Money Makes the World Go Around
"The years go faster than the days, there's no warmth in the light,
"Where we spent our last few days, Benson's on my mind."
Well Benson wasn't exactly on my mind, but where we spent our last few days kept surfacing in my memories.
I was still getting used to being at home in my own bed after the months I spent inside of Ay'esha. First at, well wherever I had been, and then at a health spa somewhere on the coast.
Mistress Minx had promised never to leave me, but in those first few days I wondered if I was fooling myself.
I discovered that my bills had been paid during my absence from a bank account, now closed that had belonged to a L. Minelli. Even my taxes had been done.
I was impressed by Ay'esha's abilities to cover up my absence and wondered how many people had simply disappeared.
I had sorted through all of the mail that had piled up during my absence and found nothing of real interest at all. Just copies of paid bills and more bills.
My first priority was to find a job again. My old company had gone bankrupt and I was using the savings in my account to cover the day to day expenses.
The first problem I ran into was explaining the nine-month absence in my work record. The explanation of a long vacation didn't impress many employers and I soon found myself doing temp work to keep things going.
My first temp job was simple enough, installing computer hardware for an aerospace company. It paid decently, but I was bored and kept looking for other work.
Every night as I drove home I slowed down near the spot where I had first seen Minx, the night she took me from the world. But every night my headlights flashed on the same empty place I had found the first time I looked.
The time passed slowly and I soon began to give up the idea of seeing Mistress Minx again. Perhaps I wasn't as good a slave as I thought and she had given me up. She had told me when we first bonded that the time would come when we would have to separate. I had accepted that at the time, but with each lonely night my resolve weakened.
Perhaps I was searching for the equallivant of Brigadoon, a place that only appeared once every hundred years.
Thanksgiving came and went, and then Christmas came.
And a Christmas miracle.
I was watching "A Christmas Carol" on TV and thinking how much my life had been like that of Scrooge until Mistress Minx came into it. I had gotten into the spirit enough where I had purchased a tree and decorated it for the first time in many a year.
Presents from my coworkers were piled under it, a welcome change from previous years, and I had begun to rebuild old friendships long neglected. I had even begun to date a young woman I had met on the job, not seriously, but dinner on occasion.
I must have dozed off because when I awoke there was a silver wrapped box under the tree that hadn't been there before.
The movie had gone off and all there was on the screen was static, making a hissing noise that reminded me of surf on the beach.
I turned the set off and I could hear the staccato pitter-patter of rain on the roof that Christmas Eve.
"I almost wish it were snow.", I thought walking towards the box that had appeared.
Perhaps my friend Kim had crept in and left it to surprise me.
The card on the box was addressed to M-5
My hands shook as I lifted the box and shook it gingerly. I heard something moving, something light but solid.
My eyes filled with tears as I opened it and found on a bed of tissue paper the collar that Mistress Minx had given me almost a year before. It was closed to symbolize our bond and my nametag hung from the loop on it.
I picked it up and as I did so a note fell on the floor. It was a stanza from Lewis Carroll.
"The time has come the Walrus said, to talk of many things, Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, Of cabbages and kings and why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings."
As I read it I heard a noise from outside, the sound of a car door slamming. I threw open the front door in time to see a large car pull away from the curb with its lights off.
I ran to the curb calling for the unseen driver to wait, but it was too late and the car had passed from sight.
"No, not this time.", I swore and ran to my car.
It started easily for a change and I backed out of the driveway and set out in pursuit of my nighttime visitor.
They couldn't have gotten too far ahead of me, I told myself that rainy Christmas Eve. I was determined to catch them.
Ten minutes later I conceded that they had escaped. I never saw the car again that evening. It had vanished into that cold rain like the spirit of Christmas Past.
I slept that night, collar in hand. I could not bear to place it around my neck; only Mistress Minx could do that for me.
That Christmas morning I puzzled over the note. I read it over and over again seeking a hidden meaning to it. Nothing came to mind.
I had Christmas dinner with Kim and her family that night.
It was quite a nice dinner and I had managed to put off thinking about my visitor for a short while. We had reached the coffee stage of the meal when the subject of my past arose.
Kim's father was a good-natured man in his fifties, but very much the type of man who wanted only the best for his daughter.
"I understand from Kim that you are a widower.", he said, casually.
"Dad!", Kim interposed.
"No, it's fine dear.", I said. "Yes I am."
"Have you ever considered getting married again? You're still a young man.", he continued.
I rose from my chair and faced him.
"Sir, I enjoy the company of your daughter. She has been a very good friend to me. But I have no interest in marrying her or anybody else at this time."
He looked at me with a scowl
"And your reasons? If you don't mind my asking."
"I don't mind your asking. I do mind you asking me in front of your daughter. I am not in love with your daughter."
As I said it, I realized it was true. I still loved my wife and I loved Mistress Minx.
Kim looked at me sadly as I said the words, but I knew she understood.
"Dad, leave it alone.", she said." What made you think I want to marry him?"
"Kim, honey. You're not a little girl any more. It's time you got married, started a family."
Kim rolled her eyes skyward.
"Dad, is this the 'I want grandchildren speech again'?", she sighed.
"Kim....", he started to say.
She turned to me and apologized.
"Michael, I'm sorry about this. My father is up to his old tricks playing matchmaker again."
"I'm sorry too. But better I should tell you now. I'm in love with someone gone from this world.", I said softly. "Good night."
As I walked out, Kim followed me.
"Friends?", she asked, taking my hand.
"Always.", I smiled, kissing her.
As I drove home I considered things. Was it foolish to be in love with a woman I could never have? Or perhaps that's why I did love her. She was safe to love, because I could never have her.
I didn't sleep well that night. I dreamt of Minx and Mei Ling. Of the night I saw them make love to each other. And in my dreams I saw Denise. My wife, gone to the Goddess. And she smiled at me in my dreams and forgave me. The two dreams mixed and became as one.
Denise and Minx both making love to Mei Ling and then Denise making love to me as Minx watched and smiled with Mei Ling's arms around her.
I woke with a start to the sound of the telephone ringing. It was well past my usual time to get up and I could see the rain falling again through the bedroom window.
Before I could answer it, it stopped and I lay there for a moment.
I could still see the dream clearly and marveled at myself for being able to recall it. Then I realized that I couldn't recall the name of the town the Spa was in. I could remember the people and the place. But I couldn't remember the location of it.
What else was missing from my memories?
I got out of bed and took my shower and tried to think, searching my mind for blank spots.
And if I found any, would I actually know about it? Had I ever known?
A truly 1984'ish paradox. What had gone down the memory hole?
Almost the Zen question of the butterfly. Am I a butterfly dreaming I am a man, or a man dreaming I am a butterfly?
Oh well. I shaved in the shower as usual and then wrapped my robe around me.
Many things had been removed from my closet during my absence and it relieved me that my robe was still there, threadbare and worn. Denise had given me that robe the second Christmas we were together and she had worn it the day I took her to the hospital, never to return.
It took me a long time before I could look at it or wear it again without thinking of that last trip.
I tied the cord against the chill of the room and went into the kitchen to make coffee, passing the desk and the answering machine and as I did so I hit the playback button and heard the rumbles and twips of the voice in reverse and then the message played back.
"This is the Anderson Agency calling. If you are still looking for a job, give us a call.", said an unidentified woman's voice.
The voice gave me the number, repeated it twice, and then before the message ended I could hear in the background a piece of music.
Curiouser, and curiouser.
Two references to Lewis Carroll in as many days. Something was going on.
When I went into the yard to pick up the paper I was tempted to look in the tree for a smile without a cat.
I ate my breakfast while scanning the paper for anything that caught my attention in the help wanted ads. Nothing of any real interest, so I decided to call the number on the machine and see what they wanted.
"Anderson Agency.", a voice said.
"Yes, this is Mr. Forbin. Someone called earlier today and left a message for me.", I said.
There was a rustle of papers.
"I'm sorry, but I don't have any record of a call to you. Do you know the name of the person who called you?"
I started to say no, and then I had a flash of inspiration.
"I think it was Alice.", I said confidently.
There was a long pause before I heard a voice again.
"This is Alice. How may I help you?"
"Alice, this is Mr. Forbin. You left a message about a job earlier today for me.", I said.
There was a shortish pause.
"I left a message today, yes. I'm not sure I was leaving it for you. Is your telephone number...?" she said.
"Yes, that's my number.", I confirmed." Can you tell me what all of the cloak and dagger stuff is about."
"Can I have your social security number please?"
I recited it and again asked her what the call was all about.
" Have you had a close encounter with something unusual in the last twelve months."
I wanted to scream I was so tense, but managed to control myself enough to answer.
"Yes I have.", I said tightly. Was this my ticket back to Ay'esha? Or was this a ticket into the clutches of Lydia?
"Thank you. One moment."
I waited with a racing heart.
"I'm sorry Mr. Forbin. The client insisted on these conditions before discussing the job offer."
"Did those conditions also include playing White Rabbit?", I asked.
"Yes. I'm not sure why.", Alice said." In any case, if you are interested in a new job, I have a package to send to you."
"Well, I'm interested all right."
That was an understatement.
"Fine, I'll send the package to you, and you can contact the client directly.", she said, confirmed my mailing address and hung up.
That call did me a lot of good. I didn't know anything more that I did before the call. Other than the fact it involved a job offer and a mysterious client with a subtle sense of humor. The whole call was a test to see how smart I was. Was Mistress Minx behind it? And why the secret agent routine? She could just call me and tell me where to go and when and I would.
That is if it was Minx and not Lydia.
Three anxious days later the package arrived.
The job I was being offered was at a large financial institution in a large city north of the place I lived in.
I would be assisting the Chief Financial Officer and some international travel would be involved. The letter hinted that the job was a difficult one and that the majority of applicants failed the interview.
The reasons for my selection were not given, just that I had been recommended highly.
The package included a set of airline tickets for the flight to the city and hotel reservations in my name for a two-night stay.
Well I figured that if they wanted to pick up the tab, the least I could do was to go to the interview. I wasn't sure I wanted the job, or could even do the job, but an all expense paid trip?
All right, let's go.
I called the number in the package and reached a voice mail system. I left a message confirming my interest and that I would be there at the stated day and time for my interview.
If it was Lydia, she was going to a lot of trouble to get to me.
But the collar and the note comforted me.
The time has come.
It was a very nervous Michael Forbin that boarded the plane that day. I had my bag and my briefcase. And packed away in the bag was my collar. Just for good luck you know.
Although explaining it to the airport security officers was a bit unnerving. They finally accepted my story that it was a gift for a friend and with knowing winks they passed me through.
I studied the landscape below as we flew along. My seat companion was a heavyset man who snored and took up more than his share of the armrest.
I tried to focus on the interview. Perhaps it didn't have anything to do with Minx or Lydia or Ay'esha at all. My reputation as a problem solver was known from my earlier work. Perhaps that's who suggested me for this job.
The speculation came to a halt the next morning.
My night in the hotel had been a restless one. I kept dreaming of Minx being tortured until she screamed in terror.
Near sunrise I gave up and got out of bed. I dressed in casual clothes and left the hotel, walking along the quiet streets of the city. My path took me towards the waterfront and a large shopping area. Even at this early hour shops were beginning to open. The fish markets with their bounty from the sea. A bakery with fresh bread, it's aroma flowing out into the streets.
I stood on the end of the pier and watched the sun creep over the horizon.
Maybe I was chasing a dream. But I had thought my dreams were lost forever.
After breakfast in a cafe on the pier I returned to the hotel and got cleaned up and dressed for the interview.
I didn't know who I was going to work for, but I wanted to look perfect, no matter how nervous I was about things.
Some people get butterflies in their stomachs. I get pterodactyls in mine.
My nerves got more of a workout when I reached the location for the interview. It was the largest building in that part of town and the busiest.
I entered it, reminding myself that they had called me, and I was expected. That and the fact I was Mistress Minx's slave, her pride and joy, kept me upright and stable.
The interview started quite well. Before I could say much on anything, the HR director, Mrs. Cabazon slid their offer across the polished wood table. I looked at the figures and then at Mrs. Cabazon.
"Are you serious about these numbers?", I asked.
"I consider it hazardous duty pay.", she said.
"Seriously, is this person that hard to work for?"
"I've already had to replace her assistants three times this year. Ms. Dawes just burns them out with her demands.", I was advised.
"Well I get along with just about everybody. I'd like to interview with her at least."
The HR director shook her head.
"Well you were warned. Just take the elevator. Her office is on the top floor."
"Just one question. Is she any relation to the owners of the Bank?"
"Her family founded it."
Oh shit. Spoiled rich girl in a family business. Probably propped up by Daddy's money and the skills of her assistant. It looked like I was just going to wind up being the scapegoat for her fuck-ups from my point of view.
I took the elevator up and considered how to approach Ms. Dawes.
The door opened and the receptionist directed me to the office at the end of the hall.
"She's expecting you. Just knock and enter."
I walked down the hallway to the door and took a deep breath.
"M. DAWES CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER", the sign said.
Well she was M. DAWES, but I was Michael Forbin. I was that good and that competent.
I knocked firmly and then entered as I had been directed.
I looked around the office and didn't see any sign of the mysterious M. Dawes.
I could see most of the city out of the windows that lined the office.
The desk was clean enough to land an airplane on and as black as night. A computer terminal sat on a small stand next to the main desk and I could see the constant flow of information reflected in the polished wood of the desk.
A large chair was behind the desk; it's back turned towards me blocking my view of the occupant. All I could see were the legs and feet.
I waited silently for a moment and then cleared my throat.
There was no reaction from the seated figure, so I walked up to the desk and started to speak again.
The chair turned and Mistress Minx just looked up at me.
I dropped to my knees before her weeping in joy.
"Welcome home Michael.", she said, touching my face gently.
I couldn't speak at all as she stroked my head and comforted me.
This was a Mistress Minx I did not know and had never suspected existed.
"What happened?", I finally asked when I could stop crying.
"Nothing happened Michael. I just didn't need you until now. And you needed to reestablish yourself in the world again. I understand that you have even been dating again. I'm very pleased."
"How long..?" I started to ask.
"Oh, I've been watching you since you were returned to your own home. I took a risk in leaving that gift myself, but I had to."
She smiled at me gently.
"Because I love you Michael and I wanted to see you. You needed a little reassurance of my love, so I left you the gift. I was sure that you would figure out the clues and find me."
"Mistress, I'm sorry. My faith in you wavered." I confessed.
"I understand that. I hadn't intended to be away that long. I told you that Lydia leaving Ay'esha would have an effect. It did and I have been very busy. I intended to bring you directly here after you left the Spa, but the time was not yet right.
"Lydia's influence has poisoned many in Ay'esha and those that can be trusted now are limited. She and her followers have disappeared from sight, but like the unseen shark, they may appear at any time, destroying and killing."
I sighed thinking of the chaos I had caused in the name of love.
"You are blaming yourself again for something beyond your control." she said looking into my eyes.
"If I hadn't.." I started to say before she placed a finger on my lips.
"It would have happened anyway. It had to happen for Ay'esha to grow. We had become complacent, watching the world and controlling it from behind the scenes. Now we must be more proactive, take some risks to accomplish our goals. And keeping Lydia and her followers at bay is important. Their impulsive actions may reveal our plans to the world before the time is right."
"I understand." I said.
"Do you really? I hope so, because I have a place for you in all this."
My heart leapt in joy.
"What would please you my Mistress?" I asked.
"The Mother of Many and I want you to start telling the world about Ay'esha, in your own words."
"I'm afraid I don't understand Mistress."
"Michael, you have a rare gift. You are a storyteller. Not merely a writer, but a storyteller. You involve people in your stories and your jokes. You don't lecture to them, you invite them in. And that is what we need now. Someone to tell the tales."
"But what should I write about? I mean what can I say?"
"Tell the stories of your life in Ay'esha. Express your feelings and your fears, your dreams and your hopes. I will help you, and so will the Mother of Many. We'll make sure you don't say too much. And when people read the stories, they may understand our purpose.
"As Lydia and her people try and destroy, we will need someone to tell the tales to balance it."
I knelt before her thinking of the task ahead.
It would be a monumental job. To try and put on paper what I only felt in my heart and soul, to try and explain how and why.
"Mistress, I'm not sure I can. I can tell the stories, but I'm not much of a writer."
She just stroked my head, letting me struggle with the indecision.
Perhaps she was right. I could tell the stories. Perhaps someone would gain from my mistakes
"Would it please you Mistress?" I asked.
"Yes it would. And it would be a great service to Ay'esha."
I looked into her eyes for the first time since our reunion.
"Yes Mistress. I will write the stories. But who will read them?"
She pointed towards the computer terminal.
"Out there on the Internet, there are people looking for things. And they will find your stories. Those who believe will contact us or make themselves known. Other will dismiss your stories as fantasy.
"But truth will out."
I looked towards the computer and back at my beloved Mistress Minx, Minx the Controller.
"I guess I'd better get started then. I suppose the first story should be about how...."