By: Bruce Levine
It was just a game. Tiffany and her twin sister, Brianna, played it often. At eight years old the girls made up many games, partially to alleviate the loneliness of their isolation, but, because they had each other and their games, they never actually realized that they were lonely. To Tiffany and Brianna it seemed like their lives were normal and that all little girls lived as they did.
The saying that money can’t buy happiness could definitely be applied to the Longworth household. Tiffany and Brianna’s parents made a lot of money from multi-faceted, international businesses, but making that much money required constant travel in their luxurious, private jet. The periodic trips on which the sisters accompanied their parents afforded the girls opportunities to create additional new games; games based on the plane ride to various destinations and games created at the destination which they often continued once home again or modified to incorporate their surroundings.
As soon as their nanny taught them they became avid readers at the age of five. By seven they had read all of the Nancy Drew mysteries. They took turns playing Nancy herself and acted out the adventures, sometimes modifying them to utilize their own home as the various locations in the stories.
Once in a while they even talked their nanny into participating, either as the victim or the perpetrator of whatever mystery the girls, AKA Nancy, were investigating.
While neither girl enjoyed playing with dolls their parents had added to the array of collectibles at each occasion and, as it had grown rather large, the collection afforded the girls an entire population for their imaginary city, actually much like a compilation of the various places they’d visited with their parents.
Their latest game involved corporate espionage. They’d learned about that from their parents’ last brief visit home. At the time it seemed that there was some problem that consumed every conversation. The girls had become very good listeners when they wanted to be, and once they heard the content of their parents’ conversation, they immediately became transfixed by the subject.
It took a little research to discover what corporate espionage actually meant, but having grown up with a computer always at their disposal, a few hours and Google filled in the details.
Now that they had the concept well in hand the girls invented a variety of criminals to carry out a series of devious plans. Some of the schemes involved simple things that might be considered in the normal realm of eight years olds, but others were highly sophisticated and far beyond what would traditionally have been considered within the range of imagination for their age.
Now they began writing entire scenarios out and, in keeping with the secrecy of espionage, they hid their writings. Conspiring to create took on a new meaning. In the past they’d been open about their mysteries, but now everything had to be secret and their subterfuge included keeping everything, even from nanny.
Acquiring the necessary pencils and paper to write out their plots was easy. Finding a hiding place for their ever increasing notebooks filed with a variety of plots was a different problem.
Initially, because there were only loose pages, they were able to simply include them among their other papers as if they were school work. But as the plans became more elaborate and required more details to be written out, and even drawings of locations, et al, to be included the girls switched to spiral notebooks, the same as they were given by their nanny for schoolwork.
Finding a place to hide the notebooks took some serious discussion and deliberation. In the end, and without their knowing the adage that the best place to hide something was in full view, they chose to simply add their espionage notebooks to the others on their bookshelf.
Once, their nanny nearly caught them secreting their book. Entering the room just as the girls were pushing it into place, nanny asked if they’d finished with that book and if they needed another? The girls were startled by the question and almost gave it all away, but Brianna recovered quickly enough to answer, yes, which seemed to satisfy the situation, at least momentarily.
Relieved, the girls concluded that they were safe, for now, but wondered if a better hiding place would now be necessary. In the end, however, they decided to continue as they had, but often made a show of placing their actual school notebooks on the shelf so that became their norm and their nanny seemed satisfied.
Corporate espionage now became their primary focus. In the past simple things like robbery and even murder had been adequate for the pseudo-Nancy Drews. Now their brains, and their imagination, required far greater complexity.
Their latest plot was the most complex and inclusive that they’d devised to date. Involving three countries and several layers of companies, all under the umbrella of the main corporation, there were schemes to embezzle money in one company to cover up the theft of designs for a new product to cover up a take-over plot of the parent corporation.
Involving twenty-two people of various nationalities the girls modelled their imaginary population on the places they’d been and people they’d met while traveling with their parents.
Gradually the girls refined their plans and described in greater detail each of the people involved. They also began reading about actual schemes on the internet, but since all they read ended in the bad guys getting caught, they discarded plot after plot in an effort to come up with what they believed was a fool-proof scheme.
They were in no hurry. Perfection was their goal as they dissected every possible flaw and avenue for getting caught. Gradually, however, everything seemed to be falling into place. All of the necessary ancillary situations were acquired. All of the research and training had been completed and the entire cast of characters assembled.
As they remained at the pinnacle of the pyramid they built the plot so that they would maintain their supremacy once the end result was accomplished. They also knew, as if by instinct, or by genetics, that their underlings would require sufficient satisfaction in their share to maintain the secrecy necessary and allocated the spoils appropriately to the level of each participant.
Concurrent with Tiffany and Brianna’s work on their plans was the fact that their parents were more and more frequently at home. This was both pleasant and perplexing.
Of course the girls were happy to have their parents home and, early on, there was a significant amount of time together, but with each visit there seemed to be less and less time together and more and more time that their parents locked themselves away either together or with the ever increasing number of people who arrived and immediately joined them in the study.
Now the girls gradually got a sense that their imaginary plot was being played out in real life. For every action in their scenario there seemed to be a similar action happening in their house.
Once again, bereft of their parents’ attention, the girls retreated to their private room. The similarities between the study and their room were immediately apparent: the book-lined walls and the desks, tables and chairs nearly matched precisely as if the girls’ room was a miniature version of the adult counterpart. And it was equally comfortable to both pair of residents.
Alone, the girls started imagining what was going on in their parents’ study. They began creating entire scripts of conversations. Gradually the scripts began to take on the various aspects of their own scheme. Was it possible, they wondered, that their parents and all of the people who kept arriving were plotting their own corporate espionage to be perpetrated on some other unsuspecting corporation?
This new idea had the intriguing aspects of it involving their parents and happening in real life.
Their nanny too seemed to have a new sense of reality. Before, she was simply their nanny who looked after them and gave them the foundations of their education. Now, however, it seemed that she was skulking around, surreptitiously listening on both sides, their parents and themselves.
They realized that this was probably only a further product of their imagination, but wondered if what if it weren’t? What if they were correct?
Now a new game was in play. Now the game was detective and they were determined to discover fact from fiction. Time was on their side, they thought.
Weeks passed without definitive results. The meetings in the study continued unabated and intensified as new people arrived daily to add to the assemblage.
Then, suddenly, everyone was gone. Their parents hadn’t even said good-bye, but had left during the night, while they were asleep. The girls awoke to an empty house except for their nanny, the regular servants and a man sitting in a chair in their private room. The man had a pile of their notebooks on a table next to him.
The girls entered as usual to await their breakfast being brought in by their nanny. The man got up and greeted them kindly and introduced himself. He asked them to sit down.
Fear spread through the two girls.
“Where is everybody?” they asked in unison.
The man explained that a situation had happened and that their parents had to go to London to fix it.
The breakfast tray arrived and their nanny took her usual seat to drink her coffee while the girls normally ate although, today, the food remained mostly untouched. There was also a cup for the man who took a sip before asking them about the plan in their notebooks.
Their nanny interjected that she wondered why there were suddenly so many new books and if the girls were getting so much more work at school so she decided to check and discovered the writings.
The man asked if they’d shown the books to anyone else and the girls adamantly denied showing them to anyone.
The man and their nanny asked the girls a lot of questions before explaining that the problem that their parents had to fix was exactly the same as what the girls had written. The bad guys had been caught in time so everything would be okay and they’d be home tomorrow.
The girls got up, ran to their nanny and hugged her tightly.
“It’s okay,” she said.
“It was just a game,” Tiffany barely got out as tears flooded down her cheeks.
The man got up and left, taking the notebooks with him.
The girls climbed onto the chair with their nanny who picked up a book and started reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes aloud.
Bruce Levine has spent his life as a writer of fiction and poetry and as a music and theatre professional. A 2019 Pushcart Prize Poetry nominee, a 2021 Spillwords Press Awards winner, the Featured Writer in WestWard Quarterly Summer 2021 and his bio is featured in“Who’s Who of Emerging Writers 2020.” Bruce has over three hundred works published on over twenty-five on-line journals including Ariel Chart, Spillwords, The Drabble; in nearly seventy print books including Poetry Quarterly, Haiku Journal, Tipton Poetry Journal; Halcyon Days and Founder’s Favourites (on-line and print) and his shows have been produced in New York and around the country. His work is dedicated to the loving memory of his late wife, Lydia Franklin. A native Manhattanite, Bruce now lives and writes in Maine