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The door slides open not into an elevator lobby but directly into a spacious office, clad in dark wood paneling and tastefully lit by recessed lighting. Couches and chairs of various sizes, all covered in dark leather, divide the room into perhaps half a dozen cozy seating alcoves. Across the room, glasses hang by their stems over a dark, wooden bar. Around a corner, partially hidden behind a dividing wall, Jillian catches a glimpse of a round table with incongruously gleaming metal legs and a sparkling white top.
“My God,” Jillian says. “Is this where you live?”
“It feels like it, sometimes,” Kennedy admits. “But no, this happens to be my office.” As if to emphasize the point that this is a place of business, he saunters over to a massive wooden desk that stands off to the side and sits down behind it, his back to the ceiling-to-floor windows that look out over the Square. Then, perhaps to make the point that it’s his place of business, he slips off his shoes, leans back in the chair, and puts his heels on the desk.
“Do you, like, own the building or something?” Jillian asks.
“The bank owns the building.”
“But you own the bank, right?”
“I’m the president of the bank,” he corrects.
Jillian shrugs. “Whatever.”
“And technically,” Kennedy continues, not noticing – or, perhaps, not caring about – Jillian’s lack of interest, “as I am, of course, on a leave of absence, I’m not actually the president of the bank at this very moment.”
“Aren’t you afraid that the real president will catch you with your feet on his desk?” Jillian teases.
“No one uses this office other than me,” Kennedy says. “If I’m not here, no one uses this office at all.”“Why not?”
“They wouldn’t dare,” Kennedy says matter-of-factly, as if that’s all the explanation that’s necessary.
Jillian walks cautiously over to the wall of windows and finds herself staring down into what looks like a miniaturized version of Copley Square. At first she’s unable to make out even a single detail, it reminds her of squinting into an out-of-focus microscope in the biology lab. But then she recognizes a circle of green-and-white stripes in the middle of the Square, and she winces as she remembers Valerie Johnson stalking off into the admin tent. Race directors are a tight-knit group, making an enemy of one of them could come back to haunt her someday.
Runners are still pouring into the far corner of the Square, as Jillian knows they will be for several hours. She watches as the new arrivals somehow manage to melt smoothly into the already dense crowd. The human flow is hypnotic. She wants to say something, but she feels momentarily overwhelmed. “Hell of a view,” is all she can manage.
“Oh, you get used to it after a while,” Kennedy says. It reminds Jillian of her mother saying, “What, this old thing?” when Jillian used to complement her on her outfit. Which, of course, is why Jillian doesn’t do that anymore.
“And pretty convenient, too,” she adds.“Pardon?”
“Well, you sure didn’t have to go very far to watch me win the race.”
Kennedy looks just the slightest bit abashed. “The truth of the matter is that I had absolutely no idea that you would be here today,” he admits. “Frankly, I was totally unaware that you competed in this sport.” He loosens his tie, unfastens the top button of his shirt. “But I suppose that, with your great talent in the marathon, the triathlon would hold a certain appeal for you. Does it offer you a greater challenge? Or is it just a change of pace?”
“I’m sick of marathons,” Jillian says, disgustedly. Turning away from the windows, she
walks slowly along a wall lined with paintings and photographs as she ambles in the general direction of Kennedy’s desk. “I haven’t had any real competition in years.”
“Don’t tell me that you’re going to retire, at your young age,” Kennedy says, jovially. But then a realization strikes him and he turns instantly serious. “Good Lord,” he says, “you haven’t already retired, have you? I mean to say... you do plan to defend your title, do you not?”
“I don’t think so, Uncle Stan. It’s so much work. And it’s so boring.”
She stops to inspect an arrangement of half a dozen photographs in thin gold frames. The first photo features Kennedy shaking hands with the President of the United States; a few words that Jillian can’t make out are scrawled in a corner. The people shaking Kennedy’s hand in the other photos, Jillian decides, must be former U.S. presidents, a few of them even look vaguely familiar. The next group of photos also features Kennedy shaking hands, this time with people Jillian guesses to be foreign leaders, especially the ones dressed in traditional African or perhaps Arab garb. In a few of the photos, Kennedy is smoking a cigar. In one of them, a large black man in a military uniform is smoking with him.
A final group of photos is more eclectic. Some feature the familiar Kennedy-shaking-hands motif, others don’t include Kennedy at all. She recognizes Mel Gibson in a pose from the old “Lethal Weapon” movies, and there’s another old movie star, Beryl or Meryl something-or-other. She nearly overlooks a small black-and-white photo in an inappropriately elegant frame when it catches her eye. For a moment, she’s not sure what it is about the photo that looks familiar. But then she realizes that the young couple posing in front of the curved cattle horns that adorn the hood of the shiny white Cadillac are her parents. And that the blond child between them, staring insouciantly into the camera, is her.
“I don’t even know where the next Olympics is going to be,” Jillian says, to emphasize the point that she’s not going to be in them. “Or even when they’re going to be, for that matter,” she adds, to drive the point home.
“You must live in a cave,” Kennedy says, in what sounds like mock reproach, but it’s borderline, the chastisement could well be real. “The next Olympic Games,” he intones, “which will commence in just a few, all-too-short months, will be hosted by the charming and gracious island nation of Qen Phon. You must be the only person in the country who is not aware of that.”
“Qen Phon.” Jillian flounces into an overstuffed chair that stands in the center of a small Oriental rug across the desk from her Uncle Stan. “Qen Phon,” she says again, scrunching her face, trying to will her brain to make a connection that’s not quite there.
“To be more precise,” Kennedy continues, “Tanami, the capital city of Qen Phon and the center of the rich and varied culture of the island nation, will provide a glorious and memorable backdrop to the unparalleled excitement of these historic Olympic Games.” His words sound rehearsed, as if he’s quoting from a brochure.
“Okay, I’m impressed,” Jillian says, with just a hint of sarcasm. She curls sideways, sinks further into the chair, and hooks both legs over one of its well-padded arms. “So how do you know so much about it?”
“It’s all part of the job,” Kennedy says, diffidently.
Jillian is clearly puzzled. “Why would a banker have to know so much about the Olympics?”
Now it’s Kennedy’s turn to be puzzled. “Surely,” he says, cautiously, “surely, Jillian, you are aware that I serve as Executive Director of the United States Olympic Committee.”
“Very funny,” Jillian says. But when she glances at Kennedy, his expression suggests that he’s not trying to be funny at all. In one smooth motion her legs slide off the arm of the chair, she uncurls and sits up straight. “Oh. My. God. You’re serious.”
“Jillian, don’t tell me that you didn’t know...”
“But Uncle Stan, you’re just a banker. I mean, you’re not a coach or anything like that. Stop smirking at me!” she adds, indignantly.
“Jillian, forgive me. You are quite right, I do know much too little about sports, I won’t argue with you about that. But I am a businessman, and the Olympics is a business.” He treats her to what anyone else would regard as a condescending smile. “So now you understand why I will be especially disappointed if you do not represent your country in the Games this year, yes? Is it too late for you to try out for the triathlon? I suppose that I should be more familiar with the schedule, but...”
“The Olympic triathlon?” Jillian snorts derisively. “It’s way too short for me. I’m a marathoner, not a fuh... not a sprinter.” She shakes her head slowly. “Head of the USOC. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe that Daddy didn’t tell me. I can’t... I can’t...”
And then, out of nowhere, it pops into her head, the idea that changes everything.
“I know!” Her face lights up, she bounces to her feet. “Why don’t you just add the Ironman-distance triathlon to the Olympics? Then I could win another gold medal!”
“As it happens,” Kennedy says with a sigh, “I’ve just finished explaining to Valerie Johnson why another variety of triathlon cannot possibly be added to the Olympics at this time.”
Jillian leans forward, her palms on the desk, an unmistakable gleam in her eyes. “It’s the only way you’re going to get me back into the Olympics, Uncle Stan,” she points out, mischievously. “That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
“Jillian, at this late date, you can’t seriously expect...”
“I’d be the first person ever to win gold medals in both the marathon and the triathlon! I’d be in all the history books, and... Why are you looking at me like that?”
And Kennedy is indeed staring at her in a most peculiar way. He slides his feet off the desk. He sits upright, almost stiffly, in his chair. His eyes take on a clouded, far-away look. He furrows his brow. An uneasy pensiveness creeps into his expression, mixed with a dose of incredulity, as if he’s having trouble believing the direction of his own thoughts.
“You can do it, can’t you? Daddy always says that you can do anything,” Jillian says, only half teasing.
When Kennedy finally speaks, it’s with exaggerated deliberateness, as if he’s not entirely certain that he wants to give voice to these particular words. “It... it just might be... possible,” he says. He looks at her and blinks, he seems to be slightly dazed. “Now, don’t go and get your hopes up... I can’t promise you anything, mind you. It must be the longest of long shots... but I just might be able to...”
When the phone buzzes, Jillian is more than little annoyed, even more so because Kennedy appears to be relieved. “You just might be able to do what,” she prompts, but Kennedy has already pressed the speaker button.
“Mr. Kennedy, this is Carl, downstairs,” a voice says. And then the voice adds, heatedly, “Get your hands off the phone, young lady!” Which makes no sense at all.
Then there’s another voice, louder but at a slight distance from the phone, it’s definitely female, with more than a hint of a German accent, she’s saying something like, Take your hands off me, you stupid little man...
Then there are thumping noises, abrupt and angry, like a scuffle. And then the voices take turns getting louder and softer, as if the scufflers are playing tug-of-war with the phone...
Kennedy rises to his feet, as if to offer assistance. “Carl? Are you all right?”
Jillian leans closer to the phone. “Kristen? Is that you?” It must be Kristin, Britte doesn’t speak to me at all...
“Don’t make me come around there!” Carl shouts, but it sounds as though he’s no longer speaking directly into the phone, Kristen seems to have the upper hand, she’s shrieking into the mouthpiece, her voice so loud that it buzzes and crackles with distortion...
And then perhaps Carl has made good on his threat and has come out from behind his desk, he and Kristen may be wrestling for the phone, she continues to scream but her voice has become less distinct. But Jillian hears her well enough, and the effect is electrifying, she turns and bolts for the elevator, leaving her Uncle Stan to try to make sense of what he’s heard. It takes a few seconds for Kristin’s words to register, and then Kennedy races to get to the elevator before the door closes, because he’s pretty sure that he heard Kristin say: Jillian, come quick! They are trying to steal the race from you!
Transition: The OnLine Triathlon Adventure Novel