“I don’t want to do this,” Vivian Spitfire thought as she leaned out of her Beetle Cabriolet 50s Edition and her finger reached for the CALL button. Her mind reeled from the spinning thoughts of looming unemployment, her jealous ex-boyfriend with a mean streak, her own horror, and the medical crises that swept over her.
She felt very small in this Malibu enclave filled with rich people suing each other over everything and nothing. Her eyes swept up to the wrought iron fence ten feet ahead with its sign that proclaimed ‘MadaShack’ and barred her way. A gentle voice said, “Speak, friend.”
Vivian leaned towards the speaker and said, “Hi, I’m Vivian, here to see Maybelle Madasheck?” The gates of the iron fence swung towards her with a soft whisper. She drove into the circular courtyard and around the bubbling fountain to the large double doors of iron-banded oak. The gates swung shut, cutting off her urge to flee. She half expected to see a liveried servant appear to open her car door, but the courtyard remained silent. “Well,” she thought, “it’s showtime.” She inhaled, put on a pair of glasses, and stepped out of the car.
Minutes later, she sat in the Madashecks’ drawing room and wondered how anyone could draw there. She saw no desks or tables, and it looked like no place for an artist to wield a brush. The furniture resembled a museum display, yet she set off no alarms as she sat on a delicate antique from another continent and another century. Still, she feared that any movement would cause the flimsy construction to splinter and drop her to the thick Persian carpet.
Maybelle sat in a much sturdier overstuffed Morris chair, breathing hard. “I must say, you did give me a shock, my dear. I am not at all sure from where, but I have indeed seen you before.” She looked over Vivian’s shoulder to her own computer screen in the next room. Vivian’s face bounced gently around the screen. She thought of Vivian’s other face bouncing around Rupert’s computer screen in his own separate office. “How did those screensavers get there?” she wondered.
“I know Rupert,” Vivian said, “but I do not think we’ve met before. I started my own software company but I’ve almost run through my own funds.” She thought of the box of Me&Ro 18 karat gold Indian diamond drop earrings that Rupert gave her long ago. “Now I need more funding so…I visited. I was recommended to your consulting firm, called for an appointment, and here I am.”
Maybelle said, “We have some time before Rupert sneaks in. He drives a Tesla so he will just suddenly appear at any moment. So tell me what brings you here. I believe I suspect, but I’d rather hear your story than speculate.”
“Do you suspect?” Vivian asked. She lifted her glasses, then dropped them back on her nose. “Ah, it must be the blue blood. Oh, there it is, some red heat.”
Maybelle felt color rising up her cheeks. “What do you mean? What red heat?”
Vivian took off her glasses and held them up. “These render the world as a heat map. Cooler temperatures are blue, and hot things are red.”
Maybelle sat back in her chair and crossed her arms. “I’m sure that’s very clever, my dear. Is this your invention that you want to sell? Do you need my advice on marketing? All well and good, but what is this business about Rupert? He knows nothing about marketing.”
Vivian pulled a glasses case out and held it for Maybelle. “If you watch the human face, you see the same thing. Normally blue and green for calm and collected people.”
“Oh, well, that’s different,” Maybelle said. “A cute party trick.”
“And red as people flush. You know, when they lie.”
Maybelle froze. “Could. Could I. Could I borrow a pair? I might have a use for these.”
Vivian relaxed. “Yes, I’m sure you might.”
“Hooray, I made it home without the car running out of juice,” Rupert said as he came through the kitchen door from the garage. “I think the secret is not to drive a Tesla in a blizzard. The New York Times and Tesla’s executives should keep that in mind next time they want to get into an argument about car performance. Is the housekeeper here? I saw some kind of car in the courtyard.”
As Rupert stepped into the drawing room, his face lit up. “Vivian,” he said with scarce-concealed joy. “I never thought I’d see you again.” He broke off when he realized that Maybelle sat in a chair by the door. She had a long riding crop in her hand, and she sat between him and the only exit.
“Rupert,” Maybelle said, “do join us. I was just having a chat with Ms. Spitfire here. A delightful woman of business. She tells me that she admires you as a man of business.” She smiled. Rupert smiled. “Monkey business.” She smiled. Rupert didn’t.
“I must recommend my new optometrist to all my friends,” Maybelle said as she turned to Vivian. “I can see so well in the…heat of the moment.” She turned back to Rupert. “Ms. Spitfire has some matters of business, some questions to ask you.”
“Who’s my mother?” Vivian asked.
Rupert said, “Why, Eimagoinne Comatosa, of course. Now she calls herself Emma. Just Emma.” He blinked twice. “Yes, I knew her so long ago. Why do you ask?” He looked at Maybelle and her riding crop.
“And who is my father?”
Rupert stuttered and stared at his hands, then looked at the doorway and at Maybelle’s riding crop. His eyes flickered towards the window, then back at his hands. “Um,” he said.
Maybelle looked at the riding crop she held tightly. “You used to like this. Very much. Does it bother you now?”
Rupert narrowed his eyes. “Are you threatening me with that stick? Why?”
Maybelle petted the riding crop gently. “Threaten? No, no. I’d love to tell our guest how much you like this. Shall I? Or can you tell us who is Vivian’s father? Perhaps there was some ‘youthful indiscretion’ involved, hmm?”
“Um, yes,” Rupert said. “Youthful indiscretions were made. As they have been and always will be. It’s the human condition.”
Maybelle and Vivian gazed at Rupert for a moment. “Ah, Mr. Blue-blood, admit nothing,” said Maybelle. “Have any indiscretions been made lately?” Rupert began to turn red, but did not answer. Maybelle asked, “Would any indiscretions involve Vivian here?”
Rupert turned so red that the heatmap glasses nearly burned out. “I didn’t know we were related!” he shouted.
“So,” Maybelle said, “there were some indiscretions, Mr. Redface?”
Rupert’s face went blank. “Redface?” he asked. Silence. “Mr. Redface? Is that the father who wouldn’t go to Canada with you during one particular Spring Break?”
Maybelle gasped. “No. He was Mr. Redfern. Horace Redfe-” She clapped a hand over her mouth.
Rupert glared at her and went on. “How about the Aussies who serenaded you with a song they called ‘Bouncing Matilda’? Shall I sing it for us?”
Maybelle made some strange vocal noises, then popped something into her mouth. She looked up and saw both Rupert and Vivian staring at her. “It’s my. It’s medi-meh-medicine,” she said. “Called Sirna ShuttheFoxup.”
There was a pause of silence and Rupert blinked. “Called what?” he asked. “Fox as in shut up Fox Ne-”
“Fox as in Foxp2 protein,” Vivian said. “Don’t you keep up with the news? Foxp2 is the language protein. Shut down production and you become less talkative.”
Maybelle turned bright red. “I believe it helps me not say regrettable things.” She held up a capsule. “This is filled with nanny particles.”
“Nanoparticles,” Vivian said. “It beats the original work, needle injections into the brain.”
“Ugh.” Rupert scratched his head and spoke carefully, a word or two at a time. “So, if you stop this, um, Foxp2, you don’t talk as much. Can you turn it up?”
Vivian looked at him warily. “Yes, you can take Sirna FoxPlease for the opposite effect. Why?”
Rupert squinted and looked around the room. “Does the CIA know about this?”
Maybelle roared. “The CIA or somebody knows about this.” She held up a large photo of Rupert and Vivian sitting on a balcony. “Tell me more about these not-so-youthful indiscretions.”
Rupert said, “Helicopter,” and thought of the National Guard helicopter that buzzed his apartment in Silverlake. His not-so-secret apartment.
“Helicopter,” said Vivian as she thought of her jealous ex-boyfriend.
“Helicopter,” said Maybelle as she thought of the helicopter that buzzed the MadaShack during the Malibu Fire/Mudslide/Earthquake.
“It might seem indiscrete, but I was getting re-acquainted with my long-lost daughter,” Rupert said. “Nothing more.”
“Nothing more, Pinocchio?” Maybelle asked. “I believe I’m seeing red.”
“Certainly nothing more than your own visit with that Horrible Redface guy who popped up again not so long ago,” Rupert said.
Rupert did not need heatmap glasses to see Maybelle turn red. She said, “Horace Redfern stopped by to apologize for his own indiscretions back in our college days.”
Vivian saw two very bright red people through her glasses. “Well, I call it a draw here,” she said. “I see indiscretions on everyone’s part.”
“Well, they were long ago and they weren’t as bad as our recent Marketing department debacle. I had to sack the whole lot of them.” He slumped into a chair and muttered. “Alcohol does strange things to people’s judgment. And vodka seems to be the worst.”