Emily watched as Ferdinand Franco stepped up to President Batiste’s door. “Batiste, we got your package,” he said. He waved one of his people to open the big double doors while he hid. That suggested to Emily that Franco was certainly not stupid.
The man opened both of the doors wide thinking his group had the upper hand, and he took a bullet in his chest and collapsed. Heinrich immediately knocked over a table with his feet, to act as a shield. He made them scoot behind a well cushioned chair for added protection, even as the bullets started flying. But Emily first saw Batiste’s head was on his desk and there was plenty of blood flowing from the hole in his head. The man was already dead and Emily guessed it was Captain Gouldos.
While men were killing each other, Emily sat on her hands. She hurt her wrists terribly, but inch by inch her hands came forward. She figured when she got them all the way down around her feet she could at least have her hands in front and might be able to grab something to fight.
Heinrich was fascinated by the battle. His eyes poked up, dangerous as it was, and he counted the dead. Secretary Nancy hid behind her desk. The man with the limp and the hot pads hid around the back of the desk and trembled with his hands over his ears and his eyes shut tight.
The battle ended when Franco killed Captain Gouldos. It was touch and go at the end as to which one would kill the other, but they were the last two combatants, so Franco ended up with the prize. He ran into the President’s office and frisked Batiste’s body before he dumped it on the floor. He began to tear the desk apart.
“Where is it?” Franco said before he had a second thought. He frisked the Captain’s body and then frisked the two security lieutenants who were there and also corpses. “Where is it?” He roared and came to the door to accuse Nancy.
Nancy stood calmly behind the desk, one hand behind her back and the other hand held up a key. She jingled it. “Looking for this?” she said.
The man with the limp and hot pads tried to run to the stairs, but Nancy killed him also with one shot. She was clearly an expert marksman.
Nancy turned her gun on the two behind the table. Heinrich was obviously still cuffed, and Emily appeared to be also, from what Nancy could see. In fact, Emily had just taken off her shoes to get her cuffed hand around her feet, but that was hidden from Nancy’s sight.
Nancy smiled. “I can be gracious, I think.” She set down her gun and unlocked the metal box. “Yes. It is important to start things on a positive foot.” She took the lid off the box and the room filled with the aroma of apples and cinnamon. “Goddess Nancy,” she said. “It has a nice ring to it.” And she stuffed the apples into her mouth.
Emily moved out of desperation. She got her hands in front and broke off a leg from the table to use as a club, but then she did not know what do to. Forty-year-old Nancy now looked closer to thirty, going on twenty, and she was still smiling when she began to gag.
“What?” Nancy got that word out as her body began to convulse in uncontrollable motions. She fell to her knees and threw up, a mixture of apples and blood. Her fifteen-year-old mouth tried to yell, “No,” but it was too late. She convulsed even when her eyes closed and she became unconscious. By the time she was five, she was dead, and while she stopped getting younger, she began to both decay and her skin began to harden and mummify at a rapid pace.
Heinrich stood up next to Emily. “I would guess they did not get the recipe right.”
“It smelled good,” Emily said as she touched Nancy’s child hand with her club and watched it crumble to dust. They stopped when there was commotion behind them on the stairs. Emily raised her club. Heinrich went for Nancy’s gun, but it was Riverbend and one of her elves who burst in, decked out in armor and arrows ready. Sebastian Scott followed. Maggie Holmes came last with a little huffing and puffing. They all had to stop for a moment to take in the bloody battle scene.
Emily had a strange thought, but followed her inkling while Heinrich went to the man who had the key to the cuffs. “Zoe.” Emily had not said that word in some time and she never called to the goddess. “Zoe.” She called.
“I hear you.” Zoe appeared out of nowhere. She lifted her hand to examine things with her mind or her spirit. “They got the recipe almost right, but only used part of one golden apple. The rest was ordinary apple and not exactly baked to the temperature of the surface of the sun. I’m glad they included the cinnamon sugar. I told Hera it had to be in there. It makes it edible, but…” Zoe stepped up to the box which still had crumbs in it. She licked her finger, touched an apple crumb and touched that to her tongue to taste it, to identify some substance. When she got it, her face lit up.
“Arsenic. A couple of other virulent and quick acting poisons, but the whole thing must have been saturated in arsenic.”
“That shipment to the science department,” Emily said. Zoe turned to stare at her while Emily continued to think out loud. “But that means the apples are still out there.”
Heinrich stood with the keys in his teeth. “She got younger because the apple was not cooked properly?” It was hard to understand his words, but not impossible.
Zoe repeated the thought and nodded. “She got younger because the apple was not properly cooked. She might have gotten younger than her birth, but the poison took over. No goddess, I’m afraid. Just a shriveled child, and too bad about the rug.” She stepped around the vomit, took the keys from Heinrichs mouth and unlocked the handcuffs. “It is good to do things in a natural way, sometimes.” Heinrich rubbed his raw wrists and Zoe spoke again when she unlocked Emily. “My queen. When you return in September you still have apples to find and work to do, but that can wait. Right now, don’t you have finals?” Zoe grinned and vanished.
“Thanks for reminding me,” Emily groused.
Everyone heard the answer, “You’re welcome.”
Emily had one final thought. She tore the sleeve on Nancy’s dress and before that arm turned to dust she saw the tattoo. It was a circle with three squiggly lines up top.