the table.”

“What are you planning?”

Miss Lyme pointed at the photograph of her sitting with the children. “That. I never fib, but I can be ambiguous. There is nothing dishonest about that picture, but people read into things because of habits and patterns. No one has pictures of random strangers sitting in showrooms; so we make an assumption that we can trust every mundane photograph on a bookcase is being honest with us.”

“It is being honest, but it breaks a pattern and habit.”

“Precisely. If the script has an out-of-the-blue rewrite, whoever is directing this game will be enraged that he or she lost control and could not predict the outcome, but they will refuse to admit they are an inferior intellect to anyone…”

“Meaning they will try to salvage the game, underestimating you.”

“And I never have to bother with a warring couple or warring world leaders in the bargain.”

“You pull the pawns off the board, and then throw away the board.”

“But that Prism table is a trophy and a prize this chess master could not resist, and once I make the connection, everything falls into place…”

Suddenly, Miss Lyme received an email she read with interest, and smirked.

“What is it, Magsybelle?”

“It is from one of the owners at Prism who was intrigued with my inquiry. The table was not new when Dr. Eastaughffe purchased it. It has a provenance.”

“Yes?”

“The previous owner of it was a wealthy banker who bought it for his elderly father as a present. The banker was murdered, and his father soon died of a heart attack, but there was an estate sale, but there was some problems as Prism keeps very close tabs on their products.”

“Yes, I know that. The conditions of the sale of those tables is peculiar, but they have nondisclosure clauses.”

“Yes, and there were rumours that the makers will not sell a table unless there is a will that stipulates that they get their tables returned to them.”

“That is a myth.”

“Yes, as I had a case years ago when I infiltrated La Nuit as their in-house detective and one murderer had an old Prism table.”

“The Rowan Hall case. I remember it well. He killed his brother, and twice transported the body twice – once to Dwennon’s apartment, and once to Denison Garber’s. You got the Strobe car as a thank you from the owner from which Mr. Hall stole it from, and you promptly gave it to Dwennon – who still drives it, according to Weasel.”

“This isn’t about Dwennon. This is about who previously owned the table for a short spell – and how Dr. Eastaughffe got his hands on it in the first place.”

“Do you know?”

“Yes, I do, as I have been given the name of an old antique dealer, and this case is beginning to clear up quickly, though I am afraid this case is deeply personal, and tragic.”

“What do you mean? What is this all about?”

“You keep speaking about Dwennon, but this case has more to do with another part of my life than that one, and I may have a way of revisiting the past. Anala will enjoy tomorrow’s antic as there is no need for her to be exposed to this sadness, as I begin to end this impossible nonsense with some sensibility once and for all. This may be the first case where I will not be as happy to wear the red dress, but I will still try to reason with the man who is trying to play a game with me.”

VII

The woman in the elegantly tailored yellow blouse and pencil skirt walked into the long-term care facility and had asked to visit a patient who had been in a coma for several years. The man was now gaunt, but had once been very handsome, as the pictures of him in his room showed.

The nurse recognized the redhead from those photographs, though she was somewhat older now. She had explained that the patient and she were an item many years ago, but they parted on bad terms, and they had no contact with one another, and she had only recently discovered the tragic fate of her former love.

The sadness in her eyes revealed that once, long ago, she was genuinely in love with the blond man who was now unresponsive. She asked if the man’s father visited his son, and the nurse said he came every other day, though recently, he had not. She nodded, and asked to see the resident.

She entered the room and looked wistfully at the old photographs as she had not seen them for years. She touched one and sighed before thanking the nurse and asking for a few minutes alone with the man.

Miss Lyme placed a vase of white roses on the stand beside the bed, opened the curtains to let the light in the room, sat down on a chair beside the patient, before caressing his face, and then holding his hand.

“Hunter, I had no idea,” she said sadly as she continued to speak, “I am heartbroken that you lost the battle with the demons who always seemed in control of you. I did love you, for what it is worth. Our year together was lovely, but we both knew it couldn’t last. But even still, you would be the last person I would think would try to end his life. You were brilliant, kind, handsome, and brave, doing what I did: infiltrating the Circle in the Sky to study them. I wished to write an exposé, and you, as the daring and debonair psychologist that you were, wanted better insights on those who fell into dark cabals. They devoured your soul, and I was helpless to stop it.”

She lovingly caressed his hand before gently placing her fingers on his wrist.

“You are in there, still, and you know what I am about to do because you’ve seen me to do this trick many times when we were in the Circle questioning witnesses who could not speak directly. I promise you no harm will come to your father. I will resolve this matter as gently as I can. I do hope you can pull out of this horrifying state and find your peace and happiness. I wish you no ill.”

She waited a few moments before she spoke again. “Now, Hunter, does your father talk to you when he visits you here?”

Miss Lyme nodded. “I thought so. Did he tell you of his plans to get to me by employing Dr. Heddie Grightmire to coax two world leaders to come to me to settle a childish bet?”

She felt his pulse and nodded again. “Was this to strike back at me?”

She was taken back that his pulse did not race.

“Did he wish to see me, and did so in a convoluted way? No?” She thought for a moment.

“Does your father blame my mother for our break-up?”

His pulsed raced fast as she looked surprised. “It’s all right, Hunter. No harm has come to anyone. I will put an end to this game sensibly.” She got up and gave him a kiss before sitting down again. “I will not tax you anymore. Thank you for your candor under these horrific circumstances. Just know if you need anything, just let me know. I do hope you manage to pull through all of it.”

She held his hand for a few more moments, as his pulse began to race every time she was beginning to let go, and despite everything that happened between them, he wanted her company to remind him of happier times, and she was in no hurry to leave. She listened to the rain that just began outside, and it had been as if the heavens were weeping for they had once some optimism that those demons that tore them apart would have been vanquished so the two could pull out of that darkness together, but it was not to be. Somehow, in all of her covert operations, she had forgotten how much she loved and cherished him, but now the reminder was taunting her as she watched his every breath and wondered how it could go so horribly wrong.

VIII

There was a furious knock on his apartment door, and the man tensed up. Everything was going wrong today. He was held up and prevented from driving to Toronto to visit his son on the account of some cheeky Indian woman trying to sell him a variety of jewelry. He had repeatedly tried to shoo her away, but she kept interrupting him with fantastical stories of her alleged exploits of derring-do, including saving a bunch of people locked in a dungeon by some despotic king as she rescued them all singlehandedly. The woman did not look like a loon, but between telling Simon how “solder is not filler” as she explained the metalworking process to him, and how she friended all of the captives she saved on her social media platforms, as she then whipped out her phone and showed him the selfies she took with those people once they were freed, Simon had become confused. He had a plan to carry out, and the appearance of the woman rattled him so badly that he went back to his Toronto apartment to settle his nerves.

Now, there was another unexpected wrinkle, and he prayed it wasn’t the eccentric Indian woman who tracked him down.

But when he opened the door, he gasped.

She wasn’t supposed to connect the dots, but that beautiful flamed-haired siren was standing before him in a red dress looking livid at him.

“Simon Colby, we have much to discuss,” the Red Queen said angrily as she pushed her way into his apartment.

“What are you doing here?” he snapped in his thick Australian accent.

The World’s Most Dangerous Woman looked directly at him as she pointed at him. “You will not lie or make excuses. I know what you have done, through your antique-dealing brother, and you are not being rational. You set up a convoluted scheme to ensnare my mother who you blame for your son’s various misfortunes and you were going to do it by distracting me with an unsolvable labyrinthine enigma of red herrings. The game stops right now, and do not deny it. I have seen Hunter…”

“Oh, and let me guess: you did your little trick with the pulse.”

“I did, but I could have found it out other ways. I wanted to see if he was beyond help, or could he pull out. The rest I found out on my own. You are struggling financially to pay your comatose son’s medical bills…”

“And of course, the great Magnus Lyme saw right through it all...”

“Yes, I know what happened. His social worker told me about it. Why, Simon? What happened to Hunter?”

“He never got over your break-up, that’s what! He always knew it was doomed to fail, but you were that comely little puzzle he couldn’t let go, and your mother had to stick her nose in it all and ruined everything...”

“It wasn’t my mother’s doing. She didn’t break us up because we were genuinely in love and happy – it the Circle did that destroyed that relationship.”

“Your mother isn’t the innocent little eccentric she pretends to be. She never liked Hunter, and she had you to protect, even at the expense of my only child…”

“Hush you, she did no such thing. She disliked my first boyfriend. He swore; he was plain; he had a mere college diploma, he worked for a tabloid, he grew up in foster care, and he knew no other language other than English. She would remind me daily how he was not the kind of man I should date, and yet, she never came between us. She never sabotaged our relationship, and every time he needed assistance, she would drop everything to be there for him, whether to help him track down his parents’ murderer to helping him with his university classes in psychology. I know my mother. Hunter was everything she always thought I should have in a husband…”

“Except his membership in the Circle!”

“My first boyfriend was a card-carrying member of La Nuit du bas and she knew it.”

Simon looked flabbergasted as Miss Lyme continued to speak. “She did not object to Hunter. She never did.” She paused as she sighed. “The Circle slowly breaks into your psyche and begins to manipulate you. Hunter had been over-confident that he was immune to those tricks, and they knew he blamed himself for his mother’s death. That’s how they got to him, and they didn’t want us to be together. They thought we were too happy, and the Circle frowns on happiness.”

Simon looked bitter. “You two were self-indulgent loons, and it kept me up at night. The both of you. You were cocky little punks who thought you could handle anything and everything. As much as you were good for him; you were a horrible influence because he thought he could be as strong as you.”

“We both paid a price, but Simon, both of us knew the risks, and we had our reasons for doing what we did. Yes, Hunter and I were eccentric. Yes, we both played dangerous gambits as a career choice. Yes, we both foolishly went into the eye of the storm, but we both had noble, personal, and legitimate reasons for doing it. He didn’t infiltrate the Circle for kicks, Simon. Neither did I. He thought they could be behind your wife’s death…”

“What?”

“He never told me, either, but I could deduce it. Everything changed when it seemed they weren’t, and then his guilt went out of control…”

“And that’s when you two parted.”

“He saw himself as inferior to me, and knowing my abilities…”

“He thought you would see his defects…”

“My being with him was making everything worse; so I ended things because it was inevitable, and there was no more reaching him by that point.”

Simon looked dejected. “So what now? Payback for going after your mother?”

“I will not throw you to either the Circle or La Nuit. I am very angry at you for trying to bring harm to my mother, and if this had been anyone else, I would have made you face the consequences of your horrid actions alone, but I promised Hunter I would leave you alone. He could hear me, and I do not renege on a promise. I am confident he will come out of that coma because it is not organic, but psychological in nature, and he will need you when he finally rejoins the living. He tried to take his own life out of guilt. You need to reassure him it not his fault, and just because he couldn’t find any overt evidence of it, doesn’t mean they didn’t…”

The She-luminati threw a thick file on the table. “That’s the proof they did order her death, and the reasons why. It wasn’t Hunter’s fault, and the Circle knew of his suspicions, and his reasons for joining their cabal in the first place. When they saw that I wasn’t going to rat him out to them, that’s when they began to meddle. It is all in there to the last horrific detail. I have already dealt with them, and made them pay for his care, and any treatment he will need when awakens. You will not go after my mother on any account. Do not take out your anger on her because her daughter pulled out and your son didn’t. He will awaken. I have already negotiated his release from them. He is out of their clutches, and those papers will give him some peace. The people who ordered her execution had the same fate as her shortly after as she stumbled on something they wanted hidden, but silencing her came too little too late. I will see myself out, and give my regards to your son when he awakens. Good day, Mr. Colby.”

Simon Colby collapsed in a chair and wailed as the World’s Most Dangerous Woman briskly left his apartment and closed the door behind her.

IX

When she entered her Morris Minor in the parking lot, both Nikki and Anala were waiting for her.

“Well?” asked Nikki, “Was it worth it forbidding me from going up there with you to give Simon Colby a piece of my mind?”

“Gracious, mother, of course it was. The needless tintinnabulation you would have caused would have terrified him, and he is a desperate man at the end of his rope. He was once a wealthy man with a son filled with promise, and now he is living in a bachelor apartment in a horrid part of Toronto as that promise is withering away in a hospital bed.”

Anala sighed. “All of these games to strike back at your mother? What was he planning to do?”

“Simon was not the murderous sort, but he sought to ruin my mother’s reputation as he attempted to drag me into some impossible game. Fortunately, he was sensible enough to see it was not worth the effort that would be better spent helping his son heal.”

“What about Heddie?”

Miss Lyme sighed. “Her estranged husband and his new girlfriend tattled on her to her La Nuit superiors.”

“That would cause her much grief,” said Anala.

“Normally, it would, but I anticipated their move and warned Dr. Grightmire, and told La Nuit she was just overly envious of my mother, and though she is treasonous, she is also oblivious, and unfortunately, was scammed by someone in the Circle who saw her as a professional rival, and set her up to humiliate her to both cabals.”

Anala whistled as she shook her head.

“Now that she is the laughingstock of the Illuminati, she has been kicked out. I asked that they do her no harm, but they refused not to taunt her and disparage her work in public for years to come.”

“I suppose you cannot win them all,” sighed Nikki.

“Considering she was not my client and wished harm on my mother, her fortunes are no concern of mine.”

“I cannot keep up with this Illuminati soap opera,” joked Anala, “I do not see why these so-called ‘reality shows’ could possibly be popular when your career has more eccentric events unfolding.”

“Dreadful, you mean,” said Nikki, “It is difficult for a mother to approve of her brilliant visionary daughter having to deal with such idiots on a daily basis, but at least it is a profitable enterprise. What about those prime ministers? Did you let them know?”

“Yes, and they were disappointed, and had asked if they could hold the bet all the same. I said on the condition they tripled my fee, and they both bowed out. Eventually, the truth of the matter sunk in, and then they were livid that they were being used as dupes, meaning neither man would have won the bet. It is like a summer shower,” the Red Queen sighed, “It took a series of small drops falling on their heads to see they were being pelted by fortune’s chamber pot.”

Nikki smirked. “Mixing the poetic with the political?”

“It is more of a great big comedy,” sighed her daughter, “So much time wasted playing games and doing everything else save the one thing that needs to be done.”

Anala nodded knowingly. “Here are two men who have reached the top of their nation’s mountains, and yet they fell for a simple ruse. It is comedy, though one of the saddest kinds there is: self-deception.”

“Our job here is done,” said Miss Lyme, “Let us get back to the Path to Paradise and have a lovely dinner ordered from Redley’s Garden Café. I do believe both of you have flights to catch in Toronto tomorrow.”

X

After Miss Lyme said goodbye to Anala the following day, she was now standing in front of her mother’s plane as her mother also readied to leave.

“I am overjoyed you came for visit, and could finally join me in one of my escapades, Mama.”

“What you are doing is no less dangerous than before.”

“Yes, but I can handle it.”

“Magsybelle, I know they call you the World’s Most Dangerous Woman, but I will still worry about you.”

“As I still worry about you. Your work is no less risky than mine, and no less thrilling. We have much in common.”

“Yes, I was as single as you are at your age. Have you ever thought about getting married, or having children?”

“I have my…”

“Declaration of Singlependence. Yes, I know, but you are in your early forties and I thought you would wish to have a child at the very least. Your cousin Daniel took his wife’s death extremely hard, and as you two are the last of the Carringtons and both without children…”

“Neither one of us want children for the mere sake of having them. I have my career, my home filled with flora and fauna, my friends, and my family. I want for nothing, Mama. I am very happy.”

“You were as happy when you and Dwennon were together…”

“There are other men on this planet other than Dwennon. Braddie and I enjoy one another’s company immensely, and neither one of us are in any hurry to marry and have children. If there is a shortage of single eligible men on the planet, it has not hit my neck of the woods. I am surprised that you have suddenly become a such strong and persistent advocate of Dwennon Garrison. Is there something I should know?”

“Bobo is worried about Dwennon as he seems very bitter and more so each time he sees him. Perhaps you ought to see him…”

“Mama, I am not Dwennon’s social worker. If he is studying psychology as you say, that means he now has one more degree in it than I do, and he is more than capable of understanding what ails his soul. Please do not employ Weasel to keep tabs on Dwennon.”

“Of course, I will.”

“Mother, please…”

“It is more than obvious the two of you still love each other deeply.”

“Love was not enough the first time. A reconciliation will not happen now.”

“You are angry with him.”

“No.”

“Disappointed?”

“No.”

“You have developed an aversion to baseball?”

“No.”

“He has become more specific in his tastes as he now exclusively has interests in Japanese baseball. Bobo also tells me his movie tastes have become aligned with your usual art-house fare…”

“I no longer watch movies of any sort. You know that. I also do not wish to know about his tastes, either. I moved to the Path to Paradise because I was bogged down with trying to make sense of my past, and now that I have set my sights on my future, I do not wish to revisit previous heartbreak. La Nuit is all about brooding romantics, and I do not brood.”

“And you believe Dwennon would brood.”

“If he is pining for me, as Weasel claims, then La Nuit has been a negative influence on him. He is an endearing and kind-hearted man, and he is capable of loving someone new and deserving for that love to be returned. I do not want to be an obstacle to him seeking the kindness he needs and deserves.”

“You know, Magsybelle, I did not like him in the beginning.”

“You accused him of being a honeytrap.”

“Well, that was before I saw him and he swore like a drunken sailor using horrifying obscenities when his new cell phone fell and cracked in my presence.”

Miss Lyme began to laugh recalling the incident. “I never seen you turn so many shades of red in my life, Mama. You took me by the arm and dragged me to the kitchen. I still remember those words you said when you caught your breath, ‘What are you thinking going out with…with…such a foulmouthed ruffian?’”

Nikki began to laugh heartily as she blushed. “And what did you reply? ‘First of all, he isn’t a ruffian, and second of all, I wasn’t thinking about things, Mama, I was feeling.'”

Miss Lyme began to giggle as she blushed as well. “And then you said, ‘He’s so plain and common! Ugh, honeytrap, he’s not. It’s even worse than I thought!’”

“Then you said, ‘There is nothing wrong with him’ before I replied…”

Before both said in unison, “'Save for his coprolalia!’”

The two laughed loudly as Miss Lyme clapped her hands playfully.

Niki smiled warmly, but looked sad, “I was too terrified that La Nuit was going to discover your true intentions and destroy you. It was my absolute worst nightmare. If I knew then what I know now, I would have been more compassionate and supportive of him. He did his best under the worst of circumstances. He was orphaned as a child as a serial killer slaughtered his parents, grew up in foster care with a conniving and envious older brother who enslaved them both in La Nuit when he was still in college. What a horrifying way to be forced to survive. Bobo tells me he has aged horribly.”

“I have only seen his photograph in the newspaper where he writes his column. It haunted me, Mama. I don’t want to revisit it. What would we say to one another? I do not wish to hurt him or burden him, and what if my first look at him caused him further grief?”

“It is never an easy decision to make, but if you ever find yourself repairing that relationship, know you have my blessing.”

“Thank you, Mama, it means everything to me, but I have a blossoming career and home filling with flora and fauna, a lovely relationship with Braddie, and it all happened when I took a leap forward without retreating one step back.”

“I am proud of you, Magsybelle, and love you from your toes to your nose. I am off to Hiroshima for the latest leg of my experiment, but I will be in touch.”

Miss Lyme smiled as she held her mother tightly, grateful for everything she had and though she was sad to see her mother off, there was a world to explore, and both did it in their own way so that their paradise grew with their every adventure.

The World’s Most Dangerous Woman: The Persistent Commoner

I

The redhead sauntered into her living room of her house in Niagara-in-the-Lake known as the Path to Paradise right on the border of the small city-state of Queen’s Heights. She playfully modelled her new outfit to her close friend who seemed excited that the other had finally arrived, even if such a quiet and mundane manner.

Anne Susse looked at Magnus Lyme’s outfit and nodded in approval. “Nice black turtleneck.”

“Thank you. Bradley Stoney bought it for me.”

“Beats the t-shirt and jeans you had for your first case.”

“I threw them both out.”

“Good. Now if you’d throw out your quilt…”

“Annie, please…”

“Your ex-boyfriend who gave it to you was in La Nuit du bas! Your mother told me all about it.”

“He still is in La Nuit…”

“Ugly quilts from villains are just not right to have in your house.”

“Dwennon was never a villain. He was about to bolt when his older brother Felix sabotaged it.”

“I will urge the quilting gods to get that ugly quilt out of this beautiful house and won’t stop my urging until they relent.”

“He tried his best to leave…”

“And one day, the ratty cootie quilt will leave this house, mark my words. I am willing it for it to shred itself into a million pieces and for a gorgeous vintage Alena Love quilt to replace it. Never mind that hideous rag that is beneath you. How is business these days?”

“Slow, but steady.”

“You helped your Italian client?”

“She took her ex-husband to the cleaners sensibly and she is safe as is her impossible daughter. I did get a lawyer who is willing to be of service if I have a client who needs a sharp legal mind if I am helping them.”

“Cool. Who is it?”

“Her name is Athena Tallman, a brilliant Washington DC attorney whose dedication to true justice nearly got her in the crosshairs of the Circle in the Sky and La Nuit, and not only did I managed to get her out of her predicament safely, but she has offered her services as a lawyer should I ever need it, and I accepted as both cabals are absolutely terrified of her.”

“Sounds like my kind of lady.”

“Yes, she is a rather enthusiastic supporter of truth, human rights, and goodness.”

“Sounds like your business is firming up.”

“Yes, I have gotten a new wardrobe to send the proper signals.”

“You’re kidding me. I don’t see you wearing a uniform.”

“No, no, nothing like that. I decided to wear black when I hear a case. It is a sombre hue that would be in tune with a client’s grim mood.”

“Go on, I’m biting.”

“I will wear white as I am gathering the facts…”

“Like a true heroine.”

“It is all about shining a light on various paths until I find the right one. Once I have enough to test a theory, I will wear yellow as signal to all those impossible people that I am on to them.”

“And when you finally have enough to put those cootie creeps in their place?”

“Cootie creeps?”

“If you join an evil cabal, that’s what you are.”

“Gracious…”

“Well, it’s true. Anyway, what is the grand finale…”

Miss Lyme giggled before she ran to her office and came back carrying a long red dress. “This. I had it personally made for me by Emily Krolowa from the Pięknej Sukni.”

“You met Emily?”

“She is rather bold and charming. I did not know she began as a nurse in Warsaw before she switched careers to become a fashion designer.”

“She’s been here a few years. Did she make a fuss that she was designing a dress for you?”

“Gracious, no, why should she?”

“It’s just you haven’t met most of the people living here…”

“I’ve known you, your mother, your grandparents Helen and Thomas, Braddie, his grandmother Beverley, her sister Season, Emily, and Redley Sierra who owns Redley’s Garden Café…”

“But Emily and Redley didn’t grow up here. It’s not the same for them. I want to throw a party so you can…”

Anne was interrupted by a frantic knock on the door. Miss Lyme smiled and walked over to the front entrance and when she opened the door, a frazzled-looking man in his forties fidgeted as she smiled.

“Welcome to the Path to Paradise where the ways of enlightenment will shine a light on your problems and bring you to your solution,” Miss Lyme said sweetly as Anne overheard the peculiar exchange and made a face.

The man looked uncertain of himself. “Let’s see if I understood the right. You’re the Red Queen?”

“I am.”

The man looked somewhat relieved. “I nailed the one. Let’s make it two for two. I need the playing cards.”

“A political problem, I see. Come in, and I will put on a kettle of tea as you tell me what is vexing you, Your Worship.”

Miss Lyme showed the man to her office as Anne waited for her to come out and whispered. “Hey, he’s the mayor of Norfolk Beach, or every calls it North Fogey Beach.”

“Yes, as you are the mayor of Queen’s Heights, you have something in common, but that’s where your similarities end. He is, as you call him, a cootie creep.”

“Blech, a La Nuit scum bucket. He looks like he is sitting in a pants full of bricks. I’ll leave you with your new client. What was that weird spiel all about when you answered the door?”

“I have a secret code.”

“Already? How did you get it out?”

“I have my ways.”

“What kind of ways?”

“Let’s just say Athena is not the only person I retained to assist me. I will call you when my case if over.”

“If you need anything…”

“I will call you, Annie.”

Anne gave Miss Lyme a peck on the cheek before leaving the house. Miss Lyme sighed contentedly before she walked to her office to put on a kettle of tea as she spoke to her latest client.

II

Lachlan Alby sat in the chair in Miss Lyme’s office and took the mug of Irish Breakfast tea as he stared sadly in it. “So, back from exile, Miss Lyme?”

“Of course, it was a temporary situation rectified with a good dose of sensibility.”

“Well, I am about to be exiled.”

“I am listening.”

“Well,” Mr. Alby said as he looked uncomfortable, “Hackers broke into our city’s servers and stole all the information.”

“Stole the information? You do have back-ups.”

“No.”

“Gracious, what a tintinnabulation. What happened next?”

“Well, the hackers sent us a ransom demand for one hundred and twenty-two thousand dollars to get it back.”

“Why such a peculiar sum?”

Mr. Alby shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know, but we negotiated it down to thirty thousand…”

“Are you telling me that you paid the random?”

“We had no choice.”

“There is always a choice, Mr. Alby. Where was the drop off.”

“There wasn’t a drop off. The hacker demanded the money be paid by cryptocurrency; so it cannot be traced.”

“Of course it can be traced.”

“It can?”

“If the flow of information goes one way, it can go the other. Did you get your information back?”

“Yes.”

“Then why are you here? Did the hacker strike again?”

“No.”

“Then what is the problem?”

“My superiors at La Nuit are the problem. I am in big trouble because I made the order to pay the ransom.”

“And what is it that you expect me to do about it?”

“Find out who did it.”

“I doubt that will be possible at this point, and even if I find the source, what good will it do?” Miss Lyme studied the man in front of her. “What is it about this fiasco that you are not telling me? If you expect me to help you in any way, you must be completely forthright and honest, or else I will not be able to help you. I am not here to judge you, Mr. Lachlan, but I am not going into a lion’s den with being armed with all of the information I need.”

The man pursed his lips. “I think the whole thing was a set-up to frame me for something else. The elections are coming up, and I honestly don’t know why they asked for that amount of money or of all the places in the world to strike, a town with a population of five thousand people. It makes no sense.”

“Are there any enemies who would likely pull such a stunt?”

“We’re Norfolk Beach – our medium age if sixty.”

“What about your personal enemies?”

“I fly under the radar. I am the mayor of Old Fogey Beach. Being mayor there is the easiest job in the world. Ribbon cutting, boring meetings, and La Nuit gets a mayor in their column and they don’t bother with me. I thought I found the system that worked.”

“And now they are on your back.”

“I didn’t think they would care about thirty thousand dollars.”

“It is the compromised information that they are worrying about.”

“They think I orchestrated this whole thing, and believe me, Miss Lyme, I would never do it because there is no reason to do it. I ran for mayor here because I never have to campaign or do any heavy lifting. Will you get to the bottom of this because I have managed to avoid detection of those thugs all my life because my mother made me join them because she is a member, and she always thought they were the secret to winning at life.”

“You speak of her in the present, but insinuate that her position has changed.”

“She isn’t able to be active. She’s not sick, just not in the place to be in the thick of things.”

“Where is your mother now?”

“In Selkirk.”

“That is a tiny village on Lake Erie. Hardly the place where members of the Night go to live.”

“She fell in a serious depression when my dad Gordon left her for someone younger than me three years ago. He’s a talent agent, and he mingles with gorgeous young women; and he thinks he’s entitled to replace mom with a younger model.”

“I see, but why Selkirk?”

“Her brother owns a cottage there and that’s where she has been living since dad walked out. Even the women of the Night can be brooding romantics, Miss Lyme. Will you help me? It’s not like I have any love for La Nuit. If they boot me out, that’s fine, but I like my job and my life. I mean, I guess you can figure that out because I’m here and the Night are still really sore at you; so it’s not like I am trying to score any brownie points, but I don’t want to end up like mom, either. Her exile is self-imposed.”

“All right, I will help you. I will look into things today, and get back to you as soon as I have something. I will need all the files and correspondence related to this fiasco.”

Mr. Lachlan took out a memory stick, “Yeah, I know, a day late and a dollar short to back things up now, but this has everything you need to know.”

III

When Mr. Lachlan left, Miss Lyme made a phone call to her young friend Naomi Brentano to come over as she just moved nearby, and there was a case she could be of use. The young woman was in her early twenties and a flamboyant dresser with long blue hair done up in a beehive, heavy make-up, and a form-fitting white catsuit. Naomi squealed in delight and hurried over, arriving less than half an hour later. She ran inside with her arms outstretched to greet Miss Lyme happily.

“Naomi! How wonderful to see you! Have you finally settled in to your new apartment in Carnivalia?”

“It’s small, but it’s so hard to get any place to live here at all. I have so many cosplay outfits to cram in there, but to actually live in Carnivalia is a dream come true.”

“And you are readying to get your pilot’s license?”

“Yes, it’s so ultra!” Naomi looked at the red dress lying on the sofa. “I wished I designed your red dress.”

“You were busy with your piloting, and your spreading the word of my code to the appropriate channels.”

“I’m still a hacker. I know how to make it flow to the right channels. So what’s the plan?”

“The plan is to spend a nice afternoon with you as I have barely seen you since I moved here. You need proper furniture to keep all your Azura the water woman books and your outfits in their place. I have allotted a furniture budget for you.”

“You didn’t have to do that, Mags.”

“You are my sole employee right now, and a good friend I wish to dote on. When you were staying in my hotel room in Chicago, my heart broke that you had to keep your things in one corner of the room as you slept on the sofa.”

“Yeah, but it was the happiest time of my life all the same. You’re the mom I wish I always had. The biological one kicked me to the curb when I was a kid. We pulled out of that, even though you had some deep cover thing that kept you away for a year. I mean, I know you can’t tell me just yet, but it was something really serious. I know.”

“Well, I am back, and you’re here, and you have no idea how relieved I am that you are, Naomi. Still, you need furniture, and using old crates is not what you should settle for. As my own budget at this point is still rather modest, we will go to Burlington to your choice of the Re-Store or IKEA…”

“IKEA! If I go to the Re-Store, I’ll want to buy the whole place and then refurbish it, and then my fashion and piloting will slide. It’s an amazing curiosity shop. IKEA will keep me honest, especially if they have something good in the As Is section…and they have frozen yoghurt.”

“IKEA it is.”

“You don’t have any IKEA furniture.”

“No, I don’t. I got all my furniture at the Re-Store.”

“You’re kidding. It’s all grand and epic.”

“And very reasonable.”

“Is there a reason?”

“For what?”

“Not having something from IKEA. You had some of it in your hotel suite in Chicago. You got rid of it?”

“I donated it all.”

“Why?”

“Memories, Naomi. Sometimes you have to let go of the past to move forward.”

“An ex-boyfriend was into IKEA?”

“Yes.”

“What happened?”

“La Nuit du bas happened. It was two wonderful years, but sometimes all the love in the world is not enough.”

Naomi frowned. “That’s too heart-breaking.”

“It is what it is.”

“You got rid of everything?”

“No, not the photographs and not the quilt he gave me…”

Naomi’s eyes suddenly bulged as she gasped. “Not that ugly rag you had in that hotel room in Chicago?”

“Gracious, he gave that to me as a birthday present…”

“Ewww!” she screamed loudly as she hopped up and down looking distressed. “That is not only the ugliest – fugliest – piece of cloth ever made, when you fold it over, it’s porn! As in, real porn!

Miss Lyme smirked. “I take it you folded it.”

“I thought it was some weird secret puzzle thing, and then when I folded it, I had a meltdown. I didn’t know you could make a quilt so hardcore! And this guy you dated gave you a porn quilt on purpose?”

“He didn’t know. It is a Linnie O’Malley quilt he commissioned, and he had no idea until I showed him. He was horrified.”

“Linnie O’Malley? The schizophrenic nun with Tourette’s your mom studied?”

“Yes. He went to her to make me something for my birthday, and he didn’t even know she was going to make a quilt.”

“Who is this guy?”

“Dwennon Garrison.”

“The crime reporter?”

“Yes.”

“I read his stuff. Chicago newspaper. Yeah, he looked pretty old from his picture. It’s hard to imagine you going out with a guy like that.”

“We were very different and life was very cruel to him.”

“He didn’t know you were in Chicago?”

“I didn’t tell him.”

“You never kept in touch with him?”

“No, it was best the we went our own separate ways.”

“That hotel room we stayed in – that meant something, didn’t it?”

“When we were a couple, and I was called away on business in Chicago, that was the room we always stayed in. It was my way of healing an old wound that somehow never fully cured because of the injustice and senselessness of it all.”

“No kidding. He must have been one of the good ones.”

“He was one of the best, yet he was still a man haunted by his own angels. It’s over. Now let’s go out to get you some furniture, and we can discuss my case in the car.”

“How ultra. Let’s go!”

IV

As the two were in Miss Lyme’s Morris Minor on their way to Burlington, Naomi seemed giddy as she looked at the car, while Magnus fixed the collar of her white sleeveless dress.

“I so miss your old car. It was a total superhero ride. I know Rodney was crushed that he couldn’t afford to buy it or carry insurance on that piece of art.”

“It would be too ostentatious for my current line of work. Besides, I always drove a Morris Minor, and it feels good to return to one.”

“What happened to the other one?”

“I sold it.”

“Damn.”

“I had to pay for Jenny’s medical treatments and ensure I could make for all my other expenses once I bought the Path to Paradise without needing a mortgage.”

Naomi frowned. “I miss your cat. Jenny was the best.”

“Me, too. Her medical bills cost me thousands, but it was her time to go.”

Naomi smirked as she raised an eyebrow. “Thirty thousand, maybe?”

“Fifteen thousand.”

Naomi whistled. “You really loved Jenny.”

“I always will, but we have at least one hacker who sought a peculiar sum of money, but then settled for a far lesser sum.”

“You think the original amount is symbolic?”

“Yes, what I find singular is that Mr. Alby had no clue what it meant.”

“You think he’s being honest?”

“Yes.”

“So either the hacker assumed the mayor was involved in something he wasn’t, or that sum was a message to someone else…”

“Or, Mr. Alby is being framed, and part of the ruse requires demanding that specific amount.”

“So why settle for a crap amount?”

“Something went awry with the original plans, and the hacker had to cut their losses and agree to a smaller amount.”

“You think it’s an inside job?”

“The hacker would have to be aware of the lax standards for their electronic security, or, security was made deliberately lax so that someone could take the information and make demands, but what I find peculiar is why would someone settle for such a pittance of an amount when the city did not have a back-up of it. They were in no position to negotiate.”

“Maybe the mayor is holding something back.”

“He is all but working on autopilot, Naomi. He is so disengaged from his work that he has no interest in the details. It is the hacker who is engaged in every detail, and that is a valuable clue.”

“So it is an inside job with someone who is doing all of the work there, and is resentful, or trying to draw attention to how that place operates.”

“I doubt this was hacktivist scheme to draw attention to a small town’s lack of awareness to basic cybersecurity. This plot is personal, but as the mayor does not care about his job, he also does not care much about his personal life.”

“Oblivious to reality?”

“Yes, and that is what is thwarting the hacker and at least one accomplice in City Hall. The mayor drags his feet in all of his affairs, and that delay allowed enough time to lapse for some unforeseen problem to hamper the hacker’s plot.”

“So what now?”

“We got to IKEA to get you some furniture. When we are done, you will trace where the cryptocurrency went as the mayor believes it cannot be trace…”

Naomi laughed out loud. “He thinks that? What a bonehead. Of course you can trace it.”

“In the meantime, I have a trip to Selkirk to take to visit Mr. Alby’s allegedly distressed mother.”

“You think she is faking it?”

“Not only do I suspect that she is not all that torn up about her marriage, I doubt she is anywhere near Selkirk, but giving her son a cover story to keep him away from her…”

“You think his mom is messed up in all of this?”

“She is the key to this little enigma, but I need to know more facts before I can make a workable theory to test. As the Internet speed in Selkirk is rather slow, I am certain the hacking did not take place there.”

“You know the Internet speed for Selkirk? Hell, I don’t even know where Selkirk is.” She looked deep in thought before she perked up. “If I find out where cryptocurrency went, can I come to Selkirk with you?”

“If you wish.”

“I’m American, and I haven’t seen too many places in Canada other than Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Toronto, and Grimsby.”

“Grimsby? What were you doing in Grimsby?”

“They have that beach with all the neon-coloured cottages. I just wanted to take some psychedelic selfies to post on my social media.”

“I didn’t see any of those.”

“Yeah, it all clashed with my blue hair; so I erased them.”

“Gracious, Naomi, there are other things you could do aside from taking selfies. There was the beauty of Lake Ontario you could have seen over there…”

“Hey, I am not fluent in nature. I grew up on the streets. I am used to pavement.”

“Then I will take you somewhere after this case so you can enjoy some other blessings of the world.”

“Cool, but I get to go to Selkirk, right?”

“If you wish.”

V

“IKEA is great and all, but we could have gone to the Queen’s Castle in the Heights instead,” Naomi said as they looked at the As Is section first.

“Their furniture is pricier…”

“I already have a futon and a ratty old table for my computers and my sewing machine. I have two folding chairs that I brought from LA with me, too. I just need a dresser…”

“Or five…” quipped Miss Lyme.

“Just for the really, really good cosplay stuff. And I need a bookcase, but that’s about it. I almost feel disloyal shopping outside of the Heights.”

“You can always upgrade later, and donate what you have to the Re-Store. I wish I could reward you more handsomely for finding where the ransom went so quickly…”

“For you, I’d do it all for free. I told you: you’re my mom as far as I am concerned, meaning you’re the only family I got in the whole world.”

“Your kind words touch me. I absolutely adore you, and no matter what a dreadful year I had, I would go through it all again if that was the only way you have met you.”

“That was a rough year for the both of us. At least tracing the ransom money was a snap.”

“Yes, it put much in perspective, but I do believe we are missing the obvious. Let us go to the main floor as none of their furniture here is suitable for you.”

The two ran up the stairs and began to look at the various display areas that were made to simulate various rooms in the house. Naomi had noticed a mischievous air to her companion who smirked and then turned to her.

“Naomi, do you have your new phone on you?”

Naomi whipped her phone out of her utility belt of her catsuit costume. “It was your birthday present to me. I never part with it. It’s my selfie machine,” she guffawed, amusing herself.

“You see those three children over there? They all have red hair.”

“Yeah?”

“I have an idea. When I give you the signal, you are going to take my picture with them.”

“What for?”

“To prove a point. Wait here.”

Miss Lyme went over to the three children and began to talk to them. They were all siblings, and she asked them to indulge her to take a picture with her on the display sofa in the cubicle that was made to look like a living room, and for their troubles, they would receive frozen yoghurt money. They readily agreed, and when Miss Lyme sat down, they sat down beside her, as Naomi snapped a couple of photographs and gave the thumbs up. Miss Lyme then asked the children where their parents were, and they pointed to a woman who was complaining to one of the workers that her kitchen required more attention than other people’s. Miss Lyme then brought the children to their mother, and explained they helped her with an experiment, and she gave them money for yoghurt.

Just as Miss Lyme was about to leave, an angry manager confronted her, sternly lecturing her as he accused her of corporate espionage. Naomi ran over, before poking her finger in the man’s chest.

“Espionage?” shouted Naomi, “Do you think she’d be a spy bringing along a blue-haired woman with a beehive and a catsuit?”

The manager looked at Miss Lyme searchingly. “Do not accuse me of being a corporate spy and then look to me to help you. Why would I bother to take a photograph of a sofa when it is an older model that is in your catalogues and website?”

The man stood was stammering for an answer as the two left.

“I am not shopping here for junk,” said an offended Naomi.

“It is all right. You are not being disloyal to me if you buy something here. There was that lovely sofa you were eyeing as well as that glass bookcase. We will get both, and I saw a very nice pine table you could also use to replace your old table. There is a dresser that is very reasonable with lots of space, and we will get two: one for your regular clothes, and one for your cosplay. We can have it all delivered to your apartment, and when they arrive, I will come over with take out from Redley’s, and then we can assemble them; so, your new place can be homey.”

“Okay, sounds like a plan.” Naomi stared at her smartphone before showing it to Magnus. “You always look like a million bucks, but why did you take a picture with those kids?”

“You’ll see. Email me those photographs so that I can have one of them framed, but first, let us take pictures of the numbers of those three items, and then off to Selkirk.”

VI

After buying the furniture and booking the delivery, Miss Lyme and Naomi drove off to Selkirk to see Mrs. Alby at her brother’s cottage on Lake Erie. The two discussed the case, but when they arrived on Lakeshore Road and saw that the cottage was off on a private road, the Miss Lyme looked her companion and smirked.

“Gracious, what is the matter?”

“This is Selkirk?” Naomi groused as she scrunched her face. “Like, run-down shacks.”

“Not all of the cottages are so modest…”

“Like some La Nuit diva is gonna slum it here? Those chicks live to brag about their mansions. How badly did she take the dumping?”

“You are very passionate about this turn.”

“You said she wasn’t really here.”

“But it is her brother’s cottage. It’s the smallest one here, and there is a car parked on the lawn.”

“The beater, you mean.”

“I am going to go and pay whoever is in there a visit. Do you wish to come and observe an interview, or do you wish to stay in the car?”

Naomi pursed her lips. “You think I might freak someone out? Not everyone can deal with Azura the water woman blue hair. Maybe I should dye it blonde like Eumelia the air woman.”

“You should keep it whatever colour you wish, and your hair colour should not disrupt a short interview.”

Naomi jumped out of the car, and both walked to the front entrance where Miss Lyme knocked on the door.

The door creaked open and a wan man in his sixties peered out.

“Yes?” he said before he saw Naomi and gasped.

“Mr. Ryan Jones, my name is Miss Magnus Lyme and this is my assistant Naomi Brentano…”

“You look just like Azura the water woman,” the man replied as Naomi squealed in delight.

“You know Azura?”

The man perked up. “Oh yes, I am quite the fan of Verity Lake’s surrealist novels.”

“How ultra!” Naomi looked sheepish. “We’re not here because of that, mind you, – but Maggie here is the great-granddaughter of Jane Carrington – who was the inspiration for Ingrid the fire woman.”

At that mention, the man became bouncy. “Ingrid was my favourite. My favourite storyline was the one where she accidentally turned the gods into French toast and then ate them by mistake.”

“I am overjoyed to hear it, Mr. Jones, but this is about your nephew Lachlan and his mother…”

The man rolled his eyes as he signalled for his guests to enter his cottage. “Those La Nuit nerds?”

“Nerds?” said Naomi.

“You know of their affiliation?” asked a surprised Miss Lyme.

“My sister Margaret was always the competitive and contrarian little brat. The only reason she joined La Nuit was to stick it to me for being a superfan of Dr. Verity Lake…”

Miss Lyme looked around the room and noticed the extensive collection of Azura the water woman books, sculptures, and paintings.

“Wait a minute!” Naomi said as she snapped her fingers. “I recognize all of these things! You’re one of the founding organizers of the AzZa Cons!”

Mr. Jones nodded matter-of-factly. “You didn’t recognize me because I am not dressed as Leith the water man. It takes me three hours to get into character.”

“I can’t believe this! I want your autograph! I am, such, a huge, huge freaking fan! This is such an honour! I am just going to die!” Naomi danced around excitedly as her enthusiasm became contagious and the man soon seemed as ecstatic as she was.

“There is a more urgent reason why I am here, Mr. Jones.”

“You want to know about Margaret and her madness. I can tell you all about it, but I have yet to find the sanity key.”

“Azura reference,” Naomi said to Miss Lyme who nodded.

“Please, sit down.” Mr. Jones cracked an impish grin. “I will tell you anything you want to know on two conditions.”

“Yes?”

“I can take my picture with you two ladies because it is every Verity Lake fan’s dream to be standing next to Ingrid and Azura.”

“Not a problem,” smiled Miss Lyme.

“And you both stay over for French toast.”

Miss Lyme nodded as Naomi playfully clapped her hands. “Mags, this is the best day of my life, you realize.”

“Mine, too,” said the man who ran to make French toast for his guests as Naomi turned to me, “Wow, he thinks your royalty.”

“I am a commoner,” Miss Lyme replied, “Albeit a persistent one. Now that this little enigma is starting to clear, let us find out what transpired to set off the series of events that lead to this mysterious ransom demand.”

VII

The peculiar, but productive meeting ended on a high note, and the Red Queen and her friend drove back home where Naomi stayed in the guest room for the night. Miss Lyme went to make several phones, but by the following morning, she was wearing a striking yellow dress as she made breakfast.

“Yellow means you are almost ready to solve the case.”

“I am.”

“So what’s the deal?”

“You discovered the cryptocurrency was sent to a shell company belonging to one Heath Baxter, whom I have discovered is a personal trainer in Toronto.”

“So how did he know how to pull off a complicated hacking operation and target Old Fogey Beach?”

“Tsk, tsk, Naomi…”

“It’s true. You should see their website. Something right out of 1996. I mean, what city uses Comic Sans for a font? In neon green? I was tempted to hack into it and bring up to code or something.”

“I did notice that dreadful website, but even a small place such as Norfolk Beach would be a little more current than, as you put it, 1996. I discovered the webmaster is a young man by the name of Bailey Heath…”

“An inside job. Bailey makes sure everything looks out of date and is easy to hack…”

“Or he just did the deed himself and sent everything to his accomplice brother.”

“So, they rob the town? Was the weird amount some sort of misdirection?”

“No, because I have found something else about Heath Baxter last night.”

“Don’t keep a bestie in suspense.”

“He has a specific clientele…”

“Ryan said his sister didn’t stay at his place for more than a week because she thought it was a hick town, and got a condo in Toronto. So let me guess: Heath targets rich divorcees and has affairs with them.”

“It is not Mr. Baxter who targeted Ms. Alby, but the other way around. She knew his older brother Bailey.”

“So the three of them were in on this?”

“Netting ten thousand dollars each, which seems like a very paltry amount for Mrs. Alby to take. It is an enormous risk if she is caught, and considering she is in La Nuit, such an unsanctioned gambit would be more trouble than it’s worth.”

Naomi counted on her fingers. “She lies where she is staying. She hooks up with two young guys to fleece her own son’s town of thirty grand. She knows this is going to put her son in danger with La Nuit. All roads lead to her, but none of it makes any sense.”

“As this incident seems to be a family affair, there is one more person we can see?”

“Who?”

“Her ex-husband Gordon Alby.”

“Do you think he’ll talk?”

“I will get him to talk.”

“You would, too.”

“What can I say? I am a persistent commoner.”

VIII

The two women drove to Toronto, and when they arrived to Gordon Alby’s office, Naomi had been surprised that he seemed almost relieved to see Maggie. He asked for the two to wait in his office while he finished dealing with a client. As soon as he left them and closed the door, she went to a large and exotic-looking black table in the middle of the room and began feel around it.

“What are you doing?” asked Naomi.

“I am looking for the secret compartments. It is a Prism.”

“A what?”

“An exclusive table that are a favourite among wealthy men as it has secret compartments and are custom-made with limited runs.”

“Not a woman thing?”

“My mother studied their owners for a research project, and received one as a gift.”

“Does she like it?”

“Not particularly.”

“Do you think Mr. Alby is hiding something in there?”

“No, but I believe Mrs. Alby did when she paid him a visit a week ago.”

“How do you know that?”

“I looked through the visitor sign-in book and saw her signature.”

“You’re thorough.”

“I was a journalist who worked as a detective for two global cabals for two decades in order to expose their secrets, Naomi…” The sound of a click made the She-luminati smile as she opened the drawer and pointed to the contents as Naomi jumped up and looked.”

“A memory stick and some papers?”

“Those were planted in there to frame Mr. Alby for the extortion.”

“You’re sure he’s not in it?”

“He’d have no motive, while his wife has every motive to frame him.”

Just then, Mr. Alby entered the room. “What have you found, Miss Lyme?”

“A shocking plot your wife concocted to frame you for your son’s scandal.”

Mr. Alby blanched. “She was here last week. She waited here.”

“She knows about this table?”

“She bought it for me years ago as an anniversary present. She wanted it back when we got divorced, but I wouldn’t let her have it. That’s a very rare run, but my new wife didn’t approve of it being in our house; so I borught it here.”

“Did she make any comment about it?”

“Something smug about how I was being selfish keeping it, but bygones had to be bygones.”

“What was her pretence for being here?”

“She said she was worried for Lachlan, which was a laugh because she was too busy collecting designer dresses and handbags. She always had an insatiable need to spend money we didn’t have. The divorce could have bankrupted me, except when we got married, my father insisted we have a prenuptial agreement, or else we’d be kept out of the will.”

“I see. You said you were relieved to see me.”

“Strange things have been happening, and I thought the worst of it was Lachlan’s troubles. Margaret was calm, though. I was in the process of looking for a private investigator, but I suppose you are one.”

“I am a consultant.”

“She is framing me and Lachlan. Why, Miss Lyme?”

“What is the significance of one hundred and twenty-two thousand dollars? Or thirty thousand?”

“I don’t know about the thirty, but one hundred and twenty-two was what she netted after lawyer’s fees in our divorce.”

“I am surprised your son did not make the connection.”

“He doesn’t know.”

“Why not?”

“Part of the agreement was confidentiality…”

“But your son would still know…?”

“He’s disengaged, Miss Lyme. He never bonded to either of us, but then again, we were always too busy for him, and then he just gave up. You can get him out of this trouble?”

“Yes, imminently. I will need to take photographs of the entry log, any surveillance of your wife’s entry in this building, and of course, these items in the drawer.”

“Whatever it takes, just do it.”

IX

After they finished at Gordon Alby’s office, they returned to Niagara-on-the-Lake where Miss Lyme informed her client of the situation. He merely sighed and asked whether he could leave La Nuit as he would no longer feel comfortable and worried if he would be ostracized for his mother’s transgressions, and he promised to send payment for Miss Lyme’s services, and did not wish to confront his mother.  

After going through the disc, papers, and surveillance, the Red Queen made several more phone calls before changing into her new red dress.

“I am heading to see Mrs. Alby.”

“I’m coming,” chimed Naomi, “I want to see the look on her face. Are we meeting Lachlan over there?”

“He wishes to have nothing more to do with her, and seeks no confrontation. Let us go.”

Miss Lyme took her briefcase and the women returned to Toronto, and went to the high rise where Mrs. Alby lived. After Naomi used her new phone to bypass the building’s security system before Miss Lyme could protest, the women went up to the door as the Red Queen knocked on the door.

The door opened and Ms Alby was in a black negligée as she seemed not to notice who had knocked. “Oh, come in Heath, darling, I…who are you?”

“Mrs. Alby, we have much to discuss,” Miss Lyme said as she forcefully walked in with Naomi hopping inside.

“Yeah,” Naomi added with a guffaw, “And boy, are you going to get it now!”

“Who are you?”

“I am Magnus Lyme and your son hired me to see who had been trying to embroil him in a hacking and extortion scandal. Imagine my surprise to discover his own supposedly depressed mother who told her son she was suffering in a shack in Selkirk was behind it in Toronto, along with her boyfriend Heath Baxter, and his webmaster brother who works in Norfolk Beach City Hall.” Miss Lyme threw a file on a table. “I see you have your own Prism table. Not as exclusive as the one your husband kept after the divorce – the one where surveillance cameras caught you planting evidence in it.”

Mrs. Alby said nothing but seemed livid.

“There is no pointing denying any of it. Bailey Baxter was arrested along with his brother where they are confessing to their roles in this debacle. I traced the cryptocurrency, and had productive talks with both your brother and your ex-husband. I also had a nice, long chat with your supervisor in La Nuit, and they do not like rogue members who upset their own plans with familial dysfunction. Framing an ex-husband for giving you a low six-figure divorce is a waste of time and energy, but then to embroil your own child…”

“My own child, my foot!” shouted Mrs. Alby, “Lachlan was always a burden! He took his father’s side! Not once did he bother to pick up the phone to see where I was!”

“Most likely because he could sense nothing you ever told him was the truth…”

“I got him that easy and secure job! How does he repay me? By ignoring me, that’s how! His father screws me over, and he just sits there like a lump. I had it with the both of them! I was going to teach them both a lesson! I was going to destroy them both for ignoring me! I had a right to that lifestyle because I had a hand in creating the legend of Gordon Alby! He was a king-maker, because me! I threw the parties, and I made the connections, cultivating media sources, and getting him the right publicity. I made Gordon Alby the king among kings, and what thanks do I get? He dumps me, and then won’t even give me a table so I could at least sell it. That one is worth thirty thousand dollars. He wouldn’t even give me one stupid table…”

Mrs. Alby collapsed in a chair and began to weep as the police came to her door.

Miss Lyme let them in and pointed to the files on the table before she and Naomi left the building and hopped back into the car.

“Wow,” said a sombre Naomi, “She held one huge grudge.”

“She should have walked away from the both if she was offended by them, and moved on.”

“La Nuit always has a job for players. She could have made way more money if she wasn’t wasting time trying to make her husband into some sort of king.”

“He never was a king. He was just a commoner, like the rest of us.”

“Do you think her son is upset at all because his mom tried to help frame him with her boyfriend and his brother?”

“He is so disconnected from her, I doubt he will be upset over it. His only concern is being employed and getting out of La Nuit as he finds being a member taxing. He didn’t even come along tonight or show a least bit of interest in this case.”

“His uncle is right. He is a nerd.” Naomi considered. “I am going to hack into his computer and leave that message.”

“Now, now, Naomi…”

“Well, he is a nerd. How can you be caught up in some high-tech ransom plot where your own mom is your big bad villain, and respond by going golfing or something? Like a said, nerd.”

“At least you enjoyed your escapade, and after Mr. Lachlan pays my fee, you will have more than enough in payment to go to the AzZa Con.”

“Life is ultra.”

“Indeed.”

“I just have one question.”

“Yes?”

“You didn’t use the picture I snapped at IKEA. What was the deal with that?”

X

Anne looked at the framed snapshot and laughed. “This photograph looks like you took pictures with your kids in your living room.”

“Yes, my last case inspired me, and my clients will need to see it.”

“Why?”

“So they learn that first appearances often hide a deeper and far deeper story than what first appears. My last client had missed every obvious sign, and it will also serve as a reminder to me to remember if I can stage something so convincing on that spontaneously while not being deceitful…”

“Then so can anyone else. How’s your workload otherwise?”

“I have had a few more very promising inquires, but I will be away for a couple of days.”

“A client?”

“No, a quick trip to Latvia.”

“What’s in Latvia?”

“Aside breath-taking Art Nouveau architecture, the white wagtail.”

“What’s a white wagtail?”

“An adorable bird that makes my heart sing whenever I see it. I am taking someone to see nature in that part of the world, and I am excited to see them, and hope my travelling companion finds things to make her heart sing just as happily. By the time I come back, I am sure those who are ready to free themselves will be knocking on my door…”

“Asking for the Red Queen to read their future.”

“They may have missed all of the signs before, but when La Nuit or the Circle begin to make threats, they know exactly what their future will hold. It was always that way, but now, the difference is there is a way out.”

“And you’ve become the portal to it.”

“I got out of both those cabals once I had enough to expose them. It didn’t quite work out the way I had hoped, but even after they banded together to destroy me, I got out a third time, and when you have the gift of escaping their clutches, even with their combined might, it would be a waste to ignore that talent.”

“You have a plan. I can tell.”

“It will be one that will finally work.”

“Experience?”

“That, and the last time, I was silent about my motives for infiltrating. This time, I am letting people know of my intentions.”

“I can’t wait to see the next act. Too bad you can’t have your office on a stage in Carnivalia. Anyway, have a fun trip, and we’ll do lunch when you come back.”

“I am looking forward to it, Annie.”

XI

Naomi kept the door open as Magnus brought in a tiny piglet in her arms. When Naomi brought Miss Lyme’s suitcase, she closed the door and went to the living room where Miss Lyme placed the piglet on the sofa and petted it as it seemed to melt and fall asleep.

“Aww, Inga’s so cute,” gushed Naomi as she sat on the other side of the sofa and petted the pig’s head.

“She is rather shy right now.”

“I can’t believe you wrestled that big farmer with the axe and whipped his butt to save her.”

“He was going to chop her head off, which was completely unacceptable. I tried to reason with that impossible man with a good dose of sensibility, but when he lifted that axe over his head, I had no choice but to rescue her.”

“In the mud. Boy, are you persistent, but I got it all on my new phone. So ultra.”

“Yes, and now that the entire world has seen it…”

“Aww, come on, you got a lot of support from the animal rights community.”

“And much derision from farmers and butchers.”

“Screw them. I side with you and Inga. She’s so sweet and brilliant. She is no common pig, that’s for sure. That was the best nature trip ever, even if I didn’t get to see any birds because Inga upstaged them all.”

“Just how many selfies did you take with her?”

“I lost count. I am going home to make her a onesie.” Naomi gave Miss Lyme a kiss on the cheek. “You’re the best mom ever. I mean it. I love you so much you’ll never know.”

Miss Lyme pulled Naomi for an embrace as Inga slept soundly between them. Her new venture was beginning to soar, and the most thrilling part of it all, in her escapades, there were always kind hearts, from her friends, to her flora, and ever-growing fauna, who were there every step of the way to remind her that kindness was the best adventure of all.

Gracious, what a tintinnabulation! Jordan Peterson, do not call Kathleen Wynne Canada's "Most Dangerous Woman" because it makes you sound, well...sheltered...

It is very untrue, for starters, because if she were, what a total letdown that would be for Canadian women if that is considered the "most dangerous" our gender could muster. She is not starting wars. She is not violating people's rights. She is merely wasting taxpayer money on unhelpful things that voters gave her permission to do in the last election. The Human Rights Commission is frivolous, and doesn't do much to help the sick or disabled in this country, for instance. Do not build her up to be a monster. She is a pandering strategist who knows how to play the game as she always comes up with shockingly similar campaign promises to Andrea Horwath's right after the NDP leader offers them first, and there is quite a few of those kind of players around.

Besides, she is hardly Canada's "most dangerous woman," and considering I have been writing about the World's Most Dangerous Woman since 2013, (actually, 2012, before here and here) I am in a better position to know than you...