MOGOLLON: SANDY NATHAN
It’s only twelve more days, lizards!!!! Yup, then you can get that Scooby-Doo costume that you’ve been saving out of your closet and put it on so you can ring some doorbells and cash in on the goodies!!! Oh, yeah, the outfit is terrifying and no doubt the neighborhood kids will faint from the sight of something so horrific roaming the streets of their safe haven!!! Good choice, but next time you’re in a costume store, don’t go for the things on the table marked “ADULT COSTUMES WE’RE GIVING AWAY CAUSE WE CAN’T SELL ‘EM”! Instead wait for a REAL giveaway – like the one about to take place right here on HALLOWEENPALOOZA because its Daily Book Giveaway time! How sweet is that?
Today’s offering is MOGOLLON by Sandy Nathan. It’s a tale that mixes mysticism with mayhem. Good is pitted against evil and finding out which will win is sure to keep you on the edge of your bed until the final page! It’s perfect for this time of the year when the nights are cool and the hobgoblins are a’knocking! Sandy is giving away FIVE ECOPIES and it took a bit of convincing for her to do that! It took even more “persuasion” to get her to write The Richest Woman on the Planet!!! I had to go all Kathy Bates on her and then convince her that a contract signed under duress is still binding!!! But she did a brilliant job, even managing to put together some awesome picks while being
harassed ... I mean, "convinced"!!! But being calm and
collected under pressure is one of the reasons why she’s won a zillion international
literary awards, but who’s counting!!! Certainly not me because I count using
my fingers and my fingers are being used to stir my hot chocolate these days!!!
And, no, I didn’t give her any hot chocolate ‘cause I DON’T SHARE!!!
Now it’s your turn for manic fangirling! Read the story, then make quick, quick, quick, like a little bunny and enter today’s contest! And speaking of bunnies, posting a pic that friend Jason Mueller shared on FB!!! Bwahahahahha!!! Have fun, peepsters and don’t do anything I wouldn’t!!!!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I’m Sandy Nathan. It’s my great pleasure to present The Richest Woman on the Planet. I’ve had the idea for the story rattling in my head, but Wendy Potocki’s Halloweenpalooza II motivated me to write it down. I love the sheer wackiness of Halloween and applaud Wendy for creating this event around it.
In my story, I introduce you to the world of a special woman, who is entirely fictional, and entirely based on a woman I knew. Her estate and world are parts of my youth. Only a veil of imagination separates what I experienced as a child from the dark mansion on the mountain in this tale.
I was born to be a princess. I was a princess, for a while. My parents overcame the poverty of their youth by becoming extremely successful. My hometown was one of the most affluent places in the country. Giant oaks, old mansions, and flashy cars surrounded me. I spent my time showing horses and water-skiing behind my dad’s obscenely overpowered boat.
I discovered “the Schierman estate” while riding my horse through the redwoods of the coastal range in the San Francisco Peninsula around 1960. I was totally lost––fences were rare in those days––I rode around a bend in the tall trees and ferns and found myself confronted by a magnificent, historic mansion. Acres of emerald lawns and glorious evergreens ringed the greensward. I’ve never forgotten that breathless moment. The grand house I found wasn’t scary; it was beautiful and surprising and truly magical. The one in my story was designed to terrify anyone who saw it.
Dr. Vanessa Schierman is based on a real person, a very tall, gaunt, and extremely wealthy woman with exquisite manners and enough kindness and love to stock the planet. She wasn’t a witch, but she embodied Dr. Schierman’s ideas about taste and decorum. And she was a direct descendent of a Robber Baron––old, old money. She defines a truly upper class person to me.
Well, my life as a princess ended when a drunk driver ran into my father head-on in 1964, killing him. Not instantaneously, either. My dad’s death was the stuff of horror movies.
My old life vanished. All the horses and hot water-ski boats and parties went Poof! Through structures and systems I will not describe, I lived at a below poverty level income for a while. What happened in the coming years opened my eyes. I’ve seen and lived the over-privileged existence I describe in my novels. I’ve seen how ephemeral its rewards are and how it warps those who are trapped by it. I’ve seen how it masks mental illness.
My writing has a bite. My life has had a bite. Recovering from what happened to me has taken many years. And I have recovered. What was legitimately mine came back to me, along with the fruit of my own labor. If your life echoes mine, you might like to see how I healed; it’s in my books.
Now for my “regular bio”: I’ve been in school a very long time and have two advanced degrees. I’ve had prestigious careers. My writing has won twenty-six national awards. I’m very happily married; my husband and I have been together forty years. I have three grown children and two grandchildren. We live on our California horse ranch and love it.
MY GIFTS FOR OCTOBER 19TH: I’m putting these in front of my story because the tale is rather … long. You might miss the goodies if they’re at the bottom.
[http://www.amazon.com/Leroy-Watches-Badass-Bull-Bloodsong-ebook/dp/B00IPU9UWG if link doesn’t work.]
What does a novella about a young Native American/African American shaman who often messes up have to do with Halloween? Lots. Leroy goes to a rodeo to help his dad, a famous rodeo bullfighter, at his retirement rodeo. He ends up the FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitive in this whacky farce. A quick read, too.
Almost 5 star rated on Amazon, reviewers say things like:
“5 STARS. Absurd, hilarious, Western good time. One part cowboy narrative, one part shaman's journey, and two parts hilarious. If you are a fan of Western, Native American shamanic culture, or even just the absurd, I am certain you will love this book.”
[ http://sandynathan.com if the built-in link doesn’t work]
This is an eBook of the story below, with added stuff. It’s going to be a real book of short stories as I add more stories. Right now, it has “The Richest Woman on the Planet,” a great cover and cool illustrations, plus an introduction by Vanessa Schierman herself. That intro will bristle your eyebrows––the woman has a sharp tongue. This can be downloaded from my website from October 19th through the 22nd. After that, it becomes a short story on Amazon.
[http://www.amazon.com/Sandy-Nathan/e/B001JS6VMI My Amazon Author page in case link doesn’t work.]
Do you get my new Christmas book, the most badass Christmas book ever written, for free? No. It’s not available yet. When it is, you will be able to find it on my Amazon Author page. My Halloweenpalooza II gifts give you the backstory to In Love by Christmas.
In Love by Christmas is the story of Leroy Watches Jr. as he searches for the love of his life and the fullness of his identity. As the grandson of the perhaps the greatest Native American shaman ever born, he should be able to change the world, but he can’t. The Native American supernatural Coyote, the Trickster, messes him up. Leroy searches for Cass Duane, his soul mate. Cass is the daughter of the richest man in the world, perhaps as much a negative as a positive. Will Duane’s a crusty old coot.
In Love by Christmas stars Leroy, who we got to know and love from that Badass Bull. We’ve got Will Duane and a crew of Native Americans from Mogollon: A Tale of Mysticism and Mayhem. There’s Enzo Donatore, the devil incarnate, and his mob of demons also from Mogollon. Plus, a witch no one’s seen before, Vanessa Schierman, PhD. She’s one of the big players in In Love by Christmas. Much of the action takes place on her spooky estate. You’ll know all about her if you read the story that follows.
“Mogollon is about nothing less than the battle between the forces of light and dark -- in worlds that feel incredibly real though they stretch the imagination way beyond its normal boundaries. With unexpected story twists and characters, Mogollon is sheer enjoyment, page after page after page.”
Laren Bright, Award-winning television writer
Co-author of Golden Voyages, a spiritual children's book
Laren Bright, Award-winning television writer
Co-author of Golden Voyages, a spiritual children's book
PEACE OR OUR DARKEST NIGHTMARES?
Will Duane owns the tech revolution. It’s 1997; Will’s been the richest man on the planet for twenty years. He can sway governments and ruin lives. Will’s latest mission brings him into conflict with all that’s holy.
He and his corporate hot shots reach their destination, a Native American spiritual retreat. Their luxurious motor homes enter the Mogollon Bowl, a geophysical anomaly where anything can happen. Now Will can spring his trap.
Grandfather, the powerful shaman leading the retreat, seeks a world where love is king, a world of peace and harmony. This vision has haunted him all his life. His corporate guest is the key to making his vision real. Grandfather knows exactly what Will Duane wants.
A malicious force steps into the action. Both men’s hopes are dashed, as a sacred place becomes the playground of evil. A malevolent power tries to claim their lives and souls.
You won’t forget this modern day fable, a high-speed, high stakes fantasy with visionary roots.
THE RICHEST PERSON IN THE WORLD
“I look like shite.” Vanessa Schierman held the draft version of the NET WORTH cover up so that her chief housekeeper, Marjory Naughton, could see it. “Can you believe what he made me look like? Look at my skin. I look like an alligator, and a …”
Marjory sighed, shaking her head. “You don’t look like that, Vanessa. No one would ever take you for …”
“A witch. It’s been said often enough, ‘That crazy Dr. Schierman looks like a witch.’ Which is ridiculous. I have nothing to do with brooms or pointed hats. Very few people know about my wand. I’m very discreet in its deployment.
“What am I going to do? I can’t allow him to print this.” She gazed sadly upon the travesty that that pompous little peon had his art department create from their photo session at the estate.
The cover was glossy black, with NET WORTH in its signature font running across the top. Vanessa’s head, draped in black, glared maliciously from the page. The rest of the cover said, “Our Richest Person in the World Issue: 1997. Dr. Vanessa Schierman. The numbers don’t lie: She’s been the RICHEST PERSON ON THE PLANET all along!” The photo captured her smirking.
“He took the one where I was telling him about how I was sick of Will Duane being named richest person for the last thirty years. If I added up my assets and revealed my corporate holdings, I would come out on top from the beginning. But I don’t flash. I never flash.
“What are we going to do, Marjory?”
“The ‘first viewing and approval of all elements’ clause you put in his contract was brilliant. I’d make him do it over.”
“I did make him do it over. This is his fifth try. Read the latest article.”
Vanessa cocked her head a bit more than its existing slant, listening for a noise coming from the main hallway. She had broken her neck in a riding accident years before. The best medical science could do at the time was keep her alive, with her head leaning forward and to the left. “Is that Percival/journalist person still howling?”
“No. I gave him one of your milk drinks. Knocked him out. Doesn’t much like his quarters, though.”
“I gave that little twit the nicest room in my cellar. What a cry baby. But what can you expect of someone who would dress like that? What kind of professional goes to an important interview wearing a yellow jacket and a bow-tie printed with canaries?” Vanessa rolled her eyes. “Listen to what he says in the article. I can’t stand the simpering superiority of his tone.”
NET WORTH does its homework. Not long ago, an attorney showed up at our headquarters in NYC. He claimed to represent a person we’d never heard of. And she claimed that she had been the richest person in the world for the last half a century. We at NET WORTH chuckled politely and pointed to the door.
The fifth time the attorney came knocking, we listened. The court order he carried convinced us. Investigating what appeared to be a preposterous claim from a nobody, we discovered that the nobody was somebody indeed. We discovered quite a bit more than the good doctor might have wanted us to. Here’s the scoop:
· Vanessa Schierman PhD was the richest person in the world and had been for many more than the fifty years she claimed. The head of our legal research department was permitted to examine––without touching, recording or copying in any way––documents demonstrating the existence of a labyrinth of corporations, foundations, LLCs and bastardized forms of businesses, not to mention holding corporations and nameless legal entities all over the world. Even a glimpse of these documents showed NET WORTH that Dr. S. was the richest of them all.
· She was a real doctor, but not an MD. Dr. Schierman earned her PhD in theoretical physics and mathematics from UC Berkeley, where she was employed as a professor and physicist during the 1930s. Dr. Schierman was among the original developers of the cyclotron, leaving the team when she realized its potential to create nuclear weapons.
· The Schierman fortune originated in southeastern Germany, about the eighth century, when Baron Heinrich von Schierman forced neighboring fiefdoms to form the first major German state. He held his kingdom together by brute force, amassing a vast fortune. Magic was named as a factor in his rise and the continuation of his line. The German Schiermans were reputed to be witches and warlocks from the get-go.
· A branch of the Schierman family migrated to the United States about 1870. They obtained vast land holdings originally reaching from the San Francisco Bay, where Redwood City stands now, over the Coastal Range to the Pacific Ocean. Over time, these holdings have been reduced to a huge estate in Woodside, California, at the top of Skyline Boulevard. The first Schierman to settle in California, “Mad Ludwig” Schierman was the most notorious and perhaps criminal of the Robber Barons. He was a contemporary of the California legends, the Stanfords, Crockers, Floods and Fleishackers. He was richer than all of them, and weirder.
· “Mad Ludwig” was the real thing: mad as a hatter or two. The predilection for eccentricity seemed to have traveled through the gene pool. I interviewed Dr. Schierman at her “home”––anyone who felt at home in that creepy mansion qualified as a hatter herself. I was blindfolded when I was taken to the estate. The good doctor didn’t tell us much about the place, other than it was about five thousand acres. NET WORTH investigated public records and found that parcels that large are rare on Skyline Boulevard. There’s one. That property carried an active permit for a top-security mental hospital. Dr. Schierman said nothing about it.
Tired of our hostess’ reticence, we pulled an end run and had lunch with Louie Schierman, Dr. Schierman’s oldest son and heir. Mr. Schierman revealed a lot about his secretive mother and the Schierman family. As his driver waited in his Bentley outside a popular Woodside bistro, Louie regaled this writer with tales in the spooky Schierman mansion on the top of Skyline Boulevard.
“My brothers and sisters have to stay in the hospital. Mommy says most families could use a private mental hospital; we’re just lucky enough to have one. I don’t have to stay in the clinic because I’m not ‘loony’ anymore, that’s Mommy’s word, after Dr. Rudy changed my meds. I’m not dangerous, either.”
I asked what the most significant contribution the younger Schierman had made to the world, he replied with great enthusiasm. “The Woodside Rangers. Together with some of my friends, mature chaps like me, with means. We save damsels in distress.” Oh? “Yes. We sit in our cars outside the local bars when they close. If any ladies in need of help come out, we take them home.”
Louie provided other tantalizing information about the 1997 richest person in the world:
· She’s not a witch. People say she is, but she’s not.
· She doesn’t have a time machine. It’s a cyclotron.
· She’s not crazy, though some of my family members are.
· The carvings on the walls of the mansion don’t really move. That’s from my meds.
So, dear readers, truth is often stranger than fiction. That’s the truth about our Richest Person in the World 1997.
Exclusive to NET WORTH
“I’m going to spend some time with the cats. It’s the only thing that will clear my mind. If NET WORTH’S attorney calls, tell him that Percival is out on my yacht. I don’t know when he’ll be back.”
“Vanessa, dear, you don’t have a yacht.”
“Oh. Would you get on the phone, Marjory, and call that nice yacht man? Buy me a big one. And Marjory, you know I love you, but don’t call me ‘dear.’”
“Oh, Scottie, what am I to do? I can’t keep him in the cellar forever.” Vanessa sat on an ornate, cast-concrete garden settee just outside the barn. A dozen cats, all black, gathered around her, looking at her intently as though following her every word. Her favorite, Scottie, rubbed against her legs and mewed in sympathy.
“And I can’t let him print that story. I can’t keep him on my milk drinks for the rest of his life, though that is a viable possibility; they are harmless.
“The worst thing he did was contact Louie. I never should have gotten Louie that cell phone. But he is stable now, and he’s an adult. What a slimy … Louie loves the Woodside Rangers. He and his old fart friends tootle around in their Bentleys with their chauffeurs, pretending to be Don Quixote. That asshole,” Vanessa didn’t swear, but she relished calling that Palimpsest creature what he was, “made them sound like they were lechers looking for drunken women to use. That’s ridiculous. Not one of the Rangers has had even an imaginary erection in ten years. They’re like children.”
Scottie stood up on his hind legs and balanced with his front paws on her knee. His face registered his mistress’ distress. A tiny whimper escaped him.
“That Percival person has no compassion. I watched my children, one by one, all five of them, develop the most horrible mental diseases, with no cure and not much known-about treatment. It was terrible.
“I built the hospital because I would not allow them to be given mediocre treatment in other places. They can’t get care like they get here, anywhere in the world. And I help other people like them. I treat patients from everywhere in my little clinic. I don’t charge them anything. Heaven knows, their families have been bankrupted because the medical system doesn’t pay for mental illnesses. They suffer so, or they do until I get them expert treatment. I’m not going to expose them to the world. I’m not going to let the world do to them what it did to me.”
Terribly tall, even after the riding accident that had broken her neck and given her the strange posture, Vanessa never had any illusions about making her way through the world with her appearance. Her head jutted forward and to the side. Nothing to be done about it; they did what they could in 1979 when it happened. She never was a beauty before the accident. Vanessa had succeeded with her intellect and her will. She had enough intelligence to split atoms, and she had. Mostly, her ferocious love for her family and the people of the estate kept her going.
Her husband had loved her. That was enough for a lifetime. They dallied in their marriage bed, making wonderful, flawed children. Until his depression got him and he killed himself. Her family didn’t hide a single funny secret. That dreadful writer wrote as though they were a joke, she thought.
Vanessa pulled a black hankie trimmed with finest handmade black lace from the cuff of her long sleeve. She wore her signature black, high-necked dress. Ornate black braid trimmed its collar and ran down the garment’s buttoned front, all the way to its hem, which sat an inch above her boots. She always wore sensible lace-up boots. No one told her she had terrible fashion sense; she knew it. Vanessa simply saw no need for clothing in any color but black. Or anything but dresses that covered her throat to ankles. Naked, she looked like a very tall bag of potatoes. Why display her form?
She saw no need for animals in any other color, either. All the cats were black, sweet darlings. They stayed around the barn, doing their jobs, hunting mice. Of course, she liked the mice too, training the cats not to kill the black ones. After generations, black had become the predominant color in her rodent population.
The dogs ran across the lawn with George Yeoman, her grounds man. Beautiful jet-black dogs, bigger than ponies, slightly altered by her experiments. She never allowed outsiders onto the grounds; too much chance one of the children might be having an episode. She did everything she could to prevent someone from seeing them, or laughing at them.
The dogs were breeding experiments. All were black, relatively short-haired, huge and vicious, unless they knew you. Some had faces smashed in like Pugs with Great Dane bodies. She made them grotesque. Vanessa lived in a world where grotesque was beauty and beauty grotesque.
They saw her and made a beeline to the settee where she perched, stopping politely before they ran into her. “Oh, Rollo! Alex! Maidie! Such good dogs.” The cats retreated, not in fear of the dogs, but in fear of being stepped on. None of the denizens of Vanessa Schierman’s kingdom needed to fear the other.
“What do you think I should do, darlings?” she said to the dogs. They sat in a circle around her, tilting their heads from one side to the other, listening and whining. And talking to her in their private, shared language.
She listened. “No. I don’t think turning him loose and letting you play with him is a good idea. I need a new article and new pictures. A spin-doctor.” She thought. Who could put a pretty face on anything? Make lies seem like truth, and look beautiful doing it?
Will Duane. Vanessa frowned. This was entirely his fault. If it weren’t for her tiny feelings of jealousy, truly insignificant feelings, almost, she never would have approached NET WORTH. After so many years of seeing his beautiful face and elegant form gracing magazine covers proclaiming his superiority, she couldn’t stand it. She was richer than he.
Besides, Will had been her protégé when he first came to the San Francisco Peninsula in the 1950s. He had money back then; his father was a garbage collector or something. Will was loaded, but not with couth. He couldn’t get into a decent coffee shop. She gave him a makeover and introduced him around. Voila! His corporation took off and he’d been the richest man in the world since. Not to mention the best looking.
Except he wasn’t the richest. She had more than he did and always had. It galled her to see him on all those magazine covers, beaming away. Gorgeous hunk that he was. Still was, white-haired with that beautiful body. If her picture were on the cover of a magazine, maybe Will would notice her. She wouldn’t acknowledge the tiny feelings of attraction she’d always harbored for the man either.
She needed a makeover, new photos and a good writer. Who could I get to do the job?
“Jon, darling, it’s Vanessa. Yes, it has been a long time. And I knew you’d recognize my voice. I’m told it sounds like sheets of sandpaper rubbing together. I want to talk to you about coming out.”
“You’re gay, Vanessa?” Shock ricocheted through Jon Walker’s voice.
“No, dear, you are. I’m coming out.” He was silent. “Coming out of a life of hiding to be the person I really am. That’s coming out. I need your help.” She told him about the NET WORTH article and Percival Palimpsest, though she did not reveal that he was incarcerated in her cellar.
“I’ve got to do something soon. The publication deadline is approaching.”
“I’m not a makeup artist.”
“I know. You’re a television host. The best. And you have all those make-up people around you, and set designers. People who know how to do clothes. Hair dressers. And photographers. You have all of those. Couldn’t I just dash in after your show and let them have at me?” He was silent. She could feel him make up his mind.
“Oh, Vanessa. I never could say no to you.” She also felt the question hovering on his lips.
“We have a topic that we have mutually agreed never to speak about. That includes now, Jon. Healthier for you. I will say he’s doing fine. Don’t worry about him.” Threads of her life went everywhere. Someday, she’d make sense of them.
“Let me look at my schedule.” Jon was silent a moment. “Tomorrow around noon.”
“Oh, wonderful! One more little favor.”
“What, Vanessa?” Jon was trying to sound stern, but he couldn’t with her. They loved each other too much.
“Can we do it on my yacht? I just got it today. It's the sort of thing the richest person in the world would have.”
“Where is it?”
Vanessa had forgotten how long it had been since she left the estate. Even through her car’s windows were tinted as dark as the law allowed, the world seemed to shimmy and expand through the windows. San Francisco was enormous, much larger than she remembered. All those new high buildings. Obviously, the new crop of architects didn’t remember what happened in 1906.
The Golden Gate Bridge was as she remembered it, and Sausalito was the same. Lots of tourists and cutesy, low buildings where they sold crap.
Driver piloted her Bentley to the dock effortlessly. A preternaturally happy man in a pale linen suit stood at the entrance, holding a folder. The yacht man, undoubtedly, ecstatic at making a sale.
“Well, Marjory, let’s face the tiger.” It had been so long since Vanessa had left the confines of her property on Skyline that she felt a little queasy at the thought. She brought Marjory Naughton along to calm her.
“Show it to me,” she said. The yacht man jumped. Vanessa always forgot how her voice sounded. And how she looked. “Which one is it? The really big one over there?” She pointed at a monster at the end of the berths. That would be appropriate.
“No, that belongs to Will Duane.”
Her back went up. “Well, show me the tugboat you want me to buy.”
The yacht was lovely, just lovely. Tasteful and beautiful, all slicked with shellac and spotlessly clean. Much more elegant than Will’s barge.
“Belonged to a sheik,” said the yacht man, studying the contract. “His name’s right here. I can’t pronounce it.”
She looked at the paper, reading the Arabic easily. “Why is he selling it? Did it sink or something?”
“No.” Yacht man chuckled. “He gets seasick.”
She laughed merrily. That had never occurred to her. She’d never been to sea.
“Does it come with a driver?”
“Yes. And a crew. Abdul is onboard.”
Her brows knit again, “Is he a terrorist?”
“Not that I know of. Don’t think they’d let him stay if he had a record.”
“It’s not the record that matters; it’s what he intends to do in the future.”
One hard look at a suspicious Dr. Schierman and Abdul was more terrified of her than she had been of him. He was also absolutely loyal to her, as her servants were. Vanessa smiled. Having her powers was useful.
“Well, my dear fellow. We’ll shove off in just a moment. I’m waiting for my camera crew.”
“Where would madam like to go?” Abdul rubbed his hands together, looking up into her face. Vanessa Schierman was a tall woman.
“Somewhere atmospheric. How about over there, where the Golden Gate will show in the background?” She pointed at the bridge, which appeared incredibly close. It was a bright, sunny day, unusual for the coast. Well, she’d taken care of that. No sense going to all this trouble and having it spoiled by fog.
“Jon, darling, you’re here.” Jon had driven up in a Maserati or whatever he was driving these days. “Come along, dear, bring your friends.” A van disgorged very stylish people, men and women, bearing lights and small suitcases. Delight played in Vanessa’s eyes. She’d never had a real crew “style” her.
Jon glided along the walkway to the yacht, the only way to describe the way he walked. No human being existed more graceful than Jon Walker. He approached her cats in elegance and panache. Jon wore khaki slacks and a blue shirt with a polo player on it; except this player was flying off the horse. His hair was perfectly cut, blond-streaked and tousled from the convertible. Her heart ached when she saw him. Such a sad thing, the way that unmentionable relationship had worked out.
“Darling, can you do anything with me?” She held her arms out, displaying that day’s funereal black dress.
“You are going to look so beautiful. Don’t worry.” He hugged her and kissed her cheek. We’re quite a couple, she thought, the beautiful television personality soon to receive his PhD in Clinical Psychology and the crone who got hers in Physics long ago.
“I’ll trust you, darling. How do you do, everyone?” She waved at the crew making its way up the ramp. “I’m so happy you’ve come. Did Jon tell you how I’ve been slandered? Or will be if I don’t come up with an alternative?”
They stopped and stared at her, eyes widening, brows raising. Six of them, one with a rack of clothes, the others with cameras and things.
“I broke my neck when my horse fell. That is why I look like this,” she explained. That was more than she usually said about herself, but she had to get them onboard, in every way. “Do we do the make-up now, or when we go out on the water?” Vanessa felt more and more uncomfortable. Something about … something.
“Let’s do the make-up and styling now. We can shoot while the yacht’s moving.” Jon took charge. Mr. Style. Mr. Assertiveness. She smiled at him, fawning. To think that he was once Will Duane’s chef. Has he ever come up in the world.
“Oh, I didn’t know I could look like this. You’ve made me beautiful.” The stylist had washed and blown dry her fine, thin hair, turning it into something that looked like hair, not the limp vegetative threads that wrapped corn.
William, the make-up person, made her skin glow and her wrinkles disappear into the luminosity. They brought a kimono-style coat, a rich burgundy that fit over her black dress. Finally, the team wrapped her neck with a stiff, silk scarf. It hid the way her head set on her shoulders, for the pictures anyway.
“Thank you so much. Oh, dear.”
“Don’t cry, Vanessa, it spoils the makeup,” Jon put his arm around her and kissed her cheek. “I always knew you were lovely,” he whispered.
“Let’s get this show on the road. I’ve got my own show to tape at six!” Jon took over. Abdul and his crew stared at him, apparently trying to remember where they had seen him. “Go on! Shoo! Shoo! Get out into the bay. We need to take photos.”
The movement of the water under the boat was most alarming. She didn’t expect it to be like that, chopping and bouncing. Slithering in a distressing manner.
“Abdul! What’s the matter?! Why is the deck so––active?”
“It is the bay, Your Highness …”
“No, Dr. Schierman, not Your Highness. Can you make it stop? I don’t like it at all.” The closer to the Golden Gate Bridge they got, the higher the chop.
“Oh, no, madam, it will only get worse when we go out of the bay into the ocean.”
“Abdul! Never go into the ocean! I forbid it!” Vanessa felt most unwell. The moving from side to side and back to front. The brilliant sun. She’d made it too bright that day. It reminded her of something. Her uneasiness rose with the movement of the water. That terrible sun fell on everything.
They were settling into a good position for the photographer to begin taking pictures when an idiotic tourist swept in front of the yacht, quite out of control. In a sailboat. What a stupid thing. If you were going to take your life into your hands by going out in extremely deep, shark-infested waters like the San Francisco Bay, you should have a solid engine propelling you. Like this yacht, Vanessa mumbled to herself.
The sailboat flew back in the other direction, the long pole at the bottom of the sail swinging wildly. It whipped, and caught the yacht square on the bow. First a terrible ripping, then a grinding noise and the yacht crunched. Or rather, the sailboat crunched. Abdul was shouting in Arabic and people were dashing about. The photographer put his camera away.
Another horrible wrench and sound of wood splintering. The yacht broke free and the sailboat … she didn’t know what happened then.
She was on her back on the deck screaming. The sun shone down with hideous maliciousness and she heard it again, the jump standards breaking. The sound of her horse striking the stone wall beneath the poles. The sound of his beautiful neck snapping as he hit the stone.
Something struck her in the neck and shoulder, something huge. She flew through the air and landed. Somewhere. Everything was quiet, but she heard screaming. Someone was screaming. Her horse. Rhumba, wonderful Rhumba, beautiful Rhumba lay still on the ground. The blue sky. Obscene blue sky. Oh, my God! Her horse was dead.
“Help me, help me,” she screamed over and over. “I can’t feel my legs. I can’t feel anything. Help me.”
“Vanessa, it’s Jon.” Far away, she sensed someone bending over her. He was saying something. “You’re having a flashback. You’re remembering the accident. It’s me. Vanessa.”
“Oh, Jon, they have to fix me. I can’t feel my legs. I can hear them talking. They’re saying I might die. I can’t die, Jon. The children. Who will take care of my children. Oh, Jon, help me. Don’t let me die.
“Who will take care of my children? They’re so sick, Jon. You know how sick they are. What will they do without me? Oh, they’ll be put into an institution. Oh, Jon, I have to get well. Don’t let me die. I can’t feel anything at all.”
“I won’t let you die, darling. Abdul’s gotten us back to the berth. We’re docking now. I called Rudy from the hospital. Do you remember your hospital? You built for your children so they’d never suffer? Rudy’s coming. He’ll know how to help you better than I.”
“Don’t go, Jon. I can’t feel my legs. I can’t feel … Oh, the children. I’m all alone, Jon. What will happen to them?”
They put her on the main sofa in the salon. Everyone left, but heard her cries of anguish.
“Oh, Jon. They got sick. One after another; first Louie, and then all the rest. I couldn’t stop it. It was my husband and I, something between us. We were fourth cousins twice removed. I thought that was far enough, but it wasn’t. My children! Oh, God. I can’t feel anything. Who will take care of them if I die?”
“Darling Vanessa, you have taken care of them. You made a hospital on your property so they would never be mistreated. You take other children in, hoping to help them. You’ve set it all up with trusts to go on forever. Don’t you remember?”
“The sun is bright. Too bright. They’ll all die. There’s nothing I can do.”
Abdul and his crew docked the boat and stood talking to each other in Arabic, eyeing their distraught new mistress.
“She broke her neck jumping a horse? The sheik would never do that. Other people rode his racehorses. They broke their necks.”
“She is a very nice woman. Her story is so sad. A widow. She knows how to dress, not like these …” Abdul said some judgmental things about American female clothing standards.
“She cares about her children more than any mother I’ve seen.”
“I wonder what’s wrong with them.”
“You are talking about the wrong things.” Abdul was a sharp cookie. “We are out of a job. She will never take this boat out again.”
“We’ll have to go back to driving taxis …” They ululated as one and then paid full attention to the pageant around them. “We must figure out some way of making her want the yacht, even if she never goes on it.” They listened, trying to find a key.
“How about rides for tourists?” whispered Bashir. “We could charge for them. She is rich and understands making money.”
“She would never let people she doesn't know on the yacht. Didn’t you see her face when she first saw it? She loves it,” Abdul was truly observant. “We need to find some reason so important, she’ll keep yacht, even if she doesn't use it.”
“If she doesn’t die. Look!”
“You’re not going to die, Vanessa,” Jon said. “It’s a flashback.”
“But it’s so real.” She wanted to sob and cry. Maybe she did. “And Rhumba died. And Otto! My husband died. Oh, Jon.”
“Shh. Shh. Shh.” Jon leaned over her. “They’re memories, darling. They feel very real. They are real. Your body is releasing memories that it’s held all this time. The fear. And terror.”
“I can’t feel anything.” She grabbed at him.
“But you can, Vanessa, you just grabbed my arm. If you couldn’t feel anything, if your neck was broken, you couldn’t do that. I’m going to ask you to do some things. You do them. OK. Wiggle your toes. Guys, take off her boots.” The crew did, watching Jon as though he was a wizard. “Toes work. Let’s try feet.” He went through her body that way, making sure all the parts worked.
“I can move!” She’d stopped crying. Jon wiped her face. “I can move! Oh, Jon, I’m not dead. Oh, thank you! Thank you, dear. You saved me!” she sat up and hugged him. “I’m all right. It was a flashback! Being out there in that terrible bay brought it on. And that awful tourist in the sailboat.” Her brows pulled together and her forehead made a washboard.
“Abdul! Where’s Abdul?”
He poked his head into the cabin, “Yes, ma’am. How may I help you?”
“Are they like that all the time?”
“Sailboats propelled by tourists. Monsters.” Her eyes widened. “Did they hurt the boat?”
“A little, ma’am.”
“Call me Doctor.”
“Uh, Doctor. But the insurance will pay for it.”
“Ah. I’ll finally get something from my insurance. You must stop them, Abdul! For once and for all!”
“Yes! Stop the tourists. They should not be allowed to sail around, causing people to have flashbacks and hurt beautiful boats.”
“You want me to stop tourists from sailing in the bay?” Abdul’s forehead wrinkled in incredulity.
Jon coughed. “I’ve got to get back to the city. The show’s taping at 6.”
“Oh, no. We didn’t get any pictures or an article or anything. I’m a mess.” Her old face crinkled.
“Don’t cry, Vanessa. Let me think. You go back to the station with the crew. They’ll fix you up in the van. Can I get an exclusive interview with you on the show, tonight? A prequel to the NET WORTH article.”
Vanessa grinned. “You’re scooping that obnoxious Percival Palimpsest!”
“If you’ll let me.” Jon smiled. “I’ve met him, too. Wherever you’ve got him is too good for him.”
“My attorney will meet us at the station.” Vanessa didn’t do anything without a contract and her attorney.
“You look lovely, Vanessa. Absolutely beautiful.” Later that evening, she and Marjory watched a recording of the show from the big TV in the estate’s family room.
“I don’t know about that, Marjory, but at least I don’t look like a witch with an alligator-skin face.
“It was like magic. They whisked me over the bridge, into the studio and onto Jon’s set, just like that.” She snapped her fingers. Jon’s styling people put a beautiful bright pink scarf around her head and shoulders, like a shawl. It was stiff material, silk with gold, and hid her neck. Jon asked just the right questions.
“Well, Dr. Schierman, I’ve heard strange tales of you and your estate. Is it true that you have a nuclear reactor?”
“Oh, no. What silly bosh. I haven’t done anything with those since I realized what they were about.”
“How about a time machine? I’ve heard that you have a time machine.”
She threw her head back as far as it would go and laughed. “If I had a time machine, do you think I’d look like this?” Everyone in the studio laughed. “I’d go back before my accident and be a babe. Well, actually, I never was a babe … but, you know.” She was funny! People laughed.
But they didn’t laugh when Jon got her to talk about her children. “I’ve heard it said that your estate is haunted, that you’re a witch and that you have an insane asylum on the property.”
Her mouth tightened. “Only the latter is true.” She looked over the audience. “I’m sure that people in this audience have loved ones who are mentally ill. People in this audience, and people in the television audience, and out into the world know what it’s like to love dear ones who will never be ‘normal’ according to everyone else’s standards.
“You know too how hard it is to get them good treatment. How insurance companies don’t cover mental illnesses, or if they do, they cover them at inadequate levels. You’ll know how expensive the drugs are, creating profits of thousands of percent for the drug manufacturers. Those of you with ill children know how people run from your darlings, or make fun of them.
“It’s 1997, not the middle ages. You’d think things would have changed, but they haven’t. All five of my children have incurable mental illnesses. I have the means to give them the best care on the planet. And I do. In a totally legal, modern hospital that I created at my home. I’m fortunate that I have the means to do so. I can treat my family and other unfortunates.
“I guard my privacy and that of my family carefully. I’m not an open and easy person. I have those dearest in the world to me to look out for. I know all of you will understand that. You’ve had your own difficulties, your own problems that have no solution. We mothers do the best we can.”
Tears ran down her cheeks, but she held her head high. She looked noble, someone everyone could identify with. The aunt or grandmother everyone wished they’d had. Jon let the camera linger on her tearful, but unbroken face, just an instant. The screen faded to a commercial break.
“That’s when Rudy Heimlach arrived at the studio, bursting in and causing quite a stir. My Chief Psychiatrist had been chasing us from Sausalito. He looked like he was in an emergency.” She laughed. “Shall we watch it again?”
“Vanessa, dear, you were magnificent.” Mrs. Naughton sat next to her on the sofa, a rumpled tissue in her hand, “And Vanessa, I’ll call you dear if I want to. We’ve known each other forever.”
“Oh, Marjory,” Vanessa held out her arms. “Yes, we are far beyond formality, aren’t we?”
The doorbell rang. Butler brought in a manila envelope. “A delivery from Mr. Walker, ma’am.”
Vanessa read Jon’s note:
I contacted NET WORTH. Since Palimpsest had not met his deadline, I told them I had an alternate piece for the issue and had run a segment on my show about you today. NET WORTH agreed, subject to your approval. You’ve got them trained, Vanessa. A contract is enclosed, if you like what I’ve written. The photos are yours.
Vanessa took the new text into her study. Jon’s art department had done a mock-up of the cover and included a few informal shots for the article. She looked beautiful. Her eyes widened as she read. One hand went to her chest.
“Oh, my goodness.” She kept reading, breathing harder. “I had no idea he felt this way about me. Marjory! Oh, Marjory! Come and read what Jon said.”
“The Richest Person in the World 1997”
Jon Walker © 1997 All rights reserved
“I wish that Vanessa Schierman was my mom. My real mom’s a wonderful person, but knowing Dr. Schierman has shown me the lengths to which a mother’s devotion and love can go.” Jon talked about her children and what she’d done for them a bit, in terms so kind and understanding that anyone reading the piece would tear up.
“I’ve known Dr. Schierman since my days as Will Duane’s private chef. Cooking for her many times at his estate, she corrects my etiquette and presentation of food to this day. The woman knows her forks and knives.
“She’s been a shadowy figure in San Francisco’s elite, belonging to all the right clubs, yet seen only when she wants to be. Everyone who knows her respects her, though many have only the faintest notion why.
“They may think it’s because of her name: Her family was among the original Robber Barons who seized the budding California economy by might as much as by right. The name still carries a powerful aura.
“Those in financial circles know more about her influence. They may find a deal falling apart or coming together, almost as though a hidden hand had been waved. It’s not the hidden hand of the market: It’s Vanessa Schierman’s hand. Few come to know that.
“Her friendship with Will Duane is probably the best-known facet of Dr. Schierman’s life. She’s seen with Will at various clubs and events. Most people think she’s under his umbrella. The friendship in fact, goes the other way. Back in the fifties, he was a Stanford student and she was his mentor.
“If she’s been richer than him all this time, why not let the world know? I asked her that and she answered, showing the unobtrusive poise of the truly upper class.
“‘Jon, once upon a time not so long ago, flashing one’s net worth was in bad taste. You know, gauche. I was raised to be modest and not to display every dime I had. And I don’t. But one day last year, I saw Will’s photo on a magazine cover.
“‘That photo got to me. Why should he and all the others get the glory, when the title has been mine for so many years?
“‘And so, I approached NET WORTH and now I’m talking to you.’
“What do you intend to do now that you’ve come out?”
“‘Nothing. Business as usual. Life as usual.’”
“In your case, that’s lots of business.”
“‘Ah, Jon. In my case, my business is none of your business.’”
Which left her problems handled, except for the lamentable Mr. Percival Palimpsest in her basement.
“He tore up the curtains, Dr. Schierman, and stuffed them in the commode, that’s where the smell comes in. He kept using it, stuffed like that. He’s torn up the mattress and tried to light fires. Won’t drink anymore milk drinks.” George Yeoman filled her in as they traveled down the staircases. “He’s claimin’ all sorts o’ things an’ threatenin’ hell and worse.”
“Hmm,” she said. The big house had six levels of basements beneath it, unusual anywhere, but in California almost suicidal, as were the brick and stone used to build the enormous mansion. Smart people don’t use those building materials in earthquake country, but the possibility of her home landing on her head bothered Vanessa not at all.
“How silly. He was on the upper floor, with a window, even.”
“He claims kidnapping and worse.”
“I claim that article he wrote was offensive. Let’s see what he has to say now. Stay here, George. I’ve a bit of private business to manage.”
“Let me out of here! You have no right! I’m calling my attorney! This isn’t a basement! It’s a dungeon!” Percival was almost insane after being locked in the cellar room. He didn’t know how long he’d been there; they kept giving him these drinks that he finally figured out were knocking him out. “I’m calling my attorney!” He rushed at the gaunt old lady in the doorway, but stopped short, bouncing off of something. A glass wall. The old witch stood on the other side, smiling.
“How are you going to call your attorney, Mr. Palimpsest, you can’t get out of this room?”
“I’ll get out if I have to dig myself out.” He felt his mouth contort and his lips pull back to expose his teeth, as they tended to do when he was very upset.
“Well, your attempt to escape through the water closet hasn’t been too successful.” She indicated the revolting toilet.
“Hah! You thought you could do anything and I’d just take it.”
“But Mr. Palimpsest, we do not have to bear the stench of the clogged toilet; you do.”
“See, I told you. I won’t take it! I’ll sue you for everything you’ve got, you old witch. This is unlawful detention. Kidnapping!” Noises came out of his mouth. As time passed, they were less intelligible.
She couldn't deny it. She was holding him against his will. But what to do with him? She couldn’t turn him loose. He would sue her. And he’d seen the inside of her house and knew something of her powers. He kept raving and scratching at the invisible wall, shrieking that he wouldn’t take it. Finally, he pulled off his shoes and socks, his pants and suspenders. She let him run with it, until he got down to his shirt and the bow tie. As he tore at his shirt buttons, the witch in her came out. A naked Percival Palimpsest was more than she could stomach.
“Enough, creature! Be still!” The black silk-like ruff around her neck deployed, its poisonous darts protruding; their jeweled and deadly menace apparent. But not to Percival. You had to touch one of them to find out about their venom, by which time you’d be dead. He was on the other side of the wall she’d created to protect both of them and couldn’t know about that particular peril. He saw her wand, which leapt into her hand, shooting sparks like bullets, piercing the glass-like veil.
Percival dropped like a stone when a spark hit him.
“Oh, no.” The last thing she wanted was an insane, possibly fatally-wounded mediocre journalist in her cellar.
“George,” she whispered into the hallway. “There’s been an accident.”
Her foreman came in, sucking in a breath. “It’s not how we do things, Dr. Schierman, but I would suggest a quiet burial. In the lowest level of the basement.”
“Oh, George, do you think he’s really dead?”
George felt for a pulse. “Yes, ma’am. I think so.”
“Are you sure? Maybe he’s just stunned?”
“Ma’am, I think I’d get a nice little grave dug for him, just in case.”
“Vanity destroys everything, Scottie.” She sat on the garden bench with her cats clustered around, begging to be petted. “If I hadn’t been jealous of Will, I wouldn’t have revealed myself to NET WORTH, they wouldn’t have sent that creature here, and none of this would have happened.”
Scottie jumped onto the bench, purring loud enough to drown the other cats. “You're the smartest one, aren’t you? If you’d been that Palimpsest person, you would have realized how sensitive I was, and how protective of my children. You would have written an article like Jon’s from the start, wouldn’t you?”
The cat climbed into her lap and began kneading the front of her bodice with sheathed claws. His yellow eyes peered at hers, full of intelligence, kindness and understanding.
“You would make a great journalist, Scottie. You comprehend every word I say, don’t you?”
Scottie kept purring and kneading, but he bobbed his head, too.
“Oh, my God! That’s it!” She sat up straight, but Scottie didn’t fall off of her lap. “Are you sure, darling? You’d like New York City and traveling all over?” The cat rubbed one cheek and then the other on her chest, purring louder than any cat ever had. “Really? That’s what you want to do?”
She could do it. She knew she could. She’d been experimenting with it for ages.
“Marjory, have the staff ready the White Room.” She ran to the door to the basements and called down, “George. Don’t bury him yet. Hold up a minute.”
“Vanessa, you can’t use the White Room. It’s too soon. It’s only been a few weeks since you were in it.”
“Marjory, the White Room and everything associated with it are my business. You will not concern yourself.”
George Yeoman climbed through the basement door, smelling musty with dirt on his books. “We were just about ready, Dr. Schierman. Grave all dug.”
“Hold on a minute. I may have a better solution.”
“Oh, Scottie, you look stunning,” Vanessa exclaimed. He inhabited Palimpsest’s body beautifully. Its original occupant tended to hunch and stick out both his front teeth and Adam’s apple while rubbing his hands together, like a particularly unpleasant rodent. Scottie was smoothly elegant, glancing around the chamber as if he’d always been human. He rose slowly with quiet authority, even though he’d never stood erect or on two feet before. “We’ll put you in the White Room a few days, and you’ll acclimatize beautifully. All this will make sense,” Vanessa said.
“It makes sense already, Vanessa,” Scottie said in a silky tone, as though he’d been able to talk all his life. “I’ve always wanted to be a person. I thought I’d do a better job of it than most.” He took an unsteady step toward her.
Scottie put out a hand and touched the chamber’s wall. “Dizzy. I do need some time in the White Room.” His brilliant, intelligent eyes settled on her. "Do you know what I’m going to miss most, Vanessa? Sitting in your lap and having you pet me.”
“It’s beautiful,” Scottie said as they walked down the pier where the yacht was moored. He’d had a terrible time adjusting to his new name, Percival Palimpsest.
“Anyone would hate that name, dear. That’s why you’re in the middle of legally changing your name. Remember? We signed the papers. Are you sure you’re ready for this?”
“Oh, yes. NET WORTH was very clear: I’d blown the interview with you; I’d better replace it with something better. Now. If I want to keep my job.”
“Aren’t we lucky that Abdul and the boys got you interviews with the sheik and his friends? No one has interviewed them. You can yacht out to the islands and meet them.
“But darling, do come back. You’re welcome at my home any time. You can even interview me if you must. You know how much I love you.” She embraced his sleek, spare frame with her bony one.
“It was for the best, Vanessa; I was wasted as a cat. I’ll make a great journalist. I always tell the truth, but kindly and in good taste. I’ll miss you.” Scottie allowed himself the tiniest purr. He rubbed his cheek on her collarbone. “I’ll make you proud.”
“Well, Abdul, you have a mission. You have to deliver Percival, who likes to be known as Scottie, to the islands and the interview with the sheik. And take this creature,” she held out a stinking, dripping cat carrier with a hissing animal inside, “and do whatever you want with him. If he’s a good cat, turn him loose on the islands. If he’s as rotten as he appears to be now, toss him overboard once you’re out to sea. Give us a moment, if you would.”
She put the cage on the dock and bent to address the hissing cat inside. “You weren’t quite dead, were you, P-u-u-r-c-i-v-a-l? Just stunned. Now you know you shouldn’t mess with what you don’t understand. I’ve said that I don’t have a cyclotron or a time machine on my property. That wasn’t entirely a lie. No one asked about other bits of technology I might have cobbled together. Or about what I could do.” She chuckled.
“You could have been an almost dead body buried in my cellar, but you got a chance at a new life through modern physics, and witchery. You could have stayed on my estate as a cat the rest of your life, protected from everything. Cherished maybe, if you had gotten your biting under control.
“But you are as rotten a cat as you were a person. P-u-u-r-c-i-v-a-l, they will throw you overboard if you don’t shape up.
“So shape up!” The sheer black ruff around her neck protruded for an instant, with its poison and jewels. She hid her wand in her dress.
The cat made a loud thump as it leapt to the rear of the box.
“That’s better. Be a good boy now, P-u-u-r-c-i-v-a-l, and you won’t end up shark bait.”
“Good-bye, dear.” She kissed Scottie’s cheek as they prepared to leave the slip. “So long, Abdul! Gentlemen. We’ll think of other adventures when you come back.”
“We can give you wonderful rides around the bay, ma’am.” Abdul nodded vigorously.
“Oh, no. I wouldn’t dream of going ten feet from the slip. But I love my yacht. You have permanent jobs, gentlemen. We’ll have other tales to tell.”
“I think Jon did such a lovely job in redoing that other person’s travesty of a cover.”
Vanessa Schierman PhD