Genevieve Duchard stands before the door labeled “L. J. Walker Security Consultants, LLC” hesitant to go further. From Abby’s reconnaissance the day before, she knows only one person is likely to be inside, but that person is certain to be formidable. Genevieve takes in a deep breath, and, as she lets it out, she pushes the call button, then removes her phone and turns away from the camera pretending to text.
A woman’s voice comes through the intercom. “One moment, please.” A minute later, and with much authority, she follows up with, “The purpose of the camera is so I can identify you. Let me see your face.”
“Ready or not,” Genevieve says to herself, then turns toward the door. An extended pause, follows.
I am thy mother’s spirit, Genevieve thinks.
She hears the lock click, then turns the handle and enters into a moderate sized outer office with a desk, filing cabinets, and two doors, one which leads into what appears to be a storage area. Genevieve selects the other door and enters into a larger office with a sleek and uncluttered desk nearest the door and an oval conference table with chairs at the farthest end. It’s a corner office and both walls are lined with windows providing a spectacular view of the Atlanta skyline. Standing away from the desk, facing the entrance, is the woman Genevieve has come to see.
Physically, she’s not imposing, thirties or forties and just an inch or so taller than Genevieve, with a medium frame. She’s wearing a very smart, dark business suit coat and slacks with a decidedly masculine air about them, yet still, she exudes femininity. Her hair and eye color match Genevieve’s, but her eyes have a piercing, determined quality to them, giving her the look of someone whose time is very valuable and should not be wasted.
With just that first glance, Genevieve realizes that, as capable and intelligent as her mother had been, here is someone even greater. This is the woman Rosalind would have chosen as her daughter, if only she could have. Barring that, she chose her as the template for creating Genevieve.
“I’m L. J. Walker. Who are you?”
Her manner is straightforward and concise. She wastes no words and displays no emotion. As difficult as she was to decipher online, she’s even more difficult to read in person. Genevieve is struck by the thought that she’s facing a woman who, like Rosalind, has had to fight to forge a place for herself in a totally male-dominated profession and has managed to not only succeed but thrive.
“I believe you knew my mother at MIT, Rosalind Duchard?”
At the invocation of Rosalind’s name, Genevieve detects a crack in the armor, as a smile crosses L. J.’s face.
“You’re Genevieve.” She chuckles. “That explains everything.”
Genevieve knows fully well what she means but now must put up her own shield. She’ll need to be at the top of her game if she’s going to match wits with this person.
“Never mind. Did Rosie come with you? I haven’t seen her in years, probably since you were a baby.”
Genevieve has anticipated at least some of the questions.
“No. She couldn’t make the trip. I’m here with my cousin, checking out schools, well, Georgia Tech. But Mom wanted me to stop in and say hello.”
“Rosie didn’t come along to help you decide on a school? That doesn’t sound like the Rosalind Duchard I know.”
It occurs to Genevieve that L. J. probably knows her mother as well as she does. For a brief moment, she falters, trying to devise a plausible explanation, to keep the truth concealed.
“She’s out of the country right now — on a pilgrimage — to Israel.”
“Israel? She was obsessed with the Old Testament, but I didn’t think she’d take it that far especially when her only daughter is about to go away to college.”
Genevieve realizes she’s said the wrong thing. “It was a weird package deal. I think she thought she’d be back by now.” She tries to steer the conversation away from her mother. “So, you’re a security consultant. What type of security do you specialize in?”
“Internet and e-commerce. I help keep corporations from being hacked and develop security protocols for the government.”
“Wow, the government. Can you hack into the Pentagon?”
“Probably, but I don’t need to.” L. J. indicates the conference table and leads Genevieve to it. As they’re sitting, she says, “First things first, I never make my friends call me doctor. It’s Leah, okay?”
Genevieve resists the urge to say L. J. “Sure, Leah.”
“You’ve been accepted to Tech? Excellent school. I got my second doctorate there.”
“I was accepted but haven’t decided yet. It’s a strong possibility. My Dad went there.”
“I remember that. What do you think you’ll study?”
“I’m leaning toward Civil Engineering.”
“You want to be a city planner?”
“Maybe a developer.”
“A developer, eh?” Genevieve sees the information register with L. J. but whatever personal insights she hoped this fib would inspire remain unspoken. “So, tell me everything. Aside from having incredibly bad luck scheduling travel, how is Rosie?”
Genevieve is wary of the return to seeking information about Rosalind. “Probably about the way you remember her. Mom’s pretty consistent.”
“She was. Which is why I find her trip so odd. Rosie always liked to stay on top of things.”
A line from their research comes to Genevieve. When Abby asked Alyssa to describe her sister, Alyssa used the words, “Relentless determination.” Abby underlined and circled them.
“She’s may have mellowed a bit since you knew her,” Genevieve says.
“That may be. I’m sorry to say, we lost touch after I graduated. When I tried to get back together with her, she’d quit MIT. I never could find out why she left so abruptly.”
“We had a lot of family issues after my Dad died. She just needed a change of scenery.”
“Has she been teaching somewhere? She pretty much fell off the map after MIT.”
“No. My father left behind a rather substantive estate, so Mom didn’t need to work. She mainly concentrated on raising me.”
“Now that sounds like the Rosie I know. I’d love to talk to her. Could you give me her number?”
Despite Abby’s warning that L. J. might want to contact Rosalind, Genevieve has not come up with a convincing dodge for it. As she tries to formulate a reasonable explanation, she hears the outer door rattle, then a moment later, someone buzzes. “I wonder who that is.”
“Probably my attorney.” L. J. rises and consults her pad. “He’s got some papers for me to sign. This shouldn’t take long.”
As she walks toward the door, her demeanor tells Genevieve it’s not who L. J. was expecting. Genevieve sees a worried look cross her face as she buzzes in the visitor. A moment later, a woman Genevieve recognizes as Alyssa Caine enters.
Alyssa moves with a quick energy, deftly avoiding L. J. who tries to intercept her. She’s visibly pregnant and carries a bag over one shoulder. As severe as L. J. appears, Alyssa seems open and cheerful. Genevieve turns away so Alyssa won’t be able to see her face.
“Hey, Leah. Is Tracey out? It’s not Wednesday.”
“I didn’t know you’d be stopping by,” L. J. says. “Tracey took off a few days to help out with her daughter’s wedding.”
“Oh, that’s right.” Alyssa notices Genevieve. “Ah. You’re interviewing someone. Sorry to interrupt. I was in the area, so I thought I’d stop in to see if you’d like to get lunch.”
Genevieve rises and turns toward Alyssa, who stops in her tracks. The color drains from her face. L. J. has her eyes trained on Alyssa, who stares at Genevieve.
“Oh. Ah. Hello,” she manages.
Genevieve extends her hand. “Hi. I’m Genevieve.” Alyssa remains frozen, staring in confusion. “Is something wrong?”
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
This seems to break the spell. Alyssa laughs and approaches Genevieve with her hand extended. “I am so sorry, Genevieve. You remind me of someone. I was just caught off-guard. I’m Alyssa, Leah’s sister.”
L. J. joins them. “Genevieve’s mother is Rosalind Duchard, my thesis adviser at MIT.”
Alyssa touches Genevieve’s shoulder. Her attitude seems warm and welcoming. “You don’t say. Leah’s told me quite a bit about her.”
L. J. continues. “Genevieve has been accepted to Tech and might be starting this fall.”
Alyssa reacts with genuine excitement. “Congratulations, Genevieve! Would you like to join us for lunch? If Leah’s available, that is.”
“Steven’s on his way over with a contract I need to sign, but that shouldn’t take long, if you don’t mind waiting. I’d love the opportunity to talk more about Rosie.”
Genevieve would like to accept the offer but knows that’s not a good idea. Plus, she’s anxious to tell Abby about the visit.
“I’d love to, but my cousin’s waiting for me downstairs. I just wanted to stop in and introduce myself.”
L. J. goes to the desk and retrieves a business card which she offers to Genevieve.
“That’s my cell. You can always reach me there. Call and leave a message so I can put you in my directory. Oh, and tell Rosie to ring me up when you talk to her.”
Genevieve takes the card and moves toward the door. “Count on it. It’s nice to meet you both.”
She exits into the outer office then out into the hallway, where she breathes a sigh of relief. Not wanting to wait, she removes her phone and dials Abby to give her a full report.