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With the plague raging around the world, Lt. Col. Oliver Talbot is called upon to hunt down the originator of the disease and stop the spread.

Adventure / Thriller
5.0 5 reviews
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Chapter One

Waking up in a cold sweat, Ivy Masterson pulled her plaid quilt around her. She rolled over in bed. It must be the flu, she thought to herself. Coughing into her pillow, she ejected a blob of phlegm. The flu had been spreading for several weeks.

“Trouble and bother,” Ivy thought through delirium. Her mind fogged. Roughly, she snuffled her nose, feeling another globular flow down her throat.

Dealing with an illness had not been on her agenda. Sickness never appeared on anyone’s agenda. For Ivy, it became the height of inconvenience.

Sure, she had a slow start getting her life together. However, since moving to San Francisco, things suddenly turned upward. Yesterday, Ivy landed her first job at a Union Square small but popular dress shop. She was supposed to begin on the morning shift.

Ivy laid out her clothes in the bathroom. On the vanity counter, the panties and bra sat neatly folded. Her new suit and white frilled blouse hung on the shower rail. How could she call Maureen Tapper, the owner, to explain her unavailability on this day of all days? It was impossible. It meant starting on the job search again. Groaning, Ivy rolled onto her other side.

A big girl six feet five inches in height, two-hundred and seventy pounds, Ivy was built like a brick. Her size and strength were intimidating for a woman. The gruff quality of her voice turned people’s heads. Whether in the relationship or career areas, it turned many prospects away. Although she put tremendous effort into moderating her tone and making her shape a little more appealing, landing a job became difficult. Any attempt at femininity was a losing battle.

San Francisco opened doors for someone in Ivy’s position. It was the country’s foremost all-inclusive city.

Ivy led an incredibly complicated life. In her younger days, no one understood her, not even her parents or her younger brother, Oliver. It was all about personality with her. Finding her place in the world led her to the City By the Bay. Landing an interview in the dress shop was a huge step forward. Maureen Tapper’s acceptance had boosted her self-esteem. Ivy’s jubilant good fortune faded in a puff of smoke or, rather, a cough in a pillow.

Born Ivan Geoffrey Talbot, he realized he differed from the other boys he encountered. He did not share any obvious resemblance with his brother, Oliver, who was all boy from the very beginning. Ivan had no interest in playing football or with trucks in the spacious backyard of his family’s multiple homes during his childhood. He longed for Barbie dolls and playing dress-up in his mother’s clothes and shoes.

His mother, Beatrice, worried when she caught him putting make-up on in the bathroom. Calling him into his home office, his father sternly scolded him. Oliver simply ignored him. His younger brother would not acknowledge the boy who appeared at school wearing girl’s clothing. His parents did everything possible to “normalize” Ivan. However, nothing worked. He wanted them to come to grips with him being who he was.

Life could be difficult for Army Brats under normal circumstances. Moving from pillar to post every three to four years meant a new base school and a whole new set of friends. Occasionally the two Talbot boys would meet up with children they had known in various places during their world travels. When they did, rumors flew the moment they set foot in their new place of learning.

Being different in a military setting was challenging at the best of times. Ivan endured a myriad of endless teasing, and not-so-funny pranks repetitively played on him. Meanwhile, Oliver kept his distance. When he reached high school, all he could think about was breaking away. He longed to escape an intolerable situation and find a place where he fit in with similar people.

The facts remained the facts. Ivan’s father was too important a man to have a son who wasn’t a son. Retired General I. Jeff Talbot had a reputation to keep. His life must remain without a blemish. While Oliver was the perfect replica of his father, Ivan was the zit on the family’s backside. Despite the prompting he received from his father, it was apparent that he wasn’t going to follow in the paternal footsteps. Best leave that to Oliver, who was happy to plan for a military career. Ollie fit in with the other boys and girls in his class.

Ivan had to transition into his own person. When he turned eighteen, he settled everything for the family. He left home to attend Swarthmore University in Pennsylvania with a view toward a liberal arts degree. Then, six months into his junior year, he abruptly dropped out. There wasn’t anything wrong with the school or his ability to achieve his degree. He needed time off to find himself. He promised that he would return to school to complete his education in time.

However, it remained impossible. Ivan’s inner conflicts became too great to overcome. Without his family to support him, he drifted from place to place. Picking up odd jobs, he worked his way south. In New Orleans, he discovered a patron in Acatus Evergreen. His new friend understood him as no one had previously.

Ivan met Acatus at the annual Pride Parade. The joyous day brought him into contact with others who shared his fate. Linking arms with two male companions, he skipped along the outer edge of the procession. Rainbow-colored beads hung from his neck. He felt as though he were part of something big, something exciting.

When the celebrations ended, his acquaintances asked him to join them for drinks. He accepted with alacrity. However, as they headed toward the nearest watering hole, a sleek black limousine pulled up alongside them. The shaded window rolled down, and an emerging hand beckoned Ivan. Cautiously, he approached. His companions waited on the sidewalk.

“Get in,” a male voice invited, and the back door swung open.

“I’d rather not,” Ivan answered, stepping backward.

“I said, get in,” the voice reiterated.

“I’m not a gigolo,” Ivan returned, glancing toward his lingering friends.

“I’m not looking for a gigolo,” the man calmly stated. “I have a proposition for you.”

“Yeah, well, no thanks.” Ivan began to grow nervous. He knew better than to approach a strange car.

“You’d rather be a woman, wouldn’t you?”

Ivan’s back drew up, his shoulders squared. How did this stranger know his deepest desire? Inadvertently, he stepped toward the limo.

“Get in.”

Throwing a look toward his nameless friends, Ivan waved them on. For a second, it looked as though they wanted to intervene. Then, they grasped hands and walked away. Ivan slid into the back seat.

The sixty-something man next to him inched close enough for their thighs to connect. Behind eyeglasses as thick as old coke bottles, his nearsighted eyes ogled Ivan. His bald head gleamed beneath the vehicle’s doom light. Ivan placed a little distance between them. Suddenly, the offer made him nervous.

“Acatus Evergreen at your service,” the gentleman courteously introduced himself. “I don’t believe I caught your name.”

“Ivan Talbot,” Ivan responded. Instantly, Acatus lifted his hand in a hearty shake.

“Ivan Talbot?” Acatus questioned. “Now, where have I heard that name?” Leaning back in his

seat, he racked his mind for information.

“My father is Gen. I. Jeff Talbot,” Ivan supplied.

Mirthlessly, his companion chuckled. It delighted Acatus to discover the General’s son mingling amongst the Pride celebrants.

“Well, now, Ivan Talbot, son of General Jeff Talbot, today is your lucky day,” his companion remarked, suddenly becoming serious. “I intend to make you my special project. Your fairy godfather is going to make a woman out of you.”

Moving into Evergreen’s massive mansion became an actual turning point in Ivan’s life. Acatus laid out the course of his life in stunning detail. For the first time, he freely expressed his true sexuality.

Ivan underwent a sex change operation at age thirty-six with the Evergreen fortune behind him. After undergoing hormone therapy, he changed his name to Ivy Masterson—utilizing his mother’s maiden name.

Ivan remained Acatus Evergreen’s protégé for the next seven years. The older man delighted in their relationship.

Born in the deep south, Acatus grew up beneath the same prejudices that haunted Ivan. In the long ago past, people did not accept homosexuality or other such proclivities as natural. Acatus, the son of a wealthy father, carefully hid his true desires. He dutifully married Maybelline Froman and gave her three beautiful children. Although he cherished Allen, Tom, and Karen as a father should, he couldn’t keep himself away from handsome young men. He employed a pimp who kept him freshly supplied with all he could desire. He also kept his secrets well hidden.

When Maybelline died of breast cancer, Actus loyally held her hand as she drifted away. Before she left him, she revealed her knowledge of his clandestine life in a whisper. With his wife’s passing, he openly became a part of the LBGTQ community.

Ivy’s happy days living with Acatus Evergreen abruptly ended. Suffering a massive heart attack, his wealthy benefactor passed away. The old billionaire neglected to leave her a legacy despite many promises.

The three surviving children swooped in, forced the mansion’s sale, and left Ivy on the sidewalk with her meager belongings. She found a small apartment in the French Quarter and prepared for her next move. As soon as she was ready, Ivy headed to San Francisco.

The City by the Bay! Ivy thrived in the nightlife. She met like-minded people who understood her struggles and inner conflicts. However, she missed a meaningful career. The arduous job search finally brought her into Maureen Tapper’s boutique. She filled in an application and achieved an on-the-spot interview.

Maureen Tapper invited Ivy into her office. Surrounded by cartons of newly arrived merchandise, she looked the new applicant up and down. The shop manager knew the score right away but did not let on. She did not care who came from where, or who they were before they arrived. In her business, she had already seen it all.

Maureen opened Che Boutique fifteen years ago with her lesbian lover, Jackie Wentworth. The couple held meetings and organized rallies promoting LBGTQ awareness after the shop closed. Behind the scenes, they worked as political activists. Maureen had the mayor and a local senator in her back pocket.

Surreptitiously eyeing Ivy, Maureen made a mental note to discover all available information on the newcomer. If she could utilize a controversial background to promote her agenda, Maureen would readily use it. Little did she realize what was hidden in Ivy’s past—a military background and a high-ranking officer father. However, she knew people who knew people. And her people could dig up plenty of dirt.

Dropping her horn-rimmed glasses from her forehead, Maureen studied Ivy’s job application. Too many blank spaces greeted her.

“Where did you attend university?” she asked in a clear, calm voice. She didn’t wish to alarm her potential team member. Still, the required information was necessary.

Ivy nearly said Swarthmore, then bit her tongue. If Ms. Tapper decided to check references, she would discover Ivy Masterson had not enrolled there. Furthermore, she would not request Ivan Talbot’s transcripts. Dejectedly, Ivy shook her head and explained she hadn’t attended university. Nor had she ever held down a job.

Maureen paused a moment for thought. Immediately, she noticed Ivy’s potential. References did not concern her. All she required was an ability to run a cashier register and an outgoing personality. She saw both standing in front of her.

Maureen hired Ivy on the spot.

“Tomorrow morning, eight o’clock.” Employer and newly employed shook hands.

Pleased with her new position, Ivy had her hair set at a nearby beauty salon and treated herself to a new outfit. Happy to start the next day, Ivy went home to her small apartment and prepared for her first work day.

Ivy laid out her new navy skirt and matching jacket. Her frilly white blouse hung on the shower rail. A DDD cup bra and brief panties lay folded on the vanity counter. Serviceable brown square heeled shoes waited on the floor.

Feeling a little woozy, Ivy stumbled into bed at one o’clock in the morning. Brushing it off as the extra activity of the day, she thought she would feel better in the morning. However, sometime in the night, she awoke to a miserable feeling. Thinking it was the flu, she felt the deep disappointment of having to phone Maureen in the morning. It devastated her to beg off from work. Indeed it was not the way to start a new career.

Ivy tossed and turned in her blankets, racked with intermittent fever and chills for five days. A small round bubble appeared underneath her left breast on the sixth day. The next day, a second bubble appeared on her groin. At first, she didn’t understand. Then it occurred to her that it must be a side effect of her operation. No big deal, she decided. Once she was well enough, she would see a doctor and have it examined.

In her delirium, Ivy’s mind wandered. Visions of her mother’s worried looks floated behind her eyes. Her brother, Oliver, kept his distance. Once again, her father’s sharp words cut into her heart.

As Ivan, he longed for acceptance. He loved his parents and his younger brother. In that, he had no doubt. All his life, he questioned their love for him.

Re-emerging as Ivy, the past lay in the past. She moved forward without a history, without a family. Acatus Evergreen held responsibility for her new life. Ivy remained grateful to her benefactor. Eventually, Maureen might take Acatus’ place in her heart.

Tossing and turning, Ivy sweated beneath the plaid quilt. The bubbles grew and throbbed beneath her armpit and in her groin. Her tiny apartment pulsated as an incubator for the plague.

On the seventh day, Ivy Masterson passed away.

By the end of the following week, the lead stories on all the San Francisco newscasts declared that nine people, all a part of the LBGTQ community, had died of the plague.

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