January 20, 2017
Northern Virginia –
Nightingale’s best friend, a silver dappled Morgan named Dev, belongs to a big-hearted East Indian woman, also a doctor, who thankfully shortened her traditional Hindu name to simply, Pat. Her whole family, she had told me on the phone earlier in the week, was concerned for their safety. “Being brown in America these days is frightening, Bette. My son came home from school last week beaten and his backpack in pieces. Some fool thought he was carrying a bomb! Please take Dev out for a ride. I’m not leaving home on Inauguration Day.”
Other riders must’ve made similar decisions, because the barn is atypically empty for a Saturday. Normally, horse owners arrive by eight and by nine the air is filled with clouds of dust from brushing. Farriers are usually here trimming hooves and fitting horses for new shoes. Saddles and tack are being soaped and oiled, or buckled onto mounts ready to stretch their legs, but not today.
It’s eerily quiet at this end of the barn, where I saddle the horses and hum as an antidote for my own Inauguration Day blues. I try but fail at remembering more than two verses of any song. If I’m honest, there’s a dull aching at the base of my neck and an anxiousness that is humping me like a feral dog.
All of this, very strange for me. Life and its attendant attractions going haywire doesn’t usually make me nervous. Pissed off too quickly? Yes. Those damn agents who wasted my time the other day absolutely irritated me, however; as a surgeon, I’m trained to keep a steady calm under pressure. But I’m no help to myself today. I should go home and draw a hot bath and commence drinking immediately, but Maria’s on her way.
Soon. It should be soon.
Leaning back against the warmth of Nightingale’s flanks, I wonder how I would conduct a research study into the disruption of the psycho-neural patterning of Trump supporters. His rallies had enraged people, unleashing a public vulgarity in them that no person in their right mind would participate in yet, too many had costumed themselves as Hillary Haters and had screamed for her blood.
Was their mass indoctrination temporary? Were they possessed only while in a crowd? Have significant numbers of Trump voters turned down their fever pitched outrage dials and reverted back to an uneasy state of dissatisfaction? For months the poll number of undecided voters had hovered around 20%…until the Russian cyber attacks began.
If Wikileaks had been done by a four hundred pound man lying on a bed in a basement somewhere, as Donald Trump had claimed then, it followed in my mind at least, this so-called somewhere had many rooms filled to capacity with these big fat hackers, all experts at weaponizing mass propaganda.
“And the rest is history, Nightingale.” I rouse out of my inner musings and voice my disquieting thoughts to the horse, “The Great American Mind Fuck has happened.”
Leaving the barn in search of my cell phone locked inside my car, I consider how to phrase this idea of launching a study to my medical assistant, Cassie. When I step from behind a horse trailer, I collide right into Maria.
Long English boots with jeans tucked in and a short-waisted, but warm winter coat, she resembles the woman from Room 303, but with clothes on.
I beam a thousand watt smile at her and she falls into my arms, “Oh! God!” she cries into my jacket. “I lost it three times on the way over here. Four, if your barn hadn’t appeared when it did.”
“Baby, baby…” I squeeze her tighter.
“Being on set, watching the inauguration on big screens along with a panel of commentators, I had to keep a TV face, but I wanted to scream. I believe a few others did, too.”
“Jesus, I could never do your job.”
Which she takes as a reason to kiss me. “Hm,” she says softly when leaving my lips. “Definitely stick with the job of kissing me. You wouldn’t like being a pundit.”
With my arm around her shoulder and hers looped around my waist we walk from the parking lot into the barn.
“Where is everybody?” She spins around on the heel of one boot before stopping in front of Dev and softly rubbing his nose. “Bette, he smells a little like you did…” she trails her hand down the horse’s neck. “…the night we met.”
“Fresh off the trail might be another way to put it.” I loop the reins over Dev’s head and lengthen out her stirrup leather. ”
She crooks her leg for me to push her up into the saddle. “No, you had a definite animal scent. It’s how I think of you now.”
I swing up into my saddle and we trot out into the snowy field that borders the riding ring.
“When I discovered the note from your friend stuck in my pocket. I was standing right there.” I point to where she’s riding. “Tabard Inn Room 303 10 pm,” I recite the message that propelled me around Dupont Circle and eventually into her arms.
She shakes out her long red hair and calls over to me, “Bette! You’re saving my life this afternoon. If I were in Washington I’d be headed for an afternoon of misery drinking with other depressed media types.” She looks up at the heavens and shouts, “Oh my God! Thank you for saving me from that!”
“Maybe for you, but I’m planning on a little drinking today.” I slide my silver flask out of my saddlebag and take a sip. “I had this interesting thought about the Russian hack. Right before you got here.”
She motions for the flask then, wipes her lips with the back of her glove. “But Bette, why aren’t you seeing someone? I mean this seriously. Forget about the Russians for a minute.”
I adjust in my saddle and send her a ‘please get serious’ kind of look. “I’m counting you as a someone.” And hearing myself say it, I know it’s true.
“What about women in Maryland or D.C.?”
“You’re kidding right?” I blow out a laugh of disbelief. “Why can’t you believe I’m single?”
“No, I’m not kidding.” Her hand sweeps me up and down. “Who is this hot brain surgeon, hiding out in a Virginia barn? Off everyone I know’s radar.”
“Checking up on me?” I flash her a sexy smile.
“More like checking out.” Which she follows with a furrowed frown. “See nobody I know, knows you and I find that strange. Not even a whiff of a mention. So, have you been married all this time or living with someone? What. Is. Your. Story?”
“You’ve known doctors before so, I’m sure you realize that when doctors develop specialties they tend to get more and more additional training and that takes time.”
She barks a laugh at my expense. “Bette! Are you trying to sound like the most boring woman in the world?”
“Maybe I am boring. I have no idea! If you’re not interested in horses or people’s brains then, perhaps I am. I have one more thing though: I also retain a lot of info about rocks…I loved them as child. Geology as a whole. You can ask me anything.”
“Well,” she sighs, but not in a good way. “I wouldn’t know the first question to ask about rocks.” She pauses and looks up to the sky for inspiration. “I can include minerals, too, I suppose?”
“It sounded stupid the minute I said it.”
“Baby, you know I came down here for an evening with you. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t it you who’s been flirting with me on the phone all week? Coming at me kinda hard?”
“I confess being taken with you.” Twisting in my saddle I lean over to her, “But the topic of ex’s? Is that a good place to start?”
“You’re right. I did my get-the-scoop on you bit. We’ll start again. Where’d you grow up? Favorite places. That kind of thing.”
“Let’s see, I had a great mother, who was an architect and child of the 60s. Who also shocked her parents by marrying my father, a black man.” I lean back in my saddle thinking back on the many stories she shared of her troubles.
“But then I came along, and both sets of grandparents couldn’t get enough of me so, everybody had to get over their prejudices in a hurry, and we were a pretty cool family. All things considered.”
“Well, my dad was a Scotch Irishman and gave me all these freckles. He came from a big family of pitifully poor Irish, who’d made their way to America. My mom lives in California. Drinking took him. She has or had – she’s nearly seventy now – red hair like mine.”
She leans into Dev’s mane, as if needing to hold onto something, before telling the next part.
“We lived in a dump in Boston, a neighborhood along with the rest of the Irish Catholics there. Damn place was always wet and cold.” She shivers thinking about it. “I don’t know why I started with my family. It’s not my favorite subject.”
A tear slips from her eye, before she flicks it away. “Tsst!” is the sound of her dismissal, which jerks both our horses heads up, as she waves her emotions away. “I should be tougher at this point. I know I should. Sometimes I feel it everyday.”
I guide us along a trail through a forest, where we weave close between the trees and the clinking chains on our horses’ bridals sound like ringing to me, dampened only slightly by the snow.
I loosen Nightingale’s reins as we enter an open field with an abandoned cabin used in the winter to store firewood and hay.
“How ’bout we get out of the wind for a few minutes?” I slide off Nightingale and tie his reins to the porch railing. “I have a little picnic, plus some more whiskey and – if it’s not too boring for you – I’ve got a research idea I wanna run by you, but it could get complicated.”
She stands in the doorway of the dusty cabin refusing to enter. “An experiment inside a freezing cold shack?”
Using a pile of kindling stacked by the old fireplace I make a fire. “I’ve ridden by here a hundred times and never once peeked inside.”
She leans into the warmth of the flames and taking off her gloves she rubs her hands briskly together. “This isn’t so bad. What experiment?” she asks, placing her warm hands on my cold cheeks.
“That feels good, Maria.” I lean in for a kiss, but she stops me with a finger to my lips.
“The note that brought you to my room at the Tabard Inn, there was a message I was to pass along if you showed.”
“Then why was I summoned there!?” My volume suddenly rising. “Because for most of my drive home I was certain you were a spy working undercover as a journalist and the whole evening had been a trap.”
Her face, a mask frozen in quizzical shock, she repeats my accusation, “So, you think you fucked a spy the other night?”
I shove my hands deep into my pockets and glare at her for a moment. “As I was saying, the sex had to be for blackmailing me, the neurosurgeon who wouldn’t keep quiet about Donald Trump being dangerously deranged.”
“Blackmail, huh? And me, as the black widow luring you into a trap?! Bette, you really should record a podcast in your spare time.”
“Spare time is with him.” I cock my thumb back towards where we tied the horses. “But the longer I drove, the more I considered how I did have a bad hangover and zero sleep so, I began by diagnosing my state of paranoia, and that I believed…no, I feared it really, that it wasn’t possible you could actually be…”
She smiles and reaches into the saddlebag for the whiskey and takes a sip. “Be what? Instantly into you? That doesn’t happen often and you’ll just have to trust me on that. Not since my twenties, and please don’t ask for their names, because I’ve forgotten them in a blur of that one year of college, when I was certain I was having a nervous breakdown.”
“A real nervous breakdown? Or a final exams nervous breakdown?”
She stares at me and shrugs her shoulders.
My next question is tinged with suspicion. “Okay,…well,….years later then, I’d like to hope, believe really, that I’m an exception and you don’t fuck everybody you pass or don’t pass messages to within the first two hours of meeting them.”
“Bette, I’m virginal when I’m in Washington, a city of the worst gossips on earth! It’d be career suicide if I weren’t.”
Time to believe her temptress nature is mostly under wraps, or not. “I’ll never forget the dress you were wearing, but Baby, you had me at Burning Man. I’ve always wanted to do something like that.”
At this idea she lets loose a playful laugh. “Doctor Porter, I’m definitely your guide to Burning Man, but back to your earlier fantasy of me, am I a Russian spy or one of us?”
“American,” I whisper down her neck, “which gave me some comfort, but I’m certain we’re cruel, too.”
Coy and biting her bottom lip, she pulls my shirt tails out and runs her nails up my back. “Even with suspicions of how dangerous I might be, Doctor Porter, you still invited me here.”
“Do that harder and something will happen.”
With a quick intake of her breath she opens her mouth to my kiss.
Minutes pass under an ocean wave of losing ourselves in each other, when she breaks our kiss and says, “Bette, the fire needs more wood.”
Squatting down and pitching logs onto the flames I see her pulling her riding boots back on after pulling her blue jeans off. I toss the last log on, as she turns to warm her bare bottom next to me.
The firelight plays on her loins as she brushes her fingers over her small triangle patch of red hair and in the next moment, I’m tasting her. Warm and slightly salty.
“You’ve been too far away from my body…all week long,” she mummers to me.
I slip my coat off my shoulders and lay it on the floor in front of the fire. “You are so beautiful,” I whisper to her, before taking her again with the licks of my tongue.
She reaches for my hand and guides me under her blouse to feel her twisting her nipple. I pinch it a few times, hard then soft, and leave a wet trail from my tongue licking up her belly to her breasts. She pops open the bra clasp between them,”I love you here, too,” she says with a purr at the back of her throat. “In carnal pursuit…Bette, that’s the perfect description of you.”
I whisper to her, “And you are my seductress.”
She pulls me up from her breast by the chin – to almost kissing her lips. “You mean like this? You touch my lips and you have to take it all.”
Stay tuned for Chapter 5. I hope you’ll leave a comment in the box below.
All for now,