The Kingdom

by Southrook

southrook@gmail.com | Forum Feedback

© Copyright 2018 - Southrook - Used by permission

Storycodes: Solo-F; M+/F; castle; meeting; renaissance-faire; security; computer; discovery; undercover; F/f; hotel; drug; unconscious; bed; cons/nc; X

story continued from The Prologue

Chapter 1: Enter Jodie

When I pulled my moped up to the Notts’ Faire entryway, I was surprised to see a brand new security check point with a car barrier. Several uniformed guards sat inside the security hut.

As I approached, a burly guard exited the hut and stepped up to me with a clipboard. Once I came to a stop, he asked, “Can I help you, ma’am?”

“I’m here for a meeting with James Mason,” I replied.

“What’s your name?” The guard asked, looking down at his clipboard.

“Alison Rook, Operations Manager,” I said.

The guard scanned his clipboard, and then replied. “Alright, Miss Rook. May I see some identification?”

“ID? Really?” I asked, perturbed. “I need my ID to go up to my own office?”

“Sorry, ma’am. It’s protocol,” the guard replied patiently.

I snorted, rolling my eyes. Lowering the kick-stand with my heel, I twisted around to unsnap the storage pack behind me. Peering inside, I realized that I’d left my wallet back at home. “Shit, I forgot my wallet,” I said.

The guard blinked at me. “I’m… sorry, ma’am. I can’t let allow you entry without a valid form of identification.”

“Seriously?” I asked bluntly. “I’m the operations manager here.” The guard blinked at me, unimpressed. “Look, can you call up to Mason. He’ll tell you who I am.”

“What about vehicle registration?” He asked.

“Seriously?” I replied, throwing serious shade at this point. “Dude, I won this scooter in a poker game. It doesn’t even hit 35 miles per hour. Of course it’s not registered.”

Seeing my irritation, the two other guards stepped out of the security hut, with their arms folded in front of them.

The burly guard next to me pulled his walkie-talkie out of its holster and lifted it to speak. “Gate to Castle, I have someone by the name of Alison Rook here to meet Mr. Mason. She’s carrying no identification. She tells me she’s the operations manager. Can you access Notts’ database and shoot me a picture?”

After a brief pause, the voice on the other end replied, “Copy that.” Almost instantly, I heard a beep from the security hut.

One of the security guards leaned inside, looking at the computer screen. After glancing back and forth between me and the screen, he pressed a button on the control panel on the desk, raising the car barrier. Motioning his hand forward, he called to me, “You’re free to enter.”

Without saying anything, I raised the kickstand and sped beneath the raised barrier. As I rounded the turn of the long driveway into the fairegrounds, my eyes widened from the sight before me. All 4 parking lots were completely filled with cars. Even our busy season at the faire was hard-pressed to attract crowds like these! My eyes darted around, unable to find a single open parking space. Unwilling to take the time to drive around looking, I cruised right up to the front of lot A and rolled over the curb into the grass. Hopping off, I walked my bike behind the tree line and parked it behind some brush.

As I walked through the open gate, several guards seated inside the ticket office raised their heads to look at me. The guard closest to the door jumped to his feed and walked briskly over to the closest turnstile. “Can I help you, ma’am?” he asked.

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” I said under my breath, “Nope, I’m good. Thanks!”

“May I ask where you’re headed?” he pressed.

Sighing, I replied “I have a meeting with Mason at the castle. Your buddies down the road already cleared me for entry.”

“Please allow me assist you,” he replied.

I put my hand up, stubbornly. “Look, I work here. I’m the operations manager. I helped lay the flagstone that you’re standing on. I know where I’m going.” 

“I’m sure you do, ma’am,” he said, apologetically. “We’re under strict orders not to allow guests to be unattended.”

“Ugh, whatever,” I spat. The guard gratefully extended his hand forward, allowing me to walk through the turnstile first. I walked briskly past him. He followed through the turnstile and sped up to walk along-side of me toward the castle. We walked down an empty Centre Street, over the cross-bridge, through the castle courtyard, and finally up to the large oak doors to the castle. The guard reached up and knocked on the door twice with the iron door knocker. Moments, the large doors swung open.

“Am I good now, officer?” I asked snarkily.

“Yes ma’am,” he replied courteously. “Have a good evening.” I rolled my eyes and walked inside the grand foyer. The large doors closed behind me. The castle foyer was buzzing with people. Businessmen, workers, and… you guessed it- more security guards. I headed for the grand staircase, relieved to have no more eyes following me. Once at the top of the staircase, I made my way to Mason’s office, my old office, at the end of the long hallway. I knocked on the door, and opened it, peeking my head inside.

“Mr. Mason?” I asked.

Mason was sitting at his desk, typing on his computer. Upon my intrusion, he looked up to meet my gaze. “Miss Rook,” he replied, “-come in.”

As I entered, Mason nodded his head toward the sofa across from him. “Take a seat,” he said. He continued typing as I sat down. A few seconds later, he finished typing and looked up at me. His eyes were tired and he seemed genuinely irritated at the prospect of having to meet me. “So, what was so urgent that you needed to speak with me about tonight?”

“Well,” I replied, weighing my words, “some of the staff are concerned about the off-season.” Mason stared blankly back at me. “Specifically, what happens here after we leave.” Mason continued to stare silently. “I noticed you’ve got some pretty intense security measures in place…” I probed. “Look- you didn’t know my uncle, but he was a good man. He was well loved by his staff and the community. We’re all just a bit concerned that his reputation could be tarnished from… whatever it is you’ve got going on here.”

“What do you think I do here, Miss Rook?” Mason asked without hesitation.

“Honestly, I haven’t got the faintest clue. But people talk.”

“And that bothers you? What people say?” He asked.

“I…” I hesitated, not knowing how to answer. I always felt like I was visiting a therapist when I spoke with Mason. He was a master at answering questions with another question. And the way he spoke always seemed to leave me unarmed and off-guard. “I think it would bother anyone to see their life’s work blemished.”

“Blemished,” Mason repeated. He stared at me for a moment then reached up to remove his glasses. He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and index finger. “Miss Rook, I’m afraid I can offer you little comfort beyond my personal assurance that whatever nefarious rumors you’ve overheard are nothing more than rumors.”

“I haven’t told you what rumors I’ve overheard-” I said.

“Let me clarify,” he interrupted, “Nothing leaks outside these walls. The nature of our work here is highly classified and our security measures are unmatched. If you’ve heard rumors, I can assure you- they are either false or the products of guesswork. I’ve made a living in the business of discretion. Believe me- no blemish will come to the Notts’ family name on my account.”

Just then, a knock at the door stole Mason’s attention. The door opened and a short-haired blonde man leaned in the room. “Sir, drones 20 through 24 are still offline. Should we deploy backups?

Mason hesitated for a second and glanced back at me. “Was there anything else, Miss Rook?”

“Well, yeah...” I replied, not entirely satisfied with his answer.

Mason sighed in irritation and stood to his feet. “Please excuse me for a moment.” He walked briskly out of the room with the blonde man. Once the door closed behind him, I exhaled deeply. For a man of so few of words, Mason really was intimidating. I turned back toward his desk, replaying our conversation in my head. Somehow, I knew even less than I knew before I got here. Dealing with Mason was infuriating!

Just then, I realized that he’d left his computer screen unlocked. I glanced back towards the door, straining my ears to hear whether anyone was nearby. Nothing. So, I quietly stood to my feet and leaned over his desk to take a peak. Spinning the laptop towards me, I saw an open window titled ‘CANCELLATIONS’. It looked like a registry of sorts, resembling a digital yearbook. My heart raced as I used the track-pad to scroll down rapidly through dozens of pictures and names. I had no idea what I was looking at, but I felt like Sherlock Holmes, on the cusp of unlocking a case. Just then, my heart nearly jumped out of my chest as I scrolled past what looked like a picture of me! I frantically scrolled back up, only to realize that it was just a doppelganger. The name beneath the picture read ‘Jodie O’Connell’. She was skinny, smiling redhead, who appeared to be in her mid 20’s. Other than a few subtle differences- shorter hair, paler skin, slightly wider nose, she and I did bear an insanely striking resemblance. We could easily have been sisters.

Out of sheer curiosity, I double-clicked her image, making a new window pop up. I scanned through what looked like Jodie’s medical file. Age, height, weight, blood type, etc. And at the top of the window were two buttons. One was greyed out, with the word ‘ATTENDING’. The other was red, with the words ‘NOT ATTENDING’. I clicked the red ‘NOT ATTENDING’ box, prompting a drop down note. It read-

DETAILS: Workers visa set to expire 12/7. Extension denied.

Cancelled on 10/27. Returning to Dublin, Ireland on 12/5.

“So, Jodie’s Irish,” I mused quietly to myself as if I were uncovering a critical clue. I glanced over my shoulder again toward the door. Still nothing. Out of sheer curiosity, I then decided to click the ‘ATTENDING’ box. The greyed out box suddenly turned green and a drop-down menu appeared. The once-red ‘NOT ATTENDING’ box was now greyed out. The drop-down beneath the green button read- ‘Resend digital security pass?’

I was getting past the point of no return. Not only did I have no idea what I was messing with, if Mason walked in on me messing with his computer, there’s no Way he’d let me keep my job at the Faire. Hell- I’d probably be issued a restraining order! But I was in too deep. Curiosity willed me to continue. I clicked the ‘YES’ box next to the prompt, causing another drop-down menu to appear reading-

    Confirm email: oconnel.j@msn.com

     

I hesitated, weighing my options. What the hell- I took a deep breath and went for it. I clicked the text window and erased Jodie’s email address and quickly replaced it with my own-

     

    Confirm email: southrook@gmail.com

     

I pressed enter, prompting final drop-down that read, ‘DIGITAL SECURITY PASS DELIVERED’.

My phone suddenly buzzed in my pocket, making my jump. I yanked it out to see that I’d just received a new email titled, ‘CLASSIFIED: SECURITY PASS’. With my fingers trembling, I opened the email. It looked like some sort of security clearance badge with Jodie McConnell’s name and picture displayed on it. At the bottom of the badge was a VR code. My heart was beating a mile a minute. Would this security pass clear me to enter the faire during the off-season?!

Just then, I heard voices from outside the door. I frantically clicked out of Jodie’s file and scrolled back up to the top of the previous window. I angled the computer back to its original position and dove back into my seat. No sooner did my back hit the chair that the door swung open and Mason walked briskly back into the office.

“My apologies. We’ve got a busy night on our hands,” Mason said straight-toned. “What else may I help you with, Miss Rook?”

I stared back at him trying my best to seem casual. “Actually,” I began, “I think you put my mind to ease.” I could feel myself blushing. I had to get out of there before I said something suspicious and exposed myself. “I trust that you’re putting my uncle’s land to responsible use. Thank you for taking the time to see me.”

Mason blinked back at me suspiciously. “Nothing else?” He probed, studying my face.

I had to think fast. He knew something was up. Dammit. The next words out of my mouth were crucial. “I…” think Alison, think! “I was going to ask you about renovations to the winery, but it can wait for another time. I can see you’ve got your hands full tonight. 

“Oh,” Mason said, raising his eyebrows. “Well, send me the details and I’d be happy to take a look.”

“Thank you, Mr. Mason.”

“No trouble at all,” he replied, standing up crossing over to me. “I’m… sorry if I was a bit short tonight. We really do have a busy 24 hours ahead of us.”

“Quite alright,” I replied, “I know how that is.”

Mason opened the door and extended his hand toward me. “You have my word that your uncle’s good name will remain intact. Okay?”

I reached out and shook his hand. “That’s all I ask,” I replied with a smile. “Thank you,” I said, exiting the office.

“Good evening,” he replied, closing the door behind me. I exhaled in relief as I walked down the hallway. My heart was still pounding out of my chest, but at least I’d managed to clear myself of any suspicion from Mason’s point of view. Now, all I had to do was keep it together until I made it outside the gate.

I could hardly believe my luck tonight! At no point in had I ever anticipated my night consisting of hacking into my boss’s computer and stealing park security clearance. But Uncle Henry had always called me his little detective. I was officially one step closer to uncovering the mystery of James Mason and the off-season at Notts’ Faire.

When I arrived at the top of the grand staircase, my stomach suddenly dropped as I saw a security guard looking right at me and walking towards me. Why was he looking at me?! Something was wrong. 

“I’ll show you to your car, Ma’am,” he offered politely.

“Oh!” I replied awkwardly. “Uh, moped, in fact. But actually- you know what? I think I can find my own way. Thanks.”

“My apologies, ma’am. No guests are currently permitted to move about the grounds unsupervised.”

“Ugh,” I answered, feeling my resentment of the guards resurface. “Actually,” I stopped and pulled out my phone. “I’m… not a guest. I have clearance.” I held up my phone to the guard, showing Jodie McConnell’s security badge. He looked back and forth from the phone to me, evidently confused.

“My apologies…” He stammered, “You’re uh… I… I don’t think you’re supposed to be here.” He glanced over at the security desk at the castle’s main entrance. “I thought all contestants were supposed to be settled in by 9.”

Contestant? “Uh, my meeting went long. Just point me in the right direction…”

The guard hesitated, obviously unsure of how to react. “Uh- actually, if I can ask you to wait here for one moment-” he said, raising his walkie-talkie. “Baker 7. I have an contestant with me here at the castle.”

After a brief pause, a voice responded, “A contestant?”

“Affirmative,” the guard said, turning away from me awkwardly. What was going on?

The male voice on the other end replied, “At the castle?”

“Uh,” the guard responded, “She had a meeting...”

“Bring her to East Inn #4. Quickly,” The voice ordered.

“Copy that,” the guard replied. He motioned forward, “This way, ma’am.”

I followed the guard out of the castle. What the hell was I doing? Was all of this even worth getting answers to my questions? I was walking blindly into a situation that could very-well backfire in ways I couldn’t fathom. The guard walked briskly to a golf-cart parked on the sidewalk and reached out his hand to help me in “Watch your step, ma’am.”

I ignored his helping hand and climbed in the golf cart on my own. Once I was seated, the guard climbed into the driver seat and put the gas peddle to the floor. I squinted as the cool air blew against my face. The streets of Notts’ Faire were dark and empty. I loved the grounds most at night. Uncle Henry’s creation really seemed to come alive in the moonlight. But now was not the time for nostalgia. I was heading deep undercover as an Irish woman named Jodie. Which reminded me- I’m supposed to be Irish! I really ought to be speaking with an Irish accent. As luck would have it- I happened to run a Renaissance Faire and was fluent in the most of the British tongues.

We drove up to the one of the most recent additions to Notts’ faire- The Yorkshire Inns. It was more of a series of multiplex motels than inns, but “motel” didn’t quite have that quaint Renaissance feel to it. As we got closer, I could see security guards stationed everywhere around the buildings. Had to be over a dozen, pacing and standing guard. What on earth needed so much security? Moments later, we parked in front of the main office at East Inn #4 and my driver jumped out, motioning toward the door. “This way, ma’am.” As we approached, another guard held open the door. Walking into the office, I spotted a middle-aged woman with shiny black hair and spectacles sitting behind the register, typing on a computer.

“Cutting it a bit close, eh sweetie?” she said, peering at me from above her spectacles. She had a surprisingly deep and sultry voice and looked like what I imagined a real vampire might look like.

“My meeting went long,” I said in my best Irish accent.

If my guard wasn’t confused before, he sure as hell was now. The black haired woman grabbed some sort of scanner device next to her computer and stood to her feet. She was slender and had to be over 6 feet tall.

“May I see your ID Badge?” She asked politely as she walked over to me.

I quickly unlocked my phone and showed her. She lifted the scanner device and pressed it against the barcode at the bottom of the screen. An electric chime sounded and a green light blinked at the top of the device.

“Alright, Miss McConnell, my name is Mistress Annabelle. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said pleasantly. Did she say Mistress? I was used to hearing titles like master and mistress occasionally at the Renn Faire, but only amongst cast members who were in character. “Please follow me and we’ll get you settled in,” she added, as she turned to leave.

I followed behind her as she exited the office, jogging every so often to keep up with her long strides. Everyone certainly seemed to be in a hurry tonight.

When we reached room #18, she opened the door and held it open for me. I walked inside hesitantly, unsure of what to expect. Leaning inside the room, Annabelle reached over to the wall switch and flipped on the lights. To my relief, nothing was out of the ordinary. Single bed, cozy accommodations, just as I’d helped Uncle Henry arrange it. In my paranoia, I continued to look around the room, half-expecting some dark twisted secret to reveal itself. Unfortunate, I didn’t have to wait any longer…

“I’m afraid we’re short on time, so we’ll need to skip the instruction videos,” Annabelle said. “But I see that you’re a second year, so, I’m sure you remember the rules from last time. They haven’t changed very much. So, as soon as you’ve freshened up, go ahead and drink your sedative.”

I blinked at Annabelle, trying to hide my confusion. “My sedative?” I asked.

Annabelle pointed to the nightstand, where an aluminum canister sat. “When you’re ready for bed,” she replied, “-drink the entire bottle. Big day tomorrow. You’ll need your rest." 

I hesitated. This was all getting a bit bizarre. I was being asked to take a sedative? I wanted to ask for clarification, but I realized that I risked blowing my cover by doing so. So instead, I simply smiled and replied, “Thank you.”

“My pleasure, love,” Annabelle replied, “We’re so glad to have you back.” And with that, she closed the door, leaving me alone in my room with the sedative that I was supposed to drink. What the HELL was going on here?! Why was I being asked to drink a sedative?! And what did she mean by, ‘big day tomorrow’? Apparently Jodie McConnell had attended last year. What if I were to cross paths with someone who knew her? Would they recognize that we weren’t the same person?! My mind raced with questions, each causing the pit in my stomach to drop lower. I stood in silence, off in my own little world as I stared at the aluminum canister on the nightstand.

After nearly a minute, I came to the conclusion that I had to back out of this. My undercover operation had gone far enough. I needed to call the woman back and tell her that something had come up and I needed to leave. I hustled toward the doorknob and twisted it open. Rushing outside, I was surprised to see that Annabelle was still standing outside my door talking with one of the guards. She turned towards me with her eyebrows raised.

“What’s the matter, love?” she asked, seemingly concerned.

“I… I’ve made a mistake,” I stammered, ditching my Irish accent. “I’m not supposed to be here. Something’s come up. I need to leave.”

“Oh dear,” Annabelle replied, her furrowing her forehead in thought. “Alright. Well, come inside and tell me what’s going on.”

She turned back to the guard and said quietly, “Give me a minute.” Then, she walked back over and pushed the door open, motioning me back inside. Begrudgingly, I accepted her invitation and walked stepped inside the room. It was at this moment that I felt something sting the side my neck. I gasped and shot my hand upward to my neck. But I instantly felt the Annabelle’s arm wrap tightly around my torso, holding my hands down to my side.

“What the-” I said out loud.

“Cold feet numb the rational mind to reason,” Annabelle said quietly into my ear.

Instantly, I felt disoriented. She had injected me with something! My knees suddenly gave out and my vision became blurred. I felt an arm lift my legs from behind the knees. And another arm supported my back as I toppled backwards. The woman named Annabelle now cradled me in the air, shushing me as a mother would her child. I struggled against her as best I could, but I was rapidly losing strength.

Right before I lost consciousness, I heard her whisper to me in a faux Irish accent, “Good luck out there, lassie.” Then everything went dark…

Story continues in Chapter Two
o0o

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12.04.18