After the second attempt to get Gwen dismissed had failed miserably, Kathy was even angrier than after the first failure. She’d gone to so much trouble and expense, and the whole plan had backfired in a way that only made Gwen look even better than before.
The damn goody two-shoes! Who was the girl, Saint Gwyneth? Nobody was that perfect.
Kathy had trouble hiding her foul mood throughout the long dinner she had to endure with Spyro, Gwen and Alexander now. The days were ticking by and Elaine was waiting for Kathy to call and tell her that Gwen was fired. Now Kathy felt totally incompetent in her ability to make such a simple thing happen. Elaine was probably beginning to wonder if Spyro had somehow found out what she was up to and had done something horrible to her.
She slipped out after dinner and barely resisted the urge to burn rubber and screech around every turn as she headed towards Fira. She had to get the burner phone back and pay Hakim the rest of his money.
When she reached the area where the gigolos loitered, Hakim spotted her and moseyed over to her open car window.
He handed Kathy the phone, and she slipped him a one hundred euro note.
“So how did I do?” he asked, as he pocketed the money.
“You did fine,” she muttered. “I need the script back, too.”
“Oh, yeah.” He reached into his pocket and handed her the folded paper, then gave her a big smile and glanced down at her body. “Now how about letting me do what I do best? I’ll give you a good discou—”
“Keep dreaming,” she snapped, and sped away.
Kathy tossed and turned all night, desperately trying to concoct some other way to have Gwen fired that would work, something foolproof. But all she could come up with were the same initial ideas she’d had on the way here from France, such as hiding a piece of her own expensive jewelry in Gwen’s room or making the governess appear dishonest in some other way. It was just too risky, especially with the stellar track record of integrity that Gwen had already established with Spyro. And too late! Spyro would very likely connect these other incidents together and get suspicious.
Kathy held even more steadfast to the principle that Gwen had to bring on the firing herself, somehow, by making an exceedingly poor decision.
As she ate breakfast the next morning, which she did alone, after Spyro, Gwen and Alexander had already finished theirs, she kept telling herself, once again, that every human being had some weak point that could be exploited, and that Gwen certainly had hers. The only Achilles heel she could come up with, however, was her instinctive feeling that Gwen was a lesbian, but that wasn’t really a negative, not in Spyro’s eyes. She remembered that when he was considering hiring her, he’d looked at it as a positive—“at least this one won’t be seducing the gardener.” And Kathy thought, Yes, and at least you won’t be seducing her, I hope.
This morning Kathy had her first volcano tour to conduct since she’d returned from visiting Elaine. She’d been so obsessed with getting Gwen fired that she hadn’t even let the tour operator know she was back until last night. Maybe getting her mind off Gwen for a while would relax her and then she’d have a better idea, one that would actually work.
The volcano over on Nea Kameni Island was an active one and truly an amazing sight to behold. It was great fun for Kathy to put on her trainers and jogging outfit and lead a group of awe-struck tourists clambering up the rugged four-hundred-foot hike to the crater rim. Conducting the tours was not only a good way for Kathy to keep in shape, but made her feel smart, stopping every hundred feet or so to fill in the tourists with detailed geological information about how the volcano formed, its eruption history, and its current state of activity. She especially enjoyed meeting all the different native English speakers on the tours, most of whom were interesting travelers from the UK, but also from Canada, the USA, South Africa, and sometimes Australia. She often felt very lonely living so far from the States.
Spyro thought it was somehow demeaning for her to be employed at all, especially in this way—the job paid practically nothing except for the occasional generous tip she received. Despite the fact that Spyro didn’t even have a college education, he had become quite a snob with all his millions, which added another layer to his unlikeable character.
What Spyro didn’t know was that there was an additional fringe benefit to Kathy giving the tours, a secret and delicious one. Occasionally one of those interesting travelers she met happened to be male, handsome, flirtatious, and traveling alone, or with one or two male companions. On those fortuitous occasions, after the tour group returned to the Old Port on Santorini Island, Kathy would steer the man to a certain pub in Fira that had a small guest house in the back, an establishment run by a single female Scottish expat named Molly who was sympathetic to Kathy’s situation. Kathy had spent some wonderful afternoons in the bed of that little guest house, with Scottish folk music filtering through the curtained windows from the pub as the headboard thumped frantically against the wall.
Kathy decided that the best thing to do was to forget all about having Gwen fired for a solid twenty-four hours starting now. She would spend the time clearing her head with some outdoor activity, and hopefully tomorrow something would come to her.
And who knew? Maybe she would get lucky this morning.
* * *
Since it was January and low season, there were only six people on the English language tour of the volcano: two American couples who were friends, and one of the couple’s children, a boy and a girl about Alexander’s age. It turned out the two families were from Oklahoma, which warmed Kathy’s heart. She enthusiastically told them she was originally from Texas. Both the men were farmers, and it was their families’ first trip to Europe. When they introduced themselves, Kathy noticed that the couple with the kids glanced approvingly at the small Greek Orthodox cross hanging around her neck—she supposed they were religious. Kathy wasn’t very religious herself—she just wore the little crucifix for its design.
During the climb up the caldera, the scattered rocks on either side of the gravel path turned from black to various shades of red, and Kathy always enjoyed the tourists’ reactions. The two kids got a real thrill out of the climb. People often told Kathy that when you reached the very top of the volcano, with the jagged black rim silhouetted against the pure blue sky, it was like walking on another planet. And it was.
Kathy’s attention was focused on the climb and on the memorized monologue she rattled off for the tour participants. Despite her commitment to take twenty-four hours off, the problem of how to get rid of Gwen lurked in the back of her mind. It occurred to her that Gwen had never been on the tour before. Kathy had suggested that the new governess go along back in October, when she had first been hired, but Gwen had been too busy with Alexander’s home schooling to arrange it. Plus, Alexander had already been on the tour and complained the entire time. The boy disliked any kind of ordinary hiking—if it didn’t involve rappelling lines or special boots and a possible plunge into the abyss, it was too “booooooring.”
Kathy regretted this, because it would have given her a chance to show off a little and show Gwen that she wasn’t so dumb.
Now, as they reached the top of the volcano, Kathy began to lead the group down the more rugged slope to the active region.
“This is awesome!” the boy cried. On this part of the hike, it felt as if you were tromping across a hellish inferno towards the center of the earth, with wisps of steam wafting up from between the rocks. “I can feel the heat of the molten lava!” he said, stopping to raise his hands palm-out.
“That’s right,” Kathy said. “Can you smell the sulfur?”
Both the boy and girl sniffed the air.
“Yes!” they both said in unison.
“Be careful,” Kathy said, making sure the two kids were well over to the right of the path. They were walking single file along a ridge that had a drop of over one hundred feet on the left-hand side. Kathy led the way, with the children behind her, followed by their parents and the other couple.
The boy looked down the incline, his blue eyes shining with excitement. “Will we get to see molten lava?”
“No,” Kathy said. “The lava is underground and will stay there until the volcano decides to erupt again.”
“Is there any chance of that happening this morning?”
Kathy laughed, looking at his parents. “I hope not.”
“Darn,” the child muttered, and he glanced over his shoulder at his sister. “I was planning on pushing you in.”
It was at that moment that Kathy had a particularly dark thought about Gwen, one that she immediately repressed.
“You would be instantly turned to steam,” the boy went on, making a hissin’ sound. “The temperature of lava is over two thousand degrees.”
“That’s right,” Kathy said.
“Lava is so hot it can even melt steel.”
“That’s right, too. You’re a very smart young man, you know that?”
“They’re home-schooled,” the father explained, looking like he was really trying to justify why the two children could be on vacation at the end of January.
“My stepson is home-schooled, too,” Kathy remarked.
They all stopped walking and gazed down into the crater.
“Yeah,” the father said, glancing at Kathy’s crucifix again. “We pulled ‘em out of public schools when they started all that gender stuff.”
“Gender stuff?” Kathy said, turning to him.
“Oh, you know.” He mouthed the word “homosexuality.”
“Queers,” the boy said, giggling.
“Nathan, that’s not nice,” the mother said. She looked at Kathy. “We don’t have anything against those people, but we don’t think children of our kids’ age need to be ‘educated’ about their...ways, in such detail. You should see the books and pamphlets our public schools are giving out—they’re downright pornographic.”
“I know what you mean,” Kathy said, but her mind was already miles away.
A new idea for getting rid of Gwen had just popped into her head.
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