Jacques sighed as he looked at his notes; he tried visiting with Alec’s family again, but nothing. He hadn’t had any more leads. Jacques made his way to the landlord’s apartment; maybe he’d have some information.
“Simon! I know you’re in there,” a woman yelled at the landlord’s door.
“Excuse me,” Jacques asked. “Are you looking for the landlord?”
The woman jumped, and then turned around, quickly regaining her composure. “Who are you?”
“Detective Jacques. I’m investigating a few disappearances that occurred in the last few weeks near this area. I talked to the landlord before, and I’d like to meet him again.”
“Get in line. I came to pick up my son.”
“I see,” Jacques said, not interested in digging deeper. “So, he’s not here?”
“Apparently not,” the woman huffed. She pulled a key out of her purse and opened the door. “You can come in. You might find something to help you.”
They looked around the apartment, but the place looked deserted, like everybody left in a hurry.
“It looks like he skipped town,” the woman said from the bedroom. Her voice bristled with anger. “Most of their things are gone, including their electronics and valuables.” She turned sharply to Jacques. “You’re a detective, aren’t you? I want you to find them. He took my son.”
Jacques paused for a minute. He probably would have looked into it anyway, but he could form a new client with this woman. “I’ll ask around. He could have left for a bit, planning to come back soon.”
They exchanged contact information and discussed the rates to hire Jacques. The woman, Janice, left, still fuming. Jacques decided to find out when the last time people saw the landlord was and if by chance they had seen anybody who went missing. He knocked on a door, and a middle-aged woman opened the door.
“Excuse me, I am detective Jacques. I have a few questions,” he said, showing his credentials.
“Okay,” the woman replied tentatively.
Jacques asked about the landlord and the last time she saw him. She couldn’t recall; they weren’t too close, but she did mention that he looked strange the last few days. Jacques then showed her pictures of missing people from within the last couple of months from the surrounding area, more than just the people he was looking for.
“I don’t know about the rest,” the woman said, “but I’ve seen this young man occasionally. He stayed over in that apartment. He was always surrounded by girls clinging to him; so indecent.”
Jacques thanked her and returned to the car. He looked up information about the missing boy, David. Reading from the lost person flyer, David lived with his family in a city a few hours away and ran away from home about a month before after returning from a camping trip with his brother.
Jacques knocked on the door where David lived, but no answer. Of course. But Jacques couldn’t keep a smile off his face; he had a lead. These were the cases he lived for. Time to find out more about David.
“When you aren’t behind cover, you need to always be moving,” Debby cautioned David. “A moving target is much more difficult to hit.”
“I know, I know,” David said, adjusting his goggles and mask.
“You say you know, yet you are still flat-footed.” Debby aimed her gun and fired three shots. David felt the pellets slam into his shoulder, chest, and stomach; he could already feel the bruises forming alongside his other bruises.
David pulled his mask off. “Ah! This is impossible. How am I supposed to dodge bullets?”
“Don’t think about dodging bullets,” Debby explained. “Think about outmaneuvering the shooter. There’s a difference. Here.” Debby handed David the pellet gun and grabbed the mask. “Try to hit me.”
David gingerly took the weapon; it felt unnatural in his hands. Debby moved about ten yards away and said, “Whenever you’re ready.”
David raised the gun. Debby immediately moved from side to side. David recognized the pattern she was moving and fired. Right before David pulled the trigger, Debby adjusted her pattern of movement. The pellet missed. Annoyed, David took several shots, but Debby kept on adjusting her movement right out of the line of fire.
Debby all of a sudden sprinted towards David. David pulled the trigger for an easy shot, but only felt a gentle click. He was out of bullets. He felt Debby grab his wrist, and the next thing he knew he was on the ground unable to move with Debby holding him down. Debby removed her mask and moved her face very close to his. David felt his heart beat faster.
“You nicked me twice, but completely missed the other times,” Debby said. “Your gift has two weaknesses: first, you need to touch the other person; and second, the person’s personality is not guaranteed, especially when you touch women. It’s not guaranteed that they will do what you say.” Debby stood up and helped David back to his feet.
“Thanks. I know that. It’s just . . . I’ve never been very athletic to do this type of stuff.”
Debby laughed. “It’s only been three days. Give yourself time.” She wrapped her arm around his shoulders, like a caring older sister. “I’ll always protect you, so don’t worry too much. We’re training just in case. Besides, these exercises are meant to get you used to be in danger to decrease your reaction time.”
“So, what do you think Juliet is planning?” David asked.
Debby shrugged. “Probably something big. Mr. Ross was always ambitious. But remember, Juliet’s not in charge; you are.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” David replied.
It had been three days since David transformed Mr. Ross into Juliet. Juliet confined herself in her room with a computer, occasionally asking for David or one of the girls to give her information. Juliet had gone through and given each of the girls an authentic government identity.
One of her first actions was for all of the girls to quit the jobs they had. she wanted to cut any ties to their old as possible. Leah complained that she had to stop her volunteer work, but Juliet set her up at another place. Juliet also wanted Samantha to quit her job, but David stood his ground. Juliet compromised by offering Samantha a new job at a different company with her new identity. David reluctantly agreed.
“Alright, time for physical training,” Debby said excitedly. “I’ll grab the other girls.” Debby seemed to take a personal interest to make sure everybody in the mansion got in shape.
Just then, Cassidy walked in. She had been meeting with Juliet the most, which made sense since she knew Mr. Ross beforehand.
“Juliet finalized her plans,” Cassidy said. “She wants to go over it with you.”
David nodded. “Debby, go ahead and gather all of the girls to work out.”
“You’re the boss. Best of luck,” Debby said, giving David a small peck on the cheek as he left.
David knocked on Juliet’s door. “Come in.”
David walked in. Juliet was sitting in front of a computer; her hair was pulled back into a ponytail; she was wearing glasses, not like the thick ones from before, but thin reading glasses. Even in a casual t-shirt and sweats, her whole presence denoted power and commanded respect. She made David feel uncomfortable like she was expecting great things from him.
“Ah, David,” Juliet said; she looked tired. “Where should I start? The paper you showed me that came from the cave gave me an idea. I want you to make a country.”
David understood what she said but couldn’t comprehend what she meant. “What?”
She ignored his reaction. “It’s fairly simple, especially with your gift. First, we need capable people. I compiled a list; it’s an alteration from the one that Julius made.” Juliet handed him a piece of paper. “Mainly, retired politicians and businessmen. Next, we need a place to live. We’re fine here for a little while, but we’ll eventually need to move. My finances aren’t unlimited, but I think if we pool enough wealthy people, we’ll be able to purchase a large private island.”
“Wait, wait, wait. Slow down,” David said. “Create a country? Private island? I don’t think I can do that. I’m just a regular teenager stuck with a curse; it’s not a gift.”
Juliet removed her glasses and stared at David for a long moment. “You think it’s a curse? I see. You’re right; you no longer can live a normal life, but you have something most people don’t have. You even said it right before I transformed: you can make the world a better place. You can change the world; not many people can say that. Control your gift; don’t let it control you. You’re better than you think you are. Also, many of those people on that list can teach you what you need to know.” She placed her hand on his shoulder. “Of course, I’m here for you too.”
Juliet paused to let her words sink in. David never considered himself ambitious or power-hungry. He didn’t think he was capable of handling that pressure.
“You don’t have to decide right now,” Juliet said, “but at least hear out the rest of the plan.” David nodded, and Juliet continued. “After finding a place, we need to fill out the rest of the population and find a way to protect ourselves: military strength, political leverage, and economic power. People will eventually find out about your power, even if you hide. They might even know about it right now since they probably examined your brother. They will either want to control you or kill you. I want you to be protected before that happens. After that, you can do whatever you want.”
David’s initial reaction was to say no. He didn’t want to change any more people. What would he do though? Spend the rest of his life in the mansion, only spending time with transformed girls? His little time in the last apartment hinted that he would go quickly go crazy. He began to rationalize that if he only changed people who were about to die or who wanted it, he’d be doing them a favor. He’d be lying if he said an island of beautiful girls wasn’t appealing. Having a purpose and goal would be great too.
“Fine, I’ll do it,” David said, “but on a few conditions. We only transform older people. We back out if things aren’t going the way I want. And, every girl will have a place where they belong. I don’t want to transform people without a purpose.”
Juliet slowly nodded. “I accept; I may need to alter a few people on the list of people to transform. Also, we will pass a point of no return, but that isn’t for a while. Moving on,” Juliet said, handing David another piece of paper, “here are all of the jobs I want the girls you’ve already transformed to do.”
David looked at the list. Ellie and Aubree were secretaries in the government, Debby was in the army, Cassidy was with the police, Rachel and Susan were interns at major companies, Leah was a reporter, and Alex was a waitress at a fancy bar. Juliet had already moved Samantha where she wanted her to be. The list also had blank spots for doctors, scientists, and other more specialized jobs.
“Um, I don’t think some of the girls will be able to do these things. Also, how will we get them into these positions without causing suspicion?” David asked.
“That’s why we get people with connections,” Juliet said. “Transform a few recently retired people who know the ins and outs of the place. They will also teach the girls how to do their job and who to talk to. A country isn’t built in a day. This plan will take quite a while to fully accomplish. We need to get it going as soon as possible.”
“I’ll go tell the others.”
Juliet stood by the side of the grave as they lowered the empty casket into the ground. The priest offered religious words and suggested people live more righteously. It was odd to stand over her own grave and have people talk about her. But, she needed to play the role of a mourning daughter, and a funeral was a good opportunity to meet with connections.
David stepped next to her; he looked rather dashing in a tux as it made him look more mature. Juliet’s heart skipped a beat, and at that moment, she felt like a love-struck 19-year-old girl. She forced those feelings down.
“Were they able to hand out the invitations?” Juliet asked.
David nodded. “Out of the thirty people on the list, seventeen of those arrived and received the invites.”
“Good, good,” Juliet said nodding. “That’s more than I thought would come. Julius didn’t exactly have the best reputation and he lived in seclusion for the last few years of his life. Probably, most of the people here are just trying to see if they can salvage some scraps from my estate. Let’s go get ready.”
Half an hour later, Juliet was standing in front of twelve men and three women. David was standing behind Juliet acting as a butler, careful not to touch anybody. The transformed girls were acting as serving girls, offering the guests refreshments.
“Greetings, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Juliet, the estranged daughter of Julius Ross. As a result of his death, I inherited a majority of his estate. I have gathered you all together today to share his wealth. I have in my possession something that money cannot buy. Youth.”
A soft murmur rustled through the small gathering, a few not a little angry.
“You called us out here to make a fool out of us?” a voice called out.
“Please calm down,” Juliet said, motioning them to be silent. She was amazed at how comfortable and in control she was in front of other people, even more so than Julius. “Of course, I know it is hard to believe, but I guarantee it works. As a show of faith, I’ve prepared an example. Nancy, if you would.”
An older woman in her late seventies stepped forward. She had short-cropped hair and a pressed business dress. Nancy was an old acquaintance of Julius; she had been his assistant and secretary for years. While they had never been friends, Julius trusted her ability and loyalty. They had approached her earlier and made arrangements for her supposed death.
“I contacted Nancy, and she graciously accepted my offer on behalf of my late father,” Juliet continued. “My father always spoke highly of you, Nancy. I hope you’ll accept your reward.”
Juliet motioned for David to step forward with a cup and a bottle of wine. He poured the wine and handed her the drink without touching her.
She stared at the cup apprehensively. “This will make me younger? Some kind of fountain of youth?”
Juliet smiled. “Drink it and find out. The effects are quite sudden.”
Nancy took a breath and downed the entire glass. David took the glass when she was done and touched her hand, imagining five minutes. The wine was quite strong to hide the numbness of David’s touch.
Gasps sounded through the room as Nancy’s body began to glow. Her hair turned from grey to a blond so light it was almost silver and flowed down her back. Her wrinkles faded into smooth perfect skin, and her slightly hunched figure straightened with the strength of youth.
Within five minutes, a young 19-year-old woman stood in the place of Nancy. She was examining her hands with wonder and rubbing her face. “This is real. I can’t believe this is real,” she said over and over.
Juliet stepped next to her and placed her hand on Nancy’s shoulder. She held up the bottle of wine. “Thank you, Nancy. As you can see, this is what I’m offering.” Nancy looked up at her in wide-eyed admiration. “I will be handing out documents of what will be required of you to receive this gift.” David’s girls walked to the guests and handed them folders, and they opened them.
“One million dollars?!” a man exclaimed. “Is this some kind of elaborate hoax? Are you trying to take advantage of the connections of your dead father? A brat I’ve never heard of.” Fredrick, a retired bank CEO. He had always been a rival and a skeptic, but he was useful in bringing out concerns everyone was thinking about.
Nancy’s eyes flared with anger, and she opened her mouth to speak, but Juliet waved her down. “It’s natural to be skeptical. I’m not forcing you. The funds will be placed in a third party until the transformation is complete if that makes you feel any better. Because you are becoming someone new, you will need new identities. I will assist as part of the package.”
“If this works the way it does, why is Julius in the grave?” Fredrick said.
“Think about what you said,” Juliet replied with a smile. “What makes you think he’s in the grave and not on some distant beach enjoying his youth? Of course, that’s all hypothetical.”
The people murmured among themselves. Juliet spoke above the noise. “You have one week to decide and to get your things in order.” She gave a signal and walked out of the room, followed by David and his girls. She also motioned for Nancy to follow.
“Is everything going to be alright?” David said stepping next to Juliet. “They won’t tell anyone?”
Juliet laughed. “No, no. Each packet was tailor-made for the person. I have dirt on each of them, and I let them know. If they make a move against us, they will lose everything. These people are far too greedy and desperate to betray us. That said, they will probably sneak in to try and steal this.” She motioned at the bottle of wine.
“They will?” Nancy said, stepping on Juliet’s other side. She shot David a questioning glance wondering exactly who he was. “How are you going to protect it?” The girls behind them began giggling. Nancy looked confused. “What?”
“Let’s get somewhere a bit more private,” Juliet said with a soft smile. If the person who was transformed didn’t know the cause, then the others probably won’t either. “I trust I can hold you in confidence as my father did.”
“Of course,” Nancy said with no hesitation. “You gave me a new life. It is a debt I cannot repay.”
“Please, none of that,” Juliet said. She motioned at the girls behind them. “We’re all equals here.” Nancy looked back at the girls following them and the girls waved back with smiles.
Leah couldn’t hold herself back any longer and rushed to hug Nancy. “Welcome, sister!”
“Th-thank you,” Nancy stuttered.
“That’s enough, Leah,” David chuckled. “We don’t want to smother her. My name is David, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Nancy.”
Nancy blushed as she accepted his outstretched hand. “Nice to meet you.”
Juliet nodded in approval; David needs to learn how to take command. Juliet gave Nancy a side hug. “Welcome, sister. We’ve got a lot of work, and we could use your help.”
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