Having grown up as an American in absentia, Cassandra Broderick knew she had avoided some of the strange quirks that seemed to afflict so many of her fellow citizens. Such as still hanging on to the Yankee and Confederate historical divisions. Surveying the packed Memorial Court at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, she was almost positive this was a room full of Confederates. She was less sure about which side of the divide she fell into.
She’d been born overseas and spent a considerable portion of her early life outside of the United States, tagging along with her father, a diplomat. Her father had done the same, following his father – also a diplomat – around the world as a youngster and enjoying it so much he’d left the US as soon as his studies had finished and he’d been able to land an exciting opportunity as a junior in the embassy in Ecuador.
Cassandra could trace her paternal history back to a private who had enlisted in the Second Kansas Battery and fought for the Union. However, her mother’s family had lived in South Carolina all the way back since anyone could remember until she had fallen in love, married and joined her husband in South America. Cassandra guessed that made her some kind of bastard child in the historical scheme of things.
But her Confederate roots particularly showed in her passion for antique weapons. She’d been fascinated ever since glimpsing her maternal grandfather’s own very modest collection, locked away in glass cabinets, beautifully displayed, each and every piece with a story behind it.
When he’d died, he’d bequeathed his collection to Cassandra and she’d expanded on it ever since, putting together one of the finest assortments of antique weaponry in the country. She’d been invited by the curator of the Museum of the Confederacy to deliver a talk on her collection but instead she’d offered to loan her collection to them for an exhibition and be available for discussions on the opening day.
So far it seemed to be going well. The pieces were displayed in secure cabinets around the room and there were groups of people at least three deep congregating around each of them, trying to get close. The Annie Oakley rifles especially seemed to be of interest. Two Marlins, one a gold and platinum inlaid engraved model 1893 and the other gold plated and engraved, and a Remington pump .22 all once owned and used by Annie Oakley. Cassandra wasn’t sure whether it was Annie Oakley’s reputation, her own recent infamy or the more than half a million dollar price tag attached to those weapons that was engendering the intrigue.
The curator stepped up onto a raised podium at the back of the room and rang a little bell to gain the attention of the attendees, motioning to Cassandra that she should join him.
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he began as the crowd quietened and turned to face him. ‘I’d like to introduce the woman who is the reason we’re all able to be here today, admiring these wonderful historical artefacts.’
She looked out into the crowd and noticed pointing and whispering behind hands. She was used to it by now and the thick skin she had developed in the Marine Corps and while working at Heckler & Koch meant it didn’t bother her, although she’d also developed a particular loathing for the cult of celebrity that seemed to envelope anyone who’d had the misfortune to experience their fifteen minutes of fame before they were ready. Since she’d been planning on never using her fifteen minutes, it had been frustrating and seemingly never ending. A whole year had passed since the little adventure that had seen her accused of espionage and murder but people seemed like they still couldn’t get enough.
‘The task of amassing this collection of weaponry began several decades ago. Cassandra Broderick’s grandfather was a minor collector and when he died, he passed both his passion and his collection on to her. Since his death, Cassandra has built the collection up to one that now attracts nationwide acclaim. I might add that we are incredibly lucky to have this exhibition considering it normally occupies the basement of her father’s house.’
A hushed murmuring passed through the assembled throng and Cassandra wondered whether some people had thought the curator was going to mention the fact that her apartment had been blown up the year before and that was the reason they were lucky to be seeing the collection. The collection had always lived in her father’s basement, so had been in no danger of suffering the fate that the rest of her belongings had: being blown up by an ex-CIA agent who tried to frame her for murder, weapons theft and espionage.
‘Cassandra was previously a weapons designer with Heckler & Koch and is generally considered one of the country’s foremost weapons experts. It is truly an honour to have her here tonight to lend us her expertise.’
The curator paused and applauded, urging the audience to follow his lead before continuing.
‘Amongst the pieces on display here tonight are a very rare LeMat first model, serial number 7 revolver originally on the Confederate iron-clad Atlanta, a Confederate Texas Dance revolver and the “Holy Grail” for Colt collectors, the Colt Walker, as well as the Annie Oakley pieces. Cassandra has graciously agreed to answer any questions you may have so please feel free to approach her and ask those questions.’
Cassandra could tell he was about to wind up.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, please thank our honoured guest and owner of this marvellous collection, Cassandra Broderick.’
There was polite applause and the curator shook her hand before they both stepped down from the podium. The crowd dispersed back towards the display cabinets and Cassandra headed to the corner of the room to wait out the time she’d agreed to spend here. She doubted anyone would have any questions. After all, she’d spent the past year being hounded by the media – and not the respected kind – who had wanted to know all about the adventure of being falsely accused. If that wasn’t bad enough, they’d also wanted the inside scoop on how Jasper Wolf had managed to save her from all that.
After recovering from a gunshot wound – or maybe while he was recovering from a gunshot wound – he’d drafted up a manuscript outlining their thrilling adventures and his heroism and bravery in saving her from herself. He’d fictionalised it – barely – claiming it as the outstanding work of his brilliant imagination but so many parts of it were in the public domain – her history in the Marines Corps, the fact that she had worked for a major weapons producer, being accused of murder and espionage, being kidnapped by a group of Chinese soldiers – that it wasn’t long before the media started putting two and two together.
After that it was just a matter of time before they started knocking on her door – or rather her father’s door. Her apartment had been rebuilt and she had moved back in now, but then she had still been relying on her father’s hospitality. He’d again taken to answering the door with the phrase ‘I have a gun’.
Eventually, the media had written the stories – inaccurately – without her. She didn’t care about the inaccuracies so much. What grated was the slavish adoration of Jasper Wolf in the reports. He had already been a much loved author. Now he was a national hero, too, at least in the minds of readers of the national tabloids. No matter how much distance she put between Jasper and herself, she still wanted to beat her former flame to death with one of his own books.
A pair of teenage boys approached Cassandra cautiously after having loitered around the nearest exhibit for a few minutes without actually inspecting the contents of the display case. She tried to smile encouragingly but in all honesty the last thing she really wanted was to encourage teenage boys to take any more of an interest in weapons than they already seemed to have.
‘Ms Broderick?’ one of the boys drawled in a lazy Southern accent. ‘Can we ask you some questions?’
‘Do you have press accreditation?’ she asked seriously, frowning at them.
‘No,’ they answered uncertainly and in unison, looking at each other for moral support. It seemed Cassandra’s talent for scaring the male of the species was working just fine.
‘Good,’ she responded with a smile to settle their unease. ‘I don’t talk to reporters. What would you like to know, boys?’
Again, they looked at each other as if summoning the courage before the taller of the two asked, ‘What’s it like getting shot?’
‘Painful,’ she answered shortly, realising there weren’t going to be any questions about the exhibition. They weren’t boys, they were just men in training.
‘Why didn’t you tell your side of the story?’ the other boy asked. ‘Jasper Wolf’s book was great but…’
‘Well, he’s a bit of a tool. And you’re so hot.’
Cassandra nearly burst out laughing. Out of the mouths of babes, she thought, then crinkled her nose at the idea of describing these pimply faced, lanky boys as ‘babes’.
‘How do you know that?’ she asked instead.
‘Well, look at you,’ the taller boy blurted out, doing just that.
Cassandra rolled her eyes at the high school attempt at flattery. ‘I mean how do you know Jasper Wolf?’ She was tempted to add ‘is a tool’ but she left it diplomatically unsaid. Living with her father for nearly a year had allowed some useful skills to rub off on her.
‘Oh. He came to our school to talk to our English class. Showed us his scar and everything. He’s got that smooth way about him just like politicians. We don’t really like politicians.’ The shorter of the two boys had a shrewd sense about him and Cassandra respected that.
‘Can we see your scar?’ the taller boy asked hopefully and a little cheekily. In Jasper’s book, the character so thinly disguised as her had been shot in the breast.
‘Absolutely.’ She dropped her bag and turned side on to the boys, noting two sets of eyes dropping to chest level. When she lifted the sleeve of her shirt from her elbow to her shoulder to reveal the channel where the flesh had been singed away, there was a sigh of initial disappointment from them both. The fact that they were looking at an actual gunshot scar soon dissipated it, though.
‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ the shorter boy asked.
She didn’t respond to his question but the answer was no. On her therapist’s advice, she was taking a break from all forms of romantic relationships to focus on herself and her needs. She wasn’t sure that it was necessary – most of her problems seemed to stem from too much focus on her – but she and her therapist had begun to understand and appreciate each other a little better. The fact that they were still seeing each other long after her court-mandated schedule of appointments had finished was evidence of that. And his results couldn’t be denied. In the past year, she hadn’t punched one person and nobody had tried to kill her. Compared to the year before that when she’d punched two people and had several people planning a variety of ways to end her life, it had been a blissfully boring twelve months.
‘I’ll be eighteen in three years,’ he added hopefully.
‘And in three years I’ll still be old enough to be your mother.’ Cassandra was already on the distantly retreating side of thirty.
‘Mother I’d like to fuck,’ the taller boy whispered under his breath to his friend, sniggering at his own wit. Not quietly enough, though. She heard every word clearly but suspected that was what he’d intended as he said it.
‘Jesus Christ, Kenneth, you can’t say shit like that!’ The shorter boy was mortified.
Cassandra resisted the instinctive impulse to grab the teenager by the lapels of his jacket and break his nose with her forehead. It was one thing to hit a fully grown man but even she drew the line at assaulting children, no matter how much they resembled them and acted in worryingly similar ways.
‘Apologise!’ the shorter boy demanded. He may have been the shorter of the two but he was clearly the bigger man.
‘Yeah, Kenneth, you really shouldn’t say shit like that,’ she eventually chimed in. ‘If for no other reason than I have a terrible but well-deserved reputation for making people like you regret the day they were ever born. Plus I own every gun in this room.’ She raised one eyebrow and stared at him without blinking until Kenneth looked away uncomfortably and crossed his arms over his chest.
‘Sorry.’ The bravado was gone, replaced by a heartfelt insincerity and at the same time a genuine unease about whether Cassandra might live up to her reputation.
‘I’m sorry, too,’ his friend said.
‘What’s your name?’
‘Well, I accept your apology, Marty. Kenneth, I’ll take yours into consideration while I decide whether or not to call your mother.’
‘Actions have consequences,’ she said, repeating the words her therapist loved to end each of their sessions with. ‘Welcome to your unpleasant future. It begins right now.’