When Vivian Blake was hired right out of college for the Washington Monthly, she had been ecstatic. Print had started its decline, but in some respects, DC was an old fashioned town. Those who made their living off politics in one way or another might take advantage of technology, but they still liked the feel of paper in their hands.
Vivian suspected it was because it allowed them more control, or at least the illusion of it.
One of her first assignments was an interview with Jude Hamilton, who was an up-and-comer on the scene, an assistant to a senator who was so deeply entrenched in the political scheme of things that the opposing party didn't even invest in more than a token opposition to his elections. He'd been great to interview, personable, handsome, exciting ... and when she'd stood and shaken his hand, a good half-hour later than the interview had been scheduled to run, he'd held her hand and gazed into her eyes and asked her to have a drink with him later that evening ...
She'd floated out of his office, and the piece she'd written had been been published almost without editing. For almost a year, she'd been golden. She went everywhere with Jude, parties, rallies, intimate dinners, any time he needed a pretty woman on his arm. They'd become lovers immediately, and Vivian had assumed that things would follow at least an approximation of 'every little girl's dream'.
A year later, she was yesterday's news. Jude Hamilton was engaged to a Boston socialite with money, credentials that went back to the Mayflower, and Vivian was left nursing a broken heart. Some whispered that it was closer to the truth that what she was nursing was an ego that had been thoroughly sandpapered. Whatever the case might have been, it had hurt and oozed and festered like hell, and a broken heart might have healed both faster and cleaner than whatever had been damaged.
It was her ego that led her to write another piece on Jude Hamilton, and his new wife. It was, admittedly a hack job, and Washington Monthly not only refused to publish it, but handed out a stern warning. Vivian didn't listen, and when she didn't drop the matter, she was politely 'let go' ... downsizing.
A few months of being a virtual pariah in circles where she was once welcome, and she'd learned her lesson. Her resentment at Jude Hamilton and Kathleen Hamilton-Tivey was put on the back burner, though not forgotten. She'd learned that women scorned were also women pitied, and while their amusement value might grant them a little indulgence, it was a very short indulgence.
Living in DC is expensive, and there was no give-up at all in Vivian's personality. When she got a chance to interview with a feminist publication 'Velvet', she was hired, and when her next piece was published, the tone and focus of her writing had changed. Eventually, she expanded her repertoire to include semi-fictional pieces that took past rumors, past scandals and published them with enough facts changed to make lawsuits unsuccessful and enough truth to garner attention and publicity.
Over a decade later, and Vivian had never quite forgotten how thoroughly she'd been made a fool of ... and now, a family argument had given her the perfect chance to get a little payback. Foolish, perhaps, but it was a temptation that she had no intention of resisting.
Kathleen Hamilton-Tivey -- Just call me 'Kathy' -- actually wasn't a bad sort at all. Time and perspective healed all wounds, or so Viv thought as she drove along the road that was rapidly becoming more snow than asphalt. Even with the inclement weather, she was singing softly to herself along with the radio turned down to a barely perceptible volume. With the snow, she needed to concentrate, but her mood was too good, almost jubilant ... not a good time for her to be driving in bad weather, but she wasn't going to let a little thing like a snowstorm, hell, a blizzard, stop her. Not now.
The years had left their marks on Kathy, or perhaps it was her marriage to Jude that had deepened the crows feet, added the lines of discontent to her mouth and her forehead. She'd had work done, but it hadn't been enough to offset the bitterness, and unhappiness. At first, Vivian had enjoyed the favorable comparisons - to her, it was more proof that good peasant stock could outdo a blue blood pedigree any day. She might be a mutt, but she looked a good decade younger than her one time rival. Then, as she had talked, some of the cattiness retreated, and by the third drink and an hour into the litany of what living with Jude Hamilton had been like, they were confabulating like sisters from another mister.
Being wronged by the same man was, it seemed, a good unifier.
Ms. Hamilton-Tivey, it seemed, had decided to file for divorce and make sure that darling Jude left the marriage with no more than he'd had when he came into it, and if his wife's lawyer was good enough, considerably less. It was that goal that had prompted Kathy to contact the woman she'd edged out ... and make her an offer she couldn't refuse.
There were skeletons in good old Jude's closet, and Kathy was offering the key to the closet door and a shovel to dig them out. A few negotiations, and another drink to seal the deal, and they were partners. Viv could dig all she wanted, and Kathy would give her access to everything she had -- the only condition was that whatever Vivian wrote, she would slant it in Kathy's favor. It was, of course, phrased more diplomatically, but that's what it came down to, and Viv didn't even bother wasting time protesting journalistic ethics. A shake, and a couple of days later, Vivian had keys, a contract, and permission to delve into the secrets Jude had hidden away ... secrets that had to do with the time he had spent in his family's summer home in Quogue.
It hadn't taken too long for Viv to clear her calendar. An exposé for Velvet, and perhaps even a book for her, and finally, a little well-deserved payback. The weather, the drive, had been a bitch, but a little snow wasn't going to stop her. She was a bloodhound on the trail, tracking that scent of sweet revenge, and even as the windshield wipers started clogging up with blue-stained white flakes, she didn't even bother easing up on the gas pedal of her rental, but just turned up the wiper speed, increased the defroster fan to the max, and plowed on.
The car went down a little dip just as Viv lifted her styrofoam cup of cappuccino, purchased when she'd had to fill the tank back several miles, and she cursed as the car hit the bottom with a little bounce, sloshing the dark, sticky liquid out the hole in the lid and onto her sweater. Her attention was diverted as she put the cup back in the holder, swiping at the droplets ... never a tissue handy when you really needed one ... with her fingers and mostly succeeding at smearing it ... good thing her sweater was brown. Her peripheral vision picked up something looming in front of the car as the climb from the dip leveled off -- an unmistakable shape of figures, one regular size and one smaller, bundled against the storm.
Vivian's eyes widened in alarm, and she did probably the very worst combination of things she could do. The cup crushed in her hand, sending hot chocolate over her thumb and wrist before she dropped it to grab at the wheel. The cup rolled, tipped, hit her thigh. The lid came off, dumping the contents onto her pants, sending a sear of pain jabbing up into her as it soaked through the fabric to the sensitive skin of her thighs, and onto the seat. At the same time, her foot slammed down on the brakes, hard, and her hands jerked the wheel to the left. With the slick snow on the road, she could feel the heavy vehicle rise in that stomach-lurching way that indicated the wheels no longer had traction. As she lost control, there was just enough time for her to feel a lightning-bolt of relief as the front fender just missed the dumb-asses who'd wandered out into the middle of the road in a fucking snow storm ....
and then the shape was gone, and Viv fought to straighten the spin as the seatbelt cut into her while gravity fought with her seatbelt, the blare of the horn sounding over the slushy scrape of gravel and the radio's soft harmonies of the Red Hot Chili Peppers singing 'Snow (Hey Oh)' in some cosmic joke. The vehicled as the wheels went into the ditch, and the engine died, the overhead light coming on to reveal Vivian's shocked face starkly, and making her jump painfully yet again as her reflection showed in the windshield for a moment.
"GOD DAMN IT!"
she screeched, even as her fingers clawed at the seat-belt release, and then reached toward the door handle, the odd angle combining to almost send her sprawling in to the half-frozen run-off. Instead, her booted foot skidded a bit on the ice, then plunged into slushy mud as she steadied herself and then ran/slogged up the slight bank. "Are you all right?!!"
she yelled, her head turning frantically right and then left back the way she had come, torn between anger and a terrible fear that gradually morphed into confusion as her eyes beheld ... falling snow, and nothing at all in the road except for where her skid had displaced the accumulated blanket. There were no people, no terrified pedestrians to shake their fists and scream at her for driving recklessly, no sprawled figures on the surface of the road, and she could see even no footprints to suggest that anything had been there at all as she made her way back down to where the skid had begun.
"What the hell??!"
she questioned, her voice almost meek in the falling snow, helplessly looking around as her mind sought some explanation ... and then it occurred to her that it would be one hell of an irony if she stood there gaping until somebody else came along and SHE was the reason another driver would be slamming on their brakes. She gave the area one last look, and then headed back to the vehicle, shaking her head in a mixture of relief, disbelief, and irritation at her own self.
It was really no surprise when, back in the car, her pants wet and sticky, her boots wet and muddy, and thoroughly off her game, the car's lights flickered as she pushed the 'Start' button, but the engine didn't turn over. The Onstar thing that was supposed to bring help when there was an accident didn't come on on its own, and there was no concerned voice asking if she was okay, not even when she jabbed at the manual activation button. "Fuck. I'm demanding for a refund,"
she grumbled, then laughed a little at herself, though she was dead serious. She'd paid extra for the protection, and a fat lot of good it did her.
Cell phone was next, but dialing 911 didn't do diddly, and neither did anything else. The place where the signal bar usually was ... was blank. Completely fucking blank. Of course it was. Vivian's palms slapped into the steering wheel in frustration.
Well, she had two choices. She could sit there and wait until someone else came along, or she could haul her ass back out of the car, grab her overnight bag, and hike on down the road until she came to the house. It should only be another mile or so.
And so it was that Vivian arrived on the doorstep, her overnight bag slammed down onto the porch. She banged on the door with a numb, sticky fist and yelled out 'Hello' and then banged again. After a minute or so with no answer or sign of activity, she fumbled into her slouch-bag for the keys that Kathy had given her. For the first time since the near accident, things went her way, and the keys were right there in easy reach instead of having crawled and burrowed down into the bag's bottom, so she let herself in ... just as the flashlight she'd gotten from the car's glove compartment flickered out.
That was the last straw. She cursed again and dropped her bag, purse, flashlight and all to the polished wood floors while she felt along the wall for a light switch. The crash, thump and thud of her things hitting the floor didn't bother her -- apparently the caretaker Kathy had mentioned either had taken the night off or hadn't expected her and she was in no mood to be timid. She wanted lights, warmth, a bath and a change of clothes ... and then to get started on what had brought her all this way.
The reason for her accident, what she had seen, was dismissed as a trick of the lights on the snow.