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Jack Parker adjusted his tie for the sixth time as his cell phone rang. Even without the unique tone he knew it was his business partner, Carl Roberts. It was time for Carl to call and remind him of the appreciation dinner for Commissioner Walker.
"Yes, Carl," stated Parker as he flipped open the phone. He pressed the speaker button and placed the phone on the counter.
"Jack, is that you?" the other man questioned.
"Who else would it be?" Parker responded.
If Roberts detected the note of sarcasm he failed to indicate it. "I'm calling to remind you of the commissioner's dinner."
"I remember," dryly, Parker responded.
Once again Roberts failed to note the obvious annoyance of the other. It was one of the things that happen when two people have worked together as long as Parker and Roberts; one learns to ignore those things which bother the other. He began a list of requirements. "Have you sent your driver to pick up your date?"
"And you've made sure the proper congratulations have been sent to Commissioner Walker?"
"Yes, I've sent him a gift."
The other paused. "It's not a gift; it's an acknowledgement of his work."
A small smile came to Parker's face. He knew he had just pressed one of his partner's "hot buttons." A gift was fine to send as long as it was called an acknowledgement, but to call it a gift might intimate it as being a bribe.
"Be on time and I'll meet you in the foyer." As if he could see Parker fiddling with his tie, Roberts added, "And leave your tie alone. It's fine."
Taking his hands away from the item, Parker picked up the phone and stared at it. "You sound like a mother, no, like awife."
"Well I wouldn't have to do this if you had one, wife that is. See you there."
Closing the phone and dropping it in his pocket, Parker once again smiled. In many ways his business partner had assumed the role of a wife, in that he made sure Parker dressed appropriately, didn't forget important events, and had a proper escort when necessary.
This last item was always a subject of contention between the two. Jack Parker was forty-nine and had never married. He liked the company of women but never found the time to establish a long-term relationship with a member of the so-called opposite sex.
Like everything else, Roberts attempted to fix this problem, as he called it, but in the end gave up and made sure his business partner was supplied with a proper escort from Las Vegas' finer services.
While understanding the need, Parker regarded his dates as little more than high-priced hookers. For an additional fee they would spend the night and in his mind this placed them in that category known as the "working girl." It wasn't that he condemned or judged them for he had, on occasion, taken some up on the offer of additional services. To him it was a matter of not confusing what they were with the spouses and proper dates found at these functions.
Checking his watch, he realized his driver would have returned by now and he should be leaving. He pulled on his coat and headed for the door. The elevator attendant greeted him in his usual cheerful tone and soon they were headed for the lobby.
As Parker watched the elevator drop through the various floors, he wondered about his date. Carl made sure the service always sent him a classy companion and he found the young lady who had joined him on the last three outings as perfect. She was pretty, knew when to smile, and most importantly, how to remain quiet and to respond only when necessary. The service had informed him that particular lady had a prior appointment and a different female would be supplied for this occasion. Parker didn't like surprises and hoped this one understood the rules; the last thing he wanted was some bimbo who thought she had been invited and not purchased.
The elevator door opened and he thanked the attendant, stepping toward the entrance. The front door attendant pushed open the door and with a practiced smile, said, "Good evening, Mister Parker. I hope you have a pleasant evening."
"Thank you, Robert." He mused what thoughts were really behind that smile and greeting. Parker wondered if the thoughts were something like, I hate this job and hate smiling at you assholes that think you deserve having your doors opened for you.
The smile faded as his attention turned to his driver. The man stood by the rear door of the car and at the proper moment opened it wide.
Parker stopped and asked, "Is the lady aboard?" The question was more automatic than inquiring. He could see the lower body of the person seated within from his vantage point.
"Yes, Mister Parker," responded the driver. "Her name is Victoria Carter."
"Victoria Carter," repeated Parker. He wondered if that was her real name or some pseudonym she had taken.
One of the things Parker hated about Las Vegas was its façade of reality. Nothing about the city or its people was real and aliases were just another form of the phoniness of the city. He had acquired a fortune as a developer and Parker guessed that made him a chief of fakes.
He was possessed by that thought as he slipped into the car and viewed the woman seated before him.
With a smile, the young lady extended her hand and said, "Hello I'm Victoria Carter, Mister Parker."
He took the hand and in a formal tone responded, "For tonight, you will call me Jack."
Her face flushed a little at his formality and she slowly withdrew her hand. "Yes it will be Jack and what will you call me?"
He had never been asked that particular question and he paused before replying. "I guess Miss Carter would be my preference." As an afterthought he added, "I may use Victoria. It all depends."
The question bothered Parker. He felt that somehow he had been put in his place and yet he couldn't be sure. The pleasant smile remained and the tone was amiable, but he felt at some level, the question established a set of yet unknown ground rules, different from those with which he usually worked. He hoped this one would not be trouble.
As the driver maneuvered toward their destination, Parker began to instruct his escort on the evening's activities. "This is a dinner for Commissioner T. Walker. He is important and decides who gets what contracts with the city. Being in attendance and giving the right impression is important."
She interrupted him by adding, "So I am to smile, speak only when spoken to, and keep my responses short and vague."
He nodded. He thought she understood her role well and his apprehension began to subside.
For the first time he took a moment to study the woman before him. She had dark hair and by the light filtering in from the street, Parker guessed it was either brown or black. This was a change for him. In the past, all of his dates were blond either by birth or bottle.
She struck him as pretty but not as beautiful and this thought made him ponder if he really knew what beauty was any more. The standard of beauty was set by the culture around him and maybe like other things, it was just imagery.
Perhaps his application of the quality of beauty didn't correctly apply to Miss Carter. He reasoned that appropriately she should be called natural and in conclusion he realized she must be a new arrival to the city; not yet converted to its standards. This thought somehow made him angry. He couldn't quite put his finger on why but he was angry. He decided then and there he wasn't going to like Miss Victoria Carter and he would make it clear to the service to strike her from the list of potential escorts for him.
He didn't care if this could cause adverse consequences for her. There was something about her that made him angry and that's unacceptable. She was an intruder to his sensibilities and had to pay the price for it.
His internal tirade ended as the limousine pulled up in front of the Grand Hotel. Within moments his driver was out and had the door open. Parker slid out and waited as the woman exited. He took her arm in his as they strolled toward the entrance to the hotel.
"My partner, Carl Roberts and his wife Jennifer will join us in the lobby," he announced. "Try to remember their names."
"I will be sure to," the woman responded.
As certain as day follows night, Roberts stood waiting for them. Jennifer rose at their appearance as her husband took Parker's hand.
"Well I see you made it on time."
"How could I have done anything else with you taking care of me?" Parker gave Jennifer a hug and with a smile, said, "You are lovely. I still don't understand what you see in him."
Roberts pumped his chest out. "She knows a good thing when she sees one."
Victoria Carter stood patiently waiting to be introduced. She knew her place and her purpose and would play the role as required.
Parker now turned his attention to the young woman. "This is my date, Victoria Carter."
Roberts spoke first. "Nice to meet you." He extended his hand and shook hers.
"Thank you, Mister Roberts."
"Carl, please call me Carl." He turned to his wife. "And this is my wife, Jennifer." The women greeted each other and Roberts pointed toward the hallway that would take them to the ballroom.
The hall was full of people attending the function and their progression down its length was slow, as they made many stops to greet this person and that one. Finally they reached the threshold to the ballroom and Roberts indicated the direction to their table.
The ladies walked a little ahead, joined in light conversation while Parker and Roberts followed a couple of steps behind.
"Quite a looker," whispered Roberts, indicating the young woman.
"I really don't like her," was the only reply the Jack gave.
The round table had place settings for eight with a name card in front of each setting. On hers Victoria found inscribed: ESCORT--JACK PARKER. As he held the chair for her, she took her seat.
Besides the four of them, there were also two other couples. Another developer named Phil Causey and his wife Doris and a representative of the planning office, James Holmes and his wife Linda.
After introductions were made it was obvious to Victoria that Jack and Phil knew each other and they mixed like water and oil. Phil Causey was a bully and took pleasure in trying to antagonize Parker. On the other hand Parker was a master at deflecting the Causey's efforts.
"Well, Parker, where did you find such a beautiful date? You must have had to order her," pressed Causey, ending his statement with a laugh that was loud and callous.
In a tone that was both light and sharp, Parker responded, "You know it's interesting you would say that. I always figured Doris to be a saint; her charity work with you should negate any sins she committed in this lifetime." He let the conversation die and the table became silent until Causey exploded into laughter.
Dinner was served and the conversation shifted to many subjects but always returned to work. Causey fished constantly for Holmes to share some secret tidbit of information regarding future planning opportunities. While Causey pressed for answers, Roberts blunted the impact by reminding Causey that they were there to honor the commissioner and not to put their table mate to the inquisition.
Though neither Parker nor Roberts liked Causey, they had maneuvered to have him at their table. His forcefulness would work to their advantage with a thankful Holmes and the man would be willing to assist them in winning contracts ahead of Causey.
True to her purpose Victoria remained quiet, smiling when appropriate and speaking when spoken to. She and the other ladies conversed as the men conducted their verbal sparing.
As the mayor prepared to speak, Causey announced to his tablemates, "As I believe Ben Franklyn once said, 'It's a hard road that leads a man to become great.' That applies to the commissioner." The man strutted as if he had expounded some great words of wisdom.
Leaning forward, Victoria responded, "Actually it was Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the Younger; a Roman philosopher born 4 BC. What he said was, 'It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.'"
The man was stunned by being deflated by this young woman. He quickly recovered. "Well now, Jack, I didn't know she was both smart and beautiful. You must tell me where you got her."
Parker could see the flush on Victoria's face and responded, "She is part of our brain trust. How do you think we're able to outmaneuver you on bids?" He gave a quick look and wink at the young woman letting her know her break in protocol was okay.
The evening's festivities continued and Victoria remained silent except for those times when one of the other ladies or their table guests would ask her a question. She always smiled and gave polite and reasonable answers.
Parker was very impressed with his escort's ability to blend into the company. Even though the lady who usually joined him for such gatherings knew most of the people, she never completely fit into the conversations as well as this young woman. He considered whether he had been too harsh in his judgment of her and he decided she would be his first choice for future outings.
The evening's festivities began to wind down and Parker began to say his goodbyes to his table mates and as he rose to leave, he extended his hand to the young woman and helped her from her chair.
Causey rose and moved close to Victoria. He bent slightly and said, "Maybe some time you can be my escort." He looked at Parker as though he had attained a victory in some contest.
Without a moment's hesitation, Victoria responded, "I don't think so. I don't know if you can meet my standards."
The man seemed to stagger as he attempted to regain his professional footing. He acted as if he was going to respond and then decided the comment was better left alone.
Parker took Victoria by the arm and led her from the hall. Upon seeing them exit the building, his driver moved the car forward. By the time they had reached the bottom of the stairs, the driver was out and moving quickly around to the rear door.
As his employer reached the limousine, the door was open and Victoria slid to the far side of the seat. Parker gave the driver a quick nod and dropped into the seat.
Looking at Victoria, he stated, "We've still got some time. Would you like to do something?" The woman first looked surprised and then disappointed. It took Parker a moment to understand and he clarified, "I didn't mean anything like," he waved his hands lightly, "I mean would you like to go for a ride or is there something in the city you would like to see? My carriage doesn't turn into a pumpkin until midnight."
She seemed to relax and responded, "Maybe we could just go for a ride. In the few weeks I've been here, I really haven't seen much of the city."
"Well you have seen what the city is really all about, but if you would like, there is a place which you might find interesting."
"What is that?"
"There is a place where you can see most of the city. At night, the lights are almost hypnotic."
She shook her head and said, "Okay, let's go."
Parker instructed his driver where to go and he sat back and watched as they pulled away from the convention center. Looking once more at the young woman, he inquired, "That thing you said at the table, is it true?"
Victoria looked at him puzzled. "What thing?"
"You know, that thing about a hard road that leads a man to greatness?"
She smiled and responded, "'It's a hard road that leads a man to become great' is how it is stated, and yes it's true."
"How is it you knew that?"
She raised her head with pride and said, "Because, Mister Parker, I have a master's degree from the University of North Carolina in classical history."
Parker's eyes broadened and then returned to normal. He studied his escort for some time before responding. "Master's degree in classical history?"
"That is correct."
"What are you doing here?"
It was now Victoria's turn to study the other. "Are you asking why I'm in Las Vegas or how I became an escort?"
"Yes, no, I mean, well yes that's what I asking. Both questions. I guess I am asking both questions."
Victoria looked directly at the man. "You purchased my time, you didn't buy my life history."
The statement caught Parker off-guard and he attempted to recover. "I don't mean to pry into your personal business, but from the moment you entered this car I've recognized that you are totally out of place in this setting. I have seen every type of person that can be drawn to this city and you don't fit any of them."
"I'll take that as a compliment, but you're not an expert at personalities, are you? I'm here because I wanted to be here. That is all."
Parker usually allowed his brain to control his speech but this time he spoke without thought, or perhaps for one of the few times in recent years, he spoke the truth. "This place eats the life out of people like you. I've seen people come to this town thinking it's going to bring them some measure of happiness and every time I've seen it crush their souls leaving only a broken shell."
With a tone of defiance, Victoria responded, "Mister Parker, tonight you're my employer but understand, that does not give you special privileges."
The man considered her words and with the same defiant tone, he offered, "Don't you understand that the people you're working for are nothing more than a bunch of high-priced pimps and within a couple weeks they'll have you turning tricks in the back of some rich old man's limousine?"
Whether she had ever considered the possibility before, Victoria understood the man's meaning perfectly. As though someone had struck her with a club she fell back in the seat and slumped. Bringing her right hand to her cheek she rubbed. Then she reached to slap him.
Parker was quick and caught her hand in his. He looked into her eyes and could see in them the realization of his words. With all her knowledge, Victoria was naïve when it came to understanding how cruel people could be.
Tears began to stream down her cheeks and he allowed her these moments to protect what dignity she still had.
Speaking in a low and even manner, she began to explain. "I came here to be a part of a show. One of girls at the Golden Palace went to the university with me. She wrote and said there were openings and she was certain she would be able to get me a job.
"This was my opportunity to see some of the world." She dropped her head slightly, before continuing. "Well, you probably know the story, there wasn't a job, I was out of money, and someone told me about the escort service."
She locked her fingers together as though it helped her maintain focus. "They promised me that all I would be required to do is escort businessman to various functions. I was told I would never be asked to do anything more."
Parker interrupted, "And now you are beginning to realize that's not necessarily true."
Once more tears began to form in Victoria's eyes. She carefully brushed them away before responding, "I won't allow that to happen."
Parker's anger began to grow. The woman's response was in conflict with the facts and she had to know it. She may be inexperienced with life here but she's not stupid, Parker thought. He knew it was none of his business but she didn't belong in her present occupation and that fueled his anger at her as well as at the coming compromises that would destroy her innocence.
"Let me ask you a question. That dress you're wearing, how did you come by it?"
Victoria looked at the gown. "The agency purchased it and I'm to pay them back."
Raising his voice, Parker explained, "That's how it begins. You'll never be able to pay for the dresses or room and board which these people will provide. In the end, you'll be so indebted to them that you'll have no other choice than to become one of their prostitutes."
"Why do you even care? I'm nothing to you, just a body to make up for your inability to get a date on your own. Why don't you just take me back to the hotel?"
"I could do that." Parker looked in the direction they were traveling and then back at the young woman. In a point of fact tone, he added, "I told you I'd take you to a place where you could see the whole city and that is exactly what I'm going to do."
They rode in silence until reaching a small rise at the edge of the city. It was deserted and the contrast from the bright lights to near darkness made it seem like something from another world. The driver stopped the car and quickly opened the rear door.
Parker quickly climbed from the vehicle and reached his hand back to help Victoria. She declined it but did so in a manner not to offer any offense and the man stood aside as the woman moved to the edge of the rise. ]From their vantage point, the lights of the city shone clear and bright. The casino area flashed with neon while the residential areas were bathed in the soft glow of amber streetlights.
Parker observed the woman. She seemed to care little for the view and he began to feel that coming here was just another insult. He offered, "Well maybe it's time to get back." He turned and began walking toward the car.
The woman likewise began returning to the vehicle but suddenly she stopped and looked into the night sky. Pointing outward, she exclaimed, "Look! There's the Big Dipper and if you follow the line of the outer two stars, you come to the North Star, which points to the constellation Cassiopeia." Turning, she once more pointed into the night sky. "There's Orion." She moved her finger upward and said, "There is Taurus the Bull." She moved once more and pointed. "I can see the Seven Sisters also."
Parker marveled at Victoria's ease as she identified various objects in the sky. He personally had given little thought to stars and somehow this added to his opinion that the woman did not belong in this place. "You know a lot about the night sky, don't you?"
Victoria looked at him and smiled slightly. "Yes, I guess I do. Where I come from the night sky is always this clear. It's a way for me to keep my bearings. No matter where I've been I have always turned to the night sky for direction. The stars always pointed the way home." She dropped her head. "Since I've been in Las Vegas, I haven't been able to see the stars. I felt lost and maybe I have been."
Parker eyed his escort. He could tell, even in the near darkness, that she was crying. She made no sound but he knew she was crying. Trying to think of something to say, he asked, "Where are you from?"
Lifting her head, she managed a slight smile. "I'm from a little town in upper North Carolina called River Falls. It's not much of a place. In all about five hundred people, one traffic light, a drugstore, a hardware store, and a half a dozen other businesses. It's one of those places where people come from but few go to settle. Most of the young folks look forward to the day when they can grow up and move to one or larger cities like Raleigh or Charlotte."
"So is that how you ended up here? You wanted to get away from home?"
"No, I had always planned to live in River Falls. Never had any desire to leave, my father was the postmaster until his death and my mother head librarian. I plan to teach school." She once more dropped her head. "I'm not sure why I came here. I thought I needed to see something of the world."
"So why don't you go back?" challenged Parker.
With a look that told him that she didn't have a clear answer, she once more looked into the night sky. "I don't know. Don't think I can."
"Why can't you? Why can't you just go home?"
The young woman stood in silence and turned slowly in a circle. She took a deep breath of air as she rotated. It was as if she was tasting freedom, freedom she had surrendered to those who were now her masters. Raising her right hand, she pointed east.
It took Parker a moment to discern the significance of the act. She was pointing toward her home and the act somehow pierced his heart. Any anger or malice he may have felt for the woman was gone. He remembered how he had felt as a boy when he found a young bird that had fallen from its nest. It was lost and somehow it told him that he alone could save it. Placing the bird in an open pocket, he climbed the tree and returned it to its nest. Once again he was faced with a lost bird and it was left to him to see that it was returned to the nest.
"You still haven't answered me, why don't you go home?"
Victoria's expression showed fear. "I will as soon as I have enough money to buy a ticket."
Parker's indignant tone returned. "Then you'll never go home. Your employers will always keep you indebted to them. There will always be something. If not clothing or housing, they will find a way to keep you under their control and when they use you up, they'll just cast you aside. The streets and alleys are full of burnt-out druggies. You'll just be another one of them. By then, you'll no longer want to go home. No one there will recognize the thing you've become and there'll be enough memories left in you that you will not desire to allow them to see what you have become.
"And one day you'll be found dead in some alley of an drug overdose, or AIDS or murdered for what little you still possess. That's the future which waits for you here."
Victoria turned fully toward him. He could see that the front of her dress was wet with her tears. "Mister Parker, are you finding pleasure in hurting me so?"
He rubbed his forehead before offering a response. "No, there's no pleasure for me in this. I just want you to understand what awaits you in this place. Today you still have a choice. You can choose to stay and face the future I've described or you can decide to go back to your little town in North Carolina."
"I can't go back. I spent all the money I had trying to get a job with the shows. My employer hasn't paid me anything yet and until they do, I don't have the money to buy a bus ticket."
His mind was made up. He was going to help this bird return to its nest. "I'll pay for it."
Victoria looked at him puzzled. "Pay for what?"
"The ticket. I'll pay for your ticket."
Suspiciously the young woman studied him. She might be inexperienced but shw was not naïve. She knew in this town, no one did anything for anyone for nothing. She considered what his price might be. "And what do you expect in return?" Victoria challenged.
Parker shook his head slowly. "Nothing, I don't want anything."
"You've only known me for couple of hours and you're willing to buy me a ticket back to North Carolina for nothing?"
"That's correct, I don't expect anything."
She walked from his left side to his right never taking her eyes from his. Slowly she turned and faced east. Without turning back to face him, she said, "Home." She stood facing the same direction for some time before once more turning to face him.
She moved again so the light fell upon Parker's face. She studied it closely. Parker felt she was looking inside him. He felt she could read his thoughts and he became uncomfortable.
"Look! You said you wanted to go home. I'll buy you a ticket. Do you want it or not?"
His question caused her to relax. She knew he truly expected nothing in return. "You'll do that for me? A stranger? You would buy me a ticket home?"
"Yes, I will buy you a ticket home but you must promise me one thing."
She became tense once more. "What is it?"
"You're not to return to the place where you been living. You'll never come back to this town again. We'll go directly to the airport and I'll get you a ticket on the first flight to Raleigh, agreed?"
"I need to return this dress and change into some traveling clothes."
"You got anything of value back there?"
She thought for a moment. "No, not really, nothing that's important."
"Then you're not going back there. Your employers probably have a stoolie to keep an eye on their property. The moment you show up and they figure out you're leaving, there's going to be trouble. I'll see that they're compensated for their loss."
She nodded and said, "Okay, if you think that's best."
"Oh yes, I know their type and they can get ugly when they lose an investment."
She looked at him with concern. "How about you? Will you be okay? They won't do anything to you for helping me, will they?"
"I can take care of myself. I've dealt with their kind before so don't worry about me. Let's get you taken care of."
Parker removed his cell phone and pressed one of its buttons. After a moment he said, "Diane, sorry for calling you at this hour, but will you book a one-way ticket to Raleigh, North Carolina in the name of Victoria Carter on the first available flight?" He listened for a moment and then replied, "Sure, I can hold while you look it up."
It took only a minute for his assistant to respond. Victoria listened as he repeated the information. "So let's make sure I got this right. You found a red-eye flight leaving at twelve thirty for Dallas arriving in Dallas two forty a.m. their time with a flight leaving at five thirty tomorrow morning for Raleigh."
Parker took a quick look at Victoria and continued, "Book it." He looked once more at Victoria and said, "You'll be sitting in the Dallas airport for a couple of hours. I hope that's okay?"
Trying to control her excitement, Victoria responded, "Yes, that's okay. How can I even think of complaining?"
"We'll have to hurry, but I think there's time to swing by a Wal-Mart and get you a change of clothes."
Victoria looked at Parker smiled and said, "Okay, whatever you say."
Parker instructed the driver to head toward the airport. The chauffeur began the drive back into town. Looking at his watch, Parker explained that it would be close but the ticket would be waiting for her and soon she would be on her way home.
Victoria watched anxiously as the car sped toward the airport. Her mind raced as she considered what this meant. She knew coming to Las Vegas was a mistake soon after her arrival but she believed she had no options. Now this unknown man had made it possible for her to return to her life and she would forever be grateful for his act of kindness.
Her thoughts were interrupted as Parker handed her a cell phone and said, "You might want to call your mother and let her know you're coming home."
Surprised at this further act of consideration it took her a moment to react. "Yes, thank you, I need to let her know."
Taking the phone she looked at the touchpad for a couple of seconds as if her mind needed to shift into the person who knew the number without thought. After a pause, Victoria began to enter the digits. Placing the phone to her ear, she took a couple of deep breaths.
Parker could hear the phone click and the soft voice of a woman woken from sleep on the other end saying, "Hello."
"Mother, it's Vicki." The young woman's voice cracked with emotion.
The woman on the other end responded, "Vicki, are you okay, honey?"
Parker felt he was an intruder in the conversation and he turned to look out the limo's window.
"I'm fine, Mother." After a short pause she added, "I want to come home."
Parker couldn't make out the response from the other end of the call, only the excitement. "I'll be on a flight into Raleigh from Dallas in the morning. I don't know what the flight number is yet but I should be there around nine thirty tomorrow morning. Will you come get me?"
The reply was only heard by the young woman but by the smile and tears, Parker could guess that it was something like, I'll be there even if I have to walk. Her expression reminded him once again of the helpless bird from his youth.
The voice on the other end continued and Victoria's response was tears mixed with laughter. She took a couple more deep breaths and responded, "Mother, I've got to go for now. I'll see you in Raleigh." She concluded with, "I love you."
She slowly closed the phone as if trying to maintain the connection as long as possible. Handing the phone back to Parker, she looked into his eyes. "Thank you." In the expression and tone of that simple response, Parker could feel the woman's gratitude. It went beyond words or appearance; it radiated out in a special love for Victoria's personal savior. She knew Jack Parker had just saved her life and had given her future back to her and she loved him for that. Not a physical love but one greater; one that time or age could never rob and in her mind, this one act canceled any and all of Parker's vices now and forever, granting him absolution before God.
A quick dash into the Wal-Mart yielded Victoria a pair of jeans and blouse for the trip home. The changing in the dressing room raised an eyebrow or two by the store's employees but soon they were out and headed for the airport.
With the ticket purchased and a second quick call to Victoria's mother, they stood before security. Victoria's vivacious expression changed as they prepared to separate. She studied Parker and taking his hand in hers, asked, "Why are you doing this?"
He considered his response, knowing she desired it to be a true one. Looking into her eyes, he responded, "You are a lost bird." She seemed to seek a better response and he tried to express one for her. "You are all that this city destroys and for some reason, I couldn't allow that." His face distorted in an attempt to explain. "There's nothing good here for you and I saw something in you that shouldn't be gobbled up." He concluded by saying, "Go home and have a family and do good things." He added, "You must promise never to return for any reason. Will you do that?"
She smiled and said, "I promise never to return for any reason, but you're wrong about this place; there is some good. You are good." She pulled him to her and placed a soft kiss on his lips. Moving back, she added, "Thank you."
She began to back away toward the metal detectors when Parker called out. "Wait," he pulled something from his jacket pocket, "this is my business card. Will you send me a note letting me know you got home okay?"
She took it and replied, "As soon as I get home, I'll write." She hugged him once more and then turned. He watched her go through security and as she collected her bag on the far side, she turned and waved. He responded and she disappeared beyond the corridor.
He stood there a moment longer and then headed for the parking garage. He felt good; better than he had felt in years. Perhaps, he thought, an act of kindness could help balance a life filled with selfish acts.