by D. J. Herda
“And so,” Walter Crushkow announced to the room, “Templar is our number-one concern, our number-one priority. It is what you will eat, sleep, and make love to for the next 72 hours of your lives. It is the center of your universe. It is your creator. It is your salvation. It is your very life. And, as such, you will give it your undivided attention, and you will answer to Ms. Davis and to Ms. Davis only.”
He pulled his wire-rimmed glasses down lower onto his nose, so low that Lainie Davis expected them to slip off of his face and onto the floor. He pushed them back up onto the bridge of his nose before turning back toward the projected image on the screen.
“And Ms. Davis will answer,” he said as he tapped the screen with a sterile stainless-steel pointer, his voice growing low and slow, “to me.”
Half a dozen male heads swiveled around on their stumps, a dozen eyeballs taking in the long legs and blonde hair seated in the middle of the room. And svelte torso and handsome face and lithe arms too, of course. This was no freak show.
“Any questions before you are handed your assignments?” Crushkow looked around, from one face to the other, and when he saw no hands, he exhaled softly. “Good.”
Slowly a solitary limb raised itself from the sea, parting the waves just as they were about to crash onto the rocky shore. A limb, hesitant in its immediacy, a hand, small in its fortunes, rose from the abyss.
“Excuse me, Mr. Crushkow,” the soft, lilting voice of a young dove emerged from the silence. “Are you sure…you mean…me?”
Crushkow’s lips turned up, and then they immediately went flat again. His eyes squinted as he took one, two steps forward. His body was lean, muscular, despite the fact that he was nearly completely bald on top and gray on the sides and that he had long ago passed the bad side of sixty.
He stopped several feet in front of her and, placing his hands on his hips, stared down harshly. She felt his eyes burning through her, searing her Ralph Lauren blazer and white Polo blouse. Oh, my God, what bra am I wearing?
She adjusted herself nervously and looked around the room before returning her gaze to his.
He grinned--malevolently, wickedly, ominously. Or, at least, that’s how it seemed to her.
“I’m sure,” he said, flatly.
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