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Shay Sheridan - Reality

Chapter 6 - Present, Tense

Regina Rauthursdottir was not a patient woman.

Inferior service, shoddy merchandise, inept subordinates and unfulfilled promises all annoyed her greatly, but waiting was what she hated most of all.

She was tired of waiting for Michael Wolf.

She tapped one Manolo Blahnik pump impatiently on the polished floor, folded her arms over her vermilion silk blouse (Armani) and stared out the window. Sunbeams danced over the leather and chrome sofa (Corbusier), reflected off the bronze sculpture (Alberto Giacometti) and sparkled on the black smoothness of her massive desk (wood from endangered rainforest trees), but the glories of the autumn day were lost on her. Michael was late. He was keeping her waiting. Again.

He was supposed to be here at nine sharp. He was supposed to be in a meeting with her.

He was supposed to be HERS.

A frown creased her perfect face. Unacceptable.

"Regina, dear--have you seen Mike?"

She crossed to the dapper elderly man who had just entered her office. "Sorry, William. He's late. Do you want to meet anyway?"

William Benson Wolf shook his head. "I need you both. Let me know when he arrives." He looked at his watch and grimaced. "Regina, darling, can't you keep him in line a little better? I'm depending on you."

"I wish I could, William."

"Getting nowhere fast, eh?" She didn't reply. "That boy is an idiot. What the hell is wrong with him? You know your grandparents and I always thought..." He gestured to a portrait on her wall. "Your great-grandmother would have wanted it. Continue the partnership, eh? Good bloodlines, doesn't do to water 'em down." He chuckled, and Regina made herself smile. "Problem was his parents. His mother, really. If he's difficult it's her fault. She's to blame. For everything." He sighed, then reached over and patted her on her cheek. "You're special, Regina. You'll get your way, I know it." His eyes twinkled briefly and he turned to go. "Tell me when you both are ready to meet."

Their grandparents had wanted it that way. She wanted it that way, and had ever since she could remember. And for a while, she'd thought Michael did, too. Certainly he seemed enamored of her she could tell his heart rate went up when he was near her, he forgot how to speak coherently, he praised and complimented her often. Obviously their pheromones were in sync. But when push came to shove, he remained indifferent to a serious connection. And she was no shrinking violet, she'd made her interests known.

They'd been in Central Park for the company picnic, up near the Conservatory Gardens (and whose bizarre idea had it been to go there, anyway? Did they think she LIKED the out of doors?) She'd monopolized him, drawn him away from the others, until they were hidden from view. And in a move calculated to put those pheromones to the test, she'd pulled him into a long, sensual embrace, using every ounce of her prodigious feminine charms in a kiss that could have cured a blind man.

Oh, he'd liked it, all right his body told her so, and mentally she'd claimed victory. They'd left the picnic, gone straight to her apartment for a marathon of uninhibited sex, which was then followed by a blistering affair. Finally! she'd crowed to herself. Finally I GOT him!

But the affair had ended, dwindling away after a couple of months as Mike became remote, unavailable, avoiding her until she'd had to confront him. He'd infuriated her when he said he'd come to the conclusion he didn't love her, and respected her too much just to sleep with her.

Respect! What a load of --!

She hated him.

She wanted him.

She'd get him. No one said "no" to her.

Regina was not patient. But she was determined.

"Hi--sorry, really sorry I'm late. William on the prowl?" Mike was standing in her doorway, apologetic and uncharacteristically disorganized.

"If you mean has he noticed you're late, yes he has." She looked at him through cold eyes. "We both did."

"Sorry, Reggie. I don't know what happened. I overslept. I'll grab the file and we'll go right in."

"Late date?"

His grin wavered. "I'll get the file."

Regina stared after him, fighting the impulse to slam the door. He had all the signs. He was infatuated with someone. And it had to be that Virginia Lewis, the drab little waif he'd dragged in here yesterday.

Unacceptable.

She reached for the phone. "Tracy--call W.W. and tell him Mike and I are on our way."

"Yes, ma'am."

"And when you've done that, get me Robert Burleigh on the car phone."

"Mr. Wolf's chauffeur?"

The idiot! "Yes, Tracy, do you know anyone else by that name?"

"Um--no, Ms. Rauthursdottir. Sorry."

Note to self: get a new assistant. "Tell him I have a job for him." She cradled the phone and allowed herself a small smile. The hunt had begun.

~*~*~

The closer he got to Snow White Memorial Prison, the more nervous Wolf became. Nervous! It went way beyond nerves--at the first sight of the prison he'd started sweating profusely and his heart began to pound. The stripes on his back from the whipping, which hadn't bothered him all day, started throbbing. He briefly flirted with the idea of avoiding the place entirely. If I have to go in there, I may fall apart completely, he thought, cursing his own fears. On top of everything else, they'll punish me for escaping.

But the traveling mirror was there, and it might be a way to get to Virginia. He had to go. HAD to.

Yet as luck would have it, he never had to go inside. He arrived at the prison's outer yard just in time to see a chain gang of prisoners assembled to toss out a load of trash, throwing it haphazardly onto a garbage barge. One after another, the items arced through the air, landing in a huge pile of rubble on the boat.

A glint of sunlight caught his eye and he looked up to see the prisoners begin to pass their last item a large, ornate-framed mirror.

The mirror. One after another they manhandled it closer to the river. But not close enough. In front of Wolf's horrified eyes, the troll prisoner at the far end of the chain threw the mirror, grunting with the effort, and it came down with a thudding crash on top of the heap of junk, shattering into hundreds of shards of silvered glass.

"Oh, no!" Wolf whined. The mirror! Oh, cripes--this was bad. He swallowed. His mind raced ahead: the other mirror was with the queen. And he really, truly did not want to have to be within her grasp. He didn't like the way she got inside his head--look how easily she'd done it before, when she'd scarcely begun working on him.

Bad, very, very bad indeed.

But, he thought, mentally squaring his shoulders, there was no help for it. If he wanted to find Virginia, he'd have to try everything possible. And if it meant confronting the queen...well, maybe comforting was the wrong word. Sneaking around behind her back and getting to the mirror unobserved was a much, much better concept under the circumstances.

He moved away from the prison yard, keeping close to the river. He'd stolen a boat the last time might as well do it again.

He untethered a smart little craft and was underway before anyone noticed. The sight of the prison dwindling in the distance filled him with relief. He might be heading out of the frying pan into the fire, but that particular skillet was filled with nothing but bad memories, vivid recollections of many painful varieties of unpleasantness. The sooner he was well rid of it, the better.

~*~*~

Mike met Virginia at the Grill, endured the stares of Candy and the other girls, and walked her home. Not through the Park. They stopped for coffee at a diner--a lowbrow, funky place where the waitress left them alone to sit and talk for hours.

At Virginia's building they stopped in the shadows and shared a lingering kiss.

Across the street, in a stairwell leading up to the sidewalk, a man spoke softly into a cell phone.

Two days later he was able to report Mike and Virginia had met again, for dinner.

And a day after that, he shadowed Virginia to a SoHo hangout where Mike taught her to shoot pool. He already knew that Mike was seeing Virginia over the weekend.

He sat in the car outside the pool hall, watching Mike and Virginia through the window. They looked happy, and for a moment he felt guilty for spying on them. But only for a moment. "Is there anything else you want me to find out?"

The woman on the other end of the line was silent. "No," she said, dismissively, her voice tight. "That's all, Robert. For now."

~*~*~

Wolf was red-eyed from lack of sleep; he hadn't wanted to close his eyes while on the river for fear of drifting onto the rocks that lined the southern shore. He shivered. That's what I need, all right -- to run aground in the Troll Kingdom! Better to stifle a few yawns and keep your eyes open until we're safely past.

But the rolling movement of the boat on the water was lulling him to sleep despite himself. He tried to fight the feeling, but found it increasingly difficult to keep his eyes open. His arm rested on the tiller and he lay his head back against it for JUST A MINUTE.

"Wolf."

He opened his eyes, blinking. Someone had spoken his name. His eyes darted around the deck, then he twisted around to check the stern. Nothing but boat and water. When he turned back towards the bow he yelped in shock. A woman was standing on the deck, not half a dozen paces from him. A dark-haired woman with regal bearing and a lovely face. A familiar, kindly face. A famous face.

"Cripes!" His eyes practically fell from their sockets as he stumbled to his feet. "You're--"

"Yes, I know," said Snow White. "Now --"

"Wow! I mean WOW! Really! I mean, I never thought I'd ever, EVER meet you in person, in the flesh, particularly since you're dead-- "

"Listen! Please." Snow White sighed deeply and Wolf, instantly contrite, started to apologize for babbling, but a sharp look from the Fairest of Them All silenced him. "Listen to me, Wolf. You must listen very carefully. Will you do that for me?"

He nodded mutely. She stepped closer and put her hand on his cheek. She was taller than he would have expected, although maybe, he speculated wildly, being dead made you taller for some reason.

Her voice drew his attention. "You will find her. But there are other things you must see to first." She patted his cheek in an almost motherly way, and Wolf felt the sting of tears in his eyes at the sudden rush of memory the sensation brought. It had been so many years since his mother had done that, touched him that way.

She smiled at him, stepped back, and began to recite:

"The path where dangers lurk,
The road once traveled by,
This you must not shirk
To find her by and by.

"What's done must be undone,
A stolen life regained,
A struggle to be won,
A captive soul unchained."

He felt terribly confused. "I don't understand --"

"You will." As he watched, her form began to shimmer and fade until it became transparent and disappeared entirely. His legs were suddenly rubber and he folded up against the side of the boat, staring at the place Snow White had been standing, with a mixture of wonder and trepidation. Cripes! He'd been visited by Snow White! She'd come to see HIM! She wanted HIM to do something

Something confusing. Something dangerous. But first he had to

WAKE UP!

Wolf's head snapped forward and he awoke with a start. The boat had run aground against the bank and the jarring thud had jolted him awake.

He'd dreamt it??

Well...that didn't make it any less important. Maybe more. He was savvy enough to know that you had to take visions, intuition and dreams seriously. Ignoring them was just asking for trouble.

But what she wanted sounded like BIG TROUBLE, too. What had she asked of him?

A path where danger lurks... uh-oh. A stolen life regained...captive souls... What did it mean?

"Oh, huffpuff!" he moaned. "A riddle! I HATE riddles!"

The deck was at an angle and he stopped thinking and examined the condition of the boat. It was wedged between a log and a boulder, but otherwise seemed undamaged. Better work it free and keep moving before a troll guard spotted him. Best be on his way.

Although...

Snow White's rhyme played through his brain

The path where dangers lurk,
The road once traveled by...

What could that mean? It SOUNDED like it meant a dangerous road he'd been on before...

This you must not shirk
To find her by and by

Did that mean in order to find Virginia he'd have to follow the path he'd taken before?

Could it literally mean he should retrace his steps, recreate the journey he'd made the first time? If so, that would mean

The troll's castle. Ugh. But to find her by and by it was worth the risk.

Wolf stepped onto the shore, gave his boat a last, longing look, sighed, and set out across the desolation of the Third Kingdom towards the lair of the troll king.

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