Everyone Knows Morgan Christopher, It Seems
My new office phone was ringing! Already! I'd only released my book on Amazon.com two days prior.
"This is Amy Stuart-Wilde!" I said cheerfully into the receiver.
"Amy Stuart? My name is LizBeth Bryant," a quiet voice responded. "I need to speak with you, in private, immediately, about Participants of the Project."
"I see," I said, but I didn't actually see. "Is something wrong?"
"May I please meet with you in person?" she asked, her voice becoming a tad shrill. "This is not a business call."
Well, hell. Two days of published bliss as I was already being harassed.
"Perhaps it would be more appropriate for you to speak with my manager-" I started.
"You claim your book is a work of fiction," she interrupted. "But I know one of your characters. He is very real. And there are some uncanny parallels to real operative activities that I.... Look, I really need to speak to you in person."
Now she had my attention. I tried denial. It always worked for men, after all. "That's impossible," I tried to assert.
"No, it's not," she said in a somewhat reproachful tone.
We both were silent now. I have no idea what she was thinking, but on my end, I was visualizing a very public, very humiliating demise of a very short writing career.
She finally spoke again, her voice quiet once more, "I really must meet with you. I believe you've put yourself in tremendous danger."
"Danger?" I asked in alarm. My pulse jumped up into high gear. No more danger! I'd left danger behind me!
"I'm in L.A. for the week. Can I come to your home? Or is there somewhere private that we can meet?"
I sat there in confusion for a short while. I was still fixating on the danger thing. We didn't use the "d" word anymore, not in the Wilde household. My new husband, Bryson, and my new son, Dean, and I had exorcised the danger out of our lives two years ago. We had a normal, healthy life together now. No one had to be afraid anymore.
"Amy?" LizBeth Bryant demanded in a fearful tone. "I'm not threatening you. I'm trying to help you!" There was the sound of a sob and her voice was broken when she added, "I don't know how you know him, but I've always been afraid to talk to anyone about him."
I took a deep breath. "Are you referring to Morgan Christopher?" I asked. I'd assumed he was dead when I'd written a character with his name into my book.
"Yes," she said, still crying.
"Okay, please come by as soon as you can. I'm in La Canada," I said and gave her my address for her GPS. She'd be here in less than an hour. I hung up the phone. "Fuck."
"Mom!" Dean yelled reproachfully from the doorway. He'd heard me cuss many times, but we'd made a family pact to eliminate swearwords from our vocabularies. Bryson and Dean never swore. I'm the one with the potty mouth, so it was actually a pact of one.
"Sorry, sweetheart," I said. I headed his way and slipped an arm around him for a quick squeeze. "How was school?" I asked. We headed for the kitchen for our customary after school snack.
"It was good," Dean said dismissively. "Why are you mad?"
"I'm not," I said too quickly. I pretended not to see his responding frown of disbelief. "Enough about me. You just finished your first week of fifth grade. So? What's the verdict? Is it going to be a good year?"
"Yeah," he said reluctantly, but after a few more prompting questions from me, he gave in and chatted away.
We had sliced fruit and iced tea while he recapped his day and the scores he'd gotten on his first quizzes. Dean had had a rough childhood until recently. We were all happy to let him be a normal kid now. Our new family unit was tightly bonded and highly tuned in to each other's moods and feelings.
"I've got a meeting in about ten minutes," I told Dean. "Are you going over to the park to play?"
He grinned at me. "Yes, mom, I'm going to go play ball with the guys. I guess I'll have to let Father find out what you're hiding." He wobbled his finger at me. "But don't think I won't find out too." He was being cocky to cover his unease over my unease.
I countered with a typical annoying mom comment. "No iPod earbuds in your ears while you're riding over there," I warned.
He rolled his eyes. We both knew he was way too careful to ever do something so stupid. I let my love for him show in my smile as I cupped his face and loudly kissed each cheek. He pulled away with a grimace, but I know he appreciated my gestures of affection. But I still gave his butt a light smack. "Be back by 5:30," I said as I ushered him out the kitchen door. Through the window I watched him get his bike from the garage. He waved at me as he pedaled by.
The front doorbell rang a moment later. Bryson was in his study, immersed in his work, door closed. I called out to him that I was receiving a guest and we'd be in the living room. The distracted reply was too muffled to decipher. He tended to hermit away in his writing in the final stages of the stories he wrote. On this occasion, I was actually grateful.
I opened the front door to a slender woman with auburn hair and a pretty, but troubled face. She was a few inches shorter than my five feet eleven and several years older than my thirty-three. "LizBeth?" I asked as I gestured her inside. We shook hands in the small entrance hall and stood facing each other. I liked her immediately. I'm not sure why, but I sensed a bright, intelligent woman beneath the anxiety she was battling.
"Come sit down," I invited, leading her to the couch. "I've got some refreshments. I'll just be a minute."
When I returned from the kitchen with the pitcher of iced tea and some chocolate chip cookies I'd made earlier, LizBeth was smoothing fresh tears from her cheeks, trying to pull herself together.
I sat down beside her and waited.
"How do you know him?" she asked when she'd gotten herself under control.
"I knew him briefly over a decade ago," I said. "Morgan Christopher was one of several men who were harassing property owners in Maui, trying to force them to sell their land to a big developer. My boyfriend at the time had some dealings with the group. I thought him to be a victim of their abuse, but later found out that he was in league with them. It all ended very badly. Three people were killed, including Luke and, I thought, Morgan Christopher."
LizBeth listened intently. She seemed to be waiting for more.
"I was not the most savvy of women back then, but I had a feeling Morgan was an agent of some Federal agency, or perhaps internationally aligned group, that had clout and power extending way beyond anything I could comprehend. I fantasized him into a special ops agent back then and always intended to base a character on him. It took almost twelve years to write Participants of the Project, but when it came time to rename Morgan's character, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I just couldn't see him with any other name. And besides, I'm a complete unknown with all the odds against my finding success as a writer. I figured anyone who knew Morgan would never read my work, so I kept the name."
I watched her absorb what I was telling her, needing for her fears to be groundless.
"Besides, I totally made up his secret association with corrupt politicians and terrorist activities," I reasoned. "All of that is a complete figment of my imagination."
"Are you sure about that?" LizBeth asked.
My mouth dropped open. No way!
"I just happened upon your book when I was surfing that e-book site that showcases new authors," she told me. "I liked it, so I read all night. But once Agent Christopher came into the story, it was like being hit by a truck. I couldn't believe it was a coincidence and the more I read, the more frightened I became." She leaned closer to me. "You see, not only do I have my own terrible history with that man, but I was warned never to talk about it, or name him specifically. I'm terrified for you!"
"LizBeth, when was the last time you actually saw Morgan?" I asked, hearing my own rising alarm in the form of a raspy edge to my voice.
She shuddered, losing control again. I watched the battle of emotions on her face and was struck by the degree of self loathing and fury I read there.
"He shows up every few months," she said raggedly, tears pouring down her cheeks. "I'm about due for a visit."
"Have you ever sought help?"
"Who'd help me?" she asked bitterly. "He's an international hero."
"You mean he has diplomatic immunity?" I asked, not getting it.
"I mean he's untouchable."
The door to Bryson's study opened and my husband emerged, his expression somewhat glazed from the intensity of concentration he'd been applying to his manuscript. He blinked when he saw LizBeth and me sitting in the living room.
"Oh, hallo," he said, coming into the room. I got a powerful rush of warmth at the sight of him, especially when he was being personable, which these days was more often than not.
"Hi, sweetie," I said, standing to receive his kiss. "This is LizBeth Bryant. She's come to see me about my book."
Bryson took LizBeth's hand as she rose to her feet, he held her gaze but refrained from inquiry about her obvious state of distress. "Miss Bryant," he acknowledged.
LizBeth stared at Bryson for a long moment, then her lips curved into the first smile she'd been able to muster in my presence. "You're a Brit," she said. She turned to me and her smile became a knowing grin. "It's that accent, isn't it? You're a sucker for the accent, too?"
I grinned back, shooting a look at Bryson. "Actually, it's a combination of arrogance, agility, and accent," I admitted.
Bryson cleared his throat. "Uhm, yes. Well, I'm ready for a gin and tonic. Care to join me, ladies?"
"Yes, please!" I said readily. LizBeth agreed with a nod. I looked at her. "I didn't emphasize Morgan's accent much in Participants of the Project."
I was not looking forward to admitting to Bryson that I'd committed a significant no-no in fiction writing. I was also not looking forward to revealing my own ties to Morgan Christopher. Fortunately, LizBeth Bryant seemed to be the imminent crisis at hand.
Ice cubes clinked into glasses at the wet bar as Bryson mixed our drinks, adding neatly sliced lemon wedges. "Shall we sip these out on the patio?" he called out.
"Good idea," I said and lead LizBeth out to our sizeable outdoor living area that overlooked the pool.
When we'd assembled in the whicker chairs, Bryson studied LizBeth for several moments before finally commenting. "I've never had a personal visit about a newly released novel." He tilted his head, squinting his sapphire blue eyes so that they had that piercing quality that I initially found intimidating, but now found sexy as hell. I wondered how LizBeth read the look as he continued, "You've got some personal concerns though, and from the pallor of my wife's complexion, it's clear to me that your concerns bear some weight in her world as well. So? Let's have it, then."
LizBeth explained as much to him as she and I had already discussed. “It’s in regard to Morgan Christopher. I have history with the man. He's a bastard. He's cruel, ruthless, and is absolutely convinced he's omnipotent. He's actually very much the person Amy portrayed him to be."
"Hmmm," Bryson hummed thoughtfully. He turned to me with a raised eyebrow. "I'd been operating under the assumption that you'd not known that sort of individual until you got mixed up with me?"
He was treading carefully, and I was terribly grateful. "That is true," I couldn't help the smile of adoration that tugged at my mouth in spite of the subject matter. "I'd never seen the side of this man that LizBeth is referring to." But as soon as I made the claim, I felt compelled to revise it a moment later. "Actually, wait. I did pick up on some stuff. I had a suspicion he was that awful because of a few random things he'd said and vibes he gave off. I'd always intended to write a character based on him and the impressions that I had of him. He was presumed dead in 1991, so I never anticipated anyone would connect him to my character."
"Hmmm," Bryson hummed again. Then to LizBeth, "May I inquire as to why you are concerned for Amy's safety? As I recall, Morgan's character redeems himself. Would that not minimize his disenchantment with being featured in the story?"
"His cover is blown," LizBeth said. "Morgan is a covert operative for some facet of the U.S. government. I know this for certain. Now, Amy has gone and represented him as a sexually perverted, team switching idiot who has no clue he's been as much of a pawn in a very corrupt and unconscionable game as the helpless characters he's been harassing." She dragged in a ragged breath, but her agitation was palpable. "The man I know has an over inflated ego that could never let this go." She took a gulp of her drink. "You'll be hearing from him. I have no doubt."
That final comment made my stomach plunge.
Bryson grimaced and sat back in his chair. "Well, it's a fair bet that if he is that concerned about his anonymity, he'll not bring legal action against you, sweetheart."
My stomach began to climb back upward.
"However," Bryson added, "I am intrigued by his attachment to you, Miss Bryant-"
"-Lizzie," Bryson amended. "What do you hold over him that makes him return at these intervals?"
Lizzie frowned. "I don't know. He's successfully cowed me into never revealing the events that brought us together."
"What was the nature of this initial encounter?" I asked.
"I was detained under suspicion of terrorist activities," Lizzie said angrily.
The bling of Dean's bicycle bell silenced my next question. Bryson's eyebrows remained raised to maximum altitude as he called a greeting to Dean.
Dean came jogging over. "Can we barbecue tonight?" he asked as he clapped a hand on Bryson's shoulder. He went right over to Lizzie and held out his hand. "Hi, I'm Dean."
"Hi Dean," Lizzie smiled, obviously instantly smitten. Dean was a charmer these days. "I'm Lizzie."
"Nice to meet you, Lizzie. Are you the reason my mom broke the no swearing pact?" he asked. Then he grinned at me, skipping around Lizzie's chair towards mine. He stuck his butt out towards me as if offering it for a smack but jerked to the side when I aimed a swat his way. The next moment he was sitting on my lap, planting a kiss on my cheek. I laughed.
"Uh, yes, let's barbeque," I answered. "And yes, Miss Bryant is the reason I used profanity earlier." I gave Lizzie an apologetic look. "I always cuss when I'm agitated."
"Uhm, Miss Bryant, Lizzie," Bryson said, still dialed in on Lizzie's previous admission, "might I entice you to share your experience? Perhaps it would be beneficial at this time, hmmm?"