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Sweet Child of Time


Shanna Lauffey

First published in Great Britain in 2017

by Golbin Publishing

Smashwords Edition

Copyright Shanna Lauffey 2017

ISBN 978-137014209-5

Shanna Lauffey has asserted the right to be identified as the author of this work under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All Rights Reserved

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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

Sweet Child of Time

Episode Seven of The Chronicles of the Harekaiian

Chapter One

It’s funny how people as a species will go to great effort to find ways of avoidance of something of importance. For some people, it is putting off filling in official forms or having face to face talks with someone close to them, or maybe asking for a work promotion or pay rise. My way of life minimizes all of these things so they don’t affect me much, except with avoiding leaving a paper trail in a life otherwise lived off-grid.

My nemesis for several years has been a file folder, stolen off the computer of a rich man, simply marked tmtrvl.

There was never any doubt that the information contained within would be about my people. The question is, how much did they learn before Marcus and I were able to put a stop to the machinations of Mason, Julia and Darren Tate himself in their attempts to learn what made us able to slip through time?

The matter of Mason’s halfbreed son had played its part, first to make him more curious and therefore dangerous. Then to convince Mason once and for all that it was a genetic trait that he could never emulate. But what of the future? Men like Mason and Tate weren’t known for just dropping an obsession when impossibility interfered with their plans.

There have been times in my life when I’ve wondered why I didn’t travel to the future more often. I think it was fear. Not fear of a cellular reaction, like what happened to Mason’s son, Connor, but fear of what I might find. That I might not be able to change it.

I’ve long since accepted that the past cannot be changed. We can visit it, but ultimately the cosmos has a way of balancing our actions so that they become no more than tiny ripples on a vast sea of time and space.

Would the future be the same? Are we all just players in a pre-determined farce, deluding ourselves that we have free will and can affect our future through our actions?

I don’t think so. I think that actions taken in the present will shape the future, but what I’ve never been able to reconcile is whether observing the future would make the present like the past, something unchangeable and locked into the spacetime continuum.

I awoke one day with these questions in my mind, yet knowing that it was the past that would hold the answers to that folder on my USB device. Hacking passwords was much easier in the 1990s. It was time I paid a visit to an old friend to ask for assistance in facing my dragon. Sooner or later, I had to know.

Kallie slipped out of bed carefully, trying not to wake Marcus. Bodi stood up from his place at the foot of the bed the moment she moved, looking wide-eyed at his mistress with an expression that said breakfast as only a cat can convey this most basic concept.

Always willing to comply with Bodi’s needs, Kallie scooped her long skirt and Gypsy top off the chair next to the bed and padded softly in bare feet to the kitchen, dumping her clothes on a chair in the living room along the way. She would have to leave a note for Marcus, but Kallie reasoned that he should be used to her indiscriminate coming and goings by now. Sometimes he even wandered off in time himself.

She fed the cat, making as little noise as possible, then dressed and found her light, slip-on shoes near the back door where she usually left them. Kallie almost never wore anything on her feet indoors, unless it was cold and rainy. Even then the lightest of soft-soled ballet-style slippers left her as close to barefoot as possible while still keeping her toes warm.

Though her plan for the day would take her to the 1990s, finding the person she sought would require a stop along the way in 1972. That part of the excursion would also provide an opportunity to buy some custom made leather sandals for the warm days of summer ahead. The shop she had in mind was one of those short lived craft shops run by a young man who had turned his hippy influences to honest work, making personally fitted sandals for people in the old open air Santa Monica mall that preceded the multi-story enclosed shopping center, known as Santa Monica Place.

She had watched that monstrosity being built at the southeastern end of the stretch of shopping area that Kallie had haunted as a teenager, enjoying cakes from a genuine English bakery at the corner of 3rd Street and Wilshire Boulevard. The building that once housed the bakery had since become a bookshop belonging to one of the large chains and had even swallowed up an old movie theater next door, though the original building structure had stayed intact.

The old outdoor mall had remained a pedestrian zone and still enjoyed popularity, but it had been taken over by developers and the rental prices increased so that the quaint, individual shops had been replaced by chain stores. The Bohemian atmosphere had fallen into history and the stretch of shops had become a place for upmarket shoppers and was now known as the Third Street Promenade. The arty, hippy shops and used record stores that had attracted Kallie as a teenager had given way to homogenized fashion palaces, but ironically a shoe store still occupied the shop where Kallie had bought her sandals, made from a drawing of her foot. Her first pair had been decorated with a design of flowers and red and white spotted mushrooms that she hadn’t known then were fly agaric.

She spared a thought for Matías Sandoval, her computer savvy friend from an earlier decade, and wondered what had become of him over the years. Like Kallie, he was Harekai and would be difficult to trace now, even with modern surveillance methods. However, she knew where and when to look for him. His part time job as a teenager in a local research and archive library had given him access to useful information many times, probably far more than Kallie knew. It was only because of her close acquaintance with him that she knew of his cyber activities at all.

Matías had had a crush on Kallie when they went to school together. But like many teenage crushes, it had never got the past the fantasy puppy love stage before circumstances had taken them in different directions. Now it was time to renew the acquaintance. Kallie wondered if Marcus would be jealous if he knew her plans.

She closed the back door of the beach house quietly, noting that Bodi had followed her outside. She would have to remember to pop back to let him back in after she finished her travels for the day. The little cat seldom wished to be locked outside for more than an hour. She turned towards the gate and Bodi leaped over the patio table and onto her shoulder. It was a habit he had recently developed, often surprising Kallie at unexpected times.

“Not now, Bodi,” she remonstrated softly. “You can’t go with me for this. Stay close to the house and I’ll be back to let you in soon.”

She kissed his furry forehead between the ears and set Bodi down on the table, then turned and looked one more time before she reached the gate to make sure Bodi wasn’t following. He sat on the patio table licking a paw and looked quite settled. Kallie closed the gate quietly behind her and began walking towards the beach. When she got to the shadow of a neighbor’s tree, she began to step into a moment of early morning in 1972, but just as she felt the tendrils of time dilation stretching out that step, the sudden weight of Bodi landing on her shoulder was followed by an almighty screeching of panicking feline and a scrabble of claws that drew blood in several rivulets under Kallie’s lightweight cotton shoulder sleeve.

Bodi disappeared like a shot. Kallie turned every which way, distance shifting from one nearby spot to another in an effort to determine which way he had run off. Her breath came in short gasps, more from panic and concern for Bodi than because of the pain in her shoulder. She looked down at the dark blue fabric, grateful to see that the darker lines of wet blood didn’t stand out as obviously as they would have on a lighter color. She pushed aside any consideration of drawing attention to herself and tried time shifting back as close to the moment Bodi had sprung off her as possible to try to observe where he had gone from another point of view, but all she caught was a glimpse of his pale fur disappearing into the tree she had used as cover for the shift.

She forced herself to breathe slowly... to consciously calm her thumping heart and think clearly. She could not leave Bodi in 1972. He would be dead of old age in her own time, if he didn’t starve long before then. Despite what many people believed about cats fending for themselves if abandoned, Kallie was aware that many cats died young when left to their own devices. Though they would hunt small rodents, they didn’t have the wild instincts of large felines returned to the jungles or plains. A domestic cat’s best chances were to find a new home to adopt them.

Tears spilled down Kallie’s cheeks. Her ineffective efforts to catch Bodi left her with pain in the pit of her stomach and a feeling of helplessness. Where could he be? After several fruitless minutes of searching, she decided she would be more successful if she allowed herself to calm down first and maybe get some helpful advice from an expert. She imprinted the moment onto her consciousness so that she could come back to try again and convinced herself that she should follow her plan for the day and come back when she could think more clearly.

Kallie distance shifted to the old Santa Monica Mall and moved forward a few hours when the shops would be opening. The sandal shop was right where she remembered it. Her heart wasn’t really in shopping at that moment, but she forced herself to keep her mind on her task and ordered the sandals as planned, this time with a design of a seal-point kitten chasing butterflies, then paid for them with appropriately dated cash. She was given a date to return a week later and perfunctorily walked out of the shop, found a quiet place to shift ahead a week, then returned to collect her sandals. She might have taken them home before continuing her tasks for the day, but the slip-on shoes she was wearing were badly tattered.

She sat on the edge of a cement planter, took off the old shoes and dropped them in a trash can, then slipped on the new leather sandals. They were stiff, but experience told Kallie that a few hours wear would soften the leather and mold the soles to her feet. The only possible issue was whether the loop over her big toe or the strap across her upper foot that kept the sandals on might rub or even blister. Kallie had always had sensitive feet and breaking in any new pair, even soft moccasins, nearly always came with a few problems.

With that task accomplished, Kallie began walking towards the bus stop on Wilshire Boulevard. She didn’t feel comfortable shifting too much in the busy shopping area and decided her next shift would be done somewhere less populated. Once she had got onto a bus, dropped a few coins into the machine and sat down, her eyes welled up again. She was reluctant to leave 1972 without Bodi. Though the week she had moved ahead would have passed in real time for him, she still felt somehow closer to him while she occupied a close time stream. Moving further ahead would rend the gap between them into a massive chasm of separation and make her feel as if she had abandoned him, though rationally she knew she could return any time.

She got as far as West Los Angeles before the tears spilled, then the bus turned a corner and Kallie remembered that she didn’t know the bus routes in 1972. She got off at the next stop and tried to remember the library where Matías worked, even now. The image of a wall mural came to mind, one that depicted racial and social struggle of a bygone era. She wondered if the mural had endured into her own time. The need for such reminders had arisen periodically through the history of her country, especially during the election of 2016 which came too close to turning the clock on racial equality back to the late 1950s.

Matías had played his part in the struggles, both as a librarian and as a member of a suppressed minority. Kallie wondered if he had been taken in any of the deportations, not that it would make any difference. Even without the ability to distance shift back to work for his next shift, illegals crossed the border regularly with little problem, many of them by plane.

Suddenly Kallie wished to meet Matías again as he was now, to see how the years of fighting causes had affected him long term. There would be time for that later though. For now she had to renew contact and arrange to meet him at a time when technology had caught up with her immediate need.

Chapter Two

I’ve spent a lifetime manipulating time, accustomed to the idea that I could leave a situation in crisis and return after I’d had a chance to think out solutions and put things in place to my advantage.

Despite my time shifting abilities, every moment and every mile I got further away from where I had lost Bodi felt like a wrench to my heart. He was my companion, my furbaby, and I could not imagine returning home without him. My good sense told me I had to give myself time to think instead of flitting from millisecond to millisecond in the vicinity of his disappearance, limiting my prospects for returning at just the right moment. Though I could exist multiple times in a time stream for short periods, I could not actually shift into an increment of time I had already used as a portal.

Anyone who used the phrase, Just a cat” at me at that moment might well have got punched. I’ve never been a violent person or big enough to back it up, but Bodi brought out my maternal instincts and I would have protected him with my life.

In the meantime, the task at hand was important and I had to keep focused. My friend Matías had been working with computers long before anyone imagined ordinary people would have personal computers in their homes. In 1972 the Internet had not yet become the communication source that would be taken for granted by the end of the 1990s, but the seedlings were out there. Matías would be one of the early pioneers who helped bring it into being.

The research library required visitors to sign in and give a reason for being there. This I was reluctant to do, but Matías had told me all those years ago that if I ever needed his help, to tell the security people that his sister had brought him his forgotten sandwich from home. We didn’t look alike. He was Hispanic, I was part Pakistani, but we both had dark skin. In 1972, that was enough to make the connection plausible, as long as no one asking questions was aware that Matías didn’t actually have a sister.

The technology I needed wouldn’t be developed for a while yet, but first I had to make contact with Matías where and when I knew I could find him.

Kallie slipped inside the library door as unobtrusively as she could manage. The imposing off-white pillars and expansive walls looked like marble, though Kallie was sure it was fake. A mousey-haired woman with glasses at the reception desk glanced up, hardly seeing the intruder into her domain. For once Kallie actually needed to attract someone’s attention, but her usual blue and purple garb made it all too easy for the receptionist to flick her gaze back to the page of the book she had been reading, ignoring the unwelcome interruption.

“I need to see Matías Sandoval for a moment,” she said softly to the unresponsive woman. “He forgot his lunch today.”

Without looking at Kallie, the dour faced receptionist pushed a button and spoke into a tannoy microphone.

“Matías Sandoval, Matías Sandoval, visitor in reception.”

There was nowhere to sit, so Kallie paced the small area in front of the desk slowly, waiting impatiently. After a few moments, Matías, young and just as she remembered him, appeared from between the endless rows of bookshelves beyond the reception desk.

“Akalya!” Matías exclaimed softly as soon as he came into view. Only someone who watched him closely would have seen his eyes shift furtively left and right. His head didn't follow the movement. No one appeared to be taking any notice of either of them, but Matías quickly escorted Kallie to the door.

“Come outside a moment.” Then to the bored receptionist he said, “I’ll be right back.”

As soon as they were outside where no one might accidentally overhear their conversation, Matías looked Kallie up and down knowingly.

“You’ve come from the future, what’s up?”

Kallie nodded, acknowledging his assessment.

“It’s a long story,” Kallie began. “But I need your help with some computer technology that hasn’t been invented yet. I came back this far because it was the only place I knew where to find you.”

Matías’ face fell and Kallie immediately regretted her choice of words.

“You mean, we haven’t kept in touch?” The hurt look in his eyes reminded Kallie that Matías had always had a crush on her. She wanted to kick herself.

“Our people move around a lot, you know that.” Kallie thought fast for a way to cover her faux pas. “Remembering places and dates all the time gets harder as you get older and this library is indelibly stamped in my mind with my early memories of you. I had to contact you early so you can learn the answer to my question for later, about twenty-five years or so from now.”

Matías smiled, making no attempt to hide his innocent pleasure that the girl he loved needed him.

“Twenty-five years?” Matías repeated. “That would put you in your forties. You don’t look that old, Akalya.”

This time Kallie smiled, both for the complement and at the use of the original form of her name. She decided not to enlighten him that she was actually in her sixties or that her younger appearance was the result of their people aging slowly, helped by the regular use of facial moisturiser.

“I have a copy of a computer file,” she explained, getting straight to the point. She used the urgency at hand to skirt around the fledgling relationship that had never quite blossomed between them. “It’s actually very important for our people. Memlekels keeping records about us. I need to know what they’ve found out.”

The flirty smile dropped and Matías paled as much as the brown skin of his face would allow. His attitude suddenly turned serious, as Kallie had expected. A young Matías who hadn’t lived through the trials that Kallie had experienced from Mason and Julia would naturally be shocked by the very idea that Mems knew anything about their people at all.

“What do you need me to do, Akalya?”

Kallie weighed what to tell him about the development of computers. Her instinctive reticence when it came to revealing anything about the future wrestled with the need to make sure Matías got the information she needed.

“The file is protected with a password. This will be common in the late nineties and after. I need to know how to find out someone’s password on the technology of that time.”

Matías nodded.

“I’ll keep up with the technology,” he promised. “I probably would have anyway.”

The impish smile returned. He took Kallie’s hand into his, then looked down at her fingers.

“No wedding ring,” he stated, as if in triumph.

“I’ve never been married.” The words were true, though her life with Marcus was something she thought prudent to keep to herself.

“Shall we meet right here? Say, six a.m. on March the 10th, 1999?”

“That works for me,” Kallie agreed. “Why March 10th?”

“Easy for me to remember.” Matías grinned. “It’s my birthday. So you’ll have to give me a kiss.”

Kallie smiled. Then she stepped forward and kissed him, intending only an innocent peck on the lips. Matías surprised her by wrapping his arms around her and kissing her deeply, passionately. She suddenly became aware of the age difference between them, though she couldn't help but respond to the passion in his kiss. She gently pushed him away, feeling a little uncomfortable.

“See you soon,” she said quickly, then she shifted to the following day to make a quick escape. Kallie didn’t want to mislead Matías, but she needed his expertise for the good of all their people. His feelings for her would surely wane over time, or so she told herself.

She tried to remember whether her younger self had spent any time with him after the meeting they just had, but all she could remember was one party where he had become a little too amorous at a time when she wasn’t ready for a physical relationship. She had a vague memory of avoiding him after that and wondered now if the encounter they had just shared had led to his overconfidence and subsequent mistake in trying to push her younger self beyond her comfort zone.

Kallie walked down the street, shaking her head. She might have liked Matías and eventually developed a relationship with him, had it not been for that incident at the party. Soon she came to a phone booth and looked through the yellow pages until she found a nearby bakery. The least she could do now was to wish him a happy birthday properly. She found the bakery and bought a small cake that she felt was suitable for a friend, then as she walked out the door she shifted back to the area outside the research library. She’d had enough walking for one day.

The shift to March 10th, 1999 took no longer than the blink of an eye. She arrived a little early, but Matías was earlier still and stood waiting for her, looking rather mature wearing cream colored chinos and a light brown sports jacket. Kallie gave him her biggest smile and presented the bakery box.

“Happy Birthday, Matías!” She forced herself to sound cheerful. “I brought you a cake.”

Though Matías was of her people and aged slowly, the twenty-seven years between one moment and the next had brought maturity to the lines of his face. No longer did Kallie behold a twenty-year-old boy, fresh with innocence, but the familiar features now belonged to a Harekai nearing fifty, whom most ordinary people would guess to be somewhere in his thirties. He had grown into a man. Kallie wondered what fate the years had given him and whether the sad look she saw in his eyes had anything to do with her.

“It’s been a long time, Akalya.”

“Not for me.” She pushed the bakery box into his hands. “I was just here.”

“Of course,” Matías agreed. “That’s why you haven’t changed.”

He opened the box and looked at the prettily decorated cake with blue roses made of frosting.

“I haven’t had a cake like this in years,” he said. A hint of a smile stretched the left side of his mouth, almost into a smirk. “Thank-you, Akalya.”

Kallie wanted to ask about his life, yet she held her naturally caring instincts back. Experience had taught her that getting too involved with people from her past who weren’t part of her present or future only led to sadness for everyone concerned.

“Did you learn how to crack a password?” Even to her steeled emotions, the question sounded too abrupt. The words were out though and if Matías thought her cold and mercenary, at least he would understand the cause.

“A keylogger should do it,” he answered. He showed no reaction to Kallie’s abrupt manner, except through the expression in his eyes. Kallie knew him too well to miss the hurt showing there. Matías produced a four inch floppy disk out of his jacket pocket. “How much do you know about installing files?”

“I’m no computer expert,” Kallie admitted. “But I can follow instructions.”

“Can you get to the computer when it’s logged in?”

Kallie nodded.

“Then all you have to do is put this in the drive and drag the file to the Windows folder. There’s only one file on the disk. The program will do the rest.”

“Then what?” Kallie wanted to make sure she didn’t miss a step. Computer people were notorious for explaining things as if they were talking to others who knew their way around the machines and assuming steps that while obvious to the cyber initiate, were completely lost on amateurs.

“Take the disk out and leave. Come to my house the following evening for dinner and I’ll have your password for you.” Matías winked and gave her a mischievous smile. She couldn’t refuse the invitation under the circumstances and he knew it.

“I’ll need an address.”

Matías reached into an inside jacket pocket and pulled out a business card. His home address had already been hand written on the back. As Kallie took the card from his hand, he laced his fingers into hers and wrapped his other arm around her lower back, pulling her towards him.

“Now, do I get my birthday kiss?”

The courtesy of asking first overshadowed Kallie’s automatic resistance to the overly forward move. For once she didn’t overthink the consequences, but stepped into the embrace and gave her old friend the kind of kiss he was obviously hoping for. To her dismay, she felt herself respond to their bodies pressing together. No longer the boy she had known, the gentle arms of the man holding her excited her in a way she hadn’t felt since her early relationship with Marcus. Though the passion of their union hadn’t settled into a comfortable familiarity, there had been a time when she and Marcus had shared the euphoria of a new bonding. This felt more dangerous, exhilarating.

Kallie suddenly became aware of her own breath coming in sharp gasps, much like his, and of a thrill going through her entire body as Matías gently kissed her neck, moving slowly down towards her collarbone. She knew she had to stop this, or risk getting lost in a passion that would feel like a betrayal of Marcus.

“Happy Birthday, Matías,” she said, once again pushing him away with a gentle touch. “I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

“That’s a promise.” Matías said it as a statement, not a question. The passion in his eyes and the seductive softness of his voice left little doubt of how much he believed Kallie had promised.

Confused by her own reactions to Matías, she smiled shyly and shifted to her own time, heedless of the danger of being seen. The covered entryway to the library was sufficiently in shadow to cover her sudden appearance anyway. She felt flushed and a little out of control. There was no hiding from herself that what she felt towards Matías at that moment was desire. She took a few deep breaths to calm her racing heartbeat and noted that she was also hungry.

In any other circumstances, she might have gone home to share lunch with Marcus, but she didn’t want him to see her just now. Though they had never made any promises or formal commitment to each other, she felt guilt, as if she had violated an unspoken supposition that living with someone assumed exclusivity. She was reasonably sure that Marcus would see it that way and she had no desire to betray his trust.

The time differential and physical separation from Matías allowed her arousal to slowly settle down. She needed to get something to eat, then to travel back to 1999, to an office in New York that she had hoped never to see again. Afterwards she would have to keep her dinner date with Matías, no matter what the temptation or his expectations.

Chapter Three

I knew that I would have to keep my assignation with Matías to follow-up on the password, but there was nothing to force me to do it while my close call with him was so recent in memory. What I really wanted to do was to see Marcus, to reaffirm the bond between us, but he would sense something wrong if I went home right away.

The obvious thing to do was to eat and then go take care of uploading the keylogger. I needed my wits at full awareness to do that. A change of scene was in order.

That change took the form of a return to a another place I had never expected to visit again, a small eatery on the ground floor of a building that housed a Travelodge in Chicago. Only the eatery was no longer there. The shop space had been turned into an extension of an arts and media college. I could have slipped back a few years if I had been determined to eat at the remembered place, but I wanted to get my bearings in my natural time stream before I continued with my task.

I started walking up South Michigan Avenue and passed the Plaza Hotel, followed by another swanky looking restaurant, but I wanted something more impersonal. Eventually I came to a small sandwich shop that would do, although I don’t like buying sandwiches in restaurants. I’d rather have something I wasn’t likely to make better at home.

Just being in Chicago brought back horrific memories. What Mason had done to my people there had left an emotional scar that could never heal. I would have to warn Matías to avoid Chicago around 2016. I ordered some broccoli cheddar soup and an Italian sandwich which had various meats and cheeses stacked up on a roll. The calories would sustain me through the shifts I would be doing soon.

As I had hoped, the eerie deja vu of that familiar part of Chicago took me out of the frame of mind Matías had brought out in me. I treated myself to a banana shake as well, to make sure. By the time I finished eating, I was back to myself, moody Kallie, setting out once again to save the world. I caught myself in a heavy sigh just before I got up from the table and realized that I was halfway to New York already. The passion of a moment was gone. Now I just felt weary.

Kallie sauntered quietly out of the sandwich shop and regarded the city skyline in the distance with a frown. Her memories of Chicago were not pleasant, but that was why she had chosen it as a place to stop off and get to grips with her unexpected physical reaction to her old friend. Her reaction to Matías was something she would have to think about later, when it was time to meet him to collect the result of her afternoon’s work, but for the moment she brushed the confused feelings aside.

She banished all thoughts of Matías from her mind and found a shady alcove down a side street to step out of Chicago and into Central Park in New York. To her dismay, the tree she had always habitually used as cover for her appearances had been recently trimmed and her sudden apparation in the park might have easily been observed by anyone passing nearby, but no one paid any attention to her. New Yorkers were notorious for minding their own business.

Kallie turned and regarded the tall building she had come to the city to infiltrate. It occurred to her now that she had never been inside in the late nineties and only really knew the personnel and the habits of Darren Tate a quarter of a century later. When had Tate taken up the habit of swimming with trollops after lunch? Who would be in reception? Kallie had no way of knowing. Determining when the mogul’s desk would be left unattended could prove to be a little tricky.

One thing was for sure; Tate’s familiar draconian receptionist would be a small child in 1999. If he had a receptionist at all, she would be an unknown quantity. Still, the walls themselves would be unchanged and presuming Tate hadn’t changed offices over time, Kallie would be able to get inside with no problem. She just had to shift in at a time when no one would be there to see her arrive.

Then Kallie had a thought. The pool area behind Tate’s office had to have been purpose built when the building was constructed. Whether Tate had developed his daily swim habit yet or not, the changing area was usually quiet and there were enough doorways and lockers to duck around if anyone should be present.

Having formulated her plan that far, she stepped from behind her tree into 1999, then shifted to the door of the locker room. She stood still and listened. The eerie echo of an uninhabited changing room greeted her ears. So far so good. She strained to listen to the pool area just beyond a partial barrier, but no voices or splashing sounds disturbed the gentle hum of the pool filter.

Kallie stepped silently just far enough to look past the dividing wall and found the pool empty. Then she turned towards the corridor that led to Tate’s office. She could just hear the barely detectable sound of someone typing on a keyboard over the cavernous echo behind her. She crept towards the office, turning occasionally to look behind her. As far as she knew there were no other doors to the pool area, but she felt she had to keep looking, just in case.

She noticed that her hands were shaking a little. Normally she would have no fear of discovery, even this close to a room occupied by someone, but she was very conscious of the importance of what she had come here to do and had no idea how she was going to get to the computer when it was unoccupied, but still signed in.

The tapping sound stopped and Kallie heard a shuffling as if someone got up from the desk. This was too much for her edgy nerves and she shifted a few hours ahead to midnight. Again, she listened closely before making any move. The possibility of the playboy millionaire whose office she was invading having after hours guests hadn’t escaped her thoughts. There was, however, no sound to be heard. No glow of light or hint of anyone moving or occupying the office.

Kallie wondered when the motion detectors had been installed. She dared not take the chance of walking around and setting off an infrared alarm. She knew enough ‘safe spots’ in this office to move with distance shifts as long as she could be sure no one was in the office.

She gave herself a few minutes for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, then shifted to the receptionist’s desk. Sitting on the desk itself in case there might be pressure alarms under the carpet, Kallie tried to see well enough to look for an appointment book. If she could be sure Tate would be out of the office for a meeting or something, the chances of catching his computer on screen saver would be pretty good. It was difficult to determine what the desk items were without anymore light than penetrated the window blinds at night, but after feeling the desk accessories for a few minutes, she found a book that could be what she sought, unless it turned out to be an address book.

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