Joel doubted it.

The train squealed and lurched to a halt as it entered yet another station.

Minerva looked past Joel. Her station was next.

"I gotta get off at this next station. Do you think you can get me a job?"

Joel looked at her earnest and expectant face. Her youth was apparent in that moment, but so was her eagerness and her hopefulness. It would have been easy enough for him to say yes or no on the spot, as he pretty much handled or oversaw most of the business’ day to day affairs, including personnel decisions. While they didn’t actually need any additional persons, there was always some odd jobs or go-fer stuff that she could probably handle.

"I’ll tell you what. Here’s my card…" he pulled out a business card pouch and handed her one. "Have your folks or your guardian get in touch with me and we’ll take it from there."

She looked down at the business card and read it, a wide smile affixed to her face.


RRR Environmental Services & Consulting

Joel Goldstein, PhD

Environmental Scientist & Health Specialist


She looked up at him, her eyes wide. "You have a PhD?"


"Awesome. I want to get one."

He smirked. "Good. Set your goals high and you will do well in this world."

"Nice. I am so glad that we are in the same crèche."


Neither said anything else for the rest of the trip. But Joel’s mind was filled with questions, some pertaining to today’s project, and some pertaining to the girl sitting beside him as content as the cat that swallowed the canary, and others pertaining to his professional mentor and friend’s descent into the abyss. Wasn’t it his predilection with the forbidden fruits of youth that had ultimately caused his demise? And would it be his too, albeit for much, much different reasons?

Same crèche? Same ‘day nursery.’ Same ‘place where a group of young animals gathered in one place for care and protection usually by one or more adults.’

For care and protection…

He looked over at Minerva who sat with her hands between her knees and her eyes closed, slowly rocking to the gentle sway and motion of the rocketing train. Who was she, and what did she mean by ‘same crèche?’

She must have felt his eyes, for she looked quickly to him, and smiled. "Can I ask you something personal, Joel?"

Started by her sudden glance toward him, and the look that he saw in her eyes that looked strangely familiar, almost like affection, but different in degree and in source, he was caught off guard and could only nod once.

"What is the most important thing in your life?"

He paused to think, just as the train squealed and slammed to a halt.

"Not now," she said, pressing a finger to his lips. "Think about it."

She grinned and dashed from the train as lightly and sprightly as a feather, if a feather could move. He found himself looking for her to pass on her way out of the station, but she apparently went in the other direction, as she never appeared in the direction he had been looking. Her question stuck in his mind more than he had wanted. He looked at the seat where she had sat, and saw that she had apparently lost one of her bracelets. She wore so many on her slender wrist that it was no wonder that one should fall off and she not notice. It was a wonder more didn’t slip off, considering how small her wrists were and how delicate her hands were.

The bracelet was thin and silver, the knobs on the separation being made of what looked like emerald, or some other green stone. They were not large, but they looked like eyes, for there was a depression in the center of the green stone that allowed shadow to form in them, giving it a pupil appearance. When he picked it up, it nearly stung his hand, for it was as cold as ice. Still, the warmth of his touch quickly brought its temperature to the semblance of normalcy, although he did look at his hand to make certain that it had not been a cut or pinprick he had felt instead.

Shaking his head at the thought of the girl, he slipped the object into his pocket. He would return it to her when she interviewed for the job – if she decided to follow through with it. He told himself that it didn’t matter either way, for he was too busy to break in a new hire, even if she would only be a go-fer for him and the other workers.

He hated lying to himself. And he hated realizing that he was lying to himself even more.


Chapter Two: The Adversary in the Short Red Dress with the Plunging Neckline


The meeting was at ten in the managing director’s office in City Hall. That gave Joel plenty of time to sort though some things when he arrived in his office. Ahra Ahmed, the office secretary, who preferred to be considered an administrative assistant, greeted him the moment he stepped through the door with a stack of phone messages an inch thick. She was a short, chunky middle-aged woman, an expatriate of one of the smaller nations that would go on to be absorbed by the Great Caliphate, who clung fiercely to her faith and nationalistic pride, despite the fact that she and her family had escaped the spread of the Caliphate out of fear of what that future held. When things turned out not to be as bad as the Western powers had forecast, she had wanted to return, but her husband and her children resisted the notion. So, she felt stuck in a place she did not want to be. And since she was miserable, she tended to make those around her miserable as well.

Joel looked at the stack in her hand. "Lemme guess: they’re all for me."

She nodded, looking smug and elated at the prospect of Joel having a miserable start to his day.

He took the stack and proceeded to his office, flipping through the stack to see who had called, when, and what they wanted. Before he got to the door of his office, which was only a short 30 feet from the entrance, he stopped. Six of the messages were from Minerva Snow, and all of them were marked urgent, to call her, and her number was on all of them.

He turned back to Ahra. "Did this Minerva say what she wanted?"

"No, but she sounded upset. I think she wants you to call her."

Joel glared at her before, wheeling and going into his office. Before he could take off his coat, his phone rang.

He scooped up the handset mid ring. "RRR Environmental, Joel Goldstein."


He perked up with surprise. "Minerva?"

"Yes, it’s me."

"I got your messages to call you. What’s up?"

"I lost one of my bracelets. Did you see one on the train?"

"Yes. I have it."

"Oh, thank goodness. You’re a life saver!"

"Okay. Well, what do you want me to do with it?"

"Just hang on to it for me? Please?"

"Sure, not a problem."

"It’s real important to me, but I won’t be able to get it from you anytime soon."

"Okay, I’ll hang on to it for you."

"Wow, you’re really great. Keep it safe now, okay?"

"Sure thing. Is there anything else?"

"No. Oh… when can I start working for you?"

He sighed deeply inwardly, but didn’t let it come out. "When you get your parents permission, when I see the paperwork and file it with the state, and when you interview for the job."

"Oh. How long does that take?"

"Not long when you get the paperwork in. As early as two weeks if you get started now."


"Is there anything else? I need to get ready for a meeting."

"No, that’s all. Thank you, Joel."

"No problem."


Joel hung up.

He removed the bracelet from his pocket and looked at it again before putting it in the center drawer of his desk. As expected, the bracelet looked the same as it had on the train, except it no longer felt ice cold to the touch. He discarded the phone call notices that were from Minerva, and sorted through the rest of them. He checked his telephone voicemail system, and retrieved another half-dozen messages. One of them was from Minerva. She had sounded much more frantic on the voice message than she had when she spoke to him. Perhaps she had already realized that it wasn’t such a big deal after all when she spoke to him directly.

But there was something odd about what she said on the voice mail that she didn’t say to him, although she may have alluded to it. In the voice mail, which was a rather short and direct message, she said: "Joel, I think I left one of my sylvan bracelets on the train. If you found it, please let me know. I don’t want the wrong people to find it. Call me at this number as soon as possible. I’m in school now so hurry. Thanks. Love you."

First, he wasn’t sure if she said silver or sylvan. Since sylvan wouldn’t make sense, he imagined that she had the wrong adjective for the object, calling it sylvan, as it was made of silver, like calling something golden when it was made of gold. Second, who would be the ‘wrong people’ to find it? If it had been lost, then would there have been a wrong or right person to find it as far as she was concerned, since it would still be lost from her? Of course, perhaps she was concerned that someone would take the precious metal, and perhaps stone inlay, and barter it or pawn it and use the money for any of a number of unsavory and otherwise nefarious things or endeavors. That, he could see. It was a beautiful object, after all, and the right person might keep it as such and admire its beauty or give it to a loved one as a gift.

In either case, he had found it, and obviously she though that he was a ‘right’ person. And if he wasn’t a ‘right’ person, she at least stood a measure of a chance to recover her property, especially now that he knew to whom it belonged.


Unto the Living Earth © 2007 Walter R. Milton