This one has bounced in and out of the Memory Warehouse for years, a fantasy of sorts, or perhaps a parable.
Once upon a time I spent a few years living and working in Germany – West Germany. I worked just south of Bonn, took occasional side trips to West Berlin, my work all very noble. I was lucky enough to listen to Gorbachev speak at the Wall – just a few months after sitting near Nelson Mandela and Willy Brandt at a conference in Bad Godesberg. All very heady stuff, watching History unfold.
I took a drive one day, from Frankfurt to Weimar. Weimar, to Goethe’s house, a pilgrimage I think you could say. I walked through the town, poking around here and there until I got to this house, and I walked reverently through his rooms and gardens – until I heard a vast commotion outside – and saw hundreds of Soviet troops marching by just outside. Very uneasy feeling. When I got back to my car, a sinister, black MB 300E, there were dozens of troops gathered ’round, standing there beside it, having their pictures taken with the beast in the background. I didn’t know what to say, so just watched for a while.
I left town eventually and drove north to Buchenwald that afternoon, to what had been, once upon a time, the second largest concentration camp on German soil. I walked around the grounds, still feeling very uneasy about events as they unfolded in Weimar, now looking at Marxist-Faustian interpretive signs everywhere I looked, telling how the Final Solution was a predictable outcome of Capitalist Society’s Faustian Bargain with money (I mean, really…?), when I came upon an old woman inside a small brick building.
She spoke German, of course, a first language, perhaps. She had a small camera around her neck, an old rangefinder, and she was standing there, camera in hand, looking at the far wall inside this little building. There were meathooks on a chain-driven track mounted to the wall, the dangling hooks perhaps ten feet off the ground, and as I came in and looked around I wondered what they were – and why she was trying to photograph such a scene.
I remember her well. Very old, quite frail, her hands trembling badly as I watched her lift the camera to her eye – but then she gave up. She turned away and saw me, seemed embarrassed – perhaps ashamed – and she asked me if I could take some pictures for her. Of course I could, and she handed me the camera and told me what she wanted.
When I finished I handed her the camera and asked what had happened here, in this room.
They used to bring new guards here, she told me. To get them used to the way things were done. Jews, mostly children she said, were impaled on the hooks and pulled along the wall, the new guards using the children as target practice. She had, she said, watched her brother die in this room, and that’s when I noticed the scores of bullet holes in the wall. As long as I live I will never forget that woman’s eyes.
I drove back to the West that night, the world a kind of gray place I’d never experienced before.
All rather irrelevant, but this story was born that day, and in the nightmares that followed. What follows is fiction, such as it is, and this is but a start. I hope to finish this one, one day soon.
Yet Clare’s sharp questions must I shun;
Must separate Constance from the Nun –
O, what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!
A Palmer too!–no wonder why
I felt rebuked beneath his eye:
I might have known there was but one,
Whose look could quell Lord Marmion.’
Walter Scott + Marmion
As was his custom, he sat alone. At a favored table in the sun, always alone, on the narrow sidewalk outside this favorite neighborhood café where the Pont Saint Louis meets the Rue Jean du Bellay – where the Seine splits and flows around the Ïle Saint Louis, in the heart of oldest Paris. He was an American – though just barely, he supposed – having lived most of his life abroad in the service of his country. His names was Charles Rockwell, and he was of an age – another era, perhaps – inclined to see the world in the absolutes of black and white, of good and evil. A romantic, you might say, who saw nothing at all suspect with tilting at windmills. He was a Cold Warrior, and until a few months ago, he had been a spy.
He lived a few blocks away, in a small, top floor apartment along the Quai de Bourbon where the Rue le Regrattier ends, and he loved this part of the city as much for the memories it held as for the pink light that played on her stone walls. Three of the seven rooms in his flat held an endless assortment of books, mainly histories of Europe’s endless wars, Russia’s too – but one wall held the many hopeful monographs chronicling the rise of the so-called Common Market, and the European Union that followed. And like many Americans who came of age in Acheson’s and Kennan’s creation, he viewed the EU, and of course NATO, as the front line in a war that would never end.
Because Gorbachev had been, if anything, weak, and Yeltsin had turned out to be a less than useful idiot. Both had failed to prevent the rise of criminal organizations in the nascent Russian confederation; both had failed to see or prevent the organs of state security being co-opted from within by criminal enterprises, and not raising the alarm when spies associated with thugs began running for office – and winning. The “new” Russia, Putin’s Russia – yeah, ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ – had turned out to be just as expansionist as the “old” Soviet Union, only this state didn’t serve to export communism. No, this state wanted nothing more than to spread it’s tentacles throughout the world’s money markets, siphoning off as much capital as possible. And this new state wanted, apparently above all else, revenge.
There was a slight chill in this afternoon’s air, and Rockwell left his navy cardigan buttoned as he read through his stack of fluttering newspapers, sipping on occasion a coffee long gone cold, looking up from time to time at passing traffic on the river. ‘Ah, to just drift away,’ he thought when caught up in such musings, ‘to just let go and follow the current. Where would I go…? What would become of me…?’
Didier, the waiter usually assigned to work these red-clothed tables in the afternoon, came by and asked if he’d be staying for dinner, and that as it was getting so chilly wouldn’t he prefer to sit inside? This was, of course, Didier’s polite way of getting Rockwell inside, so he picked up his papers and moved to a table – far from the door but with an unobstructed view of the entry. He ordered escargot and a glass of the house red as he continued his survey of the world’s headlines, and Didier discreetly slipped his bill on the table, informing the white-haired old man that this was the end of his shift, and he needed to settle-up.
A half hour later snails came, delivered by his favorite waitress in all Paris. Claire Something-or-other; he didn’t know her assumed name, not all of it anyway, but she was a mesmerizing creature and to his mind’s eye that was all that mattered. She had the grey cat’s eyes of a Georgian, yet spoke French with the absolutely perfect accent of one trained by a top language institute – in Moscow. She had started working at the café just a few weeks after he started frequenting the place, so – putting two and two together he assumed she was FSB – and was keeping an eye on him.
Why keep an eye on a retired spook – if not to turn him, perhaps, or watch him?
‘But – why me?’ he asked himself every time he saw her. Still, when he looked at her he regarded her quite simply as the most desirable woman he’d ever run across. Her legs always in black tights, her arms and shoulders subtly revealed through sheer veils of gossamer fabric, he did his best not to stare at her – but there was something utterly captivating about her. If only he could remember…
So a year ago, with old habits dying hardest, after a few weeks he’d reported this possible ‘contact’ to an ‘old friend’ at the embassy. A week later his suspicion was confirmed: Claire Whatever was FSB, and while ‘Svetlana Ekaterina’ was new to France she had been observed and filed-away as an active agent in both Syria and Greece. Her arrival on the scene in Paris hadn’t been picked up yet, and Langley agreed with Stockton’s assessment: they thought she was going to try and turn him. Or, perhaps even more interestingly, kill him.
Yet he had been coming to this place day in and day out, several times a week at a minimum for almost a year, and while she was pleasant – in a professionally detached sort of way – she’d never once struck up even the slightest casual conversation with him. She’d never followed him home, and he’d never seen her anywhere else but – here.
‘Yes, she in mesmerizing,’ he thought as he looked at her. ‘And in so many ways, too.’
Gorgeous, true, but there was something else about her that forced his mind to thoughts of other days. Something almost – familiar. Yet elusively so. Like a name he couldn’t put to a face, or a brief affair – now barely a memory.
The owner walked over and sat next to him, said something about closing early that night due to the coming storm and Rockwell said he understood, and as he looked around at the empty tables he did indeed understand. The tourist season over now, and with islamist attacks more frequent in the city, hard times had come to the areas fabled café life. He finished his wine and bundled his newspapers, then walked out onto the sidewalk and was immediately hit by the change. The air was quite cool now, and a thundering wall of cloud hovered beyond Notre Dame. He pulled out his phone and opened a weather app, then whistled.
‘Old Gaston wasn’t kidding, was he?’ he said to himself as he turned and began his walk to the quai.
And just ahead, coming out the kitchen entrance, was none other than Claire/Svetlana, and she turned and looked at him with an oh-so-disarming smile as he approached.
“Ah, Monsieur Rockwell, are you walking home?”
“Yes, and please, call me Chuck.”
“Yes. Or Charles, if you’d prefer.”
“Charles, yes. But, what is this ‘Chuck’…?”
“I have no idea.” He stopped and helped her on with a light jacket, then looked at her. It was, he thought, all in all an awkward moment. “Where are you off to?”
“I am not so sure just now,” she said, and he watched as dark clouds settled over her face. “I have lost my apartment. The building, it is being remodeled, I think they say, but I think torn down may be the truth. I have been trying to find a new place for two weeks, but it’s difficult on these wages, without a roommate.”
“I can imagine.”
“So? You live here, on the island?”
He nodded his head. “I do.”
She sighed. “I wish I could afford something here. I think the light is perfect – on the river, in the morning, anyway.”
“Yes, it is blue, then pink. I love it.”
“Are you an artist?”
“Not always, but now I try.”
“My life…is different, now. Many changes the last year.”
“You’re shivering,” he said, changing to English. “You say you have no place to stay?”
She shook her head. “No, I haven’t lived in the city long. Not long enough for friends, anyway.”
“Your English is very good. Where’d you learn?”
She looked away quickly then, looked up at the sky. “Mon dieu, look at those clouds…”
He turned too, looked at amber shafts of misty sunlight slanting through lightning streaked slate gray walls, then he heard thunder – still far away but, he could tell, close enough to worry about, and his thoughts turned to getting home before the rain hit. Then he looked at her anew. ‘Well,’ he said to himself, ‘what do you do now, smart-ass?’
She was looking at him now, not pressing, yet almost – pleading.
He held out his arm. “You’d better come with me,” he said as a another crack of thunder rattled across the city. She took it, and he didn’t have to look at her face to see the smile there.
He took his usual shortcut down the Rue Saint Louis, then down the Regrattier to his doorway across from the river, and she stood aside while he fumbled with keys and unlocked the door. Once inside they took the tiny, creaking elevator to the seventh floor, and he led her to his apartment and unlocked that door, then led her inside.
“Heavens! It is a library! I have never seen so many books. Are you a…”
“I study history.”
“I should say so! Are you a professor? Something like that?”
He nodded, smiling at her feigned ignorance. “Something like that.” He went and pulled the drapes open, looked down on the street as rain started falling. Nothing. Just the usual parked cars. No one moving, no engines running. No one watching.
“Interesting,” he said.
“What? What is interesting?”
“Those cloudtops. Very high altitude. Too high for this time of year.”
“So? What does this mean?”
“Clouds need energy…” he started, then stopped. “I’m sorry. No need to bore you with all that stuff. Have you had anything to eat today?”
She shook her head again, looked a little embarrassed.
“Maybe you should tell me what’s really going on – Claire?”
She looked at him and smiled. She knew, in other words, that he knew.
“So,” she began, “I assume you know my name?”
“Svetlana? Of course. Syria, Greece. Only I don’t know why you’re here.”
“Your dossier did not say anything about my defection?”
He shook his head. “No.”
“Oh,” she said quietly. “So, why…I do not understand. Why did you bring me here?”
He looked at her now – silently, and she grew very nervous under his eyes.
“You’re not going to…”
“You are going to kill me?”
“Why would I do that?”
“That is the question, isn’t it?”
“You must…tell me.”
“I don’t have the slightest idea. Perhaps I’ve made a mistake.”
She smiled as a new thought pushed all other concerns aside. “I know. You just want to get, what is the word? Laid?”
He almost laughed at that, a half-hearted sound lost somewhere between a sigh and an inside joke. “I wish,” he said as he turned away and looked out the window again.
She walked over and stood beside him. “This is the second time you have checked. Who do you expect to see?”
“His name is Leonid Yakolev, and if you see him, let me know.”
“When’s the last time you did?”
“A year ago, August. In Athens. We were trying to destabilize the government, during debt renegotiations.”
“Defected, you say? Why?”
“I cannot say.”
“No, Charles, it is not convenient. It is far from convenient, as a matter of fact. But the “why” of my defection is all I have to barter. For the moment, the possibility is all I have to offer.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you just show up working at that restaurant. Where I, coincidentally, just happen to go several times a week.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“Lyudmila Ekaterina,” she said – quietly. “Does that name still mean anything?”
He turned and looked at the young woman again, his eyes narrowing. “Your mother?”
She nodded her head. “Several years ago, she told me if I never needed help I should find you. She believed in you, you understand. More than you know.”
He could see the resemblance now, in her eyes mostly, but it was her lips that convinced him. “How is she?” he asked, feeling guilt for not having put it together sooner.
“She is dead, Charles, the woman you knew. Two years ago. And yes, she still loved you. Very much, I think, until the end.”
He turned away slowly and sat in a chair that held a good view of the river, and he looked at the sky and the storm – and at all those memories locked away so long ago as they tumbled out into the room. They talked through the night, through storms of such an impossible love he could barely contain himself, and when leaden skies filled the new day he looked at the girl by his side and wondered what to do.
Take her to the little white house across from the Crillon? Perhaps, but he thought that, in the end, killing her now might indeed be the best, most merciful end to this story.
He sighed as he looked at a barge sliding-by on easy, unseen currents, heading quietly down to the sea as autumn leaves fell through blustery November skies.
“What’d you think of Reagan’s speech, son?”
“I liked it, dad. The whole ‘morning in America’ thing is genius. Poor Mondale–he’s never going to know what hit him.” His father laughed at that. There was, according to his dad, nothing lower on this earth than a democrat. “Even a timber rattler can’t go that low,” he’d heard his old man say a hundred times during the Reagan-Carter debates four years ago. Mondale, in his father’s eyes the heir of all Carter’s “malaise,” could simply do no right.
“Yessir, I think you’re dead on. Say, you still headin’ into town this morning?”
“Yup, but I want to get those fence posts set before I go.”
“I can get ‘em, boy. You go on…”
“Not gonna happen, Dad. You heard what the doc said.”
“Fuck that asshole! He couldn’t tell gonorrhoea from a hemorrhoid…”
“Well, maybe that’s ‘cause he’s a cardiologist, Dad.”
“No arguments today, Dad. Just use that inhaler before you feel light headed, okay?”
“Okay,” came the grumbling acknowledgement. “But I ain’t dead yet!”
“You will be if you get on that tractor today, and I’ll be the one that does it, too!”
“Get out of here, smart-ass!” his old man said with a hoarse laugh, before he started coughing again.
“Use the puffer, Dad. I’m going to go set those fenceposts then head on in. Be back in an hour or so.” He saw his father, puffer in hand, nod his head as he closed the kitchen door and walked out to the barn.
He turned, sniffed the air and eyed a line of pines a hundred yards away.
‘Ah…there you are,’ Charles Rockwell said to himself. The same Griz that had, according to his father, been around the ranch the last two years, right there in the tree-line. Looking at him, gauging the distance, perhaps.
He opened the door to his dad’s F150 and pulled the Marlin 45-70 down from the rack and chambered a round, then took aim at a tree a few feet from the bear and squeezed off a shot. He saw the wood puff and splinter – then the bear stood tall and looked at him more closely.
“That goddamn bear back,” he heard his father say from the back porch.
“Yup. In the trees. Keeps coming in a little closer each morning.”
“Gettin’ his nerve up, I reckon. Gonna snatch a calf one of these days. Did you shoot him?”
“No, just tried to scare him off.”
“That Griz don’t scare, son. He’s a mean’n.”
Rockwell chambered another round, aimed at the dirt in front of the bear and fired again. He saw dirt and gravel fly into the air just to the left of the animal, and this time the bear turned – slowly – and walked off into the trees, stopping once to look back at him.
“I don’t know about that’n, son,” his father said – now standing beside him. “I got a feelin’ he’s getting’ ready to cause a world of trouble.”
“Not as much trouble as filling out all the paperwork if I have to shoot the fucker,” Rockwell said.
“Goddamn democrats!” the old man grumbled as he turned and walked back into the house.
“You tell ‘em, Dad,” he sighed as he got into the Ford. He looked at the tree-line again, then opened the gate and drove through the gap into the west pasture…looking at the wall of gray gathering behind the mountains…
It still looked the same, this town he’d called home for the first 18 years of his life. Augusta, Montana was still a one road town, a pit-stop on the road to Glacier National Park, but this was “home” – and it always would be. The rodeo grounds still bigger than the high school – but nothing was bigger than the rockies. The towering mountains were just ten miles west of here, and his father’s ranch was nestled hard up against them. No foothills here, the land went from prairie to steep-walled valleys, endless drainage for melting snowpack – and above all else, decent grazing for cattle. His grandfather had moved here after the Civil War, and had carved a life from the hard winters and blistering summers, and his father had stayed, and carried on with the help of a good woman by his side.
He, on the other hand, had graduated from the tiny high school on the west side of town and moved on to the University, in Missoula – just after the war in Vietnam ended. With degrees in History and Russian, he went east looking for work in the government and landed on someone’s radar at Langley. A year later, after paying his bills working part time as a substitute social studies teacher, he landed a job at the CIA and never looked back.
He started as an analyst, but given his nature – growing up on a ranch in Augusta, Montana first among those noted by his superiors – he was sent down to Yorktown, Virginia for evaluation. A year later he moved to West Berlin, covered as a teacher at a private school for diplomatic personnel; his job, ostensibly, to spy on spies. Because there were concerns that sensitive information was being leaked to Soviet agents coming over from the other side of the wall, several false flags had been run, and the bait taken – more than once. In the beginning he was a simple conduit for information – some real, some not so real – but soon he was approached. By a Russian, judging by the man’s casual demeanor, and then he knew he was being cultivated.
He passed all this on to his handler but was suddenly called home. His father was ill, very sick indeed, and with all thoughts of spies and moles gone he flew west in a rush. Frankfurt, Chicago, then the old Empire Builder to Shelby and a bus to Great Falls.
He saw his father, finally, after he trudged through an early, knee deep snow, and learned that forty-plus years of smoking three packs of Camels a day had taken a more than predictable toll. Like his mother, he thought, remembering her funeral. One cancerous lung removed, pulmonary function further compromised by emphysema, after a week he drove his father home to Augusta in a sunny funk – all thoughts of Russians and Berlin’s diplomatic corp now a cold, distant memory.
Soon his thoughts roamed between the statistical recurrence of cancer and a goddamned grizzly bear stalking his father’s cattle as he drove into town. ‘My, how quickly our perspectives change…’ he said as he pulled into the local weed & feed. He parked the Ford and went in to pick up syringes and antibiotics, as well as a new float pump for the water trough out behind the barn, yet things quickly turned into something like a belated homecoming…
“Hell, Chuck…didn’t know you was back in town!” Red Adams, the owner of the store fairly screamed. “Where you been?”
“Back east, teaching at one of those girl’s schools,” Rockwell replied, winking.
“Shit, Mikey! You hear that? Bet he’s getting more cooch than you did over in ‘Nam.”
“Thailand,” said a voice in the corner, “and we was there less’n a week. Worst case of the goddamn clap I ever had, though.”
Rockwell turned to the voice – and saw Mike Lawford, a football player that had graduated and left for ‘Nam a few years before he’d gone to Missoula; now he was sitting in a wheelchair, both legs gone above the knee. Lawford had also been the town bully, terrorizing kids half his age – until a couple of fathers got together and acquainted the boy with a few of the other things you could do with a baseball bat…
“So, school teacher. You a faggot now, too?” Lawford crooned. “Got your knees all wore-out goin’ down on them pretty eastern boys?”
Rockwell looked at Lawford and shook his head, ashamed he’d almost been afraid of him once upon a time, but his father had taught him one of the secrets of life that day: bullies are petty, terrified little people. Stand up to them just once and they’ll leave you alone forever.
And he had.
He walked over to Lawford now and held out his hand. “Howya doin’, Mike?”
And Lawford had, as he had once before – years ago – turned away and looked at a checkerboard by his side. “How you think I’m doin’, moron?”
“If you don’t jump that king, you’re gonna get your ass kicked.”
He walked back up to the counter and got his supplies from Red, then looking as he walked past his old nemesis, back out to the Ford. He put his sacks out of the sun then walked across 287 to what counted as a diner in Augusta, and he went inside – almost hoping he’d find Doris and her pale pink sweater behind the counter one more time.
But no, not today. He saw a new, recent high school grad manning the lunch counter and sighed as he walked in and sat on a stool. He looked at his watch: 11:45 – and he was the only one here. The girl almost looked put-out, too, like he was interrupting a well established routine by coming in for something to eat. After a minute – after, he assumed, she’d come to the conclusion he wasn’t going to vanish in a puff of smoke – she came by and dropped a menu on the counter.
“Something to drink?”
“Coke, if you got one.”
She came back a minute later and put a warm can on the counter and walked off, just as the door opened and another victim walked in. He watched this person in a reflection as she walked by and took a seat in one of the booths at the far end of the room.
“What’s it gonna be,” the girl asked.
He looked this waitress – she was looking at the new arrival out of the corner of her eye – and he sat quietly until she looked at him again. “Burger, all the way – and I’ll have some chips with that.”
“Sure, why not live a little?”
She smiled – a little – when she heard his accent.
“Pops still working the griddle?” he asked.
“Yeah,” the girl said, brightening. “You know him?”
“Grew up here. Been gone a while, though.”
The girl’s demeanor changed in a flash; this guy was a local, not some flat-lander passing through on his way to the park, and to her the bond was immediate – and permanent. “You graduate from here?”
He nodded his head. “On to Missoula, then back east. I teach history now.”
“No shit? Wow…I didn’t think anyone ever got out of this place…”
He smiled, remembered the feeling. “All you got to do is follow the Interstate.”
“Excuse me, but I got to get a menu over…” she said as she trailed off to take a menu to the new arrival, and Rockwell turned slowly and looked at the gray and white Chevy Blazer parked across the street, next to his truck. Oregon license plates, but with a rental sticker on it. Odd, he thought. Or not.
Pops came out just then and did a double-take: “Chuck? That you?”
“None other, Pops. How’s it hangin’?”
“Still down to my knees,” he chuckled, “only that’s where it stays most days. How’s your dad doin’?”
“Stubborn. Still thinks he’s immortal.”
“Well hell, you were expecting a miracle?” They both laughed, yet they both felt the same undercurrent of concern.
“Where’s Doris these days?”
“Helena. Went to nursing school in Seattle, came back a few years ago.”
“She ever get married?”
“Yup, to some doc down there. Seems like a good kid, though. Kinda snooty. Shit, Debbie! Get this boy a glass and some ice, wouldya?”
The girl – Debbie – muttered as she tromped off into the kitchen.
“Mind if I drop by the place this evenin’?” Pops said. “Gotta go cook a couple of burgers now.”
“Sure, Pops, anytime.”
‘Debbie’ brought his burger a few minutes later, and another to the ‘new arrival’ after that, and he ate his sandwich in silence then paid the bill and walked over to the Ford. Turning on Manix, he headed out Sun Canyon then on Barr Creek Road for the last two miles to the ranch.
Then he saw dust plumes in the rear view mirror – coming up fast.
A gray and white Blazer, he saw, flashing headlights as it drew near. Still a mile from the house he pulled over, checked for the old model 1911 his father kept under the seat and pulled it out. He chambered a round, and with the pistol ‘cocked and locked’ opened the door – just as the Chevy pulled to a stop behind him. The woman behind the wheel took out a pistol – a Beretta, he saw – and put it up on the dash where he could see it. He took the Colt and loosely slipped it under his belt, then the woman got out of the truck and walked up to him.
She was tall, almost blond, almost pretty, but he could see she was a predator – her cat’s eyes cold and gray, looking everywhere. Blue jeans, white t-shirt under brown leather jacket, white leather Adidas tennis shoes, gray socks.
“We must talk,” she said without preamble, in clear, unaccented Russian.
He shook his head as questions filled the air, and he wondered why they’d followed him here, but the pain he felt in the woman’s eyes held all those other thoughts far, far away.
He looked at Svetlana – at her gray eyes and rich lips and he remembered that faraway day. Wind falling on the prairie, rain like smoke on the mountains. Her mother beside him on the road – cool precision in her eyes – standing in the wind, pleading her case as rain fell all around.
Then he turned from his thoughts and looked at the river; more barge traffic now as the city came back to life, always and forever chaos and confusion – yet as ever a peculiar order in the noise.
Like the world he had lived in for many years – a peculiar order all it’s own.
What to do with her, with this knowledge she spoke of in terms both tellingly obscure and crystal clear? Why information so vital to trade, and yet be willing to sit on it for a year – or more? No, nothing added up, not her words, and not her presence in this room. She was playing him – and well, too – but why?
For turning away? From her mother, from the bargain they struck in the wind and the rain? Or for all the betrayals that followed in her wake?
Okay, so here ends the first fragment.
I’ll be playing notes on this one while work continues on both TimeShadow and Mr Christian. As always, thanks for riding along.