“Let me get this straight, sir,” I said, setting the teacup aside. “You wish to hire our firm to babysit your daughter?”
Smoothing back a lock of silver hair, the doctor shook his head. “Not precisely, Mr. Tate. My daughter requires a companion, someone who can persuade her to think before she acts. There have been past difficulties… contretemps with both the media and the public… my hope is that you’ll be able to smooth over any possible future awkwardness.”
“Fair enough. If I may ask, how old is your daughter?”
The doctor hesitated. “Her emotional age is seven. There are communication issues… delayed speech. A specialist is working with her.”
“How severe are the issues?”
This dismayed me. I hadn’t expected this level of difficulty when I agreed to take Dr. Stein as a client. “Sir, I’m uncertain whether our firm is appropriate for your needs… perhaps a nurse?”
He sought to reassure me. “No, Mr. Tate, your firm is exactly what is needed. Trust me, you’ll quickly attune yourself to her moods and learn to anticipate her behavior.
“I don’t think I need remind you,” he continued in a clipped European accent, “this is a very lucrative opportunity for a neophyte firm…”
I nodded assent. Tate & Cross was only beginning to assert itself amongst a field of public relations giants. We needed the doctor more than he needed us.
I paused, studying his well-appointed office. Its Old World flavor was both claustrophobic and imposing. A painting of a woman in 18th century costume dominated one wall.
“My wife,” said the doctor quietly, noting my interest. “Elisabeth. She died a number of years ago. Strangled. An unfortunate affair. My son was in the house at the time… there was a question of culpability.” His eyes clouded with pain.
“Your son?” I frowned, wondering if the firm would be responsible for him as well.
“He’s dead, Mr. Tate. A fire… he always feared fire…”
“Tragic. Perhaps the trauma led to your daughter’s communication problems.”
“She was not yet… born.”
“But your wife, you said she had died.” I blushed suddenly, realizing my faux pas. “Miss Stein is the child of a second marriage, of course.”
“Not quite.” He pressed the intercom.
A female voice responded. “Yes, Viktor?”
“We’ll see Frankie now.”
Raising the teacup to my lips, I froze when Miss Stein staggered into the room.
The seven-foot creature walked unevenly, as if the action of putting one foot in front of another was foreign to her. This was no child. It was difficult to assess her age. Her mottled complexion was gray; her brown eyes lifeless. I tried not to stare at signs of scarring around her neck and wrists.
“Sit, Frankie,” commanded the doctor. She dropped heavily into a chair.
“Frankie, say hello to your new friend, Mr. Tate.”
Dead eyes turned in my direction.
“You and Mr. Tate shall be very good friends, Frankie,” said the doctor. “Understand?”
Frankie tilted her head. I shivered, glimpsing something of the grave in those inscrutable eyes.
She flexed her fingers and grunted.
Word Count: 518
Author’s Note: This flash fiction is written in response to ThainInVain’s challenge to write a story in which a public relations firm’s newest client is a PR nightmare. ThainInVain’s weekly challenges can be found here.