“I still can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” Dan grumbled while he turned the pork chops on the grill pan. “You should be resting.”
“Dan, honey, I have been resting all day. You won’t let me do anything. We are just having your family over for dinner. No big deal. If you don’t chill out, I’m going to have to show off Fionna’s not so nice side,” Fionna threatened.
“I’m shutting up,” he huffed. Keeping his mouth shut didn’t mean he could turn his brain or his shield off. Something was wrong. He knew it. His shield pulsed constantly under his skin. Tension slithered up and down his spine.
Aida was setting the table. Fionna had been taking it easy most of the day. She’d insisted on making the breading for the pork chops but that had been it. Scanning the back yard again, he saw nothing out of the ordinary, yet his shield continued to trigger. It expanded around him. He had to mentally force it back.
“I swear I’m fine. No spotting today. Please stop worrying,” Fionna begged.
“My shield is never wrong, Fi. Something is up.” Dan kept his voice to a whisper to keep from frightening Aida.
“Surely, you’re not reacting this strongly to your family coming over.”
“It’s not them. It’s something else.”
“Since I am kind of the queen of asking you to believe what I’m feeling, I forgive you for being worried. And I’ve had a bad feeling all day, too. I didn’t want to say anything because you’re already worried about me.”
“You’re definitely the queen and my queen, but can you tap into it? Can you give me any idea what I’m sensing? Is it you or the girls?”
“When I focus on Aida and Halia, they’re both safe and content."
“That list didn’t include you.” Panic intensified the green cast emanating from this body.
“Nothing is going to happen to me, either. If you don’t ease that shield back, I can’t touch you.”
“It’s trying to shield you, Fi, just like always.”
She stepped forward. Dan turned the flame under the meat off, and wrapped her up in his arms. His shield immediately encapsulated her. She sighed her contentment and his heart managed a steady beat for the first time that day.
“Whatever is about to happen it is about someone we’re close to. Someone we both care about. I just can’t quite pinpoint who. Sometimes that’s because it’s more than one person. Sometimes it’s because things have been put into motion that could harm someone, but we don’t know who or how yet. The universe is tricky,” she confessed.
“If you feel anything else …”
“You’ll be the first to know, just like always.”
Dan’s cell phone buzzed in his jean’s pocket.
“That might be your answer.” Fionna’s tremble spoke louder than her words.
“It’s Governor Haydenshire.”
Fionna closed her eyes. By the third ring, she shook her head. Her purple Receiver’s cast swirled around her. “It’s not Garrett. He’s fine. It’s not any of the Haydenshires.”
“What’s wrong?” was Dan’s greeting.
The Governor sighed. “I take it your wife had a feeling.”
“Yeah, and my shield’s on high alert.”
“I know you’re not a fan of the press or social media in general, but have you been online at all today?”
“Shit. What is it now?”
“I’m emailing you something that Portwood just sent me. Things are getting out of hand, Daniel. I have to know what’s going on at Venton, so I know how to handle them. This op-ed piece has just enough truth in it to make the rest seem believable, and it has been republished on highly-read, Gifted pseudo-news sites three hundred and sixty-eight times and counting.”
“Let me get my laptop.”
“Your dad mentioned to me Friday that they were going to be with the grandbabies tonight. He’s looking forward to it. I’m hoping he hasn’t seen this, and I’d like for him to enjoy this evening with you all before I have to bring this to his attention at work tomorrow.”
“Dad still prefers his news in one hour blocks on weeknights. He probably hasn’t seen whatever this is.”
“One of the things I’ve always admired about your father is his intelligence. Isn’t it interesting that we survived for so long without a constant stream of media anxious to tell us what to think about, talk about, and worry over?”
“Yeah, well, keeping people in a constant state of fear is extremely profitable.”
“Obviously. If you can convince human beings that they might miss out on something, or that they have a common enemy whether real or make-believe, they tend to become putty in your hands.”
“That’s the business plan for every social media site. Why do you think I hate it so much?”
“You’re not alone in that, Daniel, but it is here and we have to deal with this. Before you read this, I want to apologize."
"For things out of my control and for what this is inevitably going to make you think. I regret ever asking you to help us figure out what's going on at Venton. After this, I'm going to let your dad decide if he wants you to continue looking into things there."
"Whatever it is, I'll be fine. We survived the shitstorm of what happened back in the spring. Can't possibly be worse than that."
"I certainly hope not. Read it over and let me know how you think we should handle it, and try not to mention it tonight. And Dan, I am sorry you're caught up in all of this again. Try to remember that people do make mistakes."
A fist of dread knotted in Dan’s stomach as he ended the call, settled on the bed, and opened his laptop. Headlines about him and Fionna, about Wretchkinsides, about Aida, stating that Garrett was absolutely Halia’s father, and every other wound that had been turned into clickbait tensed in his musculature. His shield continued to spin as he clicked the link in the email.
What are the Vindicos Hiding Now
Former Crown Governor, Joseph Lawson, fought and died for this Realm. Giving his life to the belief that power should be balanced fairly not only between the Gifted and Non-Gifted but also among the Governing board. I doubt Governor Lawson would approve of Governor Arthur Vindico’s blatant abuse of power. Governor Vindico seems to believe he is ruling a monarchy not serving the people of the American Gifted Realm. The Vindico family above all others.
This reporter finds it difficult to believe that after his son, former Chief of Iodex Daniel Vindico, was relieved of duty under at best, sketchy circumstances, at worst, the charge of killing the former head of the infamous Interfeci criminal organization, Dominic Wretchkinsides, using black energy, that the Governor now has Dan playing undercover officer at Venton Gifted Academy. According to an inside source, Dan’s only pretending to mentor. Trust me, he’s there to figure out how to cover up an endless list of scandals that has brought the Academy to its knees. He’s there to make certain his father doesn’t go down in flames. His father who is also the Governor of Gifted Schools.
Caught up in their web of lies is former Angels Receiver, Fionna Styler. Forced out of Summation at the hands of her husband, Dan, whose notoriously controlling behavior keeps her on a short leash. Everyone in the Realm heard about the purported gunshot that ended her career. That was another Vindico lie. She’s bounced back and forth between Governor’s sons for some time now. Crown Governor Haydenshire’s son, Garrett, notorious playboy himself, is seen with Fionna on a regular basis. He’s even picked up the Vindico’s daughter, Aida, from school. He plays much too large a role in their lives for me to ever believe Ms. Styler isn’t being shared in a twisted, unethical relationship Dan has set up. She’s being kept for their pleasure, and all of this has been swiftly and thoroughly swept under the rug by Governor Vindico himself.
Every news source in the Realm has asked the obvious question -- Who is the father of the child Fionna is currently carrying? Both the Haydenshires and the Vindicos always refuse comment. Perhaps they’re unsure.
At the time of Dan’s dismissal from Iodex, Governor Vindico’s youngest daughter, Lindley, was admitted to a Gifted rehab facility for drug abuse and addiction. Something else her father kept discreet. Did she leave rehab clean and with a renewed lease on a healthy life? We’ll never know. All I can tell you is that she left rehab dating Elite Iodex’s special weapons and mechanics officer, Ryan Tuttle. Once Dan was out of Iodex, it seems the Governor needed another in with Gifted law enforcement. With a little digging, I discovered that Officer Tuttle was assigned to Lindley as one of her law enforcement counselors. Daddy likes to pull the strings.
Finally forced to face the facts that right under his nose, less than twenty-miles from the Gifted Senate, Venton Academy has fallen apart. An affair, missing drug tests, and stolen tests from an impenetrable vault are just a few of the known issues we’re hearing about on a daily basis. And the Governor is back to his old tricks. He’ll let his son clean up the messes in exchange for keeping Dan’s way of life a secret.
After all, the Governor has plenty of experience covering up an affair. Over thirty years ago, Governor Vindico himself was caught up with a woman the Realm knew only as the lady in red. A scandal we’re certain he would rather we left in the past, it seems history is repeating itself. News of the gubernatorial affair was suppressed so far the woman’s identity remains unknown. Despite the swift action of Vindico to cover his own indiscretions, photographs surfaced of the couple together.
They dominated Gifted papers for a week, until none other than our own current Crown Governor Haydenshire stepped in to make it illegal to reprint the photos. Sound familiar? It should. The Crown made the same decree when photographic evidence of his own daughter’s lascivious behavior on her honeymoon with former Crown Governor Lawson’s son, Rainer, were exposed.
It seems most of the Governing board hold those they represent to a much higher standard than they do their own children. They also clearly like to keep all of the power between their families.
What could possibly have replaced photographic evidence of Governor Vindico with his mistress, you might ask. Rushed photographs of the Governor with his wife, Marion, pregnant with, none other than, their son, Dan.
This leaves all of us wondering what the Vindicos are hiding now?
Vomit and bile singed Dan’s throat. His shield pulsed furiously. Per Realm law, any personal decrees made by only one Governor reached their statute of limitations at the time the Governor left his office. Technically, when Governor Haydenshire became Crown, his personal orders, made when he was a subordinate Governor, were null and void. His decree that the images never be reprinted could no longer be enforced.
Dan stared at a much younger version of his own father helping a woman he’d never seen before into a black Buick Regal. The red dress she was wearing had less material that some of Fionna's lingerie. His father's Buick was the first car Dan remembered riding in. There was another shot of them through the window of what looked like a seedy bar downtown. His father’s arm was around the woman.
The images seared themselves inside Dan’s skull. Every time he blinked, they remained. ‘This op-ed piece has just enough truth in it to make the rest seem believable,’ coupled with 'people do make mistakes' created a volatile cocktail in his gut. Governor Haydenshire’s warning gnawed at his psyche.
A knock on the bedroom door had him slamming his computer shut. For the first time since he’d met Fionna, her appearance couldn’t soothe him. The lies about his own wife, his child, his best friend, they were all immediately dismantled in his mind, but his fury remained. But it was the possibility that some of the article might have held a truth he knew nothing about that rocked through him, crumbling his steady strength.
“Dan, what’s wrong? What did Governor Haydenshire say?”
He shook his head, unable to formulate words.
“Your parents are here.”