The office building was drafty with too much stone and not enough light. Lena usually avoided coming to see her father at work, but today was an emergency. She was upset and needed help. She had taken the elevator up to the thirteenth floor, the highest point in the building, and headed straight into her father’s office.
His secretary started clucking like a hen as Lena strode past the reception area and into the room.
“Excuse me, do you have an appointment? Mr. Florien is very busy today! Miss Lena, Miss Lena!” Lena didn’t care. Mr. Florien was always very busy, like on her birthday and her recitals and her graduation, he had been very busy. She walked forcefully up to the desk, practically throwing her sunglasses and purses onto it. Her father’s sharp eyes raised to look at her for a second. He didn’t say anything but returned to work.
“Jesus. Dominic, you don’t even see me here do you. I could be dead and you still wouldn’t see me!” She flopped in a chair, exasperated.
“Sit up straight. You’re a lady, not a gorilla.” Her father’s voice was monotone yet condescending.
“Oh, look who’s a parent. Twenty years after the fact, he suddenly wants to give helpful advice!”
“No dear, I have always given advice. You were just never listening.” He looked at her, sitting back in his formidable black leather throne. Dominic Florien was studying his oldest child with interest. She was upset, it was clear. It had always struck him how much Lena looked like his late mother. However, his mother had never thrown a tantrum.
“So pumpkin, tell daddy what’s wrong.” His voice dripped with sarcasm. Lena leapt up, her manicured nails flashing as she slapped the desk.
“He dumped me. Me! He dumped me for some blonde twig! And don’t pumpkin me. That only works on Mom when you’ve been out late Saturday night and there’s lipstick on your collar.” Lena was like a wet cat, nothing was safe from her claws. Inside, she was a pent up lightening bolt.
“Who dumped you?” He had been disappointed when Lena had left James, but his offspring wasn’t the most thoughtful or insightful girl on the planet.
“I thought you dumped James for that Fred guy.”
“Francis! His name was Francis… and don’t you tell anyone, but he left me. He said I was too needy and a …. well, it wasn’t a very nice word.” Dominic could easily guess what the word was.
“I see… So, how does James fit in? He was out of the picture.”
“I crawled back to him. He took me back… and then, and then! Last night, in the middle of a lovely dinner to celebrate our week together, he stormed out!” She sat back down, automatically smoothing her hair back to perfection.
“I’m sorry to hear that. Really, Lena, I liked you and James together. Pardon me if this sounds crass, but where do I come in?” He had his fingertips pressed together in a point, his almond-shaped eyes were shifty, his profound stomach devouring the shirt trying to contain it. Dominic Florien had always reminded his daughter of an odd type of Buddha. Definitely not the type you would pray to.
“It always has to be about you, doesn’t it?” Her voice was acidic with malice. The office door suddenly opened and a horse faced man in a mismatched outfit stumbled in. He trotted over to the desk, breathing heavily. As the door shut, the secretary’s voice could be heard telling him that Mr. Florien was very busy and could not be disturbed.
“We have a problem! There’s a new case of -” The man was oblivious to Lena’s presence.
“Shut it Wallace!” Dominic’s voice was low and full of hostility. “Lena, we will talk about this later at home. I don’t think you’re thinking clearly. Wallace, sit!”
Lena stood up, grabbed her belongings and stalked to the door. She flung open the door, saying as she left, “Thanks for being the world’s greatest father. I’ll remember this.” Lena grabbed the handle, slamming the door with all her might. Dominic sighed, and turned his attention to the doctor in front of him.
“Well, as you know, we’ve had a rise in the recent number of cases lately. Today, I got a new one. I played it off as just a UT infection. But this time, it isn’t just anybody’s kid with this. It’s Clara Varden!”
“Good lord… you’re certain?” Florien’s eyes narrowed, loosing the serene effect that they held, becoming even more menacing. Dr. Wallace nodded, sweat breaking out over his forehead.
“When you asked me to cover this up, I had no idea that there would be so many, so much death, all this cover-up. So far, no one had caught on that the symptoms weren’t what I told them. Jesus, Damian, you could get in a lot of trouble for this!”
“True, but you’re going down with me Niall if I do. Is the girl going to die?”
“Most likely. She is at the hospital still. Do I tell her family she has cancer?”
“How many cases have died so far?”
‘Out of how many?”
“With Clara Varden, thirty-six. But only seven were told it was cancer. I played off the others. The coroner`s certificates all concur.”
“Can they be traced to me?”
“I don’t think so…No one would even begin to suspect that these aren`t natural occurrences.” Damian closed his eyes, weighing his options. The Vardens and the Roys were old friends, and there was Lena’s interest in James… If there was any one that could uncover the truth, it was James Varden. Still, James has no idea about the research his father was doing, or how he really died, thought Damian.
“Yes. Treat her aggressively, cure her. I don’t care what it takes. That girl doesn’t die. Good-bye Niall. I’ll be in touch, but never come here like this again. It is too dangerous for our operation. Remember, you’re the only person I trust.” Damian watched the man recede into the shadows and out of the room. This is getting out of hand, he thought.
Naira looked at herself in the mirror one last time. She liked the dress, it was the blue one she had taken from the cabin. She had on the cute sandals that Clara had picked out for her at the mall, and of course Narya around her neck. She looked at her ears, longing to get them pierced. Earth fashion was definitely different, but she enjoyed it. I wonder, she thought, how I would look with short hair…
She pushed the thoughts out of her head, and went to find James. He had promised her their first real date, and her first dinner in a restaurant. Thankfully, Clara was going to be alright. Still, something didn’t sit well with what James had told her. The illness seemed greater than what he described to her. She walked out of her room, and went down the hall to James’s. The door was open, but he wasn’t there.
“I’m in here!” He called, from the direction of her room. He was in the fourth bedroom. She knew it was James’s work room, but she hadn’t been in there yet. Eli preferred to work in the basement. He liked to take things called photographs, and had a place he referred to as a black room set up down there. She stepped hesitantly through the doorway. It had one of those strange computers on a desk, and several metal shelves full of books. James loved his books, they littered the house. The room was white and practically bare. There was a picture on the desk of James’s father with what appeared to be James and Clara as children. Clara was practically a baby. James was scribbling on a pad at the desk, and Naira decided to let him finish while she examined the bookshelves.
There were two of them, one on each wall. She went to the nearest one, and looked at the titles. She saw a rather large one, and it was written by R. Charles Varden. She picked it up and read the title:
The Last Work of R. Charles Varden
Below the title, it read:
Completed by Dominic Florien
This must have been what he was writing when he died, she thought. She opened the book, and began to read the preface. It said:
I had the great honor of knowing and working with Charles on this book. He wasn’t afraid to question the outcome of our society’s abuse of the environment and the possible outcome of toxic waste seeping into the water table. Although his world devoid of plants and animals with a drastic increase of juvenile cancer is a stretch, it is a possibility we must all face. I was not ready to face the loss of this great man, whose life was ended suddenly during the last few weeks of the summer of 1995. When Charles was murdered, the entire world was shocked. Charles was one of the most caring, considerate and intelligent men this world has ever known.
Naira felt the bottom of her stomach drop out. Murdered? Charles Varden had been murdered? She looked at James in disbelief. Death was on matter, but someone had actually killed his father on their own accord. Not self-defense, not in an epic battle or duel… They had wanted him to die. Naira’s fingers went limp at the thought, the book crashing to the ground. She bent down quickly to fetch the volume, trying to hide her shock.
“Naira… did you read that?” James’s voice was low and wavering. She placed the book on the shelf before turning to him. The look on her face said everything. She rushed to him, throwing herself into his arms and her long legs over his lap.
“My heart breaks for you, James. No one deserves to have someone they love taken from them…” Naira held him, running her fingers through his hair, silent tears streaming down her face.
“I didn’t want you to find out that way. Murder in Middle-earth is rare, especially among Elves. The only case I can think of is Gollum.” James spoke softly, desperately trying to stay strong for Naira’s sake. She gave him a loving kiss, and James tried to focus on that instead of his father. Naira rested her forehead against James’s, and James decided to tell her everything. He took a deep breath, and began.