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A loud wail interrupted Mimi's whimpering. The mechanical, incessant noise went on and on. Mimi pressed her forehead down. She wanted to cover her ears. And even though logically she knew that movement was impossible, she reflexively went to raise her arms.
She expected to feel the binding restraints and the shooting pain. Miraculously, there was none. Just the incessant ringing and ringing.
Then the noise stopped.
Mimi rolled over and opened her eyes. And realized she was lying on her own queen-size bed in her own apartment on the upper east Side in Manhattan and not not captive in that hellhole in Chechnyablindfolded. Beaten, alternating between bouts of despondency and glimmers of hope.
She turned her head on the downy pillow and gazed out the window toward the lightsomething she'd been deprived of for months, something that was now so precious. It didn't disappoint.
It was one of those rare winter mornings in Manhattan when the gray clouds of January had decided to take a holiday. The sun streamed in through the glass like some visionary painting.
It should have warmed her. It didn't.
Mimi still hadn't gained any weight back after she'd been kidnapped while on assignment in Chechnya, a forced confinement that had lasted almost six months. Two months had passed since her television news network had secured her release, but she still suffered an almost bone-numbing coldness.
She wriggled deeper under the white duvet cover. The feel of the expensive Egyptian cotton material reassured her without fully erasing the nightmare.
Mimi had never been introspective for a variety of reasons. She freely admitted the obvious one that she simply never had the luxury of time to stop and think. The other reasons she kept private, even from her best friend from college. Lilah Evans. But since since the kidnappingthere, she'd said itshe was beginning to appreciate just how bizarre time and memory were.
For instance, off the top of her head, she had virtually no idea what she'd done all day yesterday. Yet the exact events of the day she was abducted remained crystalline clear. Not surprising, really, since every night when she sought comfort in sleep. She instead kept reliving that day over and over, each detail more vivid, each smell more penetrating, each sound more ominous. The pain.
She forced herself to focus on the cream-colored walls of her room. They were bare except for a few framed photos of colleagues and friends. Several showed her family: her mother blowing out candles on a birthday cake; her half-brother. Press, who'd graduated from Grantham University last year and was now in Australia; and her little half-sister. Brigid, a bundle of energy who was eight going on sixteen. There were none of her father. The photos showed people laughing, happy. She was in a few, toolaughing, happy. She sniffed, trying to recall the feeling. She couldn't. That was the thing about memory. It was selective, even when you didn't want it to be.
Mimi shifted back to the bank of metal-framed windows that looked out from her twelfth-floor apartment on East Seventieth, off Lexington. After years of renting various places around the City, she'd finally bought the condo when the real estate market hit a low a few years ago. And for the Upper East Side, it had been a bargain, all because her building was one of those white brick high rises built with good intentions but a total disregard of aesthetic appeal. Ugly didn't come close, and no self-respecting equities analyst or art gallery owner wanted to be caught dead in something so gauche. One day, though, she figured, white brick would be the new Art deco, and she'd be laughing all the way to the bank.
The loud wail of the cell phone started up again.
She rubbed her eyes and turned to find her BlackBerry on the nightstand. Its slim black case jiggled across the glass surface. Mimi peered closely, not at the phone number displayed on the screen but at the table, checking for dust. It was spotless. The cleaning lady she'd hired since returning home came in twice a week. She was considering having her come in three times, but even she admitted that was absurd. This obsession she'd developed to maintain spotless control would pass. Still
The phone rang on.
Mimi sighed and finally reached over. "Yes?" she said without much interest.
"Is that any way to answer the telephone, Mary Louise?" It was her father. Conrad Lodge III. Only he would use her given names instead of her nickname. "I suppose I should thank the heavens that you even picked upas opposed to my many emails that you've ignored completely." His upper class, lockjaw manner of speaking sounded even more pronounced over the phone.
Mimi inhaled. "I didn't answer your emails because I haven't had time to open them." It was a lie, but then her family was good at lying. She hadn't actually bothered about the messages at all.
She shifted her position under the covers and stared at the wall with the photos again, zeroing in on the black-and-white shot of her mother wearing a silly party hat and holding forth a birthday cake adorned with lit candles. It had been Mimi's ninth birthday. She'd been in third grade at Grantham Country Day School.
Mimi recalled that birthday vividly. More than anything she had wanted to get her ears pierced. Her father had refused. "Who do you think you are? An immigrant child?" he'd asked scornfully. Her mother, only recently a naturalized citizen, had bowed her head and looked away.
As she lay in bed now. Mimi felt the hole in one of her ear-lobes. Conrad had won the battle that birthday, but as soon as she'd left home for boarding school Mimi had made a beeline for the nearest Piercing Pagoda. Maybe one of these days she'd actually get around to wearing earrings again.
From the other end of the telephone line her father cleared his throat. "I'm delighted you're keeping so busy during your time off from work."
Cutting sarcasm had always been one of his strengths. Mimi thought.
"Therefore, rather than wait for you to find the time, I decided to call you instead."
"Before you begin the lecture. I know I should come down to see the family." Mimi cut in, anticipating his demands. Grantham, New Jersey, Mimi's family's hometown, was an hour's train ride south of New York City. It was the epitome of a picture-postcard college townGothic university buildings and historic colonial houses. Its quaint main streetnamed Main Street, no lessboasted highend jewelry shops, stock brokerages and coffee shops that catered to black-clad intellectuals and young moms with yoga mats tucked in the back of expensive jogging strollers.
"So, I promise to visit soon." she continued, only half meaning it.
"That would be most welcome." her father replied. "But actually, I am inquiring about something else. I'm on the organizing committee for Reunions this year. Quite an honor, really." Reunions at Grantham were a giant excuse for alumni from all the previous graduating classes to gather for a long weekend at their old stomping grounds, reminisce about the good old days and make fools of themselves by wearing silly class outfits and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
"Reunions? But they're not until June. If it's about giving Noreen plenty of notice that I'll be staying at the house, you don't have to worry." Noreen was her father's third wife. Mimi's natural predilection was to despise her stepmothers, but even she had to admit Noreen was pretty decent.
"I'm sure Noreen will appreciate hearing from you, but I repeat, that's not why I called. Really. Mary Louise. If you'd let me get a word in edgewise, you'd realize that fact."
Chastised but not humbled. Mimi bit her tongue.
A self-satisfied silence permeated the line. "I wanted to speak to you in regards to my position on the Reunions committee. I'm in charge of organizing the panel discussions."
Despite his chastisement. Mimi couldn't help but jump in with a comment. "I thought I made it clear to you and everyone else that I don't want to talk about what happened in Chechnya." She hated the fact that her voice trembled.
"Yes, you made that loud and clear when you took an extended leave from the networkthough I still believe you should talk to the psychiatrist that Noreen found for you, the specialist in matters in matters related to your particular circumstance." Conrad cleared his throat uneasily. "What I had in mind was more directly relevant to the Grantham student experience. Intercollegiate athletics, to be precise."
"What are you talking about? I haven't participated in any competitive sports since my senior year." Mimi was baffled.
"Which was the year you served on a panel at Reunions addressing Title IX and its impact on Grantham's varsity teams. As I recall, your comments were particularly offensive to certain male members of the audience when you advocated the demotion of the wrestling team to a club sport." Conrad noted.
"That's because there was no female equivalent." Mimi pointed out, the arguments still fresh in her mind. That whole memory trick again. "Anyway. I recall that the university administration agreed with me."
"And I have no doubt you'd be more than willing to defend the same position what ten or so years after the fact?"
"Twelve, as I'm sure you know perfectly well." Her father might be an arrogant twit, but as a founding partner and longstanding chairman of a successful private equity firm, one thing Conrad Lodge III knewand rememberedwas numbers, any and all numbers. Except for the date of my birthday, she qualified silently.
But instead of enjoying her self-righteous sulk. Mimi suddenly experienced one of those lightbulb moments. "Wait a minute. You didn't call to merely reminisce about one of my more dramatic episodes, did you?"
"Since when have I been inclined to reminisce about you?"
At least he was honest. This time, she amended.
"No. I was thinking about reconvening the same panel of administrators, coaches and students from before. A do-over confab, you might say."
Mimi pinched the skin at her throat. "Well. I suppose the topic might be of general interestmight. As you're no doubt aware, there's been a number of recent headlines about colleges manipulating their athletic reporting to fulfill their Title IX obligations. But even if you buy into that premise, from the practical perspective, half the people who were on that panel must be dead."
"There you go againjumping to conclusions. As it turns out, only one person has passed awaythe former athletic director.
"I remember him." Mimi grumbled. The moron had refused equal locker room space to the women's water polo team until their demonstration senior year. She smiled, remembering the photo in the New York Times of her leading her teammates into his office to use it as their changing room. Boy, did they get permission to share the men's locker rooms adjacent to the pool, but fast.
"But the rest are still active at Grantham or other universities." Conrad went on. "I even tracked down one of the coaches who's currently with a professional basketball team in Italy."
"And you honestly think you can get him and everyone else to come back for a rerun?"
"I already have. Everyone but you and one other person have been confirmed. Not many people say no to me." He stated it as a simple matter of fact. "Besides, they're doing it for Grantham."
"And I'm such a loyal alumnot." Mimi said. "But who knows, one of these days I might actually donate some money."
"And give generously. All Lodges are loyal alums." Her father's words had a certain deja vu ring to them.
She'd been ten, and it was right after her parents' divorce. "All Lodge men go to Grantham." she remembered him telling her. They'd been on a sailboat in Seal Harbor, Maine. Mimi had had two optionsstay in a sweltering apartment in Easton, a far less socially acceptable town just north of Grantham where her mother had moved, or two, enjoy coastal Maine's balmy breezes and wild blueberriesnot to mention an unlimited family tab at the Bar Harbor Club in between tennis lessons. She'd chosen Maine.
Two weeks later, her mother had chosen an overdose of sleeping pills.
Her father cleared his throat, bringing her back to the present. "So do I have your agreement?" he asked.
Mimi recalled her first experience on the panel. "You know. I'm not sure I'm your safest bet. Not only did I tee off some people in the audience. I didn't exactly see eye to eye with some other members of the panel."
"One in particular. I believethe captain of the football team. How could I forget the way you dumped a pitcher of water over his head." Conrad chuckled.
Actually. Mimi's mind had raced ahead to her stripping off her clothes in the Allie Hammie fountain.
"If memory serves me correctly, he rose above your antics with great equanimity. A true Grantham man."
She remembered something else rising. She smiledat that and the picture of the cops arriving at the fountain. Equanimity had been in short supply. "You know. Father. I'm not all that convinced that a replay would provide the results you're looking for."
And that's when Mimi experienced a second lightbulb moment. Two in one conversation! Which could only mean "Wait a minute. Don't tell me you're trying to create some drama?" She hated the fact that her father had so easily manipulated herfor his own purposes, no less.
"These alumni panels can sometimes be rather dry, much too intellectual. Do we really need to be lectured on our over-dependence on oil or the future of the space program? Far more entertaining to watch sparks fly, don't you agree?"
Vic Golinski. Mimi hadn't thought about him since graduation. What she did remember was they were more than polar opposites. They were matter and antimatter. Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. Get them together, and it was total combustionas that one time had proved.
Not that he'd even remember her, she immediately dismissed. It wasn't like they'd ever hung around together in college. And hadn't he gone on to some pro football career? He probably had groupies at his beck and call.
"So what do you think?" her father prompted her.
Mimi wasn't ready to commit. "Did you say one other person hasn't gotten back?"
Mimi heard a shuffling of papers. "Yes, it's the other undergraduate member of the panel that former football captain named let's see yes, here it is. Golinski. Witek Golinski. Quite a mouthful." He chuckled in a condescending way.
What a narrow-minded snob. Mimi thought with irritation. "Vic. He went by Vic." she corrected him. And impulsively, to thwart his smugness. Mimi blurted out. "Okay. I'll do it."
"I knew I could count on you." Again, that conceit.
You want drama? I'll give you drama, Mimi thought. She could be just as manipulative as her fatherfor her own ends. "Yes. I'll participate on the panelon one condition. No, two actually. First, I'll do it, but only if Vic Golinski does, too."
"I'll call him as soon as I hang up." her father answered. "And the second proviso?"