This is the too long delayed final chapter. Enjoy.
By Lifting Winds Forgot: The Journey from Driftwood
Part III – And the stars shall not look down
She came back to him slowly, when she came at all.
Gently, like flows within the tidal estuaries surrounding Gemini.
She came to him, she drifted away, her moods gently jarring successions, delicate streams of contrapuntal thought. Fear and exile – as she drifted away, reaching and joining – as she came back to him, back and again with no end in sight, and suddenly her tides were the one constant in this life holding her to him.
Always this becoming, never simply the ease of being.
The other little girl by his side, Charley, resolute and unyielding, like a firmly set anchor in a gale. Charley, holding Deborah fast to the present, in the here and now, and while almost against her will – still – here Deborah remained. Somedays dead but for the air that passed between her dry lips; other days a bouquet of freshly arranged flowers as she held Charley and all was love regained. Bittersweet beauty, because Collins knew the flowers would wilt and die soon enough, for the pups hold was as yet incomplete. There were no patterns to the flow within Gemini, no lunar pull to dictate comings and goings, yet like the tides around Gemini, the rising and sudden falls were as inevitable.
After a week aboard, nestled in Honfleur’s inner harbor, he carried her to a physician near Caen, a recommended psychiatrist who at times worked in Paris, but who came north to the sea for days at a time; the old man kept a small office in his house by the sea, and he agreed to see Deborah. After just one visit, Dr Mann grew intrigued with the contours of her despair, yet he was concerned that she needed intensive care, perhaps in a specialist hospital where a more thorough evaluation could be conducted.
And yet Deborah refused to even consider the idea, and so in private conversation, Dr Mann told Collins outright that her prognosis was terrible, that she was locked in the downward spiral of an intensifying, morbid, and poly-cyclic depression. In his experience, at some point Deborah would simply stop eating and drinking, and the end would come soon after that. He stated again he wanted to perform a full exam as soon as possible.
And while Collins found such a prognosis hard to fathom, let alone reconcile with the Deborah he had known these past few weeks, Mann’s credentials were impeccable, and the compassion he saw in man’s eyes engendered trust. Still, Deborah had embraced life, shared herself with him, and while he had noted little signs that from time to time that concerned him, he found it hard to accept such a sharp departure, and the darkly finite outcome he spoke of.
And so Collins asked the physician if there were any other options, and Mann sat cleaning his eyeglasses with his necktie, as if hesitating to walk this path. Then finally, he spoke:
“ECT. Electro-convulsive therapies, the so called ‘shock therapy.’ I have never been in awe of this process, and I regard it as many later came to regard ‘ICT’, or insulin induced coma therapy. No one fully understands the mechanism through which ECT works, and even after seventy years it remains an experimental treatment option, but for some with severe depressive disorder, the procedure can be a miraculous option.”
“What do you think? Is Deborah a good candidate for this treatment?”
He shook his head, looked Sumner in the eye. “I do not know. She would need to be evaluated in clinic, then we would need to locate a facility that still uses the technique.”
“Do you know who…”
“Yes, of course, but I caution you, this is a last resort only. There is an NHS clinic in Scotland, but one of the biggest practitioners is at a Catholic hospital in Spokane, Washington, in America, where active research is still being done. There are others of course, in Belgium and Germany, but I mention these two first.”
“Nothing here in France?”
He grew distant then, not quite hostile but less accessible. “I will check. There has been more political opposition than medical, you see, and those who study this area must do so quietly.”
“And Deborah…what if she refuses treatment?”
“By the time morbidly depressive patients meet the criteria for ECT, they are no longer – resistant. You must understand…this is, again, a treatment of last resort. I will make some inquiries, but you must be prepared to act quickly when the time comes.”
“What do you mean? When the time comes? What exactly should I look for?”
“I’m sorry. I thought I was being clear. In most cases, people like Miss Hill will simply stop eating and drinking. Death comes in four days, possibly sooner, without immediate intervention.”
“I know very little about God, Mr Collins, only that for some people life presents an intolerable series of burdens, and at some point these people succumb, they give up on living and seek peace in oblivion.” He looked away, out his window over an impossibly beautiful garden, and on to the sea beyond his garden walls. “So, the will to live simply – I don’t know the word – ah, yes, vanishes. These so-called morbid-depressive episodes may presage such an end, Mr Collins, as even with ECT you may only see improvements for a year or so. We are, I’m afraid, in many such cases only putting off the inevitable. You see, the burden she carries is not just heavy, it is intolerable.”
Collins left the man’s office, his words a faint echo; like his footsteps across the gravel he walked on, their meaning was coarse, gruff, and uneven. He fell into his rental car and drove back to Honfleur, and walked through the village to Gemini in a raging silence. He found Deb having one of her good days, on the aft deck laying in the sun with Charley, and she was affectionate that evening, almost happy to be alive and with him on the boat. Charley was beside herself with joy, and he was warily happy, too.
Yet by next morning the darkness had returned, and he called Liz; she agreed to a hastily arranged visit, and when she arrived, filled him in on the details of their earlier hospitalizations. While the picture she painted came into sharper relief, she told him easy solutions had always remained elusive. He began to despair when he finally realized the mossy contours of Deb’s life prevented easy examination. She was on a slippery slope now, and he found he was simply along for the fall, holding her hand as the darkness reached out for her.
Liz left with one parting word of wisdom: “There’s really little you can do at this point, except this one thing. Don’t let her drag you down with her.”
To Liz, Deborah had grown rooted to life, after the death of her daughter, within the confines of her little shop, within the creamy routines of tea and scones and a dedicated clientele that doted on her efforts, and saw her through her moods. He had arrived and pulled her away from this world, from all those easy routines that held her close to the bosom of unfulfilled need, yet now realized he’d been unable to pull her completely free. She remained caught in the uncertain gravity of that other life, and Liz thought she always would be. The collision of these two worlds had released something, and two gravities pulled now. They were pulling her world apart.
And now it seemed the more he pulled the more intense this other gravity became, what had begun as depression moved closer and closer towards a viral collapse into total withdrawal. She seemed to embrace this darkness, too…and then one afternoon he saw her fingering the air…as if she was playing the piano. The sight stunned him, left him completely speechless. Her movements were precise, once she even stopped and appeared to correct herself, replayed notes in the air…
And still there was Charley, whose gentle tugging was as insistent as the tidal flows around Gemini. Deborah could not deny the little girl a way to her heart, and so Deb held the little pup through her bouts of withdrawal and within the sunshine of her fleeting moments of happiness, leaving Sumner Collins to wonder just how long her precarious hold on life could possibly last.
And then she began fingering the air, playing the music of the spheres.
After Liz returned to Brighton, Sumner took Charley and Deborah on a long walk west of town, to the immense strand of beach that stretched along the Norman coast. They walked as tides ebbed, revealing immense fields of black rocks dotted with green and gray marine organisms – stranded under the autumn sun, but Charley gave up after an hour and retreated to the warm cocoon of Sumner’s papoose. From time to time he looked at Deb, at her fingers, lost within invisible sheets of music, playing the score of a dream.
And still they walked, walked until the sun had arced to the embrace of fields of trees, until the air grew cool and close. He looked at her and knew she would have walked on forever, and that she had no idea where she was. He took her hand and they turned back to the village and she held on as if he was her last contact with the world, as if without his guiding the way she would have simply ceased to be. After two hours she had not said a word, and by the time they were back on Gemini she was cold to the touch, yet not shivering or in any way complaining.
She had simply let go that afternoon, and did not eat or drink that night.
Nor the next morning, when he saw only fingers shaping chords in the air.
This isn’t a catatonia, he thought. More a willful turning away, and when she was the same by midday, he called Dr Mann.
“I think so.”
“Where are you?”
“Honfleur, in the inner harbor by the carousel. A green hulled sailboat, the Gemini…”
“I am at the Gare du Havre, so will be there soon, perhaps a half hour.”
Not quite an hour later he appeared on the quay above Gemini, and he was staring down into the water off her stern when Collins made it up into the cockpit.
“You have a friend, it seems,” the old physician said.
And against all odds, she was there, her head just out of the water, waiting. Collins dashed below and led an almost somnambulant Deborah to the aft deck, then he took off his shoes and shirt and slipped into the water, bid Deborah to follow him.
She walked to the ladder and looked down into the dolphin’s eyes, then turned away and walked below. Collins held onto the dolphin, his head against hers, his hand holding hers, and he stayed with her several minutes, then she slipped under the water and was gone.
People had gathered and were looking at him, some recognized him from the refugee incident and then even more people arrived; a minor sensation developed as he climbed back aboard and helped the physician make the leap from the quay to the rail, then he went below and showered, dried off and dressed.
Deborah had lain on their berth and not stirred while he walked forward and brought the physician to her; now she looked straight through him – perhaps she saw only spirits as she began fingering the air. Mann was gentle, recognizing what lay ahead made him even more so, then he grew more concerned as he felt her pulse and looked into her eyes.
“Deborah? Do you know me? Remember me, from my office?”
Her eyes flickered, made the slightest effort of recognition – then she slipped away again.
“What do you want to do now, Deborah?”
“Let me go, please,” came her whispered reply. “I can’t take this much longer.”
The old man nodded his head and got up from the bed and walked forward, Collins followed – his being now filled with total dread.
“She has let go now, monsieur. She has no family?”
“No, none that I’m aware of.”
“And you are not married? Is this so?”
“We are not.”
“Then you can not speak for her, or know her wishes. We can compel state intervention on an emergency basis, if that is what you wish, and you might delay events for three, perhaps four days, but after that?” He shrugged. “You could take her back to England, to the NHS, and perhaps they would intervene. But I doubt it – money drives these decisions now, not our humanity. I just do not know what their policy is regarding this form of severe depression. You had not, I take it, been together long enough to know her wishes?”
“No, just a few weeks.”
“You are in an impossible situation, my friend. The danger now is to yourself. She should not stay here, in any event. It will only lead to impossible complications, for you, and her.”
“If I may ask, what concerns you with this dolphin?”
“She is a friend.”
“I see,” he smiled, confusion in his eyes. “And have you known her long?”
“A few years.”
“Indeed.” Mann stepped back, looked at him with a million questions in his eyes. “This is true? Not some joke?”
“Oh yes. She seems to be the central reality of my life these days. I’ll tell you about her someday, doc. Just not tonight. I’d like to be with Deborah for a while, if I may.”
“Certainly. Shall I have the medical services come by? Perhaps in the morning?”
He nodded his head. “I don’t know what else to do.”
“If you were her husband, or her guardian, perhaps, you could intervene and force treatment, but with all the citizenship issues? I just don’t know, in any event, that we’ll change the outcome in any meaningful way now. This condition is not uncommon, yet it is tragic in each case. I will see you in the morning.”
When the old man was gone he called Rod and Liz, then Whit, and told them what was happening. Liz packed for the airport while he was still talking with Rod, and Whit said he would be right over. After midnight they were all sitting together in the aft cabin, gathered around Deb and talking about their lives together – and how their world had changed – was changing. And through that night, during all their talk of hopes and dreams, Deborah’s eyes grew even more cloudy and unfocused, and finally Sumner recognized the look he’d seen before. He saw Jennifer’s last days – as cancer closed in in her.
But no, not now! Not again!
He still he couldn’t believe this was happening, how someone fundamentally healthy could just let go and fall away from life like this. This wasn’t cancer…this was in the mind!
“I can’t understand the depth of despair that would bring someone to this point,” he said as they watched the sunrise.
“Few can,” Whittington added. “Like we’ve seen so often recently – with your dolphin – we don’t have the necessary frame of reference. I’ve encountered schizophrenic patients who live almost every waking moment inside a delusion. One women I treated for pulmonary issues was alive inside a room where little babies were being hacked apart and thrown into a fire. That was her day-to-day reality, a paranoid delusion, yes, but that was what she saw and heard. That was her reality. She was in a hospital bed watching that happen, day after day all around her, and her only relief came from powerful anti-psychotic medications that put her into a very deep sleep. How can we relate to that woman? It turned out her step-father tortured her for fun when she was a toddler, and I suppose those burning babies represented some sort of lost innocence, but in the end what did it matter what the cause is, or was. The damage was done; all that remained was the irretrievably broken shell of what was human being. What do we do with the sundered shell that’s left? Force them to live inside that Hell? Medicate them into oblivion and warehouse them until their organs fail?”
“It was her father, I think,” Liz said.
“I think her father used to beat her mum. I think she had a sister too, maybe he killed her. I only heard her speak of it once, just fragments, really.”
“Well,” Whittington sighed, “that’s the point I’m trying to make. We may never know, and even if we did find out all the facts and could understand the causes of her pain, at this point there’s only just so much one can do.”
“This psychiatrist?” Liz asked. “Did he mention shock therapy?”
“She underwent a course of it, eight times I think, over a month. She was better for a while, a few months anyway, then she slipped back down. Medication worked, for a time.”
“That’s what he said, yes. It’s a temporary fix, a bandaid.” He looked at Deborah, her eyes wide open and staring at the wall, fingering the air. “The dolphin came this evening, you know. Deb saw her and turned away, wouldn’t even reach out for her.”
“Did you go in with her?” Whittington asked.
“She comes for you now, I think, and you alone, but I wonder what she thought when she saw Deborah?”
“I feel like I interrupted something out there on the cliff,” Collins said, “something I shouldn’t have.”
“Perhaps, but again, you’ll never know. Deborah is on her own journey now, wherever that may take her. And us. We’re going there, too.”
“I don’t know,” Liz said. “I think we should throw her overboard, let the cold water shake her out of this…”
“I think they used to do that,” Whittington said, trying to hide his discomfort, “back in the nineteenth century. I don’t think the procedure was effective then, and I doubt it would be now.”
They heard Dr Mann knock on the hull a little before eight and Collins helped the old man below. He looked at Deborah and shook his head. “No change, I see.” He leaned over and put some drops in her eyes and listened to her lungs, then he looked at Collins. “I am going to take her to the clinic outside Paris. There we will evaluate her as a candidate for further therapy.”
“ECT?” Whittington asked.
“Yes. I’m sorry, and you are?”
“Paul Whittington, recently retired, pulmonologist and general surgeon with the NHS.”
“Ah. Not so many facilities doing ECT now, I suppose. Have you any experience?”
“No, only peripherally, managing chronic care for a few psychiatric patients.”
The old man looked down at Deborah again. “She is a difficult case. And you, young lady? You are?”
“Liz, her friend. We were hospitalized together nearly twenty years ago.”
“Yes, and a suicide attempt, I think. Overdose.” She looked away, still unable to deal with their shame.
“Do you know if ECT was tried?”
“Yes. I was telling Paul earlier, I think eight treatments over a month.”
“I think so, but only for a short time.”
“I see. Do you think she would object to our trying again?”
Liz shook her head. “I don’t know. She turned away so suddenly this time…”
“Suddenly? How so?”
“She wasn’t herself the last time I saw her. She was more, I don’t know, angry. And she had a headache. A blinding headache.”
“Angry? Interesting.” He handed Collins a business card. “This is where we will be taking her, it’s out beyond the south part of the city, beyond Orly and all that mess. You will come and see her in a few days, perhaps early next week?”
“So, you are going to intervene?”
“Yes, I have secured permission. We will be limited to nutritional support, for the time being, at least until I know exactly what’s happening, biochemically I mean. She will undergo tests, then we shall see. Will you remain here?”
“No, I’ll start for Paris in the morning, getting the mast pulled this afternoon.”
“Ah, well, I’ve never been out on the water. The great unknown…it is not for me, I’m afraid. Will you help me get her up to the pier, please?”
Whittington and Collins lifted her to the cockpit, and then Collins carried her to the quay; men were waiting to take her and a few minutes later they were gone. Collins stood quayside watching the ambulance drive out of view, storms raging in his soul.
“Rather a nightmare, Sumner. I’m so sorry this had to happen.”
Collins nodded his head, shrugged. “C’est la vie, I guess. Liz? What are your plans?”
“I was going to stay here with her, so if I may I’d like to stay with you until we’ve had a chance to visit her in Paris.”
“Okay. Well, I’m leaving to cross over to the marina in Le Havre, get the mast pulled and ready for transport to Marseilles. Paul, what are you doing?”
“I’ll drive back across and meet you at the marina; I’d like to see how this is done. And…I’d like to make the trip to Paris with you as well, if that’s alright.”
“Sure.” He pointed across to the harbor entry: “The lock opens in an hour, so I’ve got to get ready.” Paul left and Liz took Charley out for a quick walk, and he was ready to go by the time they returned. He back Gemini out into the turning basin and watched the lock-keeper start the process, then the gates opened and he moved the boat into the lock and held the lines as water poured out into the estuary, lowering the boat to sea level. They motored across the Seine and back to the marina, meeting Whittington just as the crane moved alongside to pull the mast. Antenna leads and radome secured first, shrouds eased and released from the chainplates, then finally, head and back stays released – and the crane lifted the mast and lowered it to a flatbed trailer, then a swarm of men wrapped and secured the mast for the journey to Marseilles. Collins placed an aluminum plate over the opening where the mast penetrated the deck and secured that from below, then raised a small radar transmitter on a short tower aft and connected it to the chartplotter. When he had secured the FLIR camera, he motored back to the slip next to Aphrodite and they broke for lunch, walked up to a little bistro Paul had found.
“What’s the word on Aphrodite?” Collins asked after they ordered.
“I’ll close on the 370 in two weeks, then bring her here and transfer my stuff over. Same broker is taking Aphrodite, so no real rush.”
“Liz? You and Rod?”
“Everything’s happened so fast,” Liz said, looking away. “Not sure what we’ll do yet, or what he’s up to, really.”
“Rod’s still young, no real rush, is there?”
“I suppose so,” she said as she looked at him, “but all this stuff with Deb has got me worried.”
“Me, I think.”
“You?” Collins said. “My heavens…why?”
“It’s just something in the back of my mind, Sumner. Not logical or rational, but if it can happen to Deb, I suppose it can happen to me.”
“So,” Whittington said, “have you felt so depressed before?”
“When I was in hospital, yes, but that was such a long time ago. Recently? No. Not even once since I got out. I just feel so bad about the whole thing, so helpless.”
“You sure haven’t acted helpless, not as far as I can tell, Elizabeth.” Collins took her hand. “You’ve been a good friend to her, and to me, helped me get to her and steady her up. Not sure there was much more anyone could have done to help.”
“Liz, just keep talking about your feelings, don’t bottle them up,” Whittington said. “We English are too good at that, I think. We’re more efficient at bottling up our feelings than even the Germans.”
They laughed at that, but Liz kept a firm grip on Collins’ hand, didn’t really want to let go – and she held firm until their lunch came. Some sort of local fish soup, full of garlic with hints of tarragon and anise appeared, along with bread and wine, and they ate in relative silence, Whittington dipping little slices of bread in the soup and waxing ecstatic over the ‘symphony of flavors’ he found in his bowl.
Back on the boat after lunch, he loaded Charley in her papoose and was getting ready to head back to the beach when Liz came to him and out of the blue kissed him…then with her arms around him she hugged him for the longest time.
“May I walk with you,” she said at last.
“Sure,” he said as he went topside, not really understanding what had just happened.
When they were away from the marina, almost to the sand, he cleared his throat a little. “Care to tell me what that was all about?”
“You don’t know?”
“Of course not. I’m a man, therefore completely ignorant about what goes on in a woman’s mind.”
She laughed. “Well, first of all, I love my husband.”
“Okay. That’s always a good thing.”
“Second, I’m completely mad about you. I told you, when you called me ‘darling’ that day, something tripped inside of me, like someone turned on a light. I felt something I never expected to feel again…”
“Revulsion? A need to slap my face?”
“Oh, you!” She playfully slapped his arm, then stopped and turned to face him. “No, quite the opposite. I’ve wanted to be with you ever since.”
He looked away, shocked, then turned back to her. “Do you have any idea how confusing this all is? To me…to you? To all of us?”
“Yes, I do, but there’s really nothing to it, Sumner. Just a feeling I wanted you to be aware of. I’d rather not cheat on Rod, though heaven knows he deserves it, and I wouldn’t do anything to hurt Deborah. Still, I want you to know how I feel. I want you to know when I look at you there are much more than innocent little girl feelings involved.”
“Why tell me?”
“Because I think you deserve to know how I feel, and I don’t want to walk around with these feelings all bottled up inside, like Paul said. I want you to know because when I look at you I want you to realize what’s in my eyes.”
“Is your marriage to Rod…?”
“Oh, no, it’s just fine, when he’s not off boffing his secretary… We get on super, most days. We will, because I think we were friends first, before we were lovers, before we were married. We’ll always be friends.”
“He’s had affairs?”
“There was a secretary at work a few years ago, he had an affair but he couldn’t keep it a secret. We, well, we talked as friends might about it. About his feelings for her, about getting a divorce, all very friendly, but in the end he realized he didn’t want to lose me as a friend. That’s ‘Rod ’n me’, in a nutshell, but I know he still sees her from time to time. Actually, I think he’s with her now.”
“Jennie and I were like that – minus the affair. There wasn’t a thing we couldn’t talk about, that we couldn’t share. We were friends.”
“I want you to make love to me.”
Collins didn’t quite know what to say, but he looked at her now, aware of the eggshell fragility he saw in her eyes. “Why? That would seem to be the most confusing thing we could possibly do.”
“Oh, I know, but there it is.”
“Do you mind if I think about the idea for a while?”
She smiled, laughed. “Oh, Sumner, just because I want something doesn’t mean I’ll get it. I’m not a child, you know?”
“I am,” he said, chuckling. “I have been ever since Jennie passed.”
She stopped walking again, looked at him. “Hmm? Why do you say that?”
“I think the day she left I lost almost all sense of myself. I had begun to see myself as her shadow, only now she was gone – so what was I? The weird part is…I wanted to move on the boat and sail away, because that’s what we had planned to do together. I didn’t have a life after that, not one of my own. I had the life we planned to live together, nothing left of me, not even my shadow.”
“So why is that like a child?”
“Because, I think I left all responsibility to myself behind, inside that vanishing shadow. I didn’t have a life anymore, and I had lost her’s too. I think that’s childish, at least it is now, when I look back on things.”
“Uh-huh. Can I ask you a question. A bad one?”
“Bad? What do you mean – by ‘bad’?”
“I don’t want this to seem mean, but, well, why Deborah? And why do you feel so much responsibility for her? You’ve only known her, what, not quite a month?”
They started walking again, but more slowly now, and Charley circled them, wondered what was happening.
“A day or a year, what does time matter? When you love someone, is there some sort of timeframe that makes love legitimate? Some sort of statute of limitations that applies after death? Yet beyond all that, I think a real part of love is a bit more involved than just caring. A sense of responsibility, perhaps, is what I’m getting at, but that’s not quite it, either. Perhaps it’s an appreciation of the vulnerabilities we face when we open ourselves up to love. We let our guard down, we open up in ways we rarely do to other people – other than when we’re falling in love. We take-on a responsibility when we accept that gift, but it’s a burden, too, whether we care to admit that, or not. Yet that burden is a basic part of our humanity, and without acknowledging that part of ourselves, I think we’d be little more than the worst sort of animal.”
“And do you know what, Sumner?”
“That’s exactly why I love you.”
“You really have to stop saying that…”
She stopped walking again when she heard that, physically reached out and turned him to face her, then she jumped into his arms, began kissing him, running her fingers through his hair, then with her face on his chest she squeezed him long and hard – and he felt Charley’s claws in his legs as she tried to climb up…
“I’m not asking that you understand, Sumner. Only that you accept my feelings, don’t question where they come from.”
“And you don’t have to act on my feelings. Only yours. You can’t hurt me, not in the way you think. You can only hurt me by turning away from me, so please don’t.”
“Okay.” But right at that moment all he could think about was Corrine looking over photos of this encounter on the beach – and laughing at what she could only imagine were his intolerable infidelities.
They departed the marina on the turning tide, running upriver at four in the morning, feeling their way through a heavy fog until they passed under the Pont de Tancarville. Running against the Seine’s current they were making perhaps three knots over the ground, and by the time the sun rose over the bluffs above Caudebec-en-Caux the air was warm enough to shed jackets. Collins had the wheel until the fog lifted, then Liz took over while Whittington took notes and shot endless images with his huge Canon.
Charley sat on his lap when topsides, but Collins could tell she was looking for Deborah. She sniffed and pawed the deck where they used to sit together, then would turn and look up at him – wondering what had happened to the world. He would hold her in those moments, afraid of the trust he might lose if he interfered with her explorations, but she always ended up grabbing his hand between her two front paws and licking his fingers, then his chin. And he always kissed her on top of her nose and looked into her eyes. They stopped at a little park-side tie-up that night and Collins started a pot of soup after Gemini’s lines were set. They sliced fresh bread and drank wine while the stars slipped into their velvet cloak, and he was concerned the weather was still so warm in late October. Still, they ate soup to a serenade of crickets and frogs, and that wasn’t such a bad thing, he thought. Now well away from the sea the air was warm and still, flies buzzed outside the cockpit enclosure, and soon it grew warm and stuffy below. When all the dishes were done he shut down the companionway hatch and turned on the air conditioner, shaking his head as he looked at a calendar in his mind’s eye. He showered, and when he came out found Liz there under the covers, grinning – and looking very lovely.
“Surely you don’t expect me to sleep with Paul,” she grinned.
“Sorry, I just hadn’t thought…”
She took his hand, pulled him down to the bed. “It’s okay, Sumner. I’m not going to bite.”
She started scratching his back, rubbing his shoulders – then she kissed his neck. Lightly at first, then she bit him once, gently, and she turned him over and began playing with him, first with her hands, then with her tongue. When he was hard she mounted him, held him inside with her hands flat on his chest, moving so slowly he was almost unaware of any motion at all. Time passed so slowly like this, her motions – like her words – contradictory impulses she simply could not control.
And neither could he, it seemed.
She reached down at one point and rubbed her clit for a moment and he felt the walls of her womb contracting, milking him, and in that moment he came inside her. She remained on him for a few minutes then slipped down beside him and held him with stunning ferocity.
“Thank you,” was all she said, and those words were the faintest whisper he had ever heard. She kissed him a few minutes later, then he heard the change in her breathing as she fell asleep, and he too fell into that gentle darkness, fell into a space somewhere between guilt and sorrow, lost in a landscape of impenetrable need, oblivious to the stars overhead, stars troubled not at all as silence surrounded Gemini…
He walked Charley the next morning, early – before the sun came up. They were tied-up beside a park, but he was stunned at the number of people he saw sleeping in the rough, little piles of drug paraphernalia scattered everywhere he looked. He made sure Charley kept clear of all the detritus then hurried back to Gemini. He started the motor, cast off and was in mid-channel by the time Liz came up, Whittington a few minutes behind her.
“What’s up?” Whit asked as he looked at Sumner, seeing the expression on his face.
Collins just shook his head. “Lots of druggies passed out in that park.”
“Ah. Yes, heroin is a much bigger problem now than it was just a few years ago. Everywhere you go, it seems.”
“Well, it sure is right there.” He saw a huge barge ahead cutting across their path and he steered towards the right bank, checking the sonar and depth sounder as he cut in as close as he dared, but the skipper of the pushing boat steered the barge right at Gemini.
“I say, what’s that fellow doing?”
“Playing chicken,” Collins said as he throttled back, and then, when the barge was committed to a course he gunned the throttle and darted across the channel. The skipper of the other boat laughed and shot him the finger. “Ah, that legendary French hospitality.”
Late that afternoon they locked up at Notre Dame de la Garenne, then found a restaurant with a little dock on the river, and tied off for dinner. After a huge meal and two bottles of wine, the proprietor let them stay tied up for the night, and after Gemini cleared the locks, they set off the next morning hoping to make the final push into Paris by mid afternoon.
The landscape moved from rural to suburban, then they watched air traffic fly in to and out of DeGaulle as they entered the city proper. Barge traffic grew heavier still, noise from freeway traffic an odd counterpoint to the bucolic soundscapes of just a few hours earlier, then the Eiffel Tower hove into view, and the obelisk in the Place de la Concorde. Once they passed the Isle St Louis and Notre Dame, he cut under the freeway and into the marina just a few hundred meters from the old bastille.
Paul was anxious to get back to Aphrodite and left within an hour; Liz seemed most anxious to get back into Collins as soon as Whittington left and they went below as soon as he’d completed all formalities at the marina office. She was a wildcat, he soon learned, horny apparently all the time and seemingly more interested in pleasing him than in having her own needs met. She was Collins’ first experience with a woman so perfectly attuned to her sexuality, and as guilty as he felt at times he simply couldn’t help himself. After almost twelve hours straight that night he finally cried ‘uncle’ – begged her to let him rest, and Charley-like she lay her chin on his chest and looked into his eyes.
“You’ve never been loved like this, have you?” she asked him as they drifted. “Sometimes it seems as if you’re shocked.”
“I guess I haven’t. Jennie was a once a month kind of gal. Deb and I, well, that was different.”
“You’re fantastic. Unbelievable. I envy Rod.”
“You shouldn’t. You’re so good to be with, not so reserved. I swear, after twenty years he stills asks permission before he comes.”
“And I hate to say it, but it’s been almost a year.”
“A year? Since you made love? Why?”
“Sadly, I think he’s at a point in life where he’s lost interest in me. You, on the other hand, have not.”
“No, I have not. But I simply have to take Charley outside now…”
It was past midnight when he got topsides and the grounds were empty, and he let the pup fire away on the grass while he looked up at the full moon over the metal roofs – but he had the feeling he was being watched. There was a little dew on deck when he stepped back aboard, and he almost slipped but found the lifelines and grabbed hold; when he went below he found Liz talking on her phone – to Rod by the heated sound of things. She was pleasant and wondered when he’d be over and she rang off a moment after he came below, and then she followed him aft and curled in beside him, leaving room for Charley to rumble around before nesting down.
“Seemed fine. I asked when he’d be over but he seemed evasive.”
“Did he call you?”
“Did he ask about Deb?”
“No, he didn’t. Strange, isn’t it?”
“Let’s move you forward, right now.”
“What? You don’t think…”
They got her forward and he shut off all the lights, then wished he’d rigged the FLIR to come up on the plotter at the chart table.
He felt someone step aboard and slipped into a shadow, then held his breath when the companionway hatch slid open. Hatch-boards moved slowly out of the way, one by one, and he saw a woman’s leg on the top step, in five inch heels no less – and he flipped on all the cabin lights as her foot was almost on the second step.
“Ah, well, if it isn’t the lovely Corrine! To what do I owe this intrusion?”
She smiled. “I must work on my tradecraft.”
“I think, depending on your objective, I’d forego the Louboutin pumps, as well.”
Now she laughed, and Liz came out of the forward cabin to see what the commotion was all about.
“Ah, Mrs Lethbridge. Good that you moved to the forward cabin, as I think your husband’s plane lands at DeGaulle in twenty minutes.” She handed Sumner an overnight bag and came below. “Now, I think you should go to sleep. Sumner and I will be engaged when your husband arrives, and that should erase all doubt.”
“How did he know?” Liz asked.
“I think when Dr Whittington spoke with him yesterday a suspicion was aroused. Nothing definitive was said, however.”
“You’re listening to his calls?” Collins asked.
“Since I saw you on the beach, yes. I don’t want to see any trouble for our new hero, you know?” Her phone chirped and she took the call, listened intently then rang off. “So, his plane is early. We have about a half hour. Can I help you move anything forward?”
Liz went for her toothbrush and a few loose ends were straightened along the way, then she sat down for a minute and collected her thoughts.
“If you’ll pardon me saying so, Mrs Lethbridge. You need a shower. Badly. And wash down there, please.”
“Oh my God,” she said as she dashed to the forward head.
“And you, Sumner. Wash your face, at least. The pubic hair on the nose…?”
“You two should never do this again. I have never seen two less discrete souls in my life.”
They heard Liz get in bed and the lights switched off forward, so Corrine and Collins went aft. He showered and shaved, and when he came out found she was already under the covers, grinning at his nakedness. “I can’t wait to see that in action,” she said, “but not tonight, perhaps. I think he must be very, very tired.”
“I am. I know this, but I have plans for you.”
“Do you indeed?”
“And please do not call your attaché again. Those are not the plans I have in mind for you.”
“No, I am going to retire soon, and you and I are going to sail to Polynesia and make love all day everyday on this boat, tied off in a little lagoon.”
“I think you and Mrs Lethbridge should count on doing that trip together. I think you’d get along famously.”
“Yes, she’s insatiable, isn’t she?”
“You’ve been listening?”
She bit her lip. “So sorry, but yes. You are vigorous for a man your age. Very much so, yes, I think.”
“You should not be too offended. Actually, I think that is a complement.”
“Oh, no doubt.”
Her phone chirped again and she answered.
“Okay, his taxi just dropped him off out front. We’ve informed the security man, so he’ll be admitted.”
“You think of everything, don’t you?”
She smiled bit her lower lip. “Lay down. Now.”
She crawled on top of him, began thrusting and moaning, and a moment later he felt someone board Gemini, then heard – Rod? – as he came down the companionway, then aft.
“A-hah!” Rod said as flipped on the cabin lights.
“Bloody Hell!” Collins bellowed – and as Corrine screamed and dashed into the head. “Rod! What the devil are you doing here!”
“Oh, shite! Sorry…is Liz about?”
“Forward cabin, mate. Now sod off!”
“Yes, sorry, excuse me…”
After the cabin door closed Corrine came out and slipped back under the covers.
“I feel awful,” Collins whispered.
“So, don’t become involved with this woman. She’s is pretty, certainly, but uncertain difficulties attach to married women, and you really don’t need such complications now.”
“I’ve been stupid.”
She nodded her head. “Yes, that, and lonely, and confused, and you have moved from one tragedy to yet another, and now? Perhaps yet another. It is, I think, time to change your course again, Captain.”
“Funny. I’d thought that’s what I’ve been doing.”
“When she is gone I am going to eat you alive,” she said as she began dressing. “So, you like these heels?”
He laughed. “You are inCORrigible.”
When she was dressed she came back to him. “Incorrigible? Yes. You have no idea, and I too have been repressing my desires for a long time. I am quite hopeful you will be able to help me with that problem.” She kissed him once, lightly on the cheek. “Now, I am going to make a commotion, and I want you to follow me out to the grounds.”
True to her word, she began shouting and carrying on and she stormed through the galley and up into the cockpit, then she hopped off the boat with him in quick pursuit. Still in view of the boat, she slapped him across the face and stormed off; Collins came back and crawled below rubbing his face, with poor Rod waiting for him in the main cabin.
“Goddamn, Sumner, I am so sorry for this…”
“Barging in on you like that…”
“Yeah, what was that ‘A-hah!’ all about?”
“I thought you and Liz might…”
“Oh. Well, she slept back here with me on the trip. Seems Whittington snores like a freight train. I suppose he told you.”
“Yes, well, but who was that woman?”
“Remember that AFP reporter? She’s tenacious, that’s all I can say.”
“I dare say. How’s Deborah?”
“Running tests. I’ll go out to see her day after tomorrow. Are you two staying?”
“Through the weekend. Mind if we stay aboard?”
“No, not at all.”
“‘Night, Rod.” He went to the chart table and did some paperwork, put receipts in his file, poured himself a stiff rum and went aft. “Never again,” he whispered as he picked up Charley and put her on his chest.
She circled twice on his chest – then a long feathering fart drifted across his face.
He spent the next day tidying up Gemini, taking care of all those loose ends removing the mast had left. The sun was out and for early November the air was still unusually warm, local kids playing on the grass in the marina created an almost pleasant contrast to the waterway and freeway traffic – almost – out of earshot. By late morning he was ready to tackle the worst of it: he donned his wetsuit and hung his dive gear off the aft platform and jumped in the water. He wondered about Ted then, his old squadron mate, and he wondered why the thought hit him then, just as he slipped on his tank…
And he thought about her, about Hope, and what the old man was going to do about that.
With scrub-brush in hand and those thoughts in mind, he ranged up one side of the hull and down the other, cleaning all the water intakes and transducer plates, then replacing all the sacrificial zinc anodes. After an hour below he came out cold and covered in green slime, but he washed his gear down, then himself – thanking his lucky stars Island Packet had included a hot shower on the aft swim platform. Once his gear was stowed, he went below for a real shower.
Rod and Liz were off exploring, and he was glad to be alone now. He dressed, took Charley for a walk, then, intending to walk to an old restaurant he and Jenn used to enjoy, grabbed a jacket and his wallet and walked from the boat, and just outside the marina a black BMW pulled up alongside and a door opened. He bent down, saw Corrine and hopped in.
“How did the rest of your evening go?” she began.
“What? You don’t know?”
She grinned. “Should I?” She looked at him again, and he looked at her. “Where are you headed?”
“Carr’s Irish Pub.”
“One of my favorite places in town. Ever been?”
“I can’t say that I have.”
“Let’s go. I’ll buy the first round.”
“What is it with you and five inch heels?”
She smiled. “Admit it. You like them. I see it in your eyes.”
“You say so.”
When they were seated he looked around at the old timbered interior and felt the warm flush of remembrance. “I wonder how many times Jennifer and I had lunch here over the years?”
“Yes. Our first thing in Paris, we always came here. Escargot and duck, and the house red, whatever that happened to be. Then a walk through the Tuileries back to the Crillon.”
“The city has changed, you know, since Charlie Hebdo.”
“I can only imagine. History has a way of catching up with us, I guess.”
She looked at him, gave a little gallic shrug. “History has a way of killing off the weak, and the unprepared.”
A waiter came and she asked about the special, then followed Sumner’s lead and ordered snails and duck. “So, we start a little tradition of our own today,” she said through a coy little smile, “do we not?”
“I suppose that’s a possibility.”
“You will see Miss Hill tomorrow, no?”
“That is the plan.”
“And the Lethbridges? Will they go with you?”
“I think so.”
“They are scheduled to leave Friday. What will you do then?”
“Relax, I suppose. I’ve been out sailing for over a year now. I want to walk, sit outside at a sidewalk café and have coffee and watch fat women chase their husbands with rolling pins.”
She smiled. “Yes, life does go on, even at it’s most absurd.”
“So, meanwhile, I am your assignment?”
“For now. Through Christmas, I think, perhaps until you are out of France.”
“Seems a waste. What’s going on?”
“A lot, I think. With all the refugees, we are at a disadvantage.”
“Not my business anymore. I wish you the best of luck, but the world will just have to go on hating without me.”
“So, tell me about Liz, Mrs Lethbridge?”
“What would you like to know?”
“She seemed to attach herself to you. Is that the best way to describe what happened?”
“Well, you did not pursue her, I think.”
“No, I did not. Quite a surprise, in the end.”
“Strange,” she sighed.
“Oh? How so?”
“Men, I think, find it so much harder to say no, do they not?”
He laughed. “That’s the way it is, I guess.”
“Yet you seemed to find it very easy to say no to me?”
“Yes, odd, isn’t it?”
“You find me unattractive, perhaps?”
“I doubt there’s a man alive who’d find you unattractive.”
“I find you attractive.”
“Good. That makes my life easier.”
“Oh, I was worried.”
“Ah.” He looked at her again. “So, now that we have the formalities out of the way, why are we having lunch?”
She saw his jaw clench and his eyes narrow. “He’s been in the neighborhood?”
“Yes. Twice in the last week.”
“You’re going to have trouble. Where, what cities has he been spotted in.”
“Frankfurt, Brussels, Liege and of course, here.”
“So, the assumption is they’re moving through with the refugees. That’s why you were out there that night, right?”
“What about weapons? Anything?”
“Not yet. But if Hassani saw you on television, as I suspect he did, he may make an attempt.”
“We want to move your boat out of such a public space, for a time anyway.”
“A government facility, south of the city.”
“Today would be good.”
“Seriously? Do we have time for lunch?”
“This isn’t an order, Sumner. It’s a suggestion, and an offer of help, but we think you should be aware of the possibility. We know your team was after Hassani’s cell, and we know you were his target in Dar-es-Salaam, and many times in Iraq. When you retired, it might have passed your mind that the danger was over, but we’re not so sure. What did you say? History has a way of catching up?”
“Revenge is a dish best served cold, no matter what History has to say about it.”
Their lunch came and he picked his way through the discomforting ideas she had presented, one by one. Refugees, television exposure, the marina – those all made sense. But would Hassani consider him a target worth pursuing? He just didn’t know, but his contact at the embassy hadn’t raised any flags.
He paid the bill and they drove back to the marina in silence.
“So? What do you think? Will you move the boat?”
“I really don’t think it’s necessary.”
She nodded her head, reached behind her seat and handed him a parcel. “There is a weapon in here, and a few permits. Keep one of them on the boat, and one with you always, with your passport.”
“What is it?”
“A P88, suppressed. You should keep it with you, on your person, always. I won’t be far away, but, who knows. I’ll need to call in, advise my office that you don’t want to move.”
“If more develops, I’ll move, but it seems a little thin right now. Look, do you know what a copperhead is?”
“It’s a venomous snake, kind of a mean one, too. When I was a kid I ran across one in the basement of my grandparent’s house. I was sweeping up a mess down there when it attacked me, and it just kept striking at the broom in my hand over and over. At first I was scared, then I realized how single-minded it was, and how stupid. I moved the broom and it attacked the broom, and eventually it became kind of fun. I kept moving the broom until I led it into a corner, and then I called my grandfather, who came down and killed it.”
“You think Hassani is like this copperhead?”
“Exactly. Single-minded, and that’s his weakness. If I’m his target, which I doubt but it is possible, moving me around won’t matter. He’ll follow me and hit me when he thinks the time is right. On the other hand, if I’m a target, knowing where I am isn’t all that bad for us. Next, he may be here with another objective in mind, but he may only try to scope me out while he’s here. You could get eyes on him that way, start a tail. No telling where that might lead you.”
She nodded. “Yes, but we would need more surveillance in the area.”
“And a broom, Corrine. You’ll need a wide broom, something to lure him in, make him strike.”
“At you, perhaps?”
He smiled. “The thought never entered my mind.”
“So, this Hassani,” Rod began, “they think he’ll try to bomb you or something.”
“Rod, there are so many ‘ifs’ right now it’s not even worth speculating, but the security services think there’s a risk, and I think you should know about that risk as you’re here on the boat. I don’t think there’s a reasonable…”
“So that’s why she gave you that fucking gun?” Liz said, now clearly very upset. “Because there’s no risk?”
“No, Liz, not exactly. But I once directed an operation where his brother was killed, and his wife. Maybe his child, too. Revenge is a big driver of events in the Middle East, it sparks an endless cycle of murder and counter murder, but the French had eyes on him before we rescued those refugees. Even so, they think he might have seen coverage of that, and that he might try to exact his pound of flesh.”
“Oh, this is fucking great,” she said, crying, and Rod looked at her, then back to Collins.
“Could I ask you something, Liz?” Rod asked, quietly.
“What?” she said.
“Are you in love with him, with Sumner?”
Her lips began to tremble, and she broke out crying even more loudly.
“I see,” Rod said, looking down at his hands.
“I doubt you do, Rod,” Collins said. “She’s lonely, insecure, and she loves you very much. That’s about the size of it.”
“So, you don’t love Elizabeth?”
“I consider you both my friends. That’s all I can or will tell you.”
“That’s not what Whittington said. He thinks you two are in love.”
“I’m sorry he thinks that.”
“And you’re some kind of CIA James Bond assassin type, is that about right?”
Collins laughed. “Not hardly. I’m a lawyer, I worked for our State Department, embassy security. I worked with intel agencies all around the world, even the KGB back in the day, but I was more like a well-connected security guard than some sort of spy.”
“But you’ve, like, killed people, right?”
“Oh, that’s just fuckin’ great.” He stood and ran his hands through his hair. “I want to ring your fuckin’ neck and here I am, sitting across from James Fuckin’ Bond with his Walther PPK.”
“It’s a P88, Rod. Much more powerful, you know.”
“Oh, now that’s just fuckin’ great – times two! You really know how to make a bloke feel right as rain, ya know?”
“How ‘bout a rum and fuckin’ Coke?” Collins said, smiling sarcastically. “Liz? You fuckin’ want one too?”
They both nodded, and he poured three strong ones, and Rod looked at Liz again.
“Well, it’s cards on the table time, Lizzie.”
“Me and Sarah. We’ve been seein’ one another again. For quite a while.”
“I figured that was it,” she said. “Why?”
“I dunno, Lizzie, I really don’t. I think in the beginning it was because I was taking you for granted like, and all the excitement was gone for good and all that was left was them fuckin’ dogs. Then Sumner comes along with his boat and his dreams and I’m like, yeah, we could still make this work, but…”
“But you’re in love with Sarah.”
“And yeah, I’m in love with Sarah, and yeah, I wanted to find you two in love so I could get a divorce and keep all the property.”
Sumner took Rod’s drink and refilled it with tequila, and he made this one a little stronger.
“You know what, Rod? You need to think about what you’re doing. I’ve been with women all around the world, hundreds of ‘em, and Liz is right at the top of my A-list.”
“So you two did fuck!?”
“Did we fuck? Rod? In one twelve hour period she cleaned my clock so many times I was out of my mind. And you’d be fuckin’ insane to let this girl go.”
He was staring at Collins now in open-mouthed astonishment. “She what?”
“Listen, Amigo, if she was a fat slob? If she was coyote ugly? If she was a sexual zero? Well then, maybe, just maybe I could see your problem? But let’s face it…she’s cute as Hell and she’s the Rolls Royce of pussy…here, let me top off your drink…” He poured three ounces of straight tequila into his glass.
“The Rolls Royce of pussy?” he slurred. “Did you really say that?”
“Best goddamn piece of ass I’ve ever had, from here to Bangkok, Ace, and back again. If you don’t want her, just say the word and I’ll take her right off your hands.”
“The Hell you will, you goddamn mother fucker! That’s my goddamn wife you’re talkin’ about!”
Collins looked at Liz and nodded.
“What if I want to stay with Sumner,” she said, looking at Rod.
“You’re comin’ home with me, Miss Rolls Royce pussy, and that’s all there is fuckin’ to it!”
“No, no, here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to stay here and I’m going home. You get this out of your system, then you let me know if you really want to come home again or not.”
“And you’ll go home to Sarah?”
“Fuckin’ right I will, you slut,” he said as he stood and went forward. He got his carry-on bag and made for the companionway. “Sumner?” he said as he held out his hand, “you’re a man’s man. Thanks for telling it to me straight, like it is.”
Collins took his hand. “Okay. You sure you don’t want to take Liz home with you?”
“Like I says, when she gots you out of ‘er system.”
“You don’t think she should go home with you right now? I do.”
“Nah. We’ll see. I wanna talk to Sarah ‘bout all this shit first.”
“Fair enough.” Can I help you up?”
“Help me? That’ll be the day…”
Collins sat down and waited, and when he heard Rod fall into the water he went out to the aft deck and helped a sputtering Rod back aboard.
“I think I’m going to puke,” Rod said as he heaved his guts into the black water. Collins let the tequila work it’s magic, then when Rod was through hurling he carried him below and Liz sorted him out, tucked him in.
“Unpack his bag, would you? I’ll run it through the wash,” he said.
“The Rolls Royce of pussy?” she asked, her voice full of grinning wonder.
“Hey, it sounded good at the time.”
She came and whispered in his ear… “You have no idea how much I love you right now.”
“And I love you. And that stupid, silly lout, too.”
“Hundreds of women, eh?”
“Well, five, actually, if you count my babysitter and a girl I new in college.”
“Your babysitter? Now there’s a first.”
“Every twelve year old boy’s fantasy. Hardly a first.” He started the washer and they took Charley topsides and out to the trees, and while he was holding her there he thought about the Walther and how little good it would do him if he kept it down below at the chart table.
Rod was a shambles the next morning, and Collins poured orange juice and two acetaminophens down his gullet right off the bat. Liz was contrite and sweet, solving that problem, and Rod said he wanted to see Deb. That settled, they walked Charley and then went out to the street.
Collins decided to rent a car for a few days, and once that was accomplished they followed Dr Mann’s hand scrawled directions out to a psychiatric hospital in a forest beyond Orly airport. Once they arrived he asked a receptionist to call Mann and tell him they’d arrived. Mann arrived a half hour later – dressed in full surgical garb, and he asked them to come along to a conference room.
“When you told me about the recent changes in her behavior, well, that was a big clue. Headaches, too. We performed an MRI yesterday, and the news is not so good.”
Mann had an iPad in hand and pulled up the imagery, and Collins looked at the golfball sized lump in the middle of the first image.
“A tumor?” he said, his eyes filling with tears.
“Glioblastoma, very advanced, I’m afraid. We did a biopsy earlier this morning. It’s confirmed.”
“What’s a glioblastoma?” Liz asked.
“A tumor,” Mann said. “Very aggressive, and treatments can slow growth somewhat, but only that.”
“You mean…?” she said, stuttering into tears of her own.
“Yes, precisely that. Four months, if that, but her personality will begin to dissolve long before death occurs. Her memory is not impaired as it is right now, but because of where the tumor is located, this facility she will lose soonest. Motor skills soon after, and then the pain will become unendurable.”
“May we see her,” Collins asked.
“Oh yes, in an hour. In fact, I would like you to take her with you tomorrow. Are you in Paris now?”
“Yes, at the Arsenal Marina.”
“She will need constant help, day and night. Can you provide this on your boat?”
“Then spend some time with her today, then come again tomorrow, around midday. She can go with you then, but she will know nothing of what we’ve found so far. I think you can count on her staying there until perhaps the New Year, but we will see.”
“When will you tell her, doctor?” Rod asked.
“I will let the three of you, her friends, decide. If you’d like me to at that time, I will. Or the three of you may. That is entirely up to you. I thought we might give her a month or so without worry, but again, that is up to you.”
Collins nodded, so did Rod, but Liz seemed unsure of her footing. “I’d want to know,” she whispered. “I’d really want to know.”
“These things have a way of working themselves out,” Mann said. “I would not be so concerned now with this, just yet. Get to your boat, enjoy the holiday season, let her enjoy this time together with you. She longs to see you, this I know. Now, if you’ll excuse me? I will send for you soon.”
Silence dropped on them suddenly, maliciously, followed by curtains of disbelief, even Elizabeth’s tears seemed to hide just out of sight, afraid to be seen, or touched.
Collins sat still, his eyes locked in a fixed stare – straight ahead, his mind in battle, yet unsure what to think, or now, even what to say. Rod’s arms were folded protectively across his chest, and he was chewing nervously on his lower lip, picking at a fingernail. Liz seemed almost a ruin of the person she had been just a few hours earlier, her face in her hands now, her breath coming in ragged little gasps, then she looked from Rod to Sumner and back again.
“You called me a slut last night. Do you remember that?”
“What are you thinking now?”
“I want to go home now. I want to, to be with Sarah.”
“Yes, I think so. The two of you can take care of Deborah well enough without me getting in the way, and then the two of you can be together. You’ll be happy that way.”
“And you?” she asked. “Will you be happy with that?”
He shrugged. “We’ll see.”
“I don’t suppose it matters what I want, does it?” Collins said.
“Not really,” Rod said.
“So, your hypocrisy know no bounds.”
“No, not at the moment.”
“Well, as long as we’re all clear about that. Liz? What about you? Stay here?”
“You’re goddamn fucking right I’m staying here. Do you want me to stay with you on Gemini?”
“That figures,” a petulant Rod said.
Collins shook his head, looked up when Mann came back into the room.
“One at a time, please,” Mann said.
“Liz, go ahead.”
She nodded and followed the doctor, came back ten minutes later ashen-faced and red-eyed, and she sat by Sumner and took his hand. Rod left the room then, but returned minutes later and walked to a window, stared off into oblivion.
Sumner followed Mann to a post op recovery room; Deb’s head was heavily bandaged and she was groggy, but conscious, her eyes red-rimmed, her skin pure white.
“This looks oddly like a funeral procession,” she said, smiling. “How bad’s the news? They won’t tell me anything, Sumner.”
“Doctors. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em.”
“That bad, huh? I asked Liz and she started crying. Guess that’s all I need to know for now.”
He took her hand, kissed it. “We’re going to come spring you from this joint tomorrow. Anything I can get aboard you’d like to have?”
“Just some stuff to cook with, some cherries I guess, or any kind of fresh berries.”
He nodded his head. “I’d have brought Charley, but wasn’t sure how they’d handle her here.”
“I can’t wait to see her. We can take her to the shop tomorrow, when I open up.”
“We can do that.”
A nurse came in, told him they needed time with her now, so he leaned forward and kissed her. “I’ll see you tomorrow, darlin’.”
She squeezed his hand. “I love you,” she said.
“I love you too.” He felt dizzy as he walked out of the post-op ward, trying to assimilate the overwhelming load of facts and emotions washing over him – while trying to ignore the whole Liz and Rod melt-down…
But that just wasn’t going to happen.
They were in the conference room snarling at one another…
– I’ve been tired of you for ages, you’re just not sexy any more…
– And I seduced Sumner to get back at you! So take that!
Sumner walked in the room and looked at them until they stopped – and looked at him.
“You know?” he said. “I can’t imagine a more appropriate setting for this discussion than a psychiatric hospital. I could hear you two yelling across the lobby, and I feel sure they have at least two more padded cells available – just for you!” He walked out the building and to the little rental car and climbed in, waited for them to come out.
And they did, fifteen minutes later – and with Dr Mann now in their face, pointing at them and delivering a blistering dressing down outside the building. Liz was crying, Rod was pouting, and Collins started the motor, glaring at them both as the crawled out to the car.
She got in the front seat, let Rod have the rear and they sat in silence all the way back to the marina.
“Rod? What’s the plan?” he asked after he shut off the motor.
“I think I’ll get my bag and head to the airport.”
“Well, hop on down and get it; I’ll drive you out.”
“There’s no need. I can…”
“Yes, there is. Liz, would you go on down and take care of Charley? It’ll only take an hour or so.”
They left together, and Rod came back alone with his bag a few minutes later. Collins started the car and slipped back into heavy midday traffic. “Well, this isn’t exactly how I’d hoped this would turn out between you two,” he said.
“Do you think you’ll stay with Liz? I mean, after?”
“Oh, you know. Deb and all.”
“Frankly, I don’t know, but I doubt it.”
“Because I doubt she loves me, Rod. You heard what she said…she wanted to do this as a way of getting back at you. That’s not love; that’s war. Besides you two will be tangled up in a messy divorce for years, and with all the court appearances you two will be having to deal with, she won’t have time for me.”
Rod looked out at the passing city. “Years, you say?”
“Years, yes. Of pure hell, too. At least two years, anyway, and you’ll be fighting over property distribution, all the other bullshit that goes along with divorce… ”
“So, tell me about this girl Sarah? She must be some hot shit, right?”
“Oh yeah, a real knockout, huge fucking tits, sweet as can be; she really loves me, too.”
“She’s worth it, huh?”
“Losing the farm, saying goodbye to the sailing thing, two years in court, all that other bullshit?”
He looked out the window again, and Collins smiled, and within a half hour made it out to DeGaulle.
“Well, Sumner, no hard feelings, eh? I think I know what happened, and why, and I don’t blame you.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t let me off so easily, Rod. Liz is your wife, and I nailed her, pure and simple. I shouldn’t have. It was inappropriate, but like I said, she’s a damn cute gal and she knows how to be sexy in a way I’ve never known before. I was quite taken with her.”
“Yeah, well, it’s too late now for all that.”
“For all what?”
“Apologies, kiss and make up, that kind of thing.”
“Seems to me you haven’t tried that yet. Do you want to? I mean, really want to?”
“You know, Sumner, right now all I want to do is get back and see Sarah. I don’t really ever want to see Liz ever again.”
“Because of me, of us, what we did?”
“No, mate, it’s been happening that way between us now for a few years, since the first time Sarah and me got together. I should have divorced her then. I wanted to. It’s only gotten worse since.”
“Okay, Rod. Do me a favor, would you? Send me a list of what you’d like to see happen in a divorce. The property and all that, the way you’d like to divide things up. Let me go over it and see if I can handle this in such a way that you both come out ahead.”
“Why? Why would do that, Sumner?”
“Because you’re both friends of mine, and I don’t want to see either of you get hurt. The only thing I know about divorce…well, the only folks that come out ahead are the lawyers. If there’s an amicable split, well, you two have a chance of coming out of this alive.”
“You know, if we do divorce, I’d be happiest if I knew she was going to end up with you.”
Collins looked at him and smiled. “I understand. You still love her, don’t you?”
“Oh God, yes.” He started crying and with bag in hand walked inside the terminal.
Collins got in and drove back into the city, wondering how to put Humpty-Dumpty back on his wall.
He found a parking place even closer to the marina, and worked his way into the tiny space, but he saw a man staring at his car as he shut down the motor. He patted the Walther in his coat pocket as he undid the seatbelt, and as he stepped out of the little Renault he made a show of dropping his car keys and looking at the man’s reaction – but he was walking away now – as Collins pulled a shoelace free. Jeans and sneakers, a maroon jacket, olive skin, black hair…he did his best to make his observations as quickly and covertly as he could, then slipped into the marina. At a park bench he stopped and bent over to tie his shoe, and he saw the man looking his way again so he walked to the marina office. Once inside he called Corrine…
“Yes, we are following him now.”
“Let me know what you find out. I need to talk to you anyway, so come on down after dark.”
He left the office and walked around the entire marina, sitting on benches twice to ‘tie his shoes’ before he boarded Gemini, then he quickly went below and found Liz up front playing with Charley.
“It may not be safe for you here much longer,” Collins said.
“Did you see something?”
He nodded his head.
“I probably shouldn’t ask you this, but do you have another weapon on board?”
“Have you been through a firearms training program?”
“No, of course not.”
“Then let’s not go there. You’d be better served going for a butcher knife.”
She nodded, then grimaced through gently lilting words: “How was Rod.”
“A basket case.”
“I know you heard what I said, about using you to get back at him.”
“That just wan’t true, Sumner, I hope you know that. I was trying to hurt him, only now I hope I haven’t hurt you.”
He smiled at her, thought about the Liar’s Paradox and tried not to laugh. “So, it seems this Sarah thing is pretty far along. How do you feel about her?”
“Oh, I hold no illusions, Sumner. She’s young, she’s cute, and she dotes on him. We’ve been married for ages now and the bloom is off the rose, I guess you’d have to say. I’m going to be fifty soon and I’ve not been a real career person, so I haven’t a pot to piss in.”
“Well, you’re also cute as hell – for fifty or by any other measure. You’re sweet as can be and a blast to be with, so don’t sell yourself short.”
“Sweet enough to end up with you?”
He looked her in the eye. “Liz, I’m simply tied up in knots now. I was expecting one set of outcomes with Deborah and now I’m facing an entirely new world. I’ve someone in Boston I want to call about her diagnosis, and then I need to see how to go about keeping her here – comfortably. And now I’ve got some sort of wild-eyed Sunni terrorist to keep track of…so I don’t want to tell you things today that may fall apart tomorrow. All I can tell you right now is this: I very much enjoy your company, and I’d hate to lose that. After that marathon sex thing the other night I was, well, I was out of my mind in Lust with you. No one has ever made me feel the way you did. No one. I wouldn’t turn my back on a woman like you, because you do indeed make me very happy.”
“Well, that said, your husband still loves you…now, no, don’t interrupt. We talked all the way to the airport, and all I can definitively say right now is he’s one very confused man. I’d say he’s smack-dab in the middle of manopause…”
“Manopause,” he chuckled. “A middle-aged couple’s worst nightmare. Hormonal changes that hit men in middle age can be as emotionally damaging to us as they can be with many women when menopause hits.”
“That might explain some of it, but…”
“You’re exactly right. There’s something missing in your marriage; maybe it was never there, but whatever ‘it’ is, we’ve got to deal with those problems right away.”
“Yes, we. If there’s going to be a divorce, it’s going to effect the three of us, in one way or another. I could, I suppose, just toss you out of the dock and tell you to have a nice life…”
“Well, I do care about you, Liz, enough to never do that to you, but I care for Rod, too. Divorce is a last resort, at least as far as I’m concerned, but I do NOT want divorce to become the focus of our lives while taking care of Deborah, and frankly, later, so if there’s to be a split…”
“I understand, Sumner. I do. All I want from you now is your friendship. If there’s to be something more, well, that can wait, can’t it?”
“If that’s the way our relationship evolves, yes.”
“Would you mind too much if we play around in the meantime? I hate to say this, but I feel like, well, I’ve been living in this emotionally barren moonscape for years. What we did the other night was like a dream come true for me…you were the perfect partner, and I fell in love with living, with life all over again…”
“Wouldn’t that just confuse things even more, Liz? I mean, with Deborah?”
“I don’t know? Maybe? But even if it’s just every now and then…”
He held his hands up… “You’re asking a man if he’d mind having wild, uninhibited sex every now and then, and with no strings attached, and with a woman as seriously cute as you. Really, Liz, do you expect me to say no?”
She smiled. “No, I guess not, but you’re wrong about one thing.”
“I’m not confused in the least about things, and I know exactly how I feel about things.”
“Okay. I can accept that.”
“Just so you’re clear, it’s you I love.”
“Okay, I understand that, but for now – do you understand how I feel about things? Not just about Deborah? One step at a time?”
“I do,” she said, sighing. “Well…I’ve already put the sheets on, and cleaned the bathroom. Is there anything else I can do?”
“You ‘can do?’ Geesh…I don’t know what to say. Thanks? I mean it, yeah, thanks. Uh. I was going to walk up to the market, but I want to wait a while on that.”
“Were you followed?”
“Someone was watching me, as I walked in.”
“Did you try to see who it is?”
“That’s not how this game is played, Liz. If it’s who we think it is…”
“If it’s who I think it is…well then, think of it as more like a game of Chess. Two or three moves ahead, but always taking into account where all the pieces on the board are.”
“So? Where are they?”
He shrugged. “If this was anything at all, I’m going on the assumption this was an opening move, so I don’t want to make any stupid moves of my own just yet. That means I’m not making any unnecessary moves, and I may be relying on friends to watch my back for a while. That also means you have to play by a different set of rules from now on.”
“First, be watchful. Be careful, don’t do anything spontaneous. Check with me before you move around off the boat…”
“Jesus…are you serious?”
“Liz, the safest place for you would be back in Brighton. I know you’d be a big help here, but it’s a risk. One you need to consider carefully. Objectively.”
“Okay. Done. I’m staying with you. For you, and because Deb has been a good friend to me. She needs me too, and I’m going to be here for her.”
“I knew you would, and that’s why I’m letting you decide. But this is one of life’s bigger decisions, and I’m concerned right now about so many unknowns. Almost scared…”
“About Deborah, what she’s facing, what I’m…what we’re taking on. Both physically and emotionally. It scares me.”
“You’ve been through it before. I haven’t. We can help each other, can’t we?”
He looked at her long and hard, wondering what was sincere and what was an act. “Yeah. We can. Just so you go into it with open eyes. I’ll do my best to keep the bad guys away, but if I can’t, if it starts to go bad and I tell you to move, I don’t want any bullshit. You get to the airport and out of here. Agree?”
“I’ll do what you tell me to do, Sumner. I trust you.”
They got back to work, cleaning the interior and disinfecting the head and galley.
Just after the sun set, he saw Corrine walking through the marina from the street entrance, and she stopped once to ‘tie her shoes’, then came to the stern and waited for him to come up to the cockpit and help her across.
“Whoever he was, he knew how to evade a tail.”
“I figured as much.”
“So, you’re going to have company. That’s my assumption, anyway. What did you learn at the hospital?”
Collins filled her in, not leaving anything out about Liz and Rod in his telling, and she took it all in like a professional.
“You are to care for her down here?” she asked incredulously.
“You know the situation, how I feel. What would you do?”
“Care for her down here, I suppose. But I don’t have to tell you, if this is Hassani, a lot of people could get hurt unnecessarily. You know this.”
He shrugged. “Not if I get him first.”
“No. This you must not do. Do not even think this.”
He looked at her, saw the faintest hint of a smile in her eyes. “Alright.”
“Is Mrs Lethbridge down below?”
“As-tu besoin de quelque chose?”
“J’allais le marché, mais je voulais vérifier avec vous avant que je suis allé.”
“Do you have a list for the market?”
“Je vais y aller maintenant. And I will arrange for someone to stay on the boat tomorrow while you are away.”
“Okay. Tell ‘quiconque’ I appreciate all the help.”
“You should know, some of your people are involved now too.”
“Anyone I know? Perhaps?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” she smiled as she remembered the call from Hope Sherman. “Got your list?” He handed her a piece of paper and she read through it then looked up at him – and caught his smile. “I hate being so predictable,” she said as she pocketed the paper.
“Those last few items on the list? Check with our company liaison, I think he’ll get them for you.”
“I’ll return around…” she looked down at her watch, “oh, two hours or so. Don’t let your meat loaf, Captain.”
“I’ll save some for you.”
She rolled her eyes. “The story of my life.”
They both laughed, then she turned and walked off into the night. He followed her at a discrete interval and stood among the trees, watching as she went to a BMW sedan and drove off. He waited, watching, and finally saw a shadow within a shadow, then a man stepping out and walking towards the marina.
The man in the maroon jacket, his hands in his pockets, his head down, walking across the street towards the entrance. Collins stepped back deeper into the trees, watched the man as he walked by not twenty feet away, and as he walked around the marina to Gemini – and beyond. At the end of the marina the man stopped and looked at a boat, then began walking back – slowly, looking at boats one by one, most Seine River tourist scows and only a few pleasure craft like his own. Then the man stopped behind the Gemini and pulled out his phone and snapped a few images, innocuous enough for a tourist, but to Collins this character was now anything but…
The man started walking back to the entrance, and Collins screwed the suppressor onto the end of the Walther and waited, and when the man drew near he stepped out of the trees and directly into man’s path.
The man stopped in his tracks and began to pull his hands out of his pocket.
“I wouldn’t do that,” Collins said.
“I’d keep my hands in my pocket if I were you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Turn around and walk slowly.”
“Who do you think…”
“I’m the sonofabitch who’s about to put three bullets into your face,” Collins said, just showing the Walther.
“Turn around and walk back to the boat.”
When they got to the stern he pushed the man across the gap and onto the swim platform, then followed him and led him into the cockpit – then down below.
Liz saw the man first, then the Walther, then Sumner, and she stepped into the forward cabin and waited out of view.
When the man was in the main cabin Collins told him to stand still, then he went to the chart table and took out several cable ties – metal reinforced arrest ties – and restrained the man to the overhead hand holds.
“Hassani? Where is he?”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
Collins took the Walther and placed it up against the mans testicles.
“One more chance, Paco, then you get to meet your 72 virgins without nuts. Probably won’t be as much fun, ya know?”
“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about!”
“Well, okay, I’ll shoot the left one first.”
“I don’t know…” the man almost screamed, “he’s moving around a lot, not one place for very long.”
Collins took out his phone and dialed Corrine.
“I’ve got him.”
“Okay.” She broke the connection.
“You’re not very good, you know?”
The man smiled. “Neither are you.”
Collins felt someone getting on the boat aft and went behind the man, waited for this one to come out of the shadows, then heard him jumping off the stern and running, men shouting, two silenced rounds from nearby.
“You were saying?”
The man seemed to visibly deflate after that, and when Corrine and one other agent appeared his eyes dropped, all hope gone.
“Did you get him,” Collins asked.
She nodded. “On his way to Allah, unfortunately.”
“Too bad, so sad,” Collins sighed. “Me and my new friend here were just about to talk about Hassani’s whereabouts when his friend dropped by.”
“Were you? How nice.”
“He seems rather fond of his testicles. I think he decided he’d like to keep them.”
“Bertrand, take him in. I’ll be there in a half hour.”
“I’m glad you got here in time. I really don’t know how to patch bullet holes in teak.”
She shook her head. “You are a real humanitarian, you know, Collins.”
“I’m tired of dealing with these assholes. They’re like cockroaches. Can’t step on ’em fast enough.”
They cut the man loose from the ceiling and handcuffed him properly – then ‘Bertrand’ and three other men took him away. A dozen Gendarmes were in the marina now, sealing off the crime scene and people from boats in the marina were looking on, wondering what the commotion was all about, and Corrine watched more men arrive and take over from the police.
“What happened?” she asked when they were alone below, and then Liz stepped into the cabin. “She was here? She saw all this?”
“I told her what was going on.”
“Did you now? How pleasant.” Corrine shook her head, rubbed her eyes. “So, what happened.”
“I followed you out to the street. He was waiting for you, and came into the marina after you left.”
“My men didn’t…?”
“No, they didn’t.”
“I agree. They’re not taking their work seriously.”
She nodded. “After Hebdo, I thought this was over.”
“Everyone lets their guard down after a few months. They count on that. Anyway, he has a phone, he took pictures of the boat, and I took it from there. You’d better get your teams on high alert…there are a lot of Gomers loose and running around around here…”
“He has a phone?”
“Yup,” he said, handing it over to her. “Sorry, got my prints on it.”
She nodded her head, smiled. This was the real intelligence coup, right here, in her hand. “We are moving two police boats in here tonight. One will, unfortunately, be right next to you. Unmarked, of course. A marked patrol boat will be across from you. Both will be manned, 24/7.”
“Okay. No naked orgies in the cockpit. Got it.”
“That would be helpful,” she smiled. “Yes. I am leaving now, but will come by in the morning, early, I hope.”
“Oh, the stuff from the market is on the back here. Not that company stuff yet, however.”
“Thanks. I’ll come get it.”
When they were topsides she pulled him aside. “Thanks. You were a big help tonight.”
“Yeah, well, thanks for all you’ve done.”
“I will be here at daybreak, will follow you out to the hospital…”
“That’s not really necessary…”
“After tonight, I’m afraid so.”
He picked up three bags from the market. “Thanks. What do I owe you?”
She laughed. “Dinner.”
“You’re on.” She kissed him on the cheek and he watched her walk away – smiling at her five inch heels, then he carried the bags down below.
“What’s that?” Liz asked when he got down below.
“Baking stuff, fresh berries, a few odds and ends.”
“Well, let’s get it stowed.”
“Aye-aye, Captain!” he said, grinning. “How’re you holding up?”
“Were you really going to shoot that man in the balls?”
“No way. I hate cleaning up blood.”
She shook her head. “And you did this kind of thing for a living?”
“Me? No. I was just a lawyer.”
“You, like, wouldn’t be getting horny, would you?”
She looked at him like he’d just sprouted another head. “Are you serious?”
“Uh, okay. Sure. Let’s get naked and fuck all night long. Why the fuck not?”
“That’s my girl.”
“Am I your girl?”
“You are right now, that’s for goddamn sure.”
“Does this kind of thing, like, make you horny?”
“You have no idea.”
“Why don’t you go jump in the shower. I’ll get this stuff put away. Oh, by the way, I took a Viagra this afternoon.”
He joined her in the shower a few minutes later, starting to come down from the adrenalin rush, still sporting a raging woodie.
“Do you take Viagra often?” she asked.
“When we were talking earlier.”
“I don’t know, Elizabeth. Just watching you, for some reason I got aroused. Your lips when you talk, your face, the way you move, it got to me. The more you talked the more I wanted you.”
She put her arms around his neck, looked up into his eyes. “Really?”
“Really.” He folded her in his arms. “I guess it’s wrong as hell, but thinking about you the other night has become a full time preoccupation.”
She was soaping him up, massaging the tip, pinching it ever so lightly, watching him watching her, then she rinsed him off and climbed up into his arms, lowering herself on him, the water running between them, her legs clasping him, pulling him deeper inside, her back arching against the wall, grinding thrusting gyrating through a cloudburst of emotion, then he had her pinned to the wall, driving into her, their mouths lost in fusing union, her fingernails now spreading talons pulling him deeper, then he was on his toes, driving up into the clouds, leaning back, looking into her eyes as her release started, his climax following within a heartbeat.
Still their mouths were fused, her fingers running through his hair, his massaging her back, then she put her feet down – and she knelt and took him in her mouth, cleaning him, reviving him, but he pulled her up, took her face in his hands and kissed her…
“Alright, Liz. You win.”
“Just hold me, would you? You have no idea how much I need you – right now. This very minute.” He was whispering into her hair, into the very fabric of her being, more confused now than he had ever been – but so glad this woman was with him.
He turned off the water and dried her completely, then himself, then they were under the covers and he was shaking, still coming down and she held him…just held him, rubbing his head, holding his face to her breasts, whispering into the air how much she loved and needed him – until she felt the release in him, the easing, the final letting go, and she kept rubbing and caressing him until his breathing slowed and the first little snores began.
And then she cried. Her release came and she let it go…
…gently, from a warm place she had forgotten existed…
“Oh, God,” she whispered through a sigh, “please don’t take him from me. Let me live within this moment of my life forever.” She smelled his hair, the skin around his neck, wanting to memorize every little thing about him because she was sure, really sure, that something had to happen to make this end. Something or someone would come and take him from her, because nothing really good ever happened to her. Roderick had come close, once upon a time, but not like this. Especially something like this feeling, this place in her heart that had suddenly – and so completely come to life.
He heard his phone chirping a little after five in the morning and he went to the galley and took it off the charging cable and answered it.
“Paul, are you…what’s up? Are you okay?”
“Uh, look, sorry about the hour but I just heard something about Rod…”
“Yes, Paul, what is it?”
“Well, he and another woman were involved in an accident. I’m afraid I have bad news for Liz. Is she around?”
“Paul, what’s happened?”
“I’m afraid he’s, well, he’s gone, Sumner. The woman has a spinal cord injury, and is not expected to recover.”
“London, actually. They were up there last night, the cinema, I think.”
“Okay, have any contact information? Okay, got it.”
“Thanks for handling this, Sumner. I wasn’t looking forward…”
“What’s going on with your deal?”
“Pick her up sometime next week. I don’t suppose you’d be able to help?”
“Do you know what’s going on with Deb?”
“Yes, Rod filled me in. Beastly diagnosis. I suppose Elizabeth will stay with you two?”
“We’ll see. Why don’t you call when you have a move date, I’ll do what I can.”
“Will do, and thanks, mate.”
“Por nada, Amigo.”
He sighed, then rung off – leaving Collins to tell Liz. He put on coffee and took Charley aft for a piddle, then walked below and put Charley back on the bed. He went into the head and showered, brushed his teeth, then sat down on the bed and ran his fingers through her hair. Charley looked at him for the longest time, then at Liz.
Then she went to Liz and licked her chin…
…and she opened her eyes, those cool gray-green eyes, and they looked at her.
“How do you feel?” she asked.
He was stunned, and marveled at the question…her first thought was for him. That’s Liz, he said to himself. She gives, she pitches in – above all, she tries, she doesn’t run.
“Paul just called. There’s been some trouble, an accident, at home.”
“I know. Rod’s gone, isn’t he?”
“An accident, with Sarah.”
“I don’t know the details, but how do you know?”
“I was dreaming about it, just now. That dolphin of yours was telling us, me and Deb. Sarah is still alive, but only just…and they were in a big city.”
“She came to you both? In a dream?”
She nodded her head, then came and lay her head on his lap. “I suppose I should go back Brighton soon, but I don’t want to leave you.”
“Then don’t. We can deal with things from here.”
“Okay. Is there someone I need to call?”
“I have the information,” he said, then he kissed the top of her head, held her hand – and she ran her fingers through his.
“I love you so much, Sumner. What I felt last night? I don’t have the words to describe these feelings.”
He thought about her for a moment, then about his own feelings, and as confused as he felt the words came easily to him, and to her as well. “I love you too,” he said, squeezing her hand. She rolled over slowly and looked up at him, but there was nothing else to say and they both knew it.
Her hand on the side of his face now, she wiped a tear from his cheek.
Deb was in a wheelchair, out front in the lobby and ready to go when they arrived, but she seemed troubled and immediately he knew she too had experienced Liz’s dream. He didn’t question these things anymore, there was simply no need and he had no explanation. The how and the why would never make sense, couldn’t, not really. Like Whittington said, they had no frame of reference, but maybe he’d talk to Mann about it someday…
When he saw her there he felt an elation that he’d not expected; he went to her and knelt beside the chair. “Are you ready to try this?” he asked.
“Please, get me out of here,” she said in a dead, wooden voice.
He wheeled her to the passenger door and helped her slide across, then he put the chair in the rear and helped Liz in, then turned to see Doctor Mann waiting for him.
“How are you this morning, doctor?”
Collins shrugged. “We’ll see.”
“This dolphin of your. She has told me all she knows. Your wife, your voyage, your other dog, this other Charley. It is all true?”
“And John Lennon? He comes to you, to both of you?”
“Yes. I was with him when he passed.”
“With him? How so?”
“We lived in the same building. We were coming home, were almost home, when he was shot. I touched him, tried to say goodbye, as he passed.”
The old man seemed to take it all in stride, bunching his lips and nodding his head gently. “So, these are not hallucinations. Very troubling events, even so.”
“I understand. Did you hear about the trouble at the marina last night?”
“The pick-pocket? Shot when he threatened the police?”
“He was anything but… ” Collins spend a few minutes briefing the old man, who nodded his head a lot and pursed his lips, now making an odd smacking sound from time to time.
“You have lead a complicated life, Mr Collins. What would you like to do now?”
“I have excellent support nearby, so I think we’ll be safe, but if the situation deteriorates, where should I take Deborah?”
“Here. Immediately. And do not trouble her mind with these things. The less she knows, the better.”
“Alright. I was thinking you and I should have a conversation about my dolphin. What do you think?”
He shrugged, smacked his lips. “I have no idea what to think, but with your permission I know of a Jungian therapist, an animist, if you know the term.”
“Not really, but of course. Anything I can do to understand this would be a blessing.”
“A blessing? Interesting. Not the word that comes to mind. Well, please call me at home in the evening, with progress reports or ideas, and I will let you know what I find out here.”
“I have a friend in Boston I want to call. An oncologist. I want to talk to him.”
Mann shrugged and smacked away. “Please, let me know if he has any ideas,” then he held out his hand. “Good day,” he said. “And be safe.”
When he left the covered loading area he saw two cars fall in behind, both black BMW 5 series sedans, and he smiled at the escort as he pulled into traffic. When he drove up to the marina, another BMW pulled out – vacating a parking space by the entrance, and he smiled again. He got Deb’s chair out and looked at the sky…leaden and gray, almost like it might snow soon…but it was still far too warm out for anything but rain. He helped her into the chair and locked the doors as Liz came ‘round, and he pushed her through the marina to Gemini’s stern and locked the wheels.
“I can make it on my own,” she said, pushing herself up…but she swayed and he held her, then took several deep breaths. He stood with her, holding her up, helping her get her bearings. “Okay,” she said after a minute. “Better now.”
Liz went across first, Deb followed and took her hand, then he followed her across, guarding against a fall…but all his concerns about this movement now seemed almost anti-climatic. Once she was below he went back and carried her chair back to the car and stowed it away, watching the men in the black BMWs watching him, then he looked at Gemini, and around the marina.
‘Yup,’ he said to himself, ‘now surrounded by police boats…’
He found Deb sitting in the main cabin, Liz putting on tea in the galley, and he went and sat next to her. And she kept her hands crossed in her lap, looking down at her still fingers as if she was afraid of them.
“No one will tell me anything,” she said at last. “I ask them what’s wrong and everyone avoids even looking at me. If I ask you, will you tell me?”
“I’d rather not.”
“My God,” she burst out laughing, “it must really be a doozy, whatever it is!” She crossed her arms over her stomach and her lower lip popped out.
“Are you sure you want to know right now?”
“I think I have a right to know.”
He went to the chart table and got out his laptop and opened it, then went to a page describing all there was to know about glioblastoma. He set the computer on the table and turned the screen to her; she pulled it close and began reading, her eyes clear and steady, pure strength radiating from her being. Liz came and sat by her side, and he turned away after a moment and stared out the windows, up into the sky.
“Well,” she said when she’d finished, “that’s really something. And here I thought I was just depressed.”
“You were,” Liz said. “Only this time the ‘why’ of it all was a little different.”
“Have they told you how long I’ve got?”
“Yes,” Sumner said. “And we’ll not talk about that now as I have a few doubts.”
“Such as?” Deb said.
He shrugged. “I’ll let you know. A few things to consider first. My sister will be coming over for Christmas, and my former sister-in-law is making threatening noises about coming as well. She’s made it clear the past few years she’d like nothing more than to sink her claws into me, just so you know.”
“And how do you feel about her?” Liz asked.
“I’d rather spend the night in a locked room full of pissed off cobras than be with her for an hour.”
Deb laughed. “Now that’s an image.” She looked at Liz then, before she spoke again. “So, are you two in love now?”
Collins sat still, looking at Liz.
“Liz!” Deborah said. “It’s plain as day – all over your face.”
He looked at her. “Deb, we’ve been through a lot the past week, and it’s been confusing.”
“You have to understand something, Sumner,” Deb said, holding her hand up. “I don’t object, in fact I think I understand. Have since that day we crossed the channel. I could see it in her eyes, and knew it was only a matter of time.”
“It’s alright, Liz. Don’t try to explain yourself, because I above all people know you, and understand what you’ve been through. Have you called about Rod yet?”
“Rod?” Liz said.
“The dream, Liz. You were there, and she told us about the accident?”
Collins sat down, felt light-headed. “You told Mann about the dream, and my history with the dolphin? Why?”
“I was upset when I woke up.”
“His body is in London, Sarah is at Queen’s,” Liz whispered.
“I didn’t know her well,” Deb said wistfully. “They came into the shop twice, together. Said she was a chum from work, just passing by and wanted to say hello. Can you believe that? What must have been going on in his mind to do that?”
“Well, just so I’m clear,” Collins said, his voice faraway, almost distant. “That dolphin, who is still in the English Channel I have to assume, knew two people in London were in an accident, and she told you both. In a dream, last night, in roughly the same relative time-frame.”
Deb raised her hands in a pantomimed shrug; Liz just shook her head and looked out the window, letting slip a long sigh.
“What’s the connection? Between us? Between the three of us?”
“You,” Deborah said. “Your wife, as well. That’s clear.”
“And the pups…the two Charleys,” Liz added. “My Charley, the one from my litter? She has to fit in this puzzle too. She’s a link to the old one, somehow, someway. You said the old Charley got into the water with your wife, when she fell ill. And then it found you in the islands, and again at sea, when the other Charley passed. So, she links you…to…to…”
“Yeah, when the answer comes to you, be sure to let me know, will you?”
“Do you have things to bake with here?” Deb said.
“Yup,” he said. “Fresh cherries, and blackberries too.”
“Excellent,” she stood and reached for the overhead rail, yet her hand recoiled violently when she grabbed the metal. “God, what happened here?” she said, wiping her hands against her robe.
“What?” Collins said, now concerned. “What do you mean?”
She was looking at the handrail, then she looked at him: “What did you do to that man?” she said accusingly.
“The man who was here,” she said, pointing at the rail. “The man…”
He looked at her as her voice trailed off, as she stared at the metal rail. “Deb? What is it?”
“He was going to kill you, wasn’t he?”
“Deb?” Liz said, interested in what Deb was sensing. “What do you see?”
“Fire. I see fire.”
Collins looked at his watch, made the conversion for Boston in his head, then went up on deck and pulled out his phone. He talked for a half hour, then broke the connection and called his sister in Wisconsin.
“Hey, long lost brother of mine. Where are you?”
“Paris. How soon can you come over?”
“Last exams are the week after Thanksgiving. Mark my papers and turn in the grades. Why? What’s up?”
“Okay. Do I need to come sooner?”
“No, that’ll be fine. Have you heard from Tracy?”
“She’s made reservations on Air France for the 22nd, staying on the Ilse St Louis at a little B&B. That’s all I know so far. Do I hear wedding bells in your future?”
“I’m involved with two women now, one with an inoperable brain tumor.”
“They’ll both be here over Christmas,” he added.
“There are a lot of strange things going on right now. I’d like you to come as soon as you can.”
“Okay. You sure?”
“Yes. Did you get a ticket yet?”
“No. I might need some help with that.”
“Chicago? Has your passport number changed?”
“Okay. I’ll have them send confirmation to your email.”
“You haven’t forgotten my date of birth, have you?”
“Oh, Phoebe, don’t get me started right now.”
“It’s that bad?”
“Yes. Bad. Confusing.”
“Okay, Sumner. I understand. I’ll be…”
“Bye.” He broke the connection, struggled to hold on to himself. Now Deb…and it was all coming back to him…Jennie…his Jennifer…when she first fell into cancer. All the hope, all the false assumptions, then all the denial and fear, and the inevitable last goodbye. It was time to live through it all again, but was he ready? Could he carry on with the smiling faces and all the ‘don’t be so glum’ admonishments? Could Liz? Could Phoebe?
Could Charley really be the key to it all?
He opened the messaging app on his phone and sent a brief text to Tracy. “Illness looming with a friend, not a good time to come this year. Sorry. S” He looked the message over and sent it, then looked around the boat. “Can I do this again?” he said, looking down into the water.
He saw only the reflections of buildings and a few bare trees down there in the darkness, and he felt utter loneliness in that moment, and more that a little afraid once again – then he turned and went below, just as a few raindrops fell on his bare head.
And it smelled as good as he remembered…all her baking instincts coming back to life. Warm cherries filled the cabin, filled his heart with joy as he found Deb teaching Liz all her little secrets and shortcuts. He went to the chart table and checked water tank levels and the state of charge on the batteries, forcing himself back into the solace of routines and procedures, then Liz was standing beside him, kissing his head, and he looked up, saw Deb standing in the galley – watching – and he wanted to turn inward…
“No secrets here, Sum,” Deb said, a wry little grin showing. “I told you I understand.”
“I’m afraid that’s not going to make this any easier,” he said.
“Bosh. Think about it from my perspective, would you? If I’m not going to be here, at least you’ll be with my best friend. That’s not an entirely bad thing, you know?”
“That’s not exactly what I meant.”
“Yes, first Jennifer, then Charley, and now me. But look on the bright side, will you? You’ve only known me, what? A month? How bad will it be, really?”
He looked at her, wondered if she was serious, or just pathologically insensitive. “Okay, sure Deb. Whatever you say.” He found Charley and got her leash, then they went up into a heavy downpour. He grabbed a foul weather jacket and hopped off the stern and went for the trees, Charley bounding along oblivious to everything in the world but the happiness of green grass and a few tall bushes.
“So, girl, how do we play this? Just let the world roll on by and see what happens, or do we make a scene?” Or, he asked himself, is she going to undergo unexpected behavior changes? And if that’s so, what can I expect as this thing progresses? I’d better get on to Dr Mann…
Two days of rain followed, but the next morning, the 13th, dawned overcast and windy, but dry, and the grass surrounding the marina was verdant – almost too green. Charley wandered on her lead, quartering across the micro-meadow like she was hot on the scent. Deb came up and sat on the aft deck when the sun threatened to come out, and while her swaddled head stood out like a beacon she just didn’t really seem to care about vanities anymore. Jennifer had confronted her cancer head on, had for a few months entertained the possibility that she could beat it, and her own eccentricities and vanities had played along with her for a while…had become a part of the emotional routines that, in effect, sustained, even buoyed her willingness to fight.
So Deb wakes up one day and learns she has an inoperable – and totally lethal cancer, and knows it will take her within a few months. Her reaction? Get on with the important stuff, throw away the rest. If sun on her face is important, robe and slippers will do. Time to bake scones? Robe and slippers will do there too. A friend of Mann’s had recommended a fun place for dinner just a few blocks away – and she felt like going out tonight…so robe and slippers would not do. Some sun on her face would be nice, however. Maybe a scarf for her head too.
She watched Charley running and rolling around, but when Sumner pulled a small rubber ball and rolled it in front of her, she just stood still and looked at it, not really sure what to do. He picked it up and held it in front of her nose and she sniffed it this time, then he rolled it away from her…and again, her reaction was stubborn obliviousness. He walked over to the ball and she did too, then she sniffed it, walked around it a few times, then picked it up and handed it to him. Effusive praise followed, then he picked her up and scratched behind her ears, letting her lick his chin as he walked back to the stern.
“How’s the ‘almost sun’ feel today?”
“Almost warm. She’s going to do pretty good with you, I think.”
“Given enough grass, maybe. Growing up on a boat? I’m not so sure.”
“What time do you want to leave?”
“Early, I think. Around six or so, a little before, maybe.”
“Can we shower together again?”
“Sure,” he smiled.
“Good. I wanted to go someplace…do you remember where?”
“Yup. Up to the market, first thing in the morning. Berries. Remember?”
“Uh, no, I’m not sure I’ll be here.”
“It’s okay. We’ll get up early and go. Just you and me.”
She smiled. “That sounds good.”
“You sure you feel like walking tonight?”
“I think so.”
“Okay. We can always drive if you’d rather…”
“I’d like to walk.”
He came over and felt her skin…dry and cold. “Let’s go down and warm up. You can play with Charley for a while…”
He took her below, turned on the heat and covered her with a blanket, unnerved by how fast autonomic function had deteriorated. Her skin was freezing – but she hadn’t been able to recognize the change, let alone express discomfort – and he wondered if he should take her out tonight. Still, it was the first time she’d expressed an interest in going out…
He showered her, examining the stitches on her scalp, spraying the area with hydrogen peroxide then rinsing it again before patting it dry with a sterile 4×4. He dressed the wound and helped her wrap the area in gauze, then he sat with her on the bed, holding her close while she dozed. Charley snuggled in tight when she was like this, cuddling in close to her chest so she could lick Deb’s chin, and a few minutes later Liz came in and sat on the foot of the bed, smiling and crying at the same time.
He smiled at her too. Closing his eyes to keep them from burning, he couldn’t imagine anything more surreal than where he was emotionally in that moment…
One woman, her head on his chest, asleep with a dog whose lineage stretched back in time – to where? And her best friend, at his feet – all together on this cloudy Parisian afternoon, bound together in time and space to the here and now by heaven only knows what. And he loved all three souls so much it hurt – physically hurt – when he stopped to really think about it…
And this was one of those moments, because Jennifer was there with him, too. Everywhere he looked he felt her. Deborah leaning against his chest – felt like Jennifer. Liz now at his feet – and just how many times had Jennifer laid across the bed, just like this, over the years? These were not merely echoes, he thought. No, these moments were more like eternal recurrences, bound by destiny to recur with each iteration, as his genes drifted through time…he felt them as his father had, perhaps as his father’s father…yet what hit him in that moment was how connected he felt to the past – through feelings so deeply set in the present.
So…how could that be?
But it just was, and with Deborah tucked under his right arm he bid Liz to come under his left, and he held these two women as they held him: out of a tender, misshapen fear that the moment could never last… But what he really knew, deep inside, was that this very moment had echoed through time, an infinite set of recurrences.
And that dolphin was the key to it all. Whatever else it might be, she knew, she understood.
When Liz was safely ensconced under his arm he sighed, yet not simply out of a feeling of contentment. No, he wanted to hold on to this feeling as long as he could, this being loved, and of loving so much. Yet, was all this immoral, he asked himself, this loving so many women in one lifetime? Once upon a time he would have thought so; now, he wasn’t so sure. No, now time felt like driving through a fog…and he was the lead car in a chain-reaction accident. All his many pasts were slamming into him – now – and layer upon layer of shattered love lay scattered in moaning debris.
And then Charley came over and curled up on his chest, her head up, looking into his eyes. “I love you too, Charley-girl,” he said as she grinned at him, and she panted gently before she licked him once on the lips, then she too put her head down and drifted off to wherever such souls go to rest…
He napped as well, though lightly, drifting in and out of random thoughts as each fought for attention. The man in the maroon jacket, Rod’s passing, Paul’s boats…Deb and Liz. Deb was growing more than confused now, couldn’t remember things she’d started working on after five minutes, only now she was breaking down in frustration, beginning to realize what lay just ahead. Liz, trying to help as best she could, but after a week already withering under the weight of seeing someone she knew so well beginning to dissolve before her eyes. Phoebe, poor lost Phoebe, drifting away from life again after her husband passed, needing him more than she knew…and Tracy, saying she just HAD to come for Christmas, no matter the illness of a friend. She would be there to help. He could count on her, always.
“Right,” he said, and Charley looked up at him, her head canted to one side. “Sorry, girl…”
They took a taxi to La Belle Équipe a little before six, and sat down in the half empty restaurant. The evening rush was still well underway, the Rue de Charrone a bustling hive both on and off the street. He ordered a bottle of water, and on Corrine’s recommendation, a shrimp and beet risotto to go along with their steaks and fries. More people drifted in as the evening’s tempo picked up, the ebb and flow on the sidewalk became less frenetic as lovers and other strangers passed by slowly, window shopping while the cares of their world were glossed over in splashes of bright light.
He watched Deb as she ate, or tried to eat. At one point she tried to pick up her steak with her fingers, and when he intervened she fell into darkness.
“What’s happening to me, Steven?” she asked in a strange, flat voice. “I can’t seem to remember anything.” He cut her steak and helped her eat, a few people looked on but eyes went to her scarf – and the gauze under – and it seemed then that everyone understood. They ate little sorbets and cookies and sipped espressos for the longest time and then, just a little before nine, left and crossed the street to catch a taxi back to the marina.
He heard sirens, a huge response underway somewhere nearby, then a small Renault pulled up in front of the restaurant and men emerged with Kalashnikovs. They began shooting people inside and out. He heard the screams of the innocent and damned, saw people falling down on the sidewalk clutching wounds and he felt for the Walther, realized he’d left it onboard. He scooped up Deb and ran with her away from the scene, then he saw Hassani…across the street, talking on a small radio.
Had they followed him to the restaurant? Had their surveillance broken down, had they not seen him leave with Deb? He carried her into the shadows, put his jacket over her shoulders then ran out into the street, took down the registration from Hassani’s vehicle and dashed back to the shadows and pulled out his phone. He called Corrine, and he could hear she was in a car with it’s siren blaring.
“It’s Collins, Hassani is on Charrone in a gray Renault, they are shooting up the Équipe, three men. I have the registration of the Renault…can you copy?”
He read it out and she told him to get under cover, that there were several attacks underway throughout the city, then she was gone.
He looked at Deb’s scarf…now it was a beacon in the worst sort of way and he pulled his jacket up over her head. Looking around, he saw a taxi coming and hailed it down, then he got Deb inside. They pulled up outside the marina a few minutes later and he literally carried her down to the boat and got her below.
“What’s going on out there?” a clearly agitated Liz asked when they came down the steps, and Collins told her what he knew as quickly as he could. She nodded… “There are police all over the place…they were here, asked me where you were…then they ran off towards the river…I think they were chasing someone…”
He opened the chart table and grabbed the Walther, then took the girls forward. “Stay in here,” he said as he closed the door.
Back at the chart table he powered off all the lights, but turned on the spreader lights, flooding the deck above in bright light. He took a blanket and settled on the galley floor, draping the blanket over him…
A few minutes later he felt the boat move, and though he could barely hear anything over the cacophony of sirens beyond the marina he was sure someone was onboard. And then he saw a shoe, a sneaker of some sort, on the top companionway step, then it was coming down, slowly, quietly.
He saw Hassani silhouetted on the steps, an H&K MP5 in his hand, and Collins lined up the sights and squeezed off one round, hitting the Iraqi in the neck. He fell to the cabin sole and Collins fired one more round into his skull, then he remained perfectly still.
A few minutes later he heard police in the marina, then a herd of people jumping onboard. Corrine dashed below, a flashlight in hand and Collins stood.
“Hassani?” she asked.
“Good, we are still searching for three of them. Is everyone safe here?”
“I, uh-yeah, I think so.”
She was gone after that, and he didn’t see her again that night. A crime scene unit came and photographed the scene, a woman took his statement while a medic came below and removed Hassani’s body, and about three in the morning he got out a bucket and paper towels and went about scrubbing the main cabin. Coagulated blood and hair had set on the walls and ceiling, and he scrubbed for what felt like hours before he was satisfied, then he went forward and got Charley from Liz’s sleeping grasp and took her out to the grass. He found errant splatters of blood on deck and wiped them up, then put Charley on his berth and took a shower, letting the hot water work it’s way past his deepest fears.
Liz came in a few minutes after he finished, looking very unsettled. “Something’s not right with Deb,” she said, and he dressed and went forward.
And indeed, there was something different about her now. Her eyes were fixed dead ahead and she didn’t respond when he spoke her name. He checked her pulse – fine, strong and steady – then he sat her up on the berth and put a pillow behind her head.
“Deb?” he said as he gently pinched an earlobe. “You with me, Deb?”
She blinked her eyes a few times then looked at him. “Where am I?” she said at last, then her fingers formed chords and she began playing in the air.
“On the boat, with me.”
“No, it’s me, Sumner. Where are you now?”
“I was walking, in a village I think. By a sea of flowers.”
“Was it nice?”
“Oh yes, ever so…but I’m not there now? Where am I, did you say?”
“It’s alright, Deborah. Just close your eyes and rest now.” He sat beside her and Liz looked at him, shook her head, then hid her face and turned away. After Deb fell asleep again he got his phone and texted the old physician, told him about the last few days. An hour later he called back.
“You are still at the Arsenal, at the marina?”
“I am at the hospital this week so I will drop by on the way in.”
He arrived just as two more people from the police arrived.
“What happened here?” the old man asked as he stepped below.
“An old friend dropped by. He tried to kill me.”
“Oui, bien sûr, c’est la façon don’t il est avev vous. Now, about Miss Hill?”
“She’s drifting now, and I’m afraid her memory is going, maybe contact with reality as well.”
“Reality? How so? I wonder, may I speak with her?”
“What did you mean by that? Reality? How so?
“She’s playing the piano, with her fingers.”
They went forward and the old man asked to speak with her alone, so Collins shut the door behind him and sat with Liz in the main cabin. Without asking she got up and made coffee, warmed a few scones then cleaned up after herself.
They were sitting together when the old man came back out.
“So much faster than I expected. The tumor must be growing exponentially now. Did anything come of your call to Boston?”
“No sir, nothing.”
“This is a terrible cancer, it tricks all our best therapies. Still, the speed of this deterioration makes me wonder if we missed something.”
“Anything else you can do? That we can do here?”
He sighed. “No, not at this time. Just expect this to become much more difficult, and when you cannot carry-on any longer, well, we will move her to an end of life facility.”
“So,” Collins said. “That’s it? How much longer, do you think?”
Mann shrugged. “We would need new imagery, more labs, to answer that question, but it’s not really so important now. It may be days now, not weeks. She may be able to stay here longer, but I doubt even that now.”
“She seemed to take a serious turn for the worse yesterday,” Collins said.
“Odd, isn’t it. The entire world seemed to take a turn last night, as well,” Mann sighed. “And not for the better – and she is like a mirror.”
“We were just a few meters away, up on Charrone.”
“Oh? Did you observe these events?”
“And how was she, after?”
“She had a quite vivid dream, I think. She called me Claude, said she had been on a walk, by a sea of flowers, and she talked about the moonlight later, in her sleep.”
“She may be traveling now.”
“Traveling? What do you mean?”
“It is a hope of mine, not really even a theory, but still, I’ve always wondered. Do we, as death grows near, do we travel through time? Are our souls no longer prisoners of time? Can we go back to another time where we lived with greater happiness? Or to the future, to a place we have no recall, as of yet?”
“I see. How do you…”
“Not in many patients, Mr Collins. Only a few, those who have had an altered brain, often through cancer, occasionally through injury. These patients recount vivid experiences we cannot account for. Recollections of facts these people could not have possibly known. I do not like to say this, but I was hoping for such recollections from Miss Hill.”
“I know…I know. This must sound – vulgar. Yet whatever the reason, we are where we are now, and she presents us with an opportunity to learn. When she becomes the teacher, Mr Collins, we must listen. When she has these recollections, please question her. Try to tease out the smallest detail, everything is important. Nothing is irrelevant…where she is, or even what she smells. She may know names. People’s names, or a street, or the name of a building. She will come out of these dreams in an altered state, and for a few minutes she will inhabit both these worlds. It is then when you must be there, when you must concentrate on everything she says.”
“This playing music, in the air? Is this new?”
“Yes, though I saw her do this in Honfleur a couple of times.”
“Has she mentioned someone named Claude to you before?”
He shook his head. “No.”
“Please. Write down everything you remember she says. Next time, be more methodical. You remember, the who what where why when axiom? Try to get to the bottom of these things.”
“You think it’s important enough to do this?”
“I do. But please, if you do not, let me know. I will stay with her, or have someone here to stay and record these events.”
“No, we can do that,” he said, looking at Liz.
She nodded her understanding. “Okay. But what does it mean, doctor? These recollections?”
“I can not say, really. But if these recollected events, inside a dream and as death nears, are indeed the manifestation of another time, I will leave it to you to consider the deeper implications. What we know about what is beyond death is very limited, Madam, but perhaps what we are witness to in these rare cases is like a window. Into time, perhaps, a new way of understanding time, or what it means to pass into death. And to reconsider…in a new way, I hope…what resides beyond the moment of our death.”
“That’s Deb,” Liz said, and they all rushed into the forward cabin.
“What is it, Deborah,” Sumner said.
“Sumner? She’s here, outside, now.”
“Who is, Deb?”
“That fish, the one with the scar…”
Collins rushed topsides, looked all around the boat but found nothing, not a trace anywhere he looked. He went below, back to the cabin and found Mann talking to her about the dolphin, and what she’d seen…something about another boat, another boat named Springer, and a man on that boat. He listened, stunned, as she described a village by the sea, the music she’d heard and other long walks by the sea.
He turned and went aft to his cabin and he sat there in silence, lost in the implications of her words.
A few weeks later he made the drive out to DeGaulle, again. Phoebe was arriving, and he was by now more than a little relieved. Relieved to see his sister again, relieved to have more help, relieved to see beyond the bewildering world of Deborah’s inrushing dreams.
When Liz left, to go back and settle Rod’s affairs – or so her note said – he was filled with a terrifying sense that everything was unwinding now, coming apart. All the love that had bound together the four souls on Gemini evaporated in the dizzying heat of Liz’s farewell, and he was left with Charley to confront Deborah’s dreams by himself, with Dr Mann always hovering just out of view, waiting for the latest report.
Her eyes were hollow pools now, her skin sinking in on itself, turning pale gray two weeks ago, but now he saw the yellowish tinge that could only mean death was closing in. The physician said it was time to move her, but Collins said no, not yet. He couldn’t let go, not now. He wouldn’t let her pass alone in a hospital room. This was home now, her home.
She hadn’t left the bed in a week, and a nurse had placed a catheter. When she spoke now, she spoke through morphine-tinged voices of pain, and when heard her pleas he would hit the pump and dose her again, then turn away in fear. He had learned to change her IV bottles, and Charley slept on her chest almost all the time now, yet even now the little pup was growing, filling out a little, and he wondered how much longer Deb would be able to tolerate her weight.
He saw Phoebe standing curbside and pulled up alongside and dashed out and into her arms, crying into her shoulder, holding her tight.
“Oh, God, I’ve missed you, little sister…”
When he was spent, she leaned back and looked into his eyes. “Can you drive?”
“Yeah, sure. Sorry, but it’s been a rough couple of weeks.”
“Why wouldn’t you tell me what was going on? Your email was a bombshell, what you’ve been through? I can’t even imagine…”
“I’m sorry, Sis… I didn’t want you to leave school until your term was over.” He took her bag and put it in the rear and they drove into the city – in desperate little silences. He parked and got her bag and led her to Gemini’s stern, then he helped her across. Dr Mann met them in the cockpit, subdued, thoughtful, then he saw Phoebe…and Collins had to smile.
“This is your sister?” the old man said playfully. “Mon dieu, if I was ten years younger!”
Phoebe blushed and held out her hand. “And you are?”
“Oh,” Collins said, “sorry. How thoughtless of me. Phoebes, this is Deborah’s physician, Dr Mann.”
“Henrí,” the old man said, taking her hand and kissing it. “Enchanted. Now Sumner, we have a few things to discuss, then I must leave.”
“Please,” Collins said, indicating they should sit in the cockpit. “Fire away.”
“You are still adamant about her staying here, I assume?”
“Well, I want a nurse here in the evenings, at least for now, perhaps full time within the week. Is there a place for her to sleep, if needs be?”
“Yes, I can rig a berth in my office.”
“Ah? Well, perfect. I am concerned that soon the morphine may not be enough, but at that point we will be out of options. You are familiar with what will happen then?”
“Good, that is a discussion we can dispense with.”
“Did she wake up while I was gone?”
“Yes. We had a most interesting discussion.”
“The house again?”
He nodded his head. “Oui. I think I now have a good picture of the social structures, enough to call in a historian and get an opinion concerning the authenticity of her observations.”
“What’s this?” Phoebe said.
“I’ll tell you later, Phoebe. Dr Mann? When will the nurse come?”
“Tonight would be best.”
“Okay. I’ll have the room ready.”
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to come down on my way home this evening,” he said, looking at Phoebe, “to see how the new arrangements are working out.”
“Of course,” Collins said, grinning at the old man’s blooming interest.
“He’s an interesting old coot,” Phoebe said as she watched the Mann walk out of the marina. “Is he a pervert, as well?”
Collins shook his head. “I’ll leave that to you to find out, if you don’t mind. He’s a psychiatrist, so watch yourself.”
“Well, shall we go below, meet this gal of yours?”
“Apres vous, cherie.”
He dropped her bags forward, then led her aft to his cabin, to Deb.
“Dear God,” Phoebe said when she looked down on Deb’s emaciated form, “she’s so changed from the photos you sent.”
“I think it’s the morphine,” Collins said. “As soon as we started Jenn on that stuff, she went downhill, fast.”
“I remember. I honestly don’t know how you’re doing this again, so soon.”
“Not any other options, kiddo. I hope you’d do the same for…”
“No, well, I was going to say whoever you’re with at the time. Assuming you love them, that is.”
“Sumner, I think we’re both a little too old to be playing The Dating Game.”
“Speak for yourself. I’d as soon die tomorrow than live without this kind of intimacy in my life.”
“Really? Don’t you get bored with the tedious details of it all? The clinging needfulness, the constant manipulations?”
He looked at the ceiling. “You know, Phoebes, I can’t say those things stand out to me as anything I’ve endured. Jenn? Needful? Piffle – she was the essence of self sufficiency.”
“That, or you’re simply an armor-plated nomad.”
“Oh, he’s not that,” Deb said, looking at Phoebe.
“You’re awake!” Sumner cried.
“Your powers of observation never fail to astound,” Deb smiled. “So, this is the famous Phoebe. Turn around, dear. I want to see if you’re as big an ass as your brother.”
“Well, I see someone is feeling better today,” Sumner said, sitting on the bed beside her – then taking her hand in his.
“The magic morphine the good doctor gave me this morning was unusually refreshing, but I need a shower. Sumner? Would you do the honors?”
“Well,” Phoebe said, “I think I’ll unpack?”
“Thanks,” he said. “I see you in a bit.”
“Bye!” Deb said to Phoebe. “Nous allons commencer dès que je suis prêt…”
“Oh, vous parlez français?”
Phoebe shook her head and left, leaving Sumner to look on, confused.
“Nice to see you feeling so good this morning…I didn’t know you speak French?”
“I don’t feel good, Sumner. I don’t feel anything at all right now. It’s like I’m numb from the nose down, and the top of my head feels like it’s pinched, and going to explode. Oh, my foot’s tangled in the sheets…”
He helped her out of bed and into the shower, and he washed her with a lemon scented wash she loved. He dried her and dressed her as best he could, then redid the bandage on her head before he led her to the main cabin, rolling her IV stand along by her side.
“Where’s Liz?” she asked.
“She went out.”
“Oh. Would you like me to bake today?”
“If you’d like. Could I help you?”
“Oh, I can help out,” Phoebe said, coming out of the forward cabin.
“Who’s this?” Deb asked, perplexed.
“I’m Sumner’s sister, Phoebe. I just got in.”
“Oh, aidez-moi à faire quoi?”
Phoebe looked at a shrugging Sumner, who now seemed perplexed, almost stunned. “Do you feel like baking today, Deb?”
“No. I’d like to just sit here for a while. Perhaps we could talk.”
Phoebe came and sat by her. “Why don’t you sit back and rest? That shower took a lot out of you, didn’t it?”
“Why does my head hurt?”
He watched as his sister put her arms around Deb, and how they wilted into each other. Death had become the leading man in both their dramas, and in that moment they seemed to recognize a common need, and they fell into the moment, and into each other.
They sat and talked through the rest of that first day, talking about how to bake scones and how tiresome teaching the piano had become, and it hit him like a lightning bolt; Sumner trekked out to a store and came back with a small Yamaha piano, one so small Phoebe could sit at the fold down table and play.
The transformation was instantaneous. Deb grew increasingly enraptured, attentively so, then Deb wanted Phoebe to show her a few chords, then a few more.
What was more startling was the speed with which Deb picked up the intricacies Phoebe demonstrated. When Dr Mann arrived the two women were working their way through a simplified Clare De Lune, and the old man smacked lips as he stared at Sumner, then he shrugged his shoulders as he came in to watch.
“What is going on?” he whispered.
“My sister, she’s a piano teacher. There has been a connection, I think.”
“You think? This is staggering. Miss Hill has no prior experience?”
“I don’t think so.”
They sat and watched, Mann mesmerized by the speed Deb grasped the phrasing, and even complicated movements of the hand posed no challenge to her. At one point Deb took over and began playing the opening from memory, and after perhaps a minute she stopped.
“What comes next?” she asked.
Phoebe began playing from memory, going perhaps three minutes into the piece before Deb interrupted.
“I’ve got it.” She started over, played from the beginning again, playing up to the point Phoebe had just reached, then she stopped and looked up. “This is fun,” she said. “Notes are colors; I can see them, and they play back to me.”
By this point Mann was studying her movements, first her hands, then her eyes.
“Tell me, Deborah. Describe the colors you see when you play that opening phrase.”
She played them again, her eyes closed now. “Silvery blue,” she said.
“Deborah, keep your eyes closed. Yes, now play red…”
She moved down two octaves and struck a chord.
“Can you play something that says happiness?”
She struck another chord, and another, and to Sumner she had hit the epitome of happiness.
More chords…and she had found pure melancholy.
“Anger, Deborah. Show me anger…”
Pounding, furious anger…
“Now, Deborah, play what you feel inside – just now…”
What emerged was a distillation of longing and utter despair, linked expressions of a walk by the sea in moonlight, with perhaps a storm passing along the far horizons of her mind. She played for several minutes – then grew still, the memory of her music lingering in the air like the most subtle perfume.
When Collins looked at Mann he was wiping tears from his eyes, while Phoebe seemed to be adrift on a sunless sea, bereft of understanding as she came to terms with what had just happened.
Deborah’s features seemed to change in the aftermath, but to Collins it seemed as though they had discovered something new and vital, a new way to talk to the world, perhaps, and another way to see into Deborah’s passing inner landscapes. He went to her and hugged her, and she looked up at him, a muted kind of half smile on her face.
“What is it?” she said. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, nothing at all.”
“I feel very tired. Could I go back to bed now?”
The old physician came fully below and helped her stand. “I’ve forgotten,” he said. “Could you tell me your name, please?”
Deborah looked at him, confused. “Do I know you?”
“We met earlier. My name is Henrí. And yours?”
“Marian. Marian Orgeron.”
“Nice to meet you, Marian. Let me help you to bed now.”
Mann led her aft and shut the door, leaving Collins and his sister to follow the crumbs towards some sort of meaningful answer to the questions flooding their minds.
“Orgeron…Orgeron…why does that name sound so familiar…” Phoebe said. She pulled up her phone and Googled the name, but nothing popped up and she shook her head. She opened up her email and searched contacts, then emailed a professor at Princeton. A few minutes later her inbox chirped and she opened the file, then stood and looked aft. “Of course, the bi-tonal chords. Well, I’ll be damned…I should have known.”
“Orgeron was one of Claude Debussy’s teachers, a friend of Wagner’s, and a great influence on both their later music. She was truly gifted, a woman ahead of her time. She passed in obscurity. What Deborah just played…well, my guess is the piece is at least a hundred years old. There were no recordings of it ever made, and the only sheet music that exists is in the rare music collection, in the private collections library at Princeton. A serious music historian, perhaps a doctoral student of the French Impressionists and Symbolists…they might, just might have heard this piece before, but they would have studied at Princeton. No where else. Van Cliburn was rumored to have played it once, but that would be the only known public performance of it, ever.”
“So, it’s impossible she would have heard it before?”
“Well, not impossible, but I would say highly unlikely. Assuming Cliburn played the piece – and she was present, not to mention she was capable enough to memorize the piece…”
“But you know of the music? How?”
“My husband, Tom, was such a student. He photocopied it for his research, I played it several times while he was writing.”
“Did you play any of it today, when you were teaching Deborah?”
“No…the Clair de Lune fragments were the closest we came to those structures, but Sumner, her fingering was perfect. The first time through. That’s just not possible, and for someone who’s never played before? Totally impossible.”
“No, it’s not,” Mann said as he came back into the main cabin. “Pardon me, but I overheard some of what you said, and I am now a little envious, though nervous.”
“Oui. If what you are saying is true, Miss Hill may no longer being experiencing Time in her dreams alone. She may be manifesting personalities from these visits, here in the present.”
“What are you talking about?” Phoebe asked. “What could you possibly…”
“In her dreams recently,” Mann said, “she has been recounting visits to other places in distant time. The phenomenon is rare, but not without precedent in people with advanced brain lesions, or tumors. We have been documenting her explorations, if that is indeed what we have been witnessing, for weeks.”
“In her dreams, she is moving through time.”
“Yes. Just so. Well put.”
“So today, she was conscious, awake, but she not only played a piece of music that has been played – maybe – just once in the past one hundred years, she seems to think she is the composer, someone who passed away ninety years ago.”
“That seems to be the case.”
Phoebe sat down, took a deep breath, shook her head violently. “No way,” she said. “Sorry, but there’s just no way this can be happening.”
“Too true,” Mann said. “So, we must look for an other explanation. Find out what you can about this Orgeron, and we will ask Miss Hill.”
“No… You know what? I left Chicago last night, this morning…sometime…and I thought I was in Paris…but you know what? I’ve entered some weird-ass parallel universe where nothing makes sense anymore…and my brother is the keeper of this lunatic asylum…”
Mann laughed. “Again. Well put. Sumner? Is the nurse not here yet?”
He shook his head. “Nope.”
The old man smacked his lips and pulled out his phone, just as they heard a forlorn “Hall-o” coming from the quay.
“Well, speak of the devil,” Mann said as he walked up into the cockpit.
“I’d better go help…”
Sumner led a twenty-something nurse by the hand down the companionway steps, and even Phoebe took in a sharp breath when she saw the girl. Tall, willowy tall with pure white skin and deep red lips, waist-length brunette hair parted in the middle, deep brown eyes, sharp, inquisitive eyes. Sumner was beside himself, she saw, tongue-tied and speechless.
“This is my sister, Phoebe. She’ll be staying up front, so let me show you to your room.”
Phoebe stood. “And what is your name?” she said, holding out her hand.
“Sophie. Sophie Orgeron,” the nurse said as she held out her own.
Phoebe looked gut-punched as she fell back into her seat, and Sumner felt light-headed again. Only Dr Mann seemed relatively unaffected by this latest coincidence, and he stepped down into the cabin and looked at the young woman anew.
“Perhaps related to the composer Marian Orgeron?”
“Oui, yes, she was my great-grandmother…why do you ask?”
“Oh, nothing…nothing at all,” Mann said, rolling his eyes. “Sumner? Show her to the room, please, then we should take her to Miss Hill…”
“Of course,” he said. “Follow me.”
The desk in his office was now a bed, and Charley’s nest was now in the knee-space. He picked her up and held her… “This is Charley. You two will be sharing the room from time to time.”
Sophie looked at Charley. “May I?” she said, holding out her hands. He held her out, and Charley almost leapt into the girl’s arms – and went about licking her face until she was giggling uncontrollably. “Mon dieu…she is so affectionate!”
“We run a happy ship here, M’am. Here, I’ll take her. You’d better go wash up.”
“Oui, yes, please.” He led her to the head and gave her a quick lesson on procedures for flushing and washing, then left her and closed the door.
When she emerged Mann led her aft, but Collins walked up into the cockpit, and Phoebe followed. “You know, ever since Charley passed, things have been getting stranger and stranger. Did I tell you about the dolphin?”
“What? No. Sumner, really? What’s going on? This is getting looney?”
“You’re telling me…”
Mann came up into the cockpit… “I want to take you both to dinner, and Sophie will stay with Deborah. Let’s go, please.” He walked past them and off the stern, then stood waiting for them.
Collins shook his head, confused. “Okay. I’ll go get our coats,” he said. “Something’s getting lost in the translation…”
They – walked – over to the Isle St Louis and to a unmarked cellar door – and then down a flight of stairs into another world. He could see a handful of tables in a blue haze, a jazz quartet in a dimly lit corner, and Mann was greeted by the owner and half the people down there like he was some sort of demigod. Menus appeared, a bottle of wine too – Mann’s favorite, or so he told them. Collins studied the menu, but nothing was familiar.
“Sorry,” the old man smacked, “this is a vegan restaurant. If I can help you make a choice,” he said, looking at Phoebe, “please let me know”
“Well, this is Greek to me,” Sumner said. “I’ll let you order for me.”
“Do you like mushrooms?” Mann asked.
“As long as I don’t take a trip, sure.”
“Ah, yes. Don Juan, Castaneda. Those kinds of mushrooms. No, I cannot offer you those tonight, but my favorite dish here is loaded with mushrooms.”
“Sounds good to me,” Phoebe said.
“Excellent!” He called a favorite waitress over and ordered, just as a plate of vegetable fritters arrived. “Help yourself,” he smacked, “and bon appetite!”
“Very good,” Phoebe said after taking a bite.
“You know of course, that with Miss Hill now we are moving rapidly into the realm of a great unknown,” Mann said. “I would say yet that I do not understand the focus of all these manifestations.”
“What do you mean?” Collins said.
“I would have said that Miss Hill is the locus of these things, but then I remember the story of your dog, and that dolphin. These features developed as a result of your wife?”
“I would say so.”
“Dolphin?” Phoebe added. “What dolphin?”
“In a minute,” Collins said. “Doctor, what’s my wife got to do with this?”
The old man smacked and shrugged, looked up at the ceiling. “So, what do we know? Your wife gets ill, she and your dog have an encounter with this dolphin, in Boston. Your wife passes away, you flee. You run into this same animal in the Caribbean, then again in the middle of the Atlantic, after the dog passes away. Then you meet Miss Hill, in Brighton. What happened there? She was suicidal when you met; this I understand. But what else happened?”
“John Lennon happened.”
“Sumner?” Phoebe said, now sounding violated. “Don’t.”
He looked at her. “I’m sorry, Phoebe. He’s become a part of this story, too.”
She shook her head. “Please? No…”
“Now is the time to talk about these things,” Mann said, “when we may be able to make sense of their meaning.”
She shrugged, seemed to acquiesce – for the moment.
“When I saw Miss Hill, Deborah, the first time up on the bluff, she was getting ready to jump…”
Phoebe brought her hands to her face, and he heard a sharp intake of breath.
“Lennon was there,” Collins said. “He’s visited several times since.”
Phoebe was shaking her head, crying. “No, no, no…” she whispered through her tears.
“Why is this a cause for such pain, Phoebe?” Mann asked, concerned.
“Because we were with him when he died,” she said.
Mann looked from Phoebe to Sumner, then back again. “How is this so? Both of you?”
Sumner spoke now: “We grew up in The Dakota, as I told you once, my mother was a musician and she knew Lennon, we were friends. We were coming home when it happened, we saw him and he reached out to us as he passed.”
“Excuse me,” Mann said. “Did either of you touch him?”
“I did,” Sumner said.
“I did too. He coughed on me then,” Phoebe whispered. “His blood went in my mouth and my eyes.”
“Has he appeared to you before, Phoebe?” Mann asked.
She looked down, then gently nodded her head. “Yes,” she whispered.
Sumner sat back and sighed. “You never told me?”
“I thought you’d think I was crazy.”
“So, before I say anymore, when this nurse, Sophie? When we go back to see Miss Hill just now, we hear music. It sounds real…live, I think, is the word. We go in and the music is gone, but the air smells like patchouli, but I see there is no incense burning. This, I think, is significant at the time, but it makes no sense. Until now.”
“The song?” Collins asked. “What was he playing?”
Phoebe buried her face in her hands. “No-no-no-no-no-no-this-isn’t-happening…”
Collins stood and left the table, went up the stairs and out into the night air. He walked down to a circular row of benches outside the chapels of Notre Dame and sat, looked out over the Seine as it flowed ceaselessly towards the sea. It was cold now, and a damp mist hung over the city, amber streetlights lining the river receding in fog.
And he felt him there beside the benches.
“I’m sorry this is all so painful now,” Lennon said, “but it won’t always be this way.”
“What about you, John? How is it for you?”
“I wish there was some way I could describe what it’s like. I don’t have the words, ya know?”
Collins nodded. “Yeah, I think I do.”
“I could see the love in your eyes,” Lennon said.
“You looked so afraid, and I felt so helpless…”
“Like you do now.”
“Like I do, yes, now. I don’t know what else I can do for her.”
“You’ve already done it, you know. Don’t worry now. Just accept what comes.”
“I won’t see you for a while, but perhaps I’ll see you on the other side.”
“Okay. Goodbye, my friend.”
He turned to look at him, but…he was gone.
“Just accept what comes,” he repeated, then he closed his eyes, thought of all he’d seen and done the past few months, Deb and Liz and Rod and Paul. Charley, always Charley, her deep brown eyes the only constant in his life, until…her.
“What a roller coaster ride this has been…”
He stood and walked back to the cellar; dinner was already on the table and he sat, looked at Phoebe, then at Mann. “Sorry. The air was getting a little close, if you know what I mean.”
“I smell patchouli,” Mann said, “again.”
“Yeah. I know.”
“Was he…?” Phoebe tried asking, but her voice cracked, and she stopped when she saw his face.
“So, how’re the mushrooms?”
“Really good,” she said. “Very…I don’t know. Depth, I think, is the word I’m searching for.”
“Depth. Yes,” Mann said, “that’s it, precisely. You know, Sumner, your sister is very wise.”
“Oh, you have no idea, Henrí, but maybe – in time – you’ll understand.”
She looked away again, her future shrouded by their past. She picked at her dinner after that, though Sumner managed to finish, and they walked back to Gemini as shrouds of fog lowered over the city. Gemini’s hull and deck were slippery now, coated with rivulets of beading water, and Sumner hopped across first, almost slipping and falling, then Phoebe made her usual light-footed hop and scampered up into the cockpit.
Mann looked at slippery hull and hesitated. “You know, I think I will go home now.”
“Ah, well then, thanks for dinner. What a fun place.”
Mann smiled. “Once you give up eating animals, well, you know, the choice narrows.”
“In this city, I can’t imagine the frustration.”
“And you? You seem to have such an affinity for animals. Curious dichotomy, don’t you think?”
“Probably because I don’t think about it, I guess?”
“Perhaps, but we’re all so conflicted these days, between the desires imposed on us by our past, and the needs of an uncertain future. With so much tension in the air, I’m afraid we must all risk being more tolerant of each others gentle eccentricities. If we fail to act so, I fear we will find the future less hospitable than might agree with us.”
“Change is inevitable,” Collins sighed.
“Yes, but even so, change must be managed with intelligence, or chaos beckons the winner. And perhaps, civilization falls. Well, good night. I will check in with you tomorrow.”
“Good night, doctor.” He went below and found Sophie talking with Phoebe, and when he looked at the girl he found himself wishing he was thirty years old again. ‘My goodness, but she’s so lovely…’ he said to himself as he went aft to check on Deb. She was asleep, laboring under the weighty spell of dreams…so he closed the door and went back to talk with Phoebe.
He stretched out on one of the settees and closed his eyes.
“Are you tired, little brother?”
“Exhausted, but more emotionally than physically.”
“I had no idea I was walking into such an interesting set of circumstances.”
“Oh? Well, perhaps I was afraid you’d change your mind and not come.”
“Not likely. I’m now homeless again, and not quite dead broke, but getting there.”
Sophie laughed at that. “With your talent? Surely not.”
“Talent?” Phoebe mused. “What talent?”
“Miss Hill tells me you are a wonderful pianist. You could earn a good living here as a teacher.”
“Not at home, not anymore. You know, there was a golden age of the piano in America, back in the 50s and 60s. Those were my mother’s years, I suppose, but that’s gone now. I think it has succumbed to an era of instant gratification, leaving poor little wretches like myself to drift away on the forgotten currents of yet another dying age.”
“Then you should move here. Things are not so commercialized yet.”
“Yes. I saw how civilized Paris has become last month,” Phoebe said.
“That’s not fair,” Sumner said.
“Maybe not fair, but I would assume true, nevertheless.”
His phone chirped, and he fished it out of his coat pocket. “Yello.”
“I’ll be at DeGaulle in an hour.”
“Yes, see you curbside?”
She broke the connection. Well, we’re about to get crowded here.”
“Tracy?” Liz asked.
“No, my other friend. Liz.”
“Really? Where will she sleep?”
He smiled. “I guess up forward, with you.”
“I guess, for tonight, why don’t I go find a hotel room or something?”
“Because. Besides, I’m not sure how long she’ll be here. She could be gone by morning. Anyway, I’ve got to go now.”
“That’s my brother…Up in the air, Junior Birdman.”
“You want to ride with me?”
“No, my eyeballs are burning, and I passed ‘jetlag’ a few exits ago. Time for me to hit the percales, little brother. Bon voyage and all that. Ask your friend not to wake me when she gets here.”
Sophie shrugged. “You have many difficulties, do you not?”
“C’est la vie.”
“Perhaps, but you seem very tired too. When do you rest?”
He shrugged. “I’ll sleep when I die.”
“Oui, and that may come much sooner than you’d care to know.”
“Thanks. Well, I’m off – like a herd of turtles.”
She smiled, then returned to her notebook, filling out forms as he left, as confused as she had ever been in her life.
He found his way to the car and slipped through the city easily now; between the fog and the late hour there was almost no traffic at all, and he made it out to the airport in record time. He had been sitting there five minutes when she came out, a huge suitcase rolling along behind her.
He got out and she ran into his arms, crying uncontrollably as she wrapped her arms around him.
He held her, let her go ‘til she was spent.
“I suppose you’ll tell me someday what this was all about?”
“Guilt, insecurity, sheer stupidity.”
“Ah, the usual things.”
She laughed. “Not for me. Just hold me, will you?”
“I think I’m about to get a parking ticket…” he said, pointing at a police car pulling up behind his rental. He waved at the gendarme and picked up her suitcase – which had an ‘OVERWEIGHT’ sticker affixed to the grip – and he gasped as he manhandled the thing to the rear of the car. “My god…what’s in here? An artillery brigade?”
He helped her in then pulled away from the terminal, and he was still the only car on the road.
“So, why did I leave?”
“That’s a good place to start, I guess.”
“More about Rod, I think. I felt guilty about the way we ended, about not going to the services. His family understood, but one of his uncles was bonkers.”
“The girl? Sharon? How’s she?”
“Sarah? No, well, she’s paralyzed. Has some, well, partial use of one arm, but she’s incontinent, the works. Poor thing. Bad wreck…a lory hit them broadside, right in the driver’s door. Poor Rod.”
“You settled the estate, I take it? Are you happy with the way that worked out?”
“I guess. Didn’t much care one way the other. How’s Deb doing?”
He shook his head. “Going downhill fast. We have a nurse staying nights now, and my sister arrived this morning.”
“Crowded, I take it?”
“Getting that way.”
“And here I pop up out of nowhere. Sorry. Should I not have come?”
“She’s your friend too,” he said defensively.
“Oh dear. Have I lost you, too?”
“I’m very tired, been awake for almost two days.”
“I didn’t hear a ‘Gee Liz, sure is good to see you.’”
“You left, Liz. You wrote an obscure note and you left. How do you expect me to feel?”
She crossed her arms and looked out at the fog. “I’m sorry. Perhaps you should just take me back to the airport.”
He pulled up the menu on the GPS and hit the airport, and direction prompts began.
“What are you doing?” she asked as he prepared to exit the highway.
“You want to go to the airport. I’m taking you.”
“Sumner, I…that’s not what I want!”
“Then stop playing games.”
She resumed looking out the window. “I’d like to go see Deb now,” she said.
“You’ll be sharing the forward cabin with Phoebe.”
“I see. This is not quite how I expected our meeting to go.”
“I see. Well, I was not quite expecting you to leave me. I guess we’re even.”
They finished the ride in silence, and once he’d parked he opened the boot and looked at her bag. “I’m not sure there’s enough room below for this.”
“Here, let me have it.”
He pulled it out and set it on the pavement, and she took off across the street, heading for a hotel on the corner. He looked at her as she walked off and shook his head, then walked back to the boat. Sophie was in the aft cabin, checking vital signs and writing in her little green notebook, so he went forward and took Charley out for another walk. When she finished, he picked her up and carried her below to his cabin. The nurse was still sitting there, watching Deb sleep.
“How is she?”
“Still sleeping, but with morphine only, I’m afraid.” she said. “But there’s congestion in the lungs now, and much pain.”
“Too soon to tell, but I’ve left a call with one of our internists.” She looked at him, concern in her eyes. “You look so exhausted. Shouldn’t you lay down?”
“Uh-huh.” He slipped off his shoes and fell onto the bed, and didn’t feel the blanket the girl slipped over his shoulders, or Charley, as she curled up on the pillow beside his head.
He heard people moving around topsides and did his best to ignore their voices, hoping sleep would come back and carry him away again, then he heard Charley’s little claws scampering across overhead and he sat up, looked around the room. The sun was directly overhead, streaming through the overhead hatch and warming the room. His mouth felt stale, like he’d been out far too long, and his bladder ached.
He went and stood in the shower, brushed his teeth as hot water ran down his neck, then he went to get dressed – and then noticed Deb wasn’t in bed. He found her in the main cabin, playing the piano with Phoebe again.
“Where’s Charley?” he asked.
“Your friend Liz has him,” Phoebe said, ignoring him but pointing up the companionway.
He went up into the cockpit, looked around the marina and saw them at the far end – by the river and the office. He jumped across to the grass and walked that way, stopping once when a leg cramp bit into him. Liz and Charley were walking his way by then, and Charley came up to him a moment later and jumped up on his shins. He picked her up and she was licking his face when Liz walked up.
“Feeling better, I hope.”
He shook his head. “Too soon to tell. I feel like roadkill. How’s the hotel?”
“Cheap, clean, not bad for the price.”
“I’ll go over with you and help move that bag over…”
“I think I’ll stay there. It’s awfully crowded onboard.”
“It is,” he said as he started walking back to the boat, yet looking at her carefully. “How was Deb this morning?”
“The piano? I didn’t know she played.”
“She didn’t, not before yesterday, anyway.”
“Mann said there’ve been a few other incidents like this, a middle aged woman in New York being the most famous to date. Seems the woman had never played anything before, wasn’t even particularly interested in music. She was struck by lightning and a week later was playing at an impossible level, concert skills, and yet two months later she couldn’t even remember playing. The gift left almost as quickly as it came on.”
“Phoebe is a concert level pianist, and a teacher. But there’s one other feature of this: Deb doesn’t think she’s Deb any more.”
“What?” she said, grinding to a halt.
“Oh, her name is Marian Orgeron, a friend of Debussy’s, as it turns out.”
“It seems our Deb is time traveling, in her sleep anyway. Yesterday she came to us as this Orgeron, but with the extra-added benefit of being a composer, and pianist. Did Phoebe not mention this?”
“No, they’ve been preoccupied on that piano ever since I got here.”
“Ain’t that nice. Has Mann been by?”
“No, not that I know of.”
“Gee, are we having fun yet?” He picked up Charley and carried her across, then took Liz’s hand as she hopped onboard. They went to the companionway, found Deb ripping through a fantastically complex piece, Phoebe recording the performance on her phone; they sat and watched for almost twenty minutes, until Deb collapsed. He rushed below and scooped her up, asked Liz to get the IV stand and then he carried her to the aft cabin. He laid her out, covered her up and sat next to her.
“My head hurts,” she moaned, and Collins hit the morphine button, sending another pulse of the med into her bloodstream. Thirty seconds later her eyes rolled back and she fell into a deep sleep; he got on the bed and pulled her close as Charley came and curled up on her chest. He looked up, saw Phoebe standing at the foot of the bed looking down at her, shaking her head.
“Whatever else may be going on around here, she is for all intents and purposes Marian Orgeron. She just played the entire piece…from memory. I’m going to upload this and have my friend at Princeton look it over, but my guess is she just played the entire piece – from memory. It’s just staggering, Sumner, to consider what this might mean.”
“It doesn’t mean a goddamn thing, Phoebe. It’s all just a dream within a dream.”
“When she woke up this morning, she said something about a carnival. That’s she’d been at a carnival during the night. Do you know what she means? Has she mentioned it before?”
“No. Did she say anything else?”
Phoebe looked away, trying to remember. “No, just a carnival of some sort. She mentioned torchlight, and an ancient looking wizard. Sounded like she was talking about Merlin and King Arthur and all that round table stuff, but then she kept talking about someone named Claude, then Timothy and an oracle of some sort.”
“Timothy? That’s new too. Liz? The blue notebook in the chart table? Could you get that for me, please?”
He opened it up and wrote the date and time, and all Phoebe’s recollections. “Torchlight? And an old wizard? Anything else?”
“Timothy, and an oracle. Did you get that down?”
He kept writing, adding the information about Orgeron and the composition Deb had played, then he closed the book and looked at Phoebe. “What about the nurse? Sophie?”
“Deb was asleep when she left,” Phoebe said. “She also said you need rest. What happened, Sumner?”
“I’ve been tired, and I guess it really hit me last night.”
“How do you feel now?”
“Tired. Tired…like I’ve never felt before. You know, when Deb and I were out on the bluff above Brighton, I know I heard a calliope, one of those steam-powered organ type things.”
“Yes, so?” Phoebe said. “What about it?”
“Well, aren’t those things associated with carnivals?”
“Yes, that’s right, maybe there was one nearby?” Phoebe mused. “So, that might account for the carnival in her dream.”
“But what accounts for the calliope?” Liz asked.
“I don’t know, but I do know what I heard. I know it wasn’t the wind, but…” he chuckled, “that’s about all I know.”
Mann appeared in the companionway. “So? What has happened now? More piano?”
“Yes. She was exhausted, collapsed when she finished a 20 minute performance.”
“Phoebe? Were you able to record it?”
“Yes, start to finish.”
The old man smacked and came down the steps, then went aft to check on Deborah, and Sumner went with him. “She said her head hurt, so I gave her one click on the IV.”
Mann looked over her chart, his head swaying from side to side, his lips smacking as he read. “I have lab results now. Markers are increasing rapidly, Sumner. Just so you know, I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be able to keep her comfortable…I’d guess the tumor is now fifty percent larger than it was on diagnosis.”
“Have you thought about how you want to handle the situation when morphine no longer works?”
“No, not really.”
“Well, my concern is Miss Hill won’t be able to make a rational decision when that happens. If you are not prepared to act, let me know so I can assemble the necessary paperwork.”
“I’ll be prepared to act, doctor.”
“My guess would be very soon, perhaps later this week, or even tonight. Okay?” He turned to leave and Collins pinched the bridge of his nose, rubbed his eyes, then went over and kissed Deborah on the forehead.
“Don’t worry about it, Sumner,” he heard her say. “Just accept what comes.”
She had repeated Lennon’s last words to him, and he was stunned – again. “John? Did you see him?”
She smiled. “I was with you then, by the river.”
“That night. When you sat by the river. I was with you.”
“I didn’t see you.”
“It’s hard to describe. But don’t be afraid, Sumner. Not about what’s going to happen next. You see…they’re here now.”
“Do you want to play the piano some more?”
“What? I don’t play the piano…”
“Oh. Well, can you tell me about the carnival?”
“No, I have no idea what it is. I haven’t been there yet.”
“How’s the pain?”
“Not too bad right now. I was thinking of baking something. Do we have cherries?”
She smiled. “I should have known. Help me up, would you?”
He hooked her catheter to the IV stand, then helped her up. Once in the galley, Liz came over and together they started baking. The boat filled once again with the smells of Deb’s favorite recipes, leaving Sumner and Phoebe to drift along with new memories in the making.
“You know what this dump needs?” she finally said to her brother.
“A Christmas tree.”
“You got it, Chuck.”
“I’ll go get Snoopy,” he said with a smile, and they took off into the fading afternoon, finally finding a small tree a few blocks away. A nearby shop had lights and ornaments, and they carried the tree back down to the boat and set it up on the chart table. He rigged the lights and each of them hung one ornament, leaving any more to be placed by guests, then he dimmed the cabin lights. Deborah came out and sat in the glow of the little tree after Sophie arrived, then after an hour she went aft with the nurse, leaving the three of them in the eye of the hurricane.
“She doesn’t remember playing the piano,” he said, suddenly remembering their conversation earlier that afternoon.
“A minor miracle I recorded it, I suppose.”
“No recall? None,” Liz asked. “It’s like one person’s memory superimposed over another’s, like the layers of an onion.”
“Or the pages of a book,” Phoebe added.
“You know,” Collins mused, “to us these personalities must seem randomly imposed, but I wonder? I wonder if there’s a deeper relationship is, if any at all?”
“You’re assuming there is a relationship,” Phoebe said. And, you’re also assuming the other personality is a real manifestation”
“Well, how do you account for this Orgeron thing?”
“I can’t,” Phoebe said, “but that doesn’t mean I have to buy into some supernatural force manipulating these events, or that there’s some overarching purpose to all this.”
Liz shook her head. “I don’t know, Phoebe. How else can you explain…”
“I can’t, but that doesn’t mean there’s not an explanation.”
“Liz?” Sumner asked. “Are those scones cool enough to try yet?”
“I’ll check. Coffee? With rum, perhaps?”
“That sounds good.”
She came back a minute later with a plate of scones, and Phoebe went to help with the rum. They sat for a while and then watched Phoebe’s recording of Deb playing, then they thought about the more mundane implications.
“I posted the recording to YouTube, sent a link to my buddy at Princeton. He knows some of the story; can’t wait to hear what he has to say after he watches it.”
“Other than to refer you to a good shrink, you mean?”
“And suppose it goes viral? You know, proof of life after death, and all that nonsense?”
“Or it might simply be regarded as a prank. That’s usually the case with things of this nature.”
Sophie came back and sat with them then, and Phoebe asked if she was familiar with her great-grandmother’s work.
“Some, yes. My mother played the piano, but not good enough to play works of that force.”
“How about you? Do you play?”
“A little, yes.”
“Well, watch this.” Phoebe cued up the video and played it again; Sophie watched and grew increasingly agitated.
“Where did you get this music?”
“Deb played it from memory, with one little wrinkle. She claimed that at the time she was Marian Orgeron.”
“She played this earlier today, yet a few hours ago she had no memory of the event.”
“This is not possible!”
“Shall I play it for you again?”
“No! This is some sort of obscene forgery!”
“Well,” Sumner said, “there’s the answer to that question.”
“What question?!” Sophie asked, now quite angry.
“We all witnessed this, Sophie,” Phoebe said. “There’s no trick, no forgery. Even Dr Mann watched some of this yesterday.”
The girl sat down and shook her head. “This can’t be? It’s insane…”
“Oh, I agree completely,” Sumner said, “yet here we are, confronted with evidence of insanity all around this boat…”
“That woman,” she said, pointing, “claims to be my great-grandmother? That’s just not right!”
“Well, no one knew you were coming yesterday, Sophie, when she claimed to be Ms Orgeron.”
Liz looked excited then. “But she knew, didn’t she? Deb must have known, on some level. She had to, right?”
“Why?” Phoebe asked. “There’s no logical train of cause and effect…”
“Well, why else would Sophie show up?”
“I don’t follow,” Sumner said.
“You lost me…” Phoebe said.
“Well, somehow, someway, Deb must be connected to Orgeron, this Marian Orgeron, and as a result something manipulated Sophie into coming here.”
“I was assigned this case when I arrived at work yesterday, late in the afternoon.”
“And Deborah was…it all started when I brought that piano onboard. That was around two, wasn’t it?”
“Close to it, yeah,” Phoebe said.
Sophie cleared her throat. “You think this is possible, do you? This cause and effect between the piano and my great-grandmother emerging?”
“We’re only telling you what we’ve seen and heard, Sophie. There’s no proof, no logic…”
“Unbelievable is the word,” Phoebe added, “but, Sophie, maybe you could help us understand what’s going on.”
“It’s too late now,” Sumner said. “She’s…Marian…is gone now…”
“That doesn’t mean she won’t be back,” Liz said, hopefully.
“Sophie? Just be aware unusual things like this are happening. When you’re with her, take note of anything unusual concerning your great-grandmother.”
“Yes, the doctor has already asked me to record our conversations. You propose I ask who she is, where she has been?”
Sumner and Phoebe both nodded their heads, and he added: “Exactly. And let us know, so we can follow up.”
“Simple enough,” the nurse said, then she sat and began writing up her notes.
“Dinner?” Phoebe asked. “Anyone besides me hungry?”
“I am,” Liz added, and Sumner too nodded his head.
“I saw an interesting place up the street, beyond the hotel…”
Sophie looked up and shook her head. “Dreadful. Got to this place,” she said, handing her a piece of paper with a name and address on it. “The atmosphere is impressive, and the food is interesting, too.”
“Okay,” Phoebe said. “Can we bring you something back?”
“Anything with, uh, yes, avocados. I can’t get enough of them!”
“We can do that,” Sumner said. “Better grab a coat…it’s getting cold outside now.” He ran Charley up for a quick piddle then back below, then they took off.
“These blocks are really short,” Liz said. “How many?”
“Ah, there it is,” Sumner said, just as a snowflake landed on his forehead.
The restaurant looked somewhat like a Mayan ruin in the middle of a rain forest and he shook his head when he looked over the menu. “Mexican food. That figures. Come to Paris, have a taco.”
They were led to a table by a small waterfall, and canned jungle sounds filled the air.
“Well, this is surreal,” Phoebe said, her eyes looking around the place.
“It sure ain’t Taco Bell…” he said as he opened the menu. “I wonder what ‘enchilada’ is in French?”
Liz laughed. “Well, at least guacamole is the same, in any language.”
They ordered, laughed at the typically Parisian micro-portions that arrived and enjoyed too many potent margaritas while they talked. “You know,” Phoebe said, “I was thinking, about this place. How would someone from Mexico City, or even a little Tarahumara village react if transported here overnight. Would they see this as a joke, as some sort of parody of their lives?”
“What would Marian Orgeron think of this Paris? Today’s Paris?” Liz asked.
“My guess is she’d want to go back,” Sumner said, then he fell away, almost into a whisper…“Go back…go back…”
“What is it, Sumner?” Phoebe asked.
“I don’t know. Something…something about going back.”
“Back where?” Liz said. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know…” he sighed. “It was like I caught a fragment of a thought, just out of reach…passing by on the air…”
“What? Sumner? What are you seeing?”
He shook his head gently, slowly. “An idea.”
“An idea? Like what?” Phoebe asked.
“I don’t know. It’s time to go, I think.”
Phoebe looked at Liz, shrugged. “Okay. Let’s go.”
He seemed increasingly distracted, almost lost when they got out to the street, and he looked away from the river, away from Gemini; he walked up to a cross street and then down to an alley. He stopped and looked around, like he was looking for something, or someone…then he took off and walked down the alley.
It was very dark now, and snow was beginning to drift in corners, build on trash cans, but he stopped at a shadow between two industrial-sized waste dumpsters, then knelt down.
There was an old man sitting there, covered in trash bags and almost invisible, sitting on a pile a newspapers. When Phoebe got there she stopped and stepped back, not sure if the old man was alive or dead.
“Phoebe? Your French is better than mine. Ask him if he has someplace to stay?”
“What? Sumner, what are you doing?”
“Ask him, Phoebe.”
“Avez-vous un endroit pour dormir?
He stared off into space, almost as if he hadn’t heard what she said.
“What’s his name, Phoebe?”
“Vieil homme, quel est votre nom?”
He shook his head. “Je ne sais pas, jeune fille.”
“He doesn’t know his own name?”
“That’s what he said.”
“Ask him if he knows where he is.”
“Savez-vous ou sont?”
“Ooh…je marchais, par ma maison, alors je suis venu ici. Cela est inexact, quelque chose ne va pas…quelque chose est tres mal…”
“What did he say?” Liz asked.
“He says he was walking near his home, but now something is wrong, very wrong.”
“Ask him what’s wrong? What’s different?”
“Qu’est-ce qui ne va pas? Qu’est ce qui a changé?”
“La vile a changé. Rien de tel qu’il était. Je ne comprends pas…”
“He says he doesn’t understand, the city’s different, that everything has changed.”
Sumner leaned in close. “Ask him if he knows Marian Orgeron?” The old man canted his head when he heard the name…
“Sumner? What? What are you…?”
“Ask him, Phoebe.”
“Monsieur, savez-vous une femme nommée Marian Orgeron?”
“Quelle! Qui est-tu? Comment savez-vous son nom?”
“He wants to know who we are, how we know her?”
“Tell him we can take him to her. Tonight. Right now. All he has to do is tell us his name.”
“Monsieur, nous pouvons vous prendre pour elle en ce moment, mais d’abord, vous devez nous dire votre nom.”
“Je ne vous crois pas.”
“He doesn’t believe you.”
“Show him the video.”
“Just play it.”
She took out her phone and found the file and began playing it. She held the phone out so the old man could see it…
“Ce n’est pas possible!” “This is not possible!”
“Comment cela peut-il etre vrai?” “How can this be true?”
After a few minutes Phoebe stopped playback. “Monsieur, voulez-vous la voir? Ce soir?”
“Oui,” he moaned.
“Monsieur, dites-moi votre nom, s’il vous plait.
“Claude. Claude Debussy.”
“Si vous, voulez voir Mlle Orgeron, s’il vous plaît venir avec nous. Maintenant, s’il vous plaît, Monsieur Debussy.”
The old man stood and brushed the snow off his topcoat. “Je ne me sens pas bien…pourrais-tu m’aider s’il vous plait?”
“What’s going on,” Liz asked.
Phoebe seemed a bit unsteady on her feet now, and she looked at Sumner, then Liz. “He says he’s not feeling well,” she said, taking the old man’s arm in her own. “He says his name is Debussy. Claude Debussy.”
“And we’re sure he’s not a mad schizophrenic rapist, aren’t we?” Liz asked.
“Sumner? How did you know he was here?”
He shrugged. “I have no idea. It felt like something was pushing me here, literally like something was pushing me on the back, forcing me to walk back here.”
“The unmoved mover,” Phoebe sighed. “Why is this happening to you? To us?”
They were out on the street soon enough, but Debussy recoiled from the cars and by the people he saw walking by. “Quel est cet endroit? Que s’est-il passé?”
“I don’t think he understands what he’s seeing, he’s confused.”
“How long was he sitting there, in the alley?”
“Monsieur, combien de temps aviez-vous étéassis dans l’allée?”
“Je ne suis pas certain. Peut-être minutes, peut-être des années. Rien ne semble faire sens dans le présent…”
“He says he’s unsure, maybe minutes, maybe years, and that the present doesn’t seem to make sense.”
“Depuis combien de temps Marian ici?”
“Elle est arrivée hier. He wanted to know when Marian arrived, and I told him yesterday.”
Collins saw a market just ahead and went in, bought a half dozen avocados, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and a lime, then he rejoined Liz on the street; he could see Phoebe and Debussy ahead, the old man still holding onto her arm. He smiled, wondered just what the old man could possibly be thinking about the things he was seeing right now. How shocked would he be if he suddenly found himself in Paris a hundred years from now…
Liz was silent now, but she moved close and brushed snow off his coat, then took his arm in hers. “Will you ever by able to forgive me for leaving?”
“I still don’t understand why you did.”
“Because I was afraid.”
“Afraid? Of what?”
“Losing you, I think.”
“So you left?”
“Before you could leave me.”
He shook his head. “You’re afraid I would leave you, so you left me first? You know, in the world I grew up in, when a girl leaves like that she either wants to end things or she wants you to follow and sign your life away.”
“No, I suppose not.” She pulled away from him, fell a little behind. “I guess that’s it, then. Easy come, easy go.”
“Liz, the world I deal with is all shades of gray, not simple blacks and whites. You’ve told me why you left, but it feels hollow to me, and I guess we have a trust issue now. And I think we will until we don’t. If you can’t handle that, if the easy way out is to shut down and walk away, well, you’re only proving my point. That’s what you’ll do whenever we hit a rough patch. You want the situation to change? Well then, you got some work to do.”
She walked along in silence for a while, but took his hand when he came to the boat. “Fair enough,” she said.
He helped her across, then Phoebe and Debussy hopped aboard. He led them below and found Sophie at the piano, playing a few tentative chords. She looked up when she saw them, but her eyes went wide when she saw Debussy.
“Non, non, cela ne peut pas être! Qu’est-ce que cela, ce qui se passe ici? Ceci est absurde!”
Phoebe came below, rushed to the girl’s side. “Sophie, relax, we found him on the street…”
Debussy began yelling – “Cela ne veut pas Marian! Ce n’est pas ce que vous avez promis! Ou est Mlle Orgeron?!”
Collins took the old man by the arm and led him aft, leaving Phoebe to calm down the girl, but when he opened the door and led Debussy into the aft cabin the old man looked at Deb sleeping – and burst into tears.
“Oh mon Dieu!” He hissed between clinched lips. “Ce qui est arrivé a mon Marian? Qu’avez-vous fait pour elle?”
“We haven’t done anything. She’s very ill…”
“Je ne comprends pas l’anglais? S’il vous plait, ou est la femme qui parle français?”
“Phoebe? Need a hand here!”
He turned, saw Deb looking at him from the bed, then she looked at Debussy…
“Claude? Mon dieu! Qu’est ce qui t’es arrivé? Vous avez grandi si grand? Est-ce que vous mangez tellement maintenant?”
“Uh-oh,” Phoebe said, now standing right behind her brother. “She just told him he looks fat.”
“Time to get the fuck out of Dodge…” He turned on the overhead light and shut the door behind them, then returned to the main cabin.
“Well?” Liz said.
“He recognized her, as Marian,” Sumner said.
“You mean,” Sophie said, “Claude Debussy just recognized that woman as my great-grandmother?”
“It would appear so.”
The girl stood and ran back to the cabin and listened at the door, just as Collins saw Dr Mann at the head of the companionway steps.
“Ooh, wonderful!” Mann said. “It looks like I got here just in time…”
“Indeed,” Phoebe said.
“What has happened?”
“We went out to dinner. And ran into Debussy.”
“Well said. Just so.” Collins sighed, then he walked to the cabinet and poured himself two fingers of rum.
“One for me, please,” Mann said. “You know, I never drank rum until I met you. Now I can’t seem to get enough. You are a shameful influence, Captain.”
The doctor shook his head. “I like you, Collins. In spite of your blusterings I think you a good man. Now, where is this imposter?”
Collins handed the doctor a tall glass of dark rum and pointed to the aft cabin, to Sophie, who was still standing, transfixed, at the door.
The doctor walked back to the door. “Have you heard anything interesting?”
“Cela est impossible, Docteur? C’est de la folie! Que se passe-t-il?”
“Nous sommes a l’intérieur d’un rêve dans un rêve, ma fille. Nous devons marcher avec précaution, can nous marchons a l’intérieur des rêves de Dieu maintenant…”
Mann opened the door and went in, found Debussy by Deborah’s side – the composer openly weeping now. Deborah lay very still and he went to her, took her wrist in his hand, then set it down gently.
“Would you find Mr Collins, please, and bring him here to me,” Mann said gently, looking up at Sophie. She nodded and left; Sumner returned a moment later, looked at Deborah for a heartbeat – then his eyes filled with tears.
“Is she…” he managed to say.
“Oui,” the physician said – just as Debussy held out his hands and cried “Dieu, pas encore!” – and his form began to shimmer in the air. Within the space of a long sigh his body disappeared, leaving Deborah’s stillness once again the center of the universe. Sophie came in and sat on the bed, looking at this stranger who once might have been the center of her universe, once upon a time. She took her hand and kissed it. “Adieu, vielle mere. Adieu.”
Collins went forward just then, and he found Charley sitting on Elizabeth’s lap; he picked her up and carried her aft, let her walk and circle around the bed, come to terms with Deborah’s stillness, then the little pup walked up, and curled up, on Deborah’s chest – and then she began to lick her chin.
In this new silence she too lay in a great stillness, trying to understand the calm in the cooling body where she liked to rest her head.
“I am left,” Mann said, “trying to understand what has happened, but what I have seen is like a puzzle with too many of the vital pieces missing. A well so deep, we may never see the end of it.” He looked around at the bare trees and the graceful arc of the Trocadero that lay beyond, then down, at Debussy’s grave. “Pieces of a puzzle larger and more complex than any I have ever known, the passing of Miss Hill leaves us only clues, but we are here now, left to carry on. Her passing gives us reason to pause and examine the meaning of time, just as her life was a clue to this meaning. We may be tempted to view her life as a series of despairs, and we may be tempted to say her despairs were without meaning, but I do not believe that. With her passing I am left struggling with the idea that our lives, our souls, perhaps, echo throughout time. That her despairs were echoes of earlier struggles, and that she will carry on fighting into the future until she finally can overcome the pain of her existence, and then perhaps we may all reach out with her at last, for understanding.”
He bent over and took a small scoop of her ashes and spread them around Debussy’s grave, then he handed the scoop to Collins, who did the same. When everyone who came had looked down and thought about her life in his presence one last time, the small group walked out to the street and scattered on the wind.
Collins went to the car and picked up Charley, then walked back to the grave. She circled a few times, then lay down for a bit, and he sat there beside her on the brown grass, stroking the top of her head while he thought about all that had happened the last few months.
Paul Whittington came back then and lay some roses on Debussy’s grave, then sat on the grass beside Collins and pulled out a pint of rum and handed it to him. Collins took a long pull from the little bottle, then handed it back to Whittington.
“It’s been a strange slice of life,” Whittington said. “Have any plans yet?”
“No, not really. I think I have to get used to the way the world is right now before I think much about what might be?”
“Really? That doesn’t sound at all like you. Dwelling on the past and all that.”
“Well, I planned to stay here through winter, ‘til March at least.”
“I could use a hand, you know. Getting Aphrodite here to Paris.”
“What’s with you and Liz? Did that fall apart?”
Collins shrugged, looked down at Charley. “Not sure what’s going on there. Have you met anyone yet?”
“Yes, oddly enough, I have.”
“Well, good for you. Is she a sailor?”
“Well, Sumner. No, he’s not.”
“Ah. Life goes on, eh?”
“I suppose so. I’d like to grab hold of one little bit of happiness before I shuffle off.”
“That’s the thing, I guess,” Collins sighed. “It’s just that every bit of happiness I’ve ever held seems to lead back to suffering.”
“You’re beginning to sound like a Buddhist, Sumner. Be careful or you’ll soon be ridding yourself of all your worldly possessions and walked up a mountain in Nepal.”
“Ah yes. The Razor’s Edge.”
“Precisely. If I were you, I’d keep to the path you’re on, see where that leads. But I think you should get back to the sea as soon as you can.”
“That dolphin. She holds the key to your existence, you know?”
“You think so?”
“So, when do you want to move Aphrodite?”
“Oh, any time.”
“Christmas is next week; do you want to be here before that?”
“I suppose, if possible.”
“Well then, I suppose we ought to get to it. Tomorrow, don’t you think?”
“Would you like to drive down with me today?”
“No. I have a few things to tie up today. Pick me up at the train station, I guess the ten o’clock arrival.”
“Okay. See you then.” He stood and held out his hand and Collins took it.
Collins picked up Charley a few minutes later and walked back to the car; Liz and Phoebe were sitting in back, arms crossed across their chests, eyes staring vacantly ahead. He put Charley in the seat beside his and slipped into the heavy, late morning traffic, struggling to find the riverside route back to the Arsenal. Once back on the boat Liz pulled out Deb’s things and began baking a fresh batch of scones, while Phoebe went forward and began cleaning up the boat. Collins sat in the cockpit, his legs stretched out, Charley sitting there, looking up at him, waiting, always waiting, for life to begin again.
He did not see Corrine, did not see her talking on a Sat-phone, but for some reason he thought of Hope Sherman, wondered where she was.
©2016 Adrian Leverkühn | ABW This concludes the first post-Driftwood trilogy, and as always, events depicted in this story are a work of fiction. Thanks for coming along. AL|abw