Welcome Home, Brother: Episode 3 - By Howard Schneider 

Episode Three 

Exhausted by the difficult journey, confused by discovering a twin brother, and shocked by learning what he was, I desperately needed time to come to terms with my predicament—to figure out how to escape the clutches of this evil family and return to my simple life as a journalist in Bucharest. I rose from the chair again and said, " It's late and I need sleep. We'll have to continue this conversation tomorrow. I must bid you good night." The dog-beast half-hidden behind Dragos followed my every move with his glowing eyes. 

"Stay," Dragos said in a quiet voice, glancing at the dog. Then he called back the servant. "Darko, show Stefan to his room," he instructed the expressionless old man who'd slipped past the doorway curtain and stepped around the two men still blocking my way out. 

The stone-walled room Darko led me to had a single small window overlooking a courtyard thirty feet below and provided no possibility for escape. For now, I was trapped, although still determined to find a way to get away. I couldn't let myself become ensnared by what must be the work of the devil himself. 

When I glanced around the spacious room, I saw a large oil painting of four men of varying ages gathered around an ancient headstone. The writing etched into the weathered surface was still clearly visible: 

Vasilios Lupo 

1258 - 1327 

The following words were incised below the dates: 

Family Power Revenge 

In Life And In Death 

When I approached the painting closer, I recognized one of the two younger men as Dragos. The other one appeared to be slightly older, a little heavier, and darker-complected: a thick black beard obscured the lower half of his face. The two older men bore strong family resemblances, one looking to be in his middle years, the other much advanced in age. Who were they? My father? My Grandfather? 

But my conjecturing quickly gave way to the exhaustion I'd felt earlier, and I turned toward the bed. But then I heard soft scratching at the door. "Who's there?" I queried hesitantly. 

For a few seconds there was no answer, but then more scratching. Unable to stifle my curiosity, I opened the door a small crack, positioning my foot to prevent it from being pushed open further. "Who's there?" I repeated, peering through the narrow opening. 

I saw no one, and there was no response to my probing. But then, like an blast of dynamite, the door knocked me aside and the black beast charged into the room. It quickly scanned the room, then leaped onto a large wingback chair next to the window. As I rose from the stone floor to where I'd been thrown, I was stunned to see the beast transforming into a full-grown man. His black pelt was turning into dark-complexioned skin, his facial features were becoming human, his long, hair-covered dog legs were changing into normal arms and legs. Within a single minute, he was fully human, although unclothed. From the intensity of his yellow-tinged eyes and the extent and color of his facial hair, I knew at once he was the young  man in the oil painting with the thick black beard. 

Before I had my wits about me and able to say anything, he said, "There's a robe in that wardrobe cabinet over there. Please be so kind as to bring it to me. I wouldn't want my au natural condition to impose on upon your modesty. Unfortunately, this transformation process, even as physiologically efficient as it is, is still sufficiently primitive in that it is unable to accommodate clothing, not even a simple undergarment. But I have taken the precaution to have stored appropriate attire in every room in this monstrous castles—there's just no way to know for sure where I might emerge from a shedding." 

My shock must have been obvious to the man, sitting calmly in the chair and watching me scramble to my feet. He smiled and said, "You have nothing to worry about, no harm will come to you. Please, sit down, there." He pointed toward another chair, then continued. "I have much to tell you, brother. And yes, as I assume you have now surmised, I am your other brother, older by two years." 

Finally, I recovered enough to speak. "What are you? I don't understand what's going on." 

He nodded his head as if letting me know he understood my confusion and panic, then said, "No. I wouldn't expect you to. After all, most people don't encounter a vampire twin brother and an older brother who's a lycanthrope every day, do they." 

"A what?" I exclaimed. 

"A wolfen," Stefan, "You know, a werewolf." 

'Oh my god," I cried. I'd heard his words but was having difficulty comprehending their meaning. "How can this be? It's impossible." 

"Calm yourself, Stefan, and I'll make clear how it's not only possible, but how you too can live, even thrive, in two completely different worlds. And I'm sure you'll be happy to know that you will be able to decide which of these two alternate universe you prefer—to be like Dragos . . . or like me."

Welcome Home, Brother: Episode 2 - By Howard Schneider 

The cold meats and hard cheese brought by a servant restored my strength, the roaring fire warmed me, and the smooth red wine he poured calmed my mood. But these offerings did nothing to clear the confusion clouding my mind, and the man sitting across from me, watching my every move, likewise provided nothing in the way of clarification—just  silence as he watched my every move. But then, after the servant took away the trolly, again with no obvious order from the man, he finally spoke. 

"Welcome, brother. We have waited long for this moment. Even though we believed you would eventually come to us by your own accord, our patience ran thin, so we took action to bring you home. Back into the fold of your family." 

What he was saying was complete nonsense to me, but at the same time I was shocked by his words—and by what I saw. The horror of it, the truth of what I beheld—longish canine teeth that glistened between his full reddish lips as he uttered the words telling me who I was. The staggering realization that he was a vampire, and that he claimed to be my brother. 

Before I could overcome my disbelief and gather my senses to respond, he forged ahead. "Obviously, this revelation is difficult for you to comprehend since you have no idea of what I speak. But listen to what I have to say before you draw conclusions." 

Interrupting his words, I sprang from the chair and turned toward the curtain-covered doorway, determined to escape this chamber of horror. 

"Sit down!" he screamed with an authority that froze me in place. In that same instant a huge, black wolf-like dog vaulted forward from where it had been concealed behind the man's chair. Shaken by the power of the man's declaration and the ferocity of the snarling beast, I submitted to his command. When I sat back down, the man who looked like me resumed his calm narrative. "We are identical twins, me older by only a few minutes. I was also more vigorous and larger than you were. According to family tradition, a weaker twin must be drowned in the Black River, allowing the survivor a greater chance to thrive and carry forward the family name. But our mother, being a woman of strong character but with little respect for tradition, family or otherwise, defied that custom and instructed her chambermaid to take you to a safe place. The maid took you to her elder brother in the village to raise you as his own. Years later, when our father died, possibly poisoned by his self-willed wife, and as I was approaching early manhood, she told me I had a twin brother and that one day we must be united—that you must return to our family to assume your rightful place as a Lupo, and that it was my responsibility to see that accomplished. So, brother, that is why you are here. It was through my influence, albeit several steps removed 

I was dumbfounded by this revelation, shaken to my core. For this was a tale I would be incapable of believing were it not for our identical appearances—when I looked at him, I saw myself—although that resemblance quickly vanished when he spoke and revealed his two grotesque teeth. I shuddered when the cause of their reddish stain dawned on me. Remaining silent for a long moment in response to this sinister tale of family intrigue, I gradually came to comprehend the dreadfulness of the situation I had been cast into. I accepted that the monster sitting across from me—my twin brother—was a vampire, one of the dreaded Dracula clan. Monsters of mythic folk tales no sensible person claimed to believe, although deep in their being knew the truth of their existence. After all, this was Romania. But more than that, we were in a special part of Romania, in the much-feared and mysterious Carpathian Mountains, a place unlike any other in the entire world. 

Finally, I recovered my wits sufficiently to reply. "What do you want from me? Why am I here?" 

"I understand your distress, dear brother. No doubt this revelation is a great shock to you. But with time, you will see it was the right thing for me to do. But before I proceed, let me formally introduce myself. I am Dragos Lupo, not only your twin brother, one of three sons of Harnag Lupo, but one of only three living members of your immediate family. Our mother died shortly after giving birth to the two of us, and father, two years ago. But father's younger brother, our uncle Erik, occasionally visits this castle since it is officially listed as his primary residence. But it's far easier for him to control his vast world of criminal business and corrupt politics from his estate in Bucharest. As you have obviously noted, I myself am a vampire, following in the proud tradition of our esteemed cousin, Count Vlad Dracula. Uncle Erik chose not to follow in his path, in my opinion, much to his loss. The powers to be gained from vampirism are well worth the minor inconveniences to which we must adjust. You will meet our older brother in due time." 

"You must be insane," I cried, jumping up from the chair. "I want out of  here. I don't care who you are, brother or not. I don't want anything to do with you or another brother, or Uncle Erik Lupo or, either. I'm leaving now." I started toward the exit to the hall but stopped short when two men stepped from behind the black curtain draping the doorway to block my way. To my surprise, they were none other than the two reporters originally dispatched by my editor to investigate the Lupo empire. Their arms hung motionless at their sides, their faces were devoid of expression, and they said nothing. They stared at me with cold eyes as if I were a perfect stranger. 

"Brother!" Dragos shouted, then, cajolingly and softly, said, "Stefan, as you were christened by the villager who raised you. Come. Sit. Hear me out." 

Having no choice, I returned to the chair and the black beast returned to its spot behind Dragos. 

After the silent servant refilled my glass, Dragos continued. "As to why I brought you here, the answer is straight forward. You will join our elite family, enjoy the benefits of Dracula's magnificent transformation, and help me dethrone Uncle Erik and assume control of his vast criminal empire—an empire which against family tradition he seized upon our father's death—the empire which should be mine since the eldest son, our older brother, is in no way capable of controlling." 

I was astounded by his plan and overwhelmed by the preposterousness of the situation I'd found myself in. I was also confused and unsure as how to respond. After a moment, I said, "You said say there is a third son? That we have another brother? And if he's older, shouldn't he be the inheritor of the empire of which you speak?" 

Dragos was silent for a while, then said, "Yes. Our older brother, Lupus. Lupus Lupo, the rightful heir to the Lupu empire. He is a very special kind of man, although one not one  inclined to assume oversee all that should be ours. As I said before, you will meet him when the time is right."

Welcome Home, Brother: Episode 1 - By Howard Schneider 

It was a little after midnight when the creaky antiquated bus pulled into the shabby village, the last stop on this little-used once-a week rural route. We six hours late due to an unexpected detour around a collapsed bridge over the Black River: we had to take a twisty lane that led to a shallow gravel-bed crossing eighty miles to the south that allowed the rickety vehicle to cross to the east bank. Then the old, bedraggled driver had to slowly negotiate a maze of narrow mountain roads northward to rejoin the two-lane dirt road we'd been traveling since early morning. But my actual destination was another ten miles beyond this desolate village, the castle of Baron Erik Lupo, a distant cousin of the infamous Count Dracula. Lupo, a man of unwavering resolve and feared throughout all Romania, still unexpectantly vigorous in his seventh decade, is said to be Romania's wealthiest citizen, as well as the unchallenged crime lord of southeastern Europe. His castle, an impregnable stone fortress set atop a remote peak in the western flank of the Carpathian Mountains, dates from the thirteenth century, a time when Romania was a powerful state amidst the floundering throng of ruthless despots, inbred royalty, and local bandits who controlled much of the southeastern wilds of the European continent. His family, along with the powerful Dracula clan, traced the foundation of their wealth and entitlement to adventures young knights who returned from the first crusade with immense ill-gotten plunder and treasure. 

I was on this journey because I'd been assigned the job of discovering the fate of two journalists who'd been sent by my newspaper to interview Lupo for an investigative series about the powerful families who controlled Romanian business and politics. I'd been chosen for this task for two reasons: first, before becoming a reporter, I'd been a police detective in Bucharest, and in theory should be able to solve a missing persons case; second, because I too was related to the Lupo family, albeit only remotely—my father was also a distant cousin of Count Dracula, meaning I too was, related to the Lupo lineage. And as far as my editor was concerned, those facts qualified me to confront Lupo and find out what had happened to my colleagues who'd been dispatched to do the job the previous year. 

There should have been someone from the castle to meet me in the village, but obviously because of the detour delay, I was met by nothing other than a deserted hamlet and a full moon. But with the aid of my flashlight and bright moonlight, and my determination to solve the mystery, I made my way to the castle by foot, arriving as dawn broke in the eastern sky. I was tired, famished, and angry—angry that whoever should have met me had not done so. But these annoyances were obliterated when the massive oak door swung open in response to the force of my banging the big brass knocker and I beheld the person who stood unmoving in the doorway. The sudden surprise displayed on his familiar face was apparently as great as my own astonishment which jolted me like a bolt of lightning. The man I confronted was none other than a copy of me. 

After a brief moment of numbing silence, the man stepped aside without uttering a word and motioned me to enter. Quickly recovering my composure, I realized that I was in a wide, dimly lit hall, the stone walls of which were hung with shields, swords, and other ancient weapons of war. He led me to a large, high-ceilinged room with a roaring fire in a cavernous hearth and directed me to a chair next to the fireplace and took the one next to mine. Then, without a word said, a servant rolled a trolly with food and drink to my side, then disappeared. 

"Eat. You must be hungry after your difficult journey," the man who was me said. But before I had a chance to pick up a piece of cheese, he added, "So. We meet at last."

Priscilla Good Henley, Episode 8- By Howard Schneider 

For Jackie and Goody, the morning after the press conference the previous day began like any other—Jackie getting ready for her first day as CEO of the Good Life Cookie Company and Goody looking forward to a meeting about a housing project homeless for Portland’s homeless population. But after refreshing their coffee, Goody dropped a bombshell. "Jackie dear, the time has come for you to move on with your life. To find your own place . . . today, in fact. There's a suite for you at The Heathman Hotel for as long as you need it. Take your time to find a new home. 

"What?" Jackie was stunned by Goody's declaration. "Did I do something wrong?" 

Goody's voice softened. "Of course not. It's just that it's time for you to fly on your own wings." Goody glanced at the wall clock. "But you better get going. Can't be late on your first day as boss. I'll send your belongings to the hotel. So get a move on. I've got things to do, too." 

"But  . . ." Jackie began, but was interrupted sharply by Goody. "It's for the best. Now go!" 

Shocked by the force of Goody's ultimatum, Jackie grabbed her purse and computer bag and left without another word, tears flooding her eyes. 

After Jackie left, Goody called the mayor's office and reschedule the homeless housing project meeting, then turned on the oven. She was going to bake blueberry muffins, special muffins for a special person—that is if her hunch turned out to be correct, which they usually did. 

Meanwhile, Jackie's Aunt Martha was instructing her boyfriend Bobby about her plan for that very morning. "If the car door's locked and she won't open it, smash the window with this hammer, reach in and grab the handle, open the door, and pull her out. Don't give her a chance to drive off—you gotta be fast. Understand?" Martha held out the ballpeen hammer. 

"Yeah. I know. I done this before. Plenty ah' times," he said, taking the hammer. 

"That was twenty years ago. You ain't the same person you was then." 

"I can do it," he said defiantly. "But what if the old bag takes off before I can pull her out?" he added a second later. 

"She might think about that. But she won’t." Martha took a pistol from her jacket pocket and checked the chamber. "She'll cooperate when she sees this. Put her in the trunk of the Toyota and bring her back to this room. I'll dump her car in the shopping center across the street and join you here." She spoke slowly to make sure he understood every detail. 

An hour later, Bobby parked the Toyota next to a dense laurel hedge near a four-way intersection three blocks from Goody's house. Martha and Bobby had seen Goody pass there frequently and figured she might come through there today as well. "Here she comes," Martha said forty minutes later when she spotted goody's Mercedes approaching. 

Goody recognized the tan Toyota when she stopped at the crosswalk. Then, as she had suspected, a scruffy red-head and an aging brute of a man were yanking on her car's door handles and pounding on the windows, one on each side. Glancing to the right, she saw the pistol aimed at her. When their eyes connected, the angry looking woman screamed, "Open up." 

Since Goody had no intention of dying, she turned away from the woman and lowered the driver-side window. She smiled and said, "You must be Bobby." 

Goody's calmness immediately threw Bobby off balance. But before he could think of a response, Martha was standing next to him pointing the pistol at Goody. "Get out, old woman. You're coming with us." 

At that same moment, Goody glanced at the rearview window. "Oh oh. There's a car coming. But I need to talk to you, Martha. We better get out of here. Bobby," she said with a firmness that shocked the two assailants, "get in my car. We'll go wherever you want. Martha, you drive your car. We'll meet up later. Let's go." 

"Seeing the car approaching from behind, Martha said, "Shit. Okay. Take her to the motel." Then she quickly got in the Toyota and drove off. Goody followed with Bobby sitting in the passenger seat. "Fasten your seat belt, Bobby. We wouldn't want to be stopped by the police." 

Bobby, confused and not sure what was happening, did as ordered. "Where are we going?" he asked a moment later. 

"Like Martha said—to your motel. I'll follow her. But if I lose her, you'll have to get us there. Can you do that?" 

"I know the way. You think I'm too dumb to know how to go?" 

"Of course not, Bobby. You seem like a pretty smart guy. Hey, there's some blueberry muffins in that bag there. I was taking them to a meeting I was going to. Fresh-baked this morning. You may as well enjoy them since it looks like I'll be missing that meeting. Right?" 

"Yeah. probably." Bobby opened the bag and took out the first of the three muffins he'd eaten by the time they were halfway to the motel. "These are good," he said reaching for another one. 

"I'm glad you like them. It’s a special recipe." 

Goody pulled into the motel parking lot and parked in the slot next to the one 

Martha had taken. She and Bobby followed Martha across the asphalt drive and waited as she unlocked the room door. 

"What's wrong with him?" Martha asked as Bobby stumbled across the threshold and crashed onto the unmade bed. 

Pulling the door shut behind her, Goody said, "A few minutes ago he was having difficulty breathing. Maybe he's having a heart attack. I've seen that before . . . my first two husbands, in fact." 

A few seconds later, Bobby convulsed three times, let out a loud groan, then stopped breathing. His body became still as a stone. 

"Oh my god," Martha screamed. "He's dead. Bobby. Wake up! You can't die. I need you." 

Goody moved next to Martha and took the distraught woman in her arms. "Martha, my dear," she said softly. "Don't despair. He had a heart attack. His time was up. But his passing could be a blessing in disguise. Now you can shed the responsibility for his pointless life and take advantage of who you are, your strengths, your intelligence, your resourcefulness. And I can help you do that." 

"What do you mean? Help me do what?" 

Ignoring Martha's  question, Goody glanced at her watch, then said, "Come on, Martha. They're still serving breakfast at the New Deal Café. I'll treat you to the best scramble eggs and waffles you've ever had. And I want to tell you about an idea for a business I could use your help with."

Priscilla Good Henley, Episode 7- By Howard Schneider 

7

Jackie returned from her room an hour after she'd abruptly ceased telling Goody about her encounter with Martha and Bobby in the company parking lot and then hurry off to find her laptop. Goody was on the patio hovering over a gas grill. "Smells good. What is it?" Jackie asked. 

"Burgers. There's potato salad in the refrigerator. If you get that, we'll be ready to eat. Grab that bottle of Merlot on the counter, too. Then you can tell me what you've been up to. You want cheese on yours?' 

"The works. I'm starving," Jackie said, heading inside. 

After they'd finished their burgers and slid the empty plates aside, Goody refilled their glasses and said, "Okay, enough suspense. What's your big idea about how to deal with this blackmail situation?' 

Jackie chuckled, then said, "We'll steal their thunder. You know, beat them to the punch?" 

"Is this how you're going to do it?" Goody asked, glancing at a folded up sheet of paper Jackie took from her shirt pocket and held out for Goody to take. 

"It's a statement you could read at a press conference tomorrow. If you agree, that is. After all, we should tell the press about the change in management and the new business plan, don't you think?" 

"We? I'm not involved in the company anymore. Remember? It's yours now." 

"True. But you can still let the press know how you feel about turning your interests over to me. That's new-worthy, isn't it?" Then, after a pause, Jackie added, "You could read that statement when one of your friends in the press asked about me. Why you'd let me take over." 

Goody scanned the first sentence, nodded, then read the whole announcement out loud. "In addition to my confidence in Miss Grant's ability to steer The Good Life Cookie Company along a path of continuing success, I am especially proud of her overcoming an extraordinarily difficult past—an orphaned childhood, being passed from one foster home to the next, abuse by unscrupulous men determined to use her as a disposable commodity, attempted escape from the horrors of neglect and homelessness through drugs and petty crime, and two years in prison for doing what she had to do to survive. But through extraordinary strength of character, formidable intelligence, a stubborn spirit to carry on and do good, and a stroke of good luck, she survived that life. But she did much more than merely survive—she became an accomplished business leader and has proved to be as fine a human being as any I've ever known. I am proud to turn my interests in the company over to Jackie Grant and am confidant she will not disappoint me, her colleagues, her employees, or the public. I fully endorse her as Chief Executive Officer of the Of Good Life Cookie Company." 

Goody laid the sheet of paper on the table, looked at Jackie, then said, "Well, this statement should take the wind from their sail. Normally I'd ask if you are sure about revealing the dark side of your past, but knowing you, I'm sure you've thought it through. And, as I think about it more, you are right to do it this way. Better to have it come from us than from some reporter digging up dirt at some point in the future. I'll be happy to read this at a press conference tomorrow. I'd be proud to tell the entire world what you've accomplished. 

"Thank you, Goody. I knew I could count on you. I'll have Angela schedule a press conference for tomorrow morning. Then I'll call Martha and put an end to her blackmail scheme. She and Bobby will soon be on their way back to whatever rathole in LA they slithered out of." 

Martha stubbed out the smoldering joint on the plastic top of the bedside table in their economy-rate room at the motel they still rented and answered on the third ring. "Jackie. Why are you calling now? I told you tomorrow morning." 

"I won't need to call at all, Martha. There's a new plan. Tune in to Channel Six at eleven tomorrow morning. Have a nice day." 

"What was that about?" Bobby asked, rousing himself from a semi-stupor induced by a pipe of Oregon premium hash oil." 

"I don't know, but I don't like it. She sounded too cocky, like she's ain't gonna pay up. We'll find out what she's doing tomorrow morning at eleven, on TV. She better not be trying to pull a fast one. She don't know who's she's dealing with if she is." 

The next day opened as differently as imaginable in the two locations relevant to this story—one location being a run-down, low-rent, pay by the hour, day, or week motel in Southeast Portland, the other, an exclusive, gated estate in Northeast Portland overlooking the majesty of the Willamette Valley. The inhabitants of each location were focused on the press conference that was to be carried on Channel Six at eleven-o'clock that morning. The futures of both parties were at stake, and each combatant was determined to prevail. Finally, the hour of revelation arrived. 

When the press conference neared its end, one of the Oregonian business reporters asked Goody the planted question about Jackie. Goody's response hit Martha like a jack hammer on full power. 

"Damn her!" Martha screamed as she jumped up from the bed and began ranting and raving as she paced around the ratty room, incoherently, shaking her head back and forth. Finally coming to her senses, she said, "If she thinks I'm gonna give up this money, she stupider than I thought she was. She ain't getting off the hook by spilling the beans like she did. Bobby! We're gonna do what you said we should 'ah done from the get-go. Grab the old woman. Then she'll pay up. She'd be too soft not to. She ain't like me—or her mother. No way we're gonna leave without our million." 

Bobby opened his red-rimmed eyes and looked at Martha. "What'd you say?" 

"I said we're gonna do what we need to do. Get up! We gotta make a plan. It's now or never. And a far as I'm concerned, 'never' ain't in the cards."

Priscilla Good Henley, Episode 6 - By Howard Schneider 

Jackie left Goody's house to go to work alone for the first time in their four years of working together. It was the morning after they'd celebrated reorganization of The Good Life Cookie Company. 

"Good luck," Goody shouted as Jackie got into her car. 

As she eased out the gate, Jackie noticed a grimy, tan Toyota parked half a block away but didn't pay it much attention. She didn't connect it being there when she and Goody returned from the lawyer's office the day before, either. This morning her mind was focused on the board meeting she was soon to chair, the revised management structure she would present, and her plan to increase revenues by acquiring two local competitors. Both were challenges to her company's dominance of the hemp-based chips and crackers sector. She intended to show decisive leadership from the get-go to reassure the board she could achieve their goal of a public offering—the exit plan by which senior management and board members could cash in their stock options. 

"Bobby! That's her, "Martha said, nudging the tattoo-covered brute dozing behind the wheel of the car he'd stolen in Sacramento two days earlier. "Wake up! We don't wanna lose her." 

"I see her," he said, shaking away the sleep and watching her car disappear in the side mirror. He made a quick U-turn and sped ahead. A moment later they caught sight of her, and Bobby let off the gas so she wouldn't see she was being followed. "I'll grab her when she stops." 

"No," Martha said,  "Just follow her. She must be going to work. We'll confront her when she gets out of the car and tell her what the deal is. She's no dummy—she'll know we mean business. She'll do what I say." 

What if she don't?" Bobby asked. 

"She won't want her drug-dealing past known—or her two years in the state pen. But if she won't cooperate, we'll step it up a notch. Don't worry, I won't let this chance slip away." 

Twenty minutes later Jackie turned into her company's parking lot and took an empty spot. Standing in the narrow space between her car and the Ford 150 pickup she'd parked next to, preparing to lock her car, she suddenly heard her name called out. When she turned to see who it was, she saw a stocky, red-headed woman in faded jeans and a grimy sweatshirt. A huge, tattoo-emblazoned man in baggy shorts and a sleeveless grubby tee shirt lurked behind her. They stood at the back bumper of her car and blocked her way past. The tan sedan idled next to them puffing black smoke out its tailpipe. 

The woman took a step closer. "Hello, Jackie. I don't expect you know who I am since we've never met. I'm your mother's sister, Martha. We come all the way from LA just to make your acquaintance. With your fame and all, I figured you'd want to share your good fortune with me, being a close family member—your only one, in fact. And I would sure as hell appreciate your generosity." 

Jackie was startled by these two people appearing from nowhere, and by the woman's outrageous claim to be her aunt. But having survived on the streets of LA and Portland, she wasn't easily intimidated and quickly recovered. "I've never heard anything about my mother having a sister. You'll have to have more than a wild claim in a parking lot. Do you have any proof?" 

Ignoring Jackie's response, Martha continued, "Here's the deal, niece: Tomorrow you're gonna give us one million cash, in twenties, fifties and hundreds. In a suitcase. The kind with wheels. And just in case you're wondering why you'd do something like that, I'll tell you why. Because if you don't, I'll let the whole damn world know about your drug dealing past and your time in prison. I don't think your company, or your old lady girlfriend, would like it if their little princess turned out to be a scheming ex-con and a drug addict. Do you?" 

"I don't believe you. Get out of my way or I'll call the police," Jackie said with as much bluster as she could muster, then yanked her phone from her jacket pocket. 

Martha rushed forward, grabbed Jackie's phone and threw it to the pavement, then crushed it with the heel of her boot. "Here, call me tomorrow morning with this," she then said, tossing a disposable phone at Jackie. "I'll let you know where to bring the money." Then she turned back to Bobby. "Let's get outta here. Jackie's got to get to work." 

In her office after the board meeting, Jackie called Goody. "It's me. I need to talk to you." 

"Was there a problem with the board?" Goody asked. 

"No. Everyone's okay with the reorganization and my revenue projections. It's something else." 

"What's wrong?" 

"I'll see you in twenty minutes. I'll tell you then." 

Sitting in Goody's spacious living room half an hour later, Jackie described her encounter with Martha and her silent giant. "Do you think she might really be your aunt?" Goody asked. 

"Yes. I called the Oregon Children's' Services Department on my way here. They confirmed that my mother had a sister, Martha Grant, residing in California. Evidently, she was judged unsuitable as a guardian because of a criminal record. That's why they put me in foster care." Jackie stood and went to the big window overlooking the valley and stared out at the shimmering lights of the city off to the west. "Her hair is red, like mine," she added on the verge of tears. 

"What will you do?" Goody asked gently after a long silence. 

"I'm not sure. But I don't like the way she threatened me, and I'm sure not going to give her a million dollars. I'd never be able to come up with that much money in one day anyway. And I wouldn't even if I could. It's blackmail. Maybe I can help her out somehow, but not that way." 

"What about her threat to tell the papers about your past?" 

Jackie didn't respond for a few moments, seemingly deep in thought. Then she suddenly turned toward Goody, who was still sitting on the sofa. She hesitated a moment, then said, "But there is one thing that  . . ." Saying no more, she quickly stepped away from the window and headed for the hall that led to her room. "Give me an hour, then I'll tell you."

Priscilla Good Henley, Episode 5 - By Howard Schneider 

"You sure that's the right number?" Bobby asked, referring to numbers on a stone column next to a gate across a driveway leading to a stand of maples. A house was not visible from the street. 

Martha looked at her phone again. "I got the address from a business directory. Looks like where a rich person lives, don't it?" 

"How would I know? What we gonna do now?" 

"Turn around and park on the other side of the street. We'll keep a lookout for a while. See if somebody comes or goes." 

Bobby pulled the sedan to the curb half a block past the gate and turned off the engine. He'd stolen the mud-splattered Camry in Sacramento, exchanged the plates with the pickup he'd boosted in LA, then kept going north on Interstate 5. They'd got to Portland the night before and checked into a sleaze-bag motel on a stolen credit card. It took Martha half the night on her phone to locate Priscilla G. Henley's address, whose name she’d gotten from an article about The Good Life Cookie Company management change in the LA times. She’d been unable to find an address for Jackie. That’s when she thought of finding Jackie through her business partner. 

Martha learned about Jackie’s year in Oregon’s Coffee Creek Correctional Facility when ten years earlier a social worker contacted her as next of kin. She figured Jackie would pay generously to keep Martha from telling the world about her drug-selling days. She and Bobby just had to find Jackie and make a deal. All they wanted was a million cash, then they’d split, never to be seen again. 

Meanwhile, as Martha and Bobby sweltered in the stolen Camry and grew increasingly impatient, Priscilla and Jackie were in a Black Walnut-paneled conference room with their attorney finalizing details of Priscilla’s retirement from the company. “With your signatures, it’s done,” Canin Bonndorf said as he handed the form to Priscilla. After she signed it, she passed it to Jackie for her endorsement. “Congratulations, Miss Grant,” Bonndorf said when Jackie handed the form back to him. “The company is officially yours, lock, stock, and barrel, just as Mrs. Henley intended when we drafted the bylaws four years ago.” 

With tears welling up in her eyes, Jackie took Priscilla’s hand in hers and said, “Thank you, Priscilla. We created this wonderful enterprise together, and I promise I’ll take good care of it. I’ll never let anything make you regret the faith and trust you've placed in me.” 

Priscilla stood, still holding Jackie’s hand, and said, “Come on, Jackie, let’s go home. We’ve got some celebrating to do.” 

Thirty-five minutes later Jackie pulled her Nissan Leaf up to the gate, punched in a code, and drove through after it swung open. Still enthralled by their decision about the company, and happily anticipating their celebratory dinner, they hadn’t noticed the car parked down the block. 

“That’s her,” Martha blurted out. “That head of red hair is like her mother’s. I’d know her anywhere. She must be living with the old lady. That’s why I couldn’t find an address for her. Must have something on her. Why else would the woman turn over the whole damn company to a good-for-nothing junkie like Jackie?” 

“What do we do now?” Bobby asked. “Ain’t no way we gonna get past that gate to grab her. And what makes you think she’s still a doper?  Maybe she’s clean. You don’t know.” 

“Hell I don’t. Her mother, my sweet, deceased little sister, never got clean. Like mama-like-daughter, I don’t think Jackie could either. No doubt about it. She’s a user. Let’s go back to the motel. I gotta think about this—how to get her to share her scam with us. After all, I’m family, ain’t I?” 

“How are you going to keep busy now that you’re retired?” Jackie asked Goody after she poured another round of brandy. The celebratory coq-a-vin, followed by a delicious flan from Vertigo, one of Portland’s better French restaurants, was an excellent finish to their momentous day. The lights of downtown Portland were mesmerizing, and they both were more relaxed than they’d been in the months leading up to the change in corporate structure. 

“Now that I don’t have to think about advertising strategy for your cookies, and all the rest of it, I can concentrate on the Jobs for Homeless Women project I intend to start. Housing is the first priority on the list.” Goody took a sip of the brandy, then stood and walked over to the waist-high stone wall ringing the outer edge of the patio and surveyed the expanse below. She then turned back to her young companion. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of you, Jackie. How happy it makes me that you will run the company on your own. You’ve earned it, and I have complete trust in your ability to continue its success. But it’s been an exhausting day and now I need to go to bed.” 

Jackie walked Goody back into the house, hugged her and bid her goodnight. Then she went to her own suite, content knowing there was nothing standing in the way of a satisfying future, doing what she loved, gratified that she’d been able to salvage a respectable life from what otherwise would have been a disaster. That it would be clear sailing from this moment forward. 

As Goody and Jackie drifted into the well-earned sleep of contentment, Martha and Bobby were sprawled on the double bed in a ratty room of their ratty motel opening a second pint of Canadian and lighting up their third joint of Oregon prime pot. “It’s simple, Bobby boy. We grab her whenever she leaves that place where she’s staying. You can handle that, can’t you? Like carjacking, right?” 

“Yeah, I guess. Whatever you say. Then what? Want me to rough her up?” 

“No need for that. Not yet anyway. Once I tell her the score, she’ll do what we want.” 

“What if she don’t?” 

“We’ll do what it takes, that’s what. Don’t worry about it. You just gotta do what I say. Okay?” 

Bobby nodded, took a deep drag, then asked, “When we gonna do it?” 

“Tomorrow morning. No point in dragging it out. We’ll get the money and split. Just like that. Easy as can be.” 

“Then what?” he asked. 

“The good life, Bobby boy. That’s what. The good life.”

Priscilla Good Henley, Episode 4 - By Howard Schneider 

"Where to now?" Jackie asked after they left the New Deal restaurant, got into Goody's Subaru Forester, and headed west on Halsey. 

"My house," Goody answered," glancing at Jackie, then turning north on 47th Avenue. "We need to brainstorm. I've got the perfect place for that—a quiet, secluded house on Alameda Ridge. You'd have your own suite if you want to stay a while." 

"What do you mean, stay a while?" 

"Exactly that. A place to live until you figure out what you want to do with your life. It'd be a hell of a lot better than going back to living on the street. No place to shower and ripping off old ladies for something to eat every day. And you'd be doing this old lady a big favor—a chance to do something for someone in need of a helping hand." 

Jackie didn't respond at once to Goody's offer, not sure what this strange woman's true motive might be. Was she a predator who'd do some terrible deed, or was she a for-real good person, someone she could trust? But considering her options at that moment, Jackie finally said, "Alright. But just for a few days." 

That evening, with Jackie cleaned up and wearing a skirt and blouse from Goody's abundantly stocked clothes closet, and dinner done, they turned their attention to the topic that'd been trickling through their minds but left unspoken until this moment. "Any thoughts about what you'd like to do?" Goody asked. 

Jackie was quiet for a moment, staring at the city lights spread across the north end of the Willamette valley visible from Goody's patio perched on the edge of the ridge. "You're serious about this crazy offer, aren't you. To do a business together." 

"Yes, I am." 

 "Well, there is one thing we could think about. Before I lost my job a couple of months ago, when the restaurant I was working in went bust, I helped the woman who did the baking. I  made cookies and breakfast pastries mostly. Got pretty good at it, too. Even came up with a recipe for healthy cookies. They sold lots of them—four different kinds. Maybe we could make a business with those cookies." 

Goody nodded, asked a couple of questions about the cookies, then, apparently satisfied with Jackie's answers, said, "Okay. Let's do it" 

It took four months for Goody and Jackie to get The Good Life Cookie Company up and running: leased kitchen space, a line with four varieties (almond, carob, marionberry, ginger), an impressive website, promotional materials, and three of retail outlets. Goody's business connections from managing the advertising agency she'd founded twenty years earlier and run until she sold it to a national chain, her sound business sense, and most of all her deep financial pockets, were key to the speedy establishment of the cookie company. While Goody focused on business aspects of the enterprise, Jackie focused on developing the recipes and figuring out production scale-up. Their efforts paid off—eight months later they had a line of six kind of cookies at four of the Portland supermarket chains and a handful of smaller food retailers, had recruited high school students to man booths at weekend farmers' markets, and were ramping up online sales. The future of the business looked good, and so did Jackie's future. For the first time in her life, she had hope, hope of creating a reality for herself other than the despair of poverty. 

In their fourth year of robust growth and increasing revenue and profit, Goody decided it was finally time to turn the business over to Jackie, lock, stock, and barrel. By this time, the company had added a line of healthy crackers and chips, gone national, including large-scale production facilities on both coasts, and were carried by major food chains across the entire country. Because of Goody's wealth, Jackie and Goody had been able to maintain complete ownership of the company during this time of rapid growth, allowing both of them to reap major financial reward, increasing Goody's already sizable fortune and generating enormous wealth for Jackie. 

A major consideration in Goody's decision to turn over the company to Jackie was how Jackie had evolved from a down-and-out street thief to a wonderful friend, an upstanding individual, and a polished businesswoman, transformation made possible by Goody's good-hearted determination to use her wealth, and her charitable nature, for the betterment of a woman desperately in need of a kind deed. 

Jackie expressed her heart-felt feeling the day Goody told her about her decision to leave the company. "How can I ever thank you for what you did for me? You're the only one who saw me as a person worth taking a chance on, a chance to make something of myself. I promise I'll never give you reason to regret what you've done." 

Because of her patient mentoring and exemplary example, Goody's gamble on the young woman who four years earlier tried to steel her bag of vegetables and fruit had paid off. But the astute reader might still ask what was it that Goody saw in Jackie that day at the Hollywood farmers' market when they met under such fraught circumstances? Was it uncomplicated intuition? Was it an irrepressible desire to change this ragamuffin's life? Was it pity? Who can say? Certainly not me, the author of this story. The only things that counts, in my view, is that Goody had the desire and the means to do something. And thank their lucky stars, she made a quick, on-the-spot decision, and it turned out for the best. Certainly, best for Jackie, but also best for Goody in that she achieved her goal of passing the advantages of her good fortune on to another generation, even if the representative of that generation was a total stranger. In her mind, that was enough. And in her view, the belief that her investment, both emotional and monetary, was successful, and was sufficient to turn over her portion of their enterprise to the woman she thought of as her former apprentice, but now equal, Jacqueline Grant. 

With the company having a national presence, and a well-publicized reputation for entrepreneurial spunk, ownership transfer from a partnership to Jackie's sole ownership status was covered in the business sections of every major news outlet. For a few news cycles. Goody's and Jackie's names were strewn across the national news landscape as examples of how sometimes things can turn out satisfactorily. 

Bur alas, as if to confirm the old adage about never knowing what surprises life might bring,  one of the many news articles about The Good Life Cookie Company ownership change was picked up by a local TV news program in a Los Angeles suburb and happened to catch the attention of Jackie's estranged aunt Martha. Martha was her mother's low-life, ex-con sister who'd never even met Jackie. But even though her mind was foggy from dope and booze,  she recognized the name. "Bobby! Get in here! You gotta see this. Jenny's kid's on TV. She's some kind of rich businesswoman in Portland." 

Bobby, Martha's boyfriend, pimp, and cocaine supplier since she got out of prison six years earlier, stumbled into the room holding a half-full beer bottle in one hand and a smoldering joint in the other. "What?" 

"Look at this. That's Jenny's kid," Martha said, pointing at the screen. "Jacqueline Grant. That's her alright. I never seen her, but I know it's her. See that red hair. Just like Jenny's. Just like mine." 

" Who's Jenny?" Bobby grunted. 

"My sister. She's dead. Died giving birth to that there kid." 

"So what? She don't mean nothing to us," Bobby said as he turned to leave. 

"Hell she don't. She's our meal ticket, Bobby. We're going to Portland." 

"Are you crazy?" We ain't even got money for food. How we gonna get to Portland?" 

"Don't worry, Bobby. Like everything else we do, we'll find a way."

Priscilla Good Henley, Episode 3 - By Howard Schneider 

Jackie looked at Goody without responding to the woman's question about how she'd ended up homeless. She wondered how much to tell this stranger—whether to dig up a past that was so painful, so dark. 

Twenty years earlier there'd been no reason to doubt that Jacqueline Grant had a bright future—a stable family, loving parents with rewarding careers, well-adjusted as a first grader in an exclusive private school where her intelligence was recognized and would be nurtured to its full extent. clear indications of extraordinary musical talent—she sang as much as she talked, and she'd taken to the piano like it was an extension of her being. But one summer day her sunny world ended abruptly when she witnessed her older brother in a drug-induced rage kill her father, and then her mother, using the hand ax he'd long ago cherished as a boy scout. After she ran to the neighbors and the police got there, she saw them in the front yard shoot her brother in self-defense when he rushed out the door and attacked them screaming obscenities and swinging the bloody weapon. 

The shock of such a sudden and horrific event was too much for Jacqueline's young mind and she was instantly overcome with paralysis—unresponsive to questions, unable to speak, staring blankly into the distance, her only movement other than rapid breathing was uncontrolled trembling in her hands. 

Upon discharge from Children's Hospital three months later her speech had returned, but her former effusive self was now flat and turned inward. Since her only relative was her mother's black-sheep sister who was a hooker in LA, her court-assigned social workers agreed that would not be an appropriate environment for a seven-year-old girl, especially as fragile as Jacqueline, so she was given over to the foster care system. Her first placement was  with the Hanson's, an elderly couple in the far reaches of Northeast Portland who already had five kids in their care. "It's a good income," Dilbert Hanson always said when asked why so many. Although the following eleven years passed her through five different foster homes, some better than others, some worse, somehow, she managed to make it to high school graduation, then, at the age of eighteen, cast out into the world on her own.  

So, with the deranged act of a high school football hero high on crystal meth, the promising future of an exceptionally bright young girl was hurled into the uncaring lottery of random fate. Fate where nurturing support was replaced with the cruel uncertainty of life on the other side of the coin that dictates the rules of the game—the game of life. 

Refocusing her attention on Goody, Jackie said, "My story ain't all that different from lots of others like me. A streak of bad luck, that's all. It'll break in my favor someday. I'll be okay." 

Accepting Jackie's unwillingness to talk about her past, Goody said, "Okay. But what if I could change your run of bad luck. I could do that if you want." 

"You don't even know me. How do you know I wouldn't rip you off? Take advantage of your rich-lady "do-good" scheme, whatever it might be." 

"I'll take that risk. I just don't think you would. Rip me off, that is. What I think is that you're smart enough to take advantage of my "do-good" offer," as you call it, but in a good way." 

Jackie started to reply but stopped when Mary set a plate with pancakes, two sausage patties, and two sunny-side-up fried eggs in front of her, then set a plate with a single poached egg on a slice whole wheat toast before Goody. "Refresh that coffee?" 

"Yes, please," Goody said, then cut into the toast, careful to keep a portion of the oozing egg attached to the forkful of crusty bread. 

The two women ate in silence, Jackie shoveling in the food as if she hadn't eaten in a long time while Goody slowly savored her egg. Finally, after, pushing the empty plate aside and another swallow of the Stumptown coffee, Jackie said, "So, what do you have in mind, Mrs. Do-Goody?" 

"I'm flexible, Jackie," Goody replied, ignoring Jackie's sarcasm. "Rather than conger up some rich-lady "do-good" project that might not take full advantage of your capabilities, I want to know what you'd propose. Although there are conditions I'd put on anything we do together." 

"Yeah, like what?" 

"For one, it has to be legitimate, nothing criminal. Two, I'd want it to help people, not just be intended to enrich ourselves. Three, it should be something you could eventually take over and make yours. I won't be around forever." 

"Wait a minute. Are you saying you'd put up money to start a business, or whatever, you and me would run it for a while, then you'd bow out and it would be mine?" 

"Yes. That's exactly what I have in mind. What do you think?" 

"I think you're either crazy as a rabid racoon, or else my streak of bad luck is about to make a U-turn." 

Goody, chuckling as if to herself, waved Mary over to their table. "Check, please, Mary. Jackie and I have to get going. We have things to do."

Priscilla Good Henley, Episode 2 - By Howard Schneider 

Waiting to pay for a pound of mushrooms, Goody responded with anger when she realized a young woman was running off with her canvas bag near full of the fruit and vegetables she'd purchased that morning. "Stop her!" Goody yelled, "she stole my bag." A security guard happened to be nearby and after a short chase caught the thief at the exit gate of the farmers' market and held her until Goody got there seconds later. Goody took the bag from the woman, looked at her for a brief moment, then turned to walk away. She didn't want to make a scene—the thief could deal with being caught on her own. 

"I need that food more than you do," the woman yelled when Goody had taken only a few steps. "Let me go," she then snapped at the guard, slapping his hand where he held her arm. 

Goody stopped and turned to the guard. "Leave her be. I'm not going to press charges." Then she looked at the woman again, this time taking in what she was, who she was: a medium-height black woman, maybe in her twenties, thin but wiry, wild hair, an attractive but dirt-smudged face with intense intelligent eyes staring directly into Goody's. "Are you that desperate, or are you just a common thief?" 

"I'm hungry. That's what I am. And I don't have any money. Don't have anything. My stuff was confiscated yesterday—chased out of where I was camping—I've got nothing besides these clothes I got on." She held her arms out toward Goody, showing her the filthy sleeves of her thin shirt. "Least you can do is give me one of those apples. You wouldn't miss it. Not rich as your must be," the woman added bitterly, glancing at Goody's expensive purse and elegant jacket. 

The woman's truth caught Goody off-guard, striking a chord she was ill-prepared to hear. But being the kind person she was, her first thoughts was, She's right. I should help this unfortunate woman. I must help this unfortunate woman. But then her practical nature prevailed. But how? Money or food would only be a temporary fix. There must be better way—a permanent fix. As her brain continued to process the situation, a new thought surfaced: A fix that would serve our mutual benefit? But how? That's the dilemma. But  supposed to be solved? Then it came to her, Treat her as an equal. After all, she is. She's just facing monumentally different circumstances. "Let me treat you to breakfast," Goody said. "If I'm going to help you," as if that were already an established fact, "I need to know more about you. Who you are, what you need. Come on. I know a good breakfast spot on Halsey. We can get to know each other. My car's parked on the next block." 

The thief took another step back, confusion clouding her face. Help me? What the hell does she mean by that? She was taken aback by Goody's offer. But knowing an old lady like her was no threat, she said, "All right, but you better not try anything funny." With no response from Goody other than a friendly smile, the woman followed Goody out the exit without further comment, wondering what this take-control, elderly white woman might be up to. 

Their orders given to Mary, a waitress she'd known for more than ten years of patronizing this café, Goody looked across the red and white-checkered tablecloth and ask, "What's your name?" 

"Jackie. What's yours?" 

"Priscilla. But everyone calls me Goody." 

"Why do they call you that? They think you're that good?" 

"No, of course not. My middle name is Good, after my maternal grandmother. It's just a nickname, that's all." 

"Why'd you bring me here?" Jackie barked, changing the subject abruptly. 

Goody was quiet for a moment, then said, "I'm not sure. Maybe just to help a fellow human being in need. I really don't know." She took a drink of her coffee. "Tell me about yourself. How'd you end up living on the streets?" 

Jackie hesitated, wondering if she should share the horrendous events of her life with this stranger—an old woman maybe so lonely she's grasping desperately for any source of human contact, even if only from a scruffy, homeless black woman like her. But looking into Goody's eyes, she recognized sincerity, and compassion. "It ain't a pretty picture," she said, tears suddenly welling up in her dark eyes. 

Goody reached across the table and placed her hand on Jackie's. "Tell me. I want to know. And don't worry. I've dealt with some tough events in my life. I assure you I can handle it, whatever it is."