Tilly complained for quite a while, but eventually I got her to get ready. After she was dressed, Tilly then helped me out. I could never get used to wearing women’s clothes. Usually when I was a woman, I just wore regular clothes. Dresses and skirts were not my thing. Why would you have your zipper in the back?
Hera came to get us and led us down to the plaza. The whole place was decorated very festively, though the numerous soldiers didn’t help. There was a band playing on stage. There were clowns and performers. There were elephants and giraffes and other exotic animals. It was quite a display. I saw many children running around and groups of diplomats milling about.
Hera led us to General Zlodeyskiy where he was standing with his son. Zlodeyskiy was in full regalia. His deep purple uniform was covered in medals. He smiled, opened mouth as he saw us approach. “General, this is Fran Stone, the Ambassador from the United States,” Hera said.
“Ah, yes,” he took my offered hand with both of his. “I am so glad for you to be here. I was excited to hear of your acceptance to our invitation.”
“Thank you, General. We’re happy to be here.”
“And, of course,” the General said, “this is my son, Mayhew.”
“Happy Birthday,” I told the boy. “And this is my daughter, Lina.” I waited for Tilly to reply, but nothing. I started to grow irritated with her silence. Why was she so determined to ruin this mission? I turned to look at the girl and was utterly surprised to see the look on her face. If I didn’t know any better I’d say the girl was smitten.
“Lina?” I urged. “Sweetie?”
Tilly moved her head toward me, but her eyes stayed on the boy in front of us. “Huh?”
“Say hello to the General and his son.”
“Hello?” I believe the next sound that came out of Tilly’s mouth would be called a titter. I’d never heard her make that sound before.
“Yes, hello. To the General and his son.” Tilly’s eyes moved toward me. She looked confused. “The General and his son,” I repeated, “say hello to them.”
Her eyes went wide with understanding and probably embarrassment. “Hello,” she said.
“Hello, Miss Stone,” the General said with a bow of his head.
“Hi,” Mayhew added, bashfully.
Tilly tittered again. I tried not to laugh. “Perhaps you’d like to show, Uh, Lina the giraffes?” the General suggested. “I believe the trainers will let you pet them.”
“They will?” Tilly asked. “I’ve never petted a giraffe before.”
“W-would you like to?” Mayhew asked. “Would you like to pet my giraffe?” I watched as Tilly and Mayhew walked away.
“You have a lovely daughter,” the General said.
“Thank you,” I replied. “Your son is also…”
“Ambassador Stone!” Lu Wu interrupted. “It is so good to see you again!”
I glared at him. “It’s only been a few hours, Ambassador Lu.”
He smiled. “A few hours apart from your beauty feels like years.”
The General looked him up and down, not looking particularly happy. “Is there something wrong, Ambassador?” the General asked.
Lu Wu shook his head. “Quite the opposite. I am having a most excellent time. This is an excellent party. My children are having the time of their lives.”
The General nodded. “Wonderful.” He clearly didn’t mean it.
“I’m sure my children will be happy to see that Lina has come down. You know, General, that Miss Stone’s daughter is very lovely. She and my children really get along.”
The General glared at him. “Yes.”
“And now my daughter is spending time with Mayhew,” I said.
Lu Wu frowned. “Is she?”
“Yes,” the General said. “I believe they are getting along quite well. Just like I hope Miss Stone and I will.”
Were they fighting over me? They couldn’t be. But it sure felt like they were. It felt like I was a trophy they both wanted to win. I felt objectified, as if I didn’t really matter, what I thought, what I wanted. I didn’t like this one bit. “I think it’s up to Lina who she spends time with. If she enjoys their company that’s fine, if not then I hope they know to give her space.”
“Don’t worry, Miss Stone,” Lu Wu laughed. “I’m sure at least my children know how to behave.”
The General glanced over at his son. “I don’t think your daughter at this moment wants or needs space at this time, Ambassador.”
“Mr. Lu,” I said, “perhaps you could get me something to drink. I’m absolutely parched.”
Lu smiled at me. “I’d be glad to, Miss Stone.”
I was glad to see him leave. If I was going to learn anything from the General it was not going to be with Lu Wu around. “Why don’t we go inside, Ambassador, where we can have some privacy?”
“Inside?” I repeated. “But then I won’t be able to watch my daughter.”
“Don’t worry, Ambassador,” he told me. “She’ll be watched, I assure you. In the palace, everyone is always being watched.”
I didn’t say how not the right thing to say that was and I didn’t say how creeped out I was. I was on a job and I was going to do it. He led me inside where we passed dozens of armed guards. We walked down lavish halls with photos of the General covering the walls. We entered a large room that must’ve been his office. There was a large painting of him hung up behind the desk. “We can be alone in here.”
The amount of money he spent to decorate this room, the rugs, the furniture, the memorabilia, the artwork, was outrageous. I thought how many of his own citizens he could’ve fed, how many hospitals he could’ve built, how many schools. It made me angry. “We can talk to each other without fear of being interrupted,” he said. “We can get to know each other better.”
I wasn’t particularly comfortable in this situation, alone with the General, him wanting to get to know me better, but this was my job. This was why I was here, to get on his good side so that he would tell me his secrets. “That sounds great, General. I’d really like that.”
The General’s smile grew from polite to enthusiastic. He walked toward me. “I’m glad to hear that, Fran. It is exactly what I wanted to hear.”
“I’m happy you’re glad, General,” I replied.
“Call me Zlodey.”
I nodded. “Zlodey.”
“My name sounds so sweet on your lips.”
And then the General grabbed me and pulled me to him. I was shocked, but not as shocked as I was when he rammed his tongue down my throat. I tried to push him off me, but it wasn’t until I slammed my heel into his foot that he let go. I stepped away from him. “What the hell…?”
He glared at me. “How dare you assault me?”
“Assault you? What the hell do you think you just did to me?”
He threw the doors open. “Guards! Guards!” As the room filled up with armed men, he pointed a threatening finger at me. “Arrest that woman!”
to be continued…