So let’s see here, worked through the night, polished a bit this morning but the sun’s out now. It’s time to break out the paint brushes and set up the ladder.
I’ll call this version 1.0. Maybe a few notes here and there need work but I think what I needed to say got said.
Anyway. If something come to mind, something that doesn’t ring true, let me know.
By the Sea, Gently
From the opium of custom
To the ledges of extremes
Don’t believe it till you’ve held it
Life is seldom what it seems
But lay your heart upon the table
And in the shuffling of dreams
Remember who on earth you are
Greg Lake & Pete Sinfield + Closer to Believing
I’ve known a few people that have had some passing luck pursuing love in the way – perhaps – a cheetah stalks then runs down a gazelle, and I’ve enjoyed watching friends’ mad dashes through the urban landscape in about the same way you might enjoy watching a National Geographic special on, say, the Big Cats of the Serengeti. You see the cat slipping through tall grass, just on it’s belly, then at the last possible moment both animals explode into lethal sprints and the cat leaps, often catching it’s prey mid-stride – and usually by the throat. I’ve watched such affairs knowing full well the most likely outcome; these things are almost always pre-ordained to leave one party ripped to shreds and the other in preening, bloody-faced glory, a sated look in the eye – and always accompanied by darting, sidelong glances as the cat looks ahead to the next kill.
Who knows? Maybe there are a lot of people programmed to look for love that way, too – people who look at love as a calculus between predator and prey. Love and marriage is, in this world I suppose, a kind of blood sport, and I’d assume that’s why there are lots of lawyers in our world.
I was one of those oddballs growing up that never looked at relationships that way, by which I mean I didn’t look on the idea of having multiple relationships serve as some kind of diversionary sport for my adolescent’s ego. I had one girlfriend the last two years of high school, then another my last year of college – punctuated by a near miss my junior year. After five years flying in the service I got on with a major carrier – and I was 27 years on and had been with three or maybe four women by that point in my life.
The odd thing about all this is: I wasn’t particularly concerned one way or the other about this state of affairs. Maybe because there was always this expectation that things would happen when the time was right. Love, sex, a long term relationship and all that other baggage – would happen when it happened, so why worry about it?
Yet flying is a world unto it’s own.
Due to seniority status, I spent my first year as a flight engineer in 722s, then as my carrier added 747s I transitioned to engineer status on the 742. A year later I made the jump to right seat – and started flying from Washington Dulles to Heathrow, and that was in more than one way the end of my life as I knew it.
By that point, then almost thirty years into this thing called life, someone with more stripes on his shoulders than I pointed out that three or four girls in thirty years was a pretty dismal record of achievement. He has knocking back three or four girls a month and had a Cheshire Cat Shit-Eating Grin on his face after every layover in London and, well, all things considered, he made a big impression on me – at the time, anyway.
About the only useful advice this guy ever passed along could be summed up thus: Don’t Shit Where You Eat. Simply put, he meant: Don’t go out with the flight attendants. They all talked, he told me, and they all compared notes, they were all invariably husband-hunters and at least half of what you did with them ended up in your personnel file – sooner or later.
So of course I slipped off my high horse one rainy December morning after we’d cleared customs in London – with the senior stewardess (this being before the whole Flight Attendant thing hit the lexicon) from our flight. She was cute as hell and from West Texas, about forty years young and just getting over her third husband.
Perhaps that should have been my first warning.
The disapproving glare from my captain really ought to have driven the point home, but my testosterone levels were stabilized so really, what the devil did I care?
Well, the woman was a wreck. An alcoholic with nymphomaniacal tendencies, I think that’s probably how you could describe her, but in the end she didn’t give me anything a two week course of penicillin couldn’t take care of, and I resumed a fairly celibate routine for a few months – after our flight surgeon’s fairly straight-forward lecture on the casual benefits of latex. Later that spring, with head hung low – I put in for the Logan-Frankfurt run – thinking there was no way I could get in trouble in staid old Germany.
I guess the first time I strolled through the airport there, looking at sex shops offering every conceivable form of adult entertainment – and all right there by the domestic arrivals concourse – I figured out things aren’t always what you expect them to be. I’ll never forget walking to the dispatch office – passing right by a place called Dr Mueller’s Sex Shop – thinking I’d walked right into an episode of The Twilight Zone. One of the captains I flew with told me you could get laid in there, too, and I was suitably impressed enough to give the place a wide berth as I walked past thereafter. Depending on logistics, we were as often as not billeted at the Marriott downtown, and of immediate interest to me were the obscene number of stewardesses – from other carriers, mind you – that bunked out there, too. About a month into flying in and out of Frankfurt I shared an elevator with a Qantas stew, and the girl really shook my world. We managed to get together frequently that spring and summer, and the whole thing was looking up – then she simply disappeared, literally. In that age before email and texting and instant connection the whole thing was a jarring of my isolation, then I heard she was married, had a couple of kids and that, as they say, was that. I suppose I gave some thought to entering the priesthood after that, but to this day still can’t reconcile my flagrant agnosticism with the deep spirituality I see in others.
I had a small apartment in Boston by this point, and had enrolled in a continuing ed program at Harvard. Government, political science…that kind of fluff…and I did it more to kind of round out my life than to pursue a new career path. Flying is an all-consuming livelihood and there were times when I felt like I was trudging along making a very deep rut out of my life. Things were always too serious: study, prepare for SIM sessions and check-rides, study some more when the -300 series came out, Flight Standards Manuals always being revised and always requiring more study…more memorization…and soon I came to enjoy those odd nights over in Cambridge as a distraction, a way out of the rut. I truly wasn’t a Harvard Undergrad (they’re the academic thoroughbreds in that omniverse), but I enjoyed the vibe on campus and soon thought about going for my Master’s.
My life was by that point about as dull as humanly imaginable, too. At least as boring as it seems to you right about now, yet I suppose in some sense that meant the cosmic tumblers were about to line up and let slip a world class dump all over my little world.
Little did I know.
Shortly after the -400 series came out I made captain, primarily because all the senior 743 captains wanted to transition to the newer model, and while that was going on someone had to fly the older models. With seven years and several thousand hours in type I guess the powers-that-be decided that was enough – given the circumstances – and a few months and several hundred hours of classroom time later I had four stripes on my boards. My bank account seemed a little healthier in the aftermath, but not a whole lot else changed.
Yet I decided to make Boston “home” during this period – I never regretted the decision over the years – and once the paychecks jumped I gave up my little apartment and bought a condo nearer to Cambridge – and once again life began to slip into a comfortable, if newer rut. After a ten year run, I broke down and bought a “new” car, and I say new advisedly as it was an eighteen year old Porsche. I could look in the mirror and see gray hairs poking through too, looking for sunshine as it were, but that seemed the extent of the physical changes I’d gone through.
The particular summer morning when the feces hit the proverbial high speed fan, a mid-morning departure from Frankfurt for Logan, wasn’t any different from the myriad others I’d flown as First Officer or Captain, and when I think back on that morning only one thing in particular stands out. Saddam Hussein had chosen that day to invade Kuwait, yet about the only relevance this had on my day was our pre-flight briefing, and the absolutely chaotic boarding process passengers had to endure. Security was so tight you’d have been excused for thinking Hitler had just invaded the Soviet Union – again. Perhaps someone had had the bright idea that Saddam was going to march on Europe later that afternoon? In time for tea, perhaps?
Anyway, our 10:15 departure finally left the ramp about 13:30, and everyone aboard was fuming – including a particular grumpy senator from Georgia who was then head of the Armed Services Committee. We left the ground about ten minutes after we pushed back, and climbed uneventfully over the Netherlands and Scotland before leveling out and cruising for North America.
Until, about halfway between Iceland and Greenland, we hit some severe Clear Air Turbulence. When a very nearly maxed out 747 gets pushed around you know for a fact you’ve hit some nasty air, and thank goodness meal service was over. Well, The Hunt For Red October had just started playing and because of world events most people were paying close attention to bumps in the sky that afternoon, yet most of them had their seat belts on. As bad as such turbulence seems, it rarely poses a threat to modern jet aircraft, yet to passengers not wearing seat belts such phenomena can be deadly. I say this pointedly as when it hit (or when we hit it) the three of us in the cockpit could hear a good deal of screaming aft and below. A few seconds later intercoms lit up, with the senior FA calling from downstairs in First Class, and reporting significant injuries aft. There were, she said, a couple of physicians working up a report and I rang off; we checked systems and structural integrity for the next few minutes – until the intercom chimed again.
One of the docs was a little concerned about a possible neck injury, and she was almost certain it was “a big deal” – and in the front office world I lived in “possible neck injury” is one of the few incidents that necessitates what is euphemistically called “critical command decision making skills.” In plain talk, that means “the buck stops here” – with “here” being the chump with four stripes on his shoulder boards. I decided to go down and take a look around, but told my FO to enter Keflavik’s coordinates in the INS – “just in case.”
Winding down the stairs to First, the first thing that hit was the stench. As in feces and vomit. The smell permeated the entire aircraft, and this was a first for me so I was a little out of sorts, wondered if we’d blown a holding tank. But no, as soon as I walked back through business to coach it was like Linda Blair had reprised her role in The Exorcist and blown beets all over everything, and near the aft heads there was a woman kneeling over a young girl on the floor, and she looked up at me as I approached and stood.
“I’m Dr Simmons,” the woman said, holding out her hand. “Thanks for coming down.”
“Captain Patterson. What’ve you got?”
“Possible C2 involvement, some jumpy cardiac rhythms and a couple of deep lacerations.”
“That’s a pretty good cut on your forehead,” I said. “Anyone looked at it?”
She shook her head. “Minor league.”
“Okay, we’re about forty minutes from Keflavik, a little over an hour from Thule, and over two to St Johns. Any preference?”
“Iceland, by all means.”
“Do you need anything down here before I head back?”
“No, we’ve got her neck secured as best we can. So, you think about an hour?”
“The airport is well outside of Reykjavík, not quite a half hour by road to the hospital. Should I call for a medevac helicopter?”
She nodded her head, but remained quiet – and I understood. I went to the intercom and called the cockpit, told the FO to radio our intentions and execute the turn for Iceland, then walked back through the cabin to First and grabbed a Coke, and from there back upstairs to the office.
We were on the ground just long enough to offload the girl and refuel, maybe an hour all told, then we took-off and resumed the flight, and I wouldn’t have thought any more about the event if I hadn’t ‘run into’ the physician after we arrived in Boston. She was in Business Class and the lacerations on her scalp and forehead were giving her trouble, according to the cabin FA when she reported by intercom, yet now she had a bad headache, particularly around the orbit of her right eye. We were taxiing to E Terminal so I called Ground and advised them to send paramedics to our gate, and as soon as we were shut down at the gate I went aft to check on her. We cleared her cabin first to get the paramedics and their gear in, and by the time I got the cabin they had the doc taped down on their board and were about to carry her off.
“Ah, there you are,” Simmons said when she saw me. “Sorry for the bother.”
I shook my head. “No apologies necessary, Doctor, just hope you feel better soon.”
“Sorry to ask, but could you check on me before you leave the airport?”
I didn’t know what to say. “Uh, sure. That won’t be a problem.”
“You see, my son is with me and I might need a little help…”
“We have personnel for…”
“No, Captain, I’d prefer you come. I hope that’s not an imposition, but it would mean a lot to me.”
“Cap, we need to go now. We’ll be in the infirmary, inside Customs on the lower floor,” one of the paramedics said as they lifted the woman and carried her away, and I went back up to the ‘pit and started on all the additional paperwork this would require. About a half hour passed until I was able to head down to Customs, and I went directly to the little infirmary there, telling my FO to carry our paperwork to dispatch after he cleared customs.
Another physician was finishing up with her when I arrived, and while he wanted to transport her she begged off, telling him I would take her into town, or to Mass Gen if he really thought it necessary.
And I saw her son then, sitting in an out of the way chair along a far wall – looking like his world had just come crashing down around his ears. Arms crossed, feet dangling six inches off the floor, face down and fingers fidgeting, he was maybe eight years old…if that. It wasn’t hard to figure out he was doing his best not to cry, either, just as it was equally clear his mother was doing all she could not to frighten him any more than he already was. Not quite knowing what else to do, I went over and sat next to him, and I’m not sure which of us was the most exasperated.
Simmons finished up with the other physician (or was it the other way around?) and accepted the offered wheelchair, and a Customs Officer was summoned. He wheeled her out to the official concourse and cleared us in, and a SkyCap helped us to the taxi line and got our bags loaded. She reeled off an address on Louisburg Square to the cabbie, and away we went. It was not quite dark when we arrived, and she asked me to come up, see that she made it in without trouble.
I think by this point even I was beginning to think there was something unusual going on; putting aside the blow to her head, it almost felt like I was being played. Yet the simple fact of the matter was this: from what I’d learned in my few years around town – There Are No Players On Louisburg Square. If Boston has one address that reeks of Very Old Money, it’s this place, and hers was by far the biggest, most Old Money address I could see in the flickering gaslight.
The cabbie helped me with our bags and I paid him off, then helped her up the steps. She opened the ancient door, all polished black enamel and gleaming brass, and led me into another world. Her world, obviously, but not quite the world I imagined a physician being able to afford. So, I wondered, will I find her parents here, or a very wealthy, very pissed off husband?
But no…that didn’t add up either. Why not call them from the airport?
So…why was I here?
Her boy asked to be excused and walked upstairs, disappearing quietly, sullenly. Exit stage right, other things on his mind.
“Excuse me for a moment, would you?” she said after he was out of sight, then she walked to a telephone on an elegant mahogany table just off the entry, dialed a number and waited. Then…
“This is Doctor Simmons. Do I have any urgent calls?”
“Alright. Who’s on call tonight?”
“Okay, would you give him a call, ask that he call me at home, and as soon as possible. Yes. Thank you.”
Then she turned to me. “Would you help me to the living room please?”
Like a knew which one of these tombs was her living room? Still, she guided me to an ornate, classically proportioned room – ten foot ceilings, crown moldings a foot thick – and over to a small sofa by a row of windows that looked out on the square. Nothing out the windows but dense foliage shimmering in gaslight, a few Mercedes parked below – then a telephone on a table by the sofa rang and she picked it.
“Ely, yes, hello. No, not so well. Ben and I were flying home from Hungary this morning and our plane hit turbulence…”
“It was on the news? Really? Now, isn’t that something?”
“I’m afraid I took a hit – to the face. Yes, that’s right, I think I may have an orbital fracture.” Long pause. “Yes, by an intern, out at the airport, but I’m home now and wondered if you could swing by and take a look, give me your opinion.”
“Yes, I’ve a friend here. I can get him to take me over if you think it necessary. Okay. You too. Bye-bye.” She hung up the phone and looked at me closely now. “I’m sorry, but I’ve been assuming you had no other plans this evening?”
I shrugged. “I’m just a little in the dark here. Wouldn’t mind…” But I stopped talking when she put her hand to her face and moaned. “Are you alright?”
“Frankly, I’m not sure. Light’s bothering me more than it should.”
“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what kind of physician are you?”
“Neurosurgeon, on staff at Mass Gen.” She was whispering now. “Could you look at my eyes, please. Are the pupils equal in size?”
I came and looked. “No, they’re not. The right is huge, seems fixed.”
“Damn,” she sighed. “Well, Ely will be here in a few minutes.”
“What about your son? Is there someone I should call?”
She shook her head. “No. There’s no one.”
“Could I get you some water? Anything?”
“No, better not just yet. Look, I hate to ask, but I think I’m going to the ER. Could you…oh, heavens, I don’t even know how to ask, but someone will need to stay with Ben. I usually have a sitter I can call, but she’s on vacation with her family this month.”
“Dr Simmons, this isn’t a good idea. You don’t know me, and neither does your son…”
“I watched you today, Captain Patterson. I know the type of man you are. Besides, you two could talk airplanes…Ben loves airplanes.”
Yup, I was at a loss for words, yet believe it or not there are procedures for this sort of thing so I asked if I could use her telephone, called our dispatch office and explained the situation. Five minutes later someone was en route, and about the time I got off the phone Simmons’ partner arrived. He looked her over – then me, and my uniform – and we walked her down to his double-parked car, and there he told me he’d call me here as soon as he knew something.
So, this day had started off like just about any other day, yet had rapidly turned into something completely unexpected – and was now unsettling, as well. I shouldn’t have gotten involved yet suddenly I was knee deep in a potentially litigious situation – and – if I bowed out now that might only complicate matters more.
I waited down on the street for the person the office sent, and she turned up a half hour later, wide-eyed when she saw the house and wanting to know where the boy was.
“Upstairs,” I said pointing at a staircase straight out of Gone With The Wind. “He disappeared up there as soon as we arrived. His mother just went to Mass Gen.”
“What are Hell are you doing here?” the woman hissed, now looking like a half lawyer, half dominatrix Pit Bull from Hell.
I shrugged. “Haven’t the slightest idea. Just trying to be nice, then – here I am.”
She shook her head then took off up the stairs, her bullwhip trailing behind. A few minutes later she came back down and met me in the kitchen – where I was rummaging around in the ‘fridge for something to drink – when the phone rang.
I answered and talked to Simmons’ partner Ely, who advised she’d be having surgery at six in the morning.
“What about Ben,” he asked.
“I’ve got someone from the airline here now. One way or another we’ll figure something out.”
“She told me her sitter’s out of town…uh, do you know Elizabeth well?”
“No, not at all actually. I met her on the flight today.”
“You what? Were you the pilot?”
“How’d you end up over at her house?”
“She asked me to meet her in the infirmary, and the next thing I knew…”
“Yes. She’s a force of nature alright. Always has been.”
“Well, I have someone from the airline here now, and I’ll call corporate in New York and get them rolling on this. Anything I need to know about the boy?”
“Well, I don’t know where to begin. First, the kid’s a genius, a math prodigy and damn good on the piano. He loves airplanes – I mean Loves them. He’s impossible to, well, he sees through everything so don’t try to pull one over on him. Just tell him the truth, and whatever you do, don’t lie to him.”
“Maybe someone could bring him over in the morning, let him see what’s going on.”
“Yeah, we can handle that. So, her full name is Elizabeth Simmons? No husband, or any other family?”
“No. Her husband passed a few years back, older man, esophageal cancer. Her parents passed back in 82, car accident. She’s an only child, no other relatives as far as I know.”
“This her parent’s place?”
“Yup. Old family, banking and shipping, they’ve been in that house for a hundred and fifty years, or so I’ve been told.”
“So, if you don’t mind me asking again, why are you there?”
“Tell you what, doc. When you find out let me know, would you?”
“Right. Well, we’ll see you later.”
I rang off and turned to the dominatrix-lawyer. “Well, the kid’s smart as Hell, and don’t ever lie to him. You wanna call New York while I go talk to the boy?”
She nodded her head. “Sure.”
I looked at her once again. “Say, you headed to a costume party or something?”
She turned beet red and I ran for the stairs.
The boy was upstairs in a den of some sort – the room was all deep wood paneling and there was a TV built into one of the cabinets, and he was sitting there reading a book while a videotape played in the background.
“What are you reading?” I asked as I came and sat in a chair across from him.
“Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit,” he muttered. “Have you read it?”
“Yes, well, parts of it. When I was in college I took a couple of ethics classes. Hegel, Kant, those guys.”
He nodded. “How long have you been a pilot?”
“I soloed in college, never stopped after that.”
He looked up from the book. “What was it like? The first time?”
“It’s magic,” I smiled as the memory came for me. “There’s nothing like it. When you get out there on the taxi way and look around and there’s no one but you sitting there? Wow. It’s like the butterflies in your belly go wild…”
“Could you teach me?”
I’m not sure if words could describe the look in that kid’s eyes just then, but Christmas morning came to mind. Ely’s words came too. “Don’t lie…he’ll see right through you.”
“Is that something you really want to do?”
“What do you mean by ‘really want to do?’”
“Well, see, it’s kind of like this. I only teach people who really, really want to learn to fly, like more than anything else in the world.”
“Oh. Why’s that?”
“Because I don’t like to waste my time with pretenders. Are you a pretender?”
He shook his head. “No, I’m not.”
“Is learning to fly something you really want to do? More than anything?”
He bunched his lips and squinted a little, then nodded his head. “Yup.”
I stood and held out my hand and he looked at me. “It’s no deal without a handshake,” I said seriously. “You’re asking me to make a promise to you, aren’t you?”
He put his book down and stood, then walked over and put his hand in mine. “It’s a promise, then? You’ll teach me to fly?”
“As long as you really want that more than anything else, I will. But you have to be honest with me, always and from now on. That’s part of the deal, okay?”
“Okay. Where’s my mom?”
“Mass Gen. Surgery on the bone around her eye, I think six in the morning.”
He nodded his head again, then looked at a clock on the wall by the big Trinitron. “It’s late. I’d better get to bed now. Will you be here in the morning?”
“Unless something happens, yes, I will be.”
“Will you come get me then? If something bad happens.”
“Yup. That’s a promise.”
He looked up at me just then. “When mom came back to the seat this afternoon she told me she liked you. She said you were honest.”
“Nothing good ever comes from telling lies, Ben.”
“Yup,” he said as he padded off to his bedroom. “See you in the morning.”
Ben and I made it over to the hospital for first visiting hours, at nine the next morning, and I left him there with another woman from the home office, after I had a better idea what might happen to him over the next few days – until his mother could go home – and I took off to go home and get ready for the next day’s flight.
So of course I was a little surprised when Dr Simmons, well, I guess I should start calling her Elizabeth now, called me later that evening.
“You know,” she began, “I don’t know your name…all of it, anyway.”
“Pat,” I told her.
“Pat Patterson? You’re not Irish or anything, are you?” She laughed at that, by the way.
“What gave it away? The red hair?”
“Your insufferably green eyes.”
“Yup. The first time I saw you, well, when I looked in your eyes I think I went weak in the knees.”
“Did you now, Lassie,” I crooned, in my best County Cork brogue. “And why do you think that is?”
“I’d be careful, Pat. You sound like the guy from the Lucky Charms cereal commercial.”
“So, you’re flying tomorrow?”
“I am, yes. Back to the grind.”
“Could you, well, I don’t quite know how to ask this, but could you call me when you get back?”
“Call you? Where? Will you still be there?”
“No, I’m going home tomorrow, and I’ll be off the rest of the week. Maybe Friday evening? Could we go out to dinner?”
“Yes, dinner. You know, that thing two people do occasionally? When they want to get to know someone a little better?”
“Ah, how could you tell?”
I think that caught her a little off-guard.
“You’d like to get to know me?” she said slowly.
“Yup, I think I would. How about you?”
“Uh, well then, I take it the fact I have a son doesn’t bother you?”
“Well, yes, now that you mention it. The fact he’s eight years old and smarter than I am kind of worries me.”
She laughed, then yelped. “Ouch…that hurt.”
“Oh, sorry. I know some really bad knock-knock jokes if you’re in the mood?”
“No thanks,” she moaned, “I’m trying to quit.”
“Good, ‘cause I can’t remember any right off the top of my head.”
“So, should I get a sitter, or do you want him to come along?”
“On a first date? Are you kidding?”
“Good. I’m glad you said that.”
“Do I need to get a sitter?” I asked, grinning.
“Uh…do you have a child at home?”
“Goldfish, but they’re clingy.”
“Ah, well. Up to you. Do you have my home number?”
“You’d better give it to me, just in case.”
She did. “Thursday night, then,” she said, her voice a little nervous. “You’ll call me?”
“Yup. I should be home mid-afternoon.”
“Okay. I can’t wait…” she said, then the line went dead.
“Now what the devil was that all about,” I said to the four walls – and though I was certain they weren’t listening – well, what the hell.
“Hello? Pat, is that you?”
“It is. How are you?”
“Where are you?”
“Is everything alright?”
“No, not really.”
“I’m not sure why, but I’ve been thinking about you. A lot. Very distracting, as a matter of fact. What have you got to say about that?”
“Yes, you. You seem to be the cause of this distraction, so I thought you might be able to help me figure it out.”
“Are you in your hotel room now?”
“Are you, you know, horny?”
“You know, yes I am, and I find that kind of odd. For the last few years I just haven’t been, and now all of a sudden I am. I’m having a hard time understanding why?”
“No, not really.” I heard her laugh on the other end and I don’t know why, but that sound made me very happy. “So, how are you? Home yet?”
“Yes, about two hours now. Thank God for Percocet.”
“Not real bad, but worse than a headache. And my face…! I look like a raccoon!”
“Well, it’s a cute face. I’m sure you’ll heal just fine.”
Long pause after that one.
“You think my face is cute?”
“Hmm? Well, yeah, I reckon I do. Is that a problem?”
Another long pause.
“When you get in tomorrow, do you think you could come straight by?”
“Uh…no shower, no change of clothes? Not exactly a good first impression, you know…”
“Pat, I’ve had my first impression and I can’t wait to see you, so…please? Come by right after you get in?”
“You know, I think it’s going to be impossible for me to ever say no to you. I hope that’s not a problem.”
“Pat? I won’t say no, okay?”
I think I started to shake a little when she said that. “Okay,” I said – just barely. “I’ll see you around two or so.”
“Okay,” she sighed. “Bye.”
She met me at the door, dressed to kill I think you might say. She had kind of classic fifties vibe going…grey flannel skirt cut just above the knee, white blouse, light grey stockings and pumps. Make-up over her bruise around the right eye, subdued red lipstick. Her deep brunette hair was shining and full of life, and when the door swung open she looked at me and smiled, then fell into my arms and put her arms around me…
“Oh God, you’re a sight for sore eyes,” I said, and she leaned back and looked me in the eye.
Then she kissed me. Gently that first time, but then with an intensity that left me excited – and a little unsettled. “Where’d that come from?” I finally whispered.
“I haven’t been able to think about a thing since you called,” she sighed. “Pat? I think I’ve got it real bad.”
I held her close then, my hand behind her head, and I closed my eyes as I took in the scent of her – like I was imprinting her onto my soul. “You know, I really don’t know what’s going on here,” I whispered. “Do you?”
She leaned back again and I could see she’d started to cry a little, then she nodded her head. “Yup,” she sighed, “I think it’s love.”
“A love at first sight kind of thing, you think?”
“Nope,” she smiled, almost a little girl’s smile. “A love at first sigh kinda thing.”
That next kiss was devastating. Deep, ferocious – I could feel my toes curling and butterflies taking off in my gut, and we stood there in the shade with a cool breeze blowing and maybe, who knows, but I think time stopped for a little bit that afternoon.
You know, maybe when two souls collide – something spontaneous and fierce like what happened to us that afternoon – maybe time does indeed stop. Everywhere, all across the universe, even if it’s just for a millisecond or two – or – maybe it just feels that way.
It felt that way to me, for what it’s worth.
She was a tall girl, not skinny and certainly not overweight, and she was solid. Arms and legs trim yet muscular, like she worked out a lot, and she had a little button nose under her deep brown eyes – all framed by that long brown cascade of hair – oh, and those lips. I could talk about those lips for days and never grow tired. Set in a thin line when she talked about work, or full and pouty when she set to work on me, when she smiled, when laughter filled her heart the whole world knew just by looking at those lips. Her skin was always whitest white so the deep red lipstick she wore always seemed to shine with special intensity, kind of non-verbal way of letting me know she was there – and ready – when I was.
She was a few years older than I, not quite ten years anyway but that never seemed to make a difference, and yet in the end I think we both recognized how much life we’d let slip by, and how much living we needed to do – just to get caught up – and I think that was behind the almost surreal passion our coming together led us to. I was a neophyte where all this was concerned, and her’s a dusty memory laid waste when her husband passed, but I played the eager pupil to her patient teacher and I can’t even begin to imagine what life might have been like had we met years before.
Or if we’d never met.
But I guess that’s the point of all this, isn’t it? I always thought this would happen when the universe was good and ready for us to happen, and not one minute sooner.
Well, now, here we were that first afternoon, happy as two peas in a pod, and she didn’t want dinner. No, she wanted to go see my place, which became our little code over the years for needing to find some privacy, some time and place away from Ben and the rest of the world, and that’s where we went.
My new place was, as I mentioned, across the river in Cambridge, close enough to campus to walk to class, and I drove us over in my old 911 then held her as we walked inside.
My place is, well, let’s be charitable and call it small. Tiny was the word she used, and given my entire place was smaller than her living room I could see the point she was trying to make. Yet my place is all oiled Danish teak and oatmeal colored fabrics, a few bright splashes of color here and there. Art on the walls? Well yes, if you consider posters with panel layouts of the 747-300 cockpit artsy. I had a framed M C Escher poster from my dorm in the living room, too.
“Jesus H Christ!” she moaned as she took in my little place. “You really live here?”
I laughed. “Yup.”
“Is there a bedroom, maybe?”
“Oh, over here,” I said, pointing to the Murphy-bed on one wall in the living room…and that really set her off – laughing – again.
“Oh, you poor man…” she finally sighed as she walked to my ‘library,’ – three shelves of flight manuals and a few assorted textbooks I’d kept from college. Still, the building was brand new and I kept my place spartan, beyond clean. “So, how does this thing work?”
“The bed, silly.”
“Ah.” I flipped a lever and pulled the bed down into the room and when I turned back to her she was folding her skirt. She turned, faced me in her garters and stockings and heels, then she went and sat on the edge of the bed – pulling me along as she walked by.
She pulled my belt buckle and pushed my pants down in one movement, then took me in her mouth.
Okay, so station break here, time for a little information.
I hadn’t been with anyone in, well, a really long time and I’ve never been one for spanking the monkey so let’s be modest here and say that the dam was about to burst. Got it? Need I be more specific?
In other words, I doubt I lasted 30 seconds – then it was like one of those WWII movies…you know, where the bomber flies in low and drops a massive bomb on the dam that supplies power to all Germany? Yup, that kind of explosion. A massive, embarrassingly drenching affair…with her gagging as this unexpected pyroclastic flow erupted and flowed down to her truly lovely light grey lingerie, cascading bits of spray landing on her stocking tops and all over my freshly laundered sheets.
And yet she held me by the cheeks, ate all she could with a sudden feral beauty that – had I not been on my tip-toes and about to pass out – left with breathless with new love for this woman.
Then she was reaching down and scooping up all this stuff – and, and – licking all of it from her fingers…and I swear…she was purring…like a cheetah, perhaps. Preening, basking in the glory of her prize?
So…that made me the gazelle, hmm? Does that sound about right?
There was always something about Elizabeth – Liz – I couldn’t quite wrap my head around. She was beautiful, smart as could be and had inherited more money than anyone could believe – or spend. She was a surgeon – a neurosurgeon, for God’s sake – and she had been off the market for years? Why? Wrapped up in her work, she said, or with raising her boy, but I doubted it was that simple or, for that matter, easy to explain away. Her husband had been as equally energetic as she, a physicist who also had it in mind to invent things. Like huge advances in semi-conductor technology, among others, when not up to more mundane activities, like teaching physics at MIT.
She did her best to convince people that she was over his death, myself included, but the effort cost her. I found her once in her bedroom, one of his shirts held to her face. I saw her crying gently there and I called her name and she turned to me – then away as she ran into the bathroom. I followed her, told her she needed to talk to me about these things – but no. She wasn’t having any of that, not that day and not ever. That part of her life was over, she told me, and as beautiful and important as he had been to her, she told me she had to turn away from him or he’d overwhelm and consume her ‘til the end of time.
Which is, when all’s said and done, an interesting place to find yourself in – at least from my perspective it was, anyway. And yet with Ben and I? We found ourselves in an entirely different situation.
His dad had passed when he was just three years old, so at best memories of his father were hazy shady wisps of fog. Maybe that made things easier between the two of us, yet he had grown up with his mother’s devastation always in full view, with her remembrances of the man always all around him, so in effect he had grown up venerating a distant memory as much as his mother. My presence became confusing for him those first days and weeks together, but we already had common ground of sorts under us. Flying, I guess, was where we saw eye to eye, and we conscientiously never drifted far from that place. Before school started I took him down to our training facility and showed him around the simulator room, let him “fly” a 747 for a few minutes and he was enraptured by the experience. That seemed to cement the bond we had, and our promise to one another, and that seemed good enough for him – for the time being.
Depending on my schedule I was gone two to four nights a week, and this was almost a problem in the beginning. Liz was needy and very clingy those first few months together, and physically at times almost insatiable, yet then she’d drift off into this dark place for a while, usually when I was away – but not always.
“Oh, it’s just menopause,” she told me more than once, but that didn’t ring true and she’d laugh gayly and flutter away on a breeze. A few minutes later she’d dance into my arms and hold me like I’d never been held before and my love for her would come over us like a huge breaking wave. I’d hold on through all her cross-setting currents and buffeting emotion and when we came out of it – together – this love we had seemed monumental, enduring.
And the thing of it is – it was. After almost a half year together I loved her more than I could have possibly ever imagined.
Christmas Eve the three of us had dinner together, and once Ben was upstairs and tuck safely away into dreams of sugarplum fairies we sat together in that living room with the trees just outside the window and we looked at the lights on the Christmas tree and all those honey-toned memories we carry along through our lives. Somewhere in the firelight I pulled a little box from my coat pocket, a light blue box from Tiffany & Co with a very smart ring inside, and I held it up to the light in her eyes and asked her to marry me.
I don’t know what I expected, but what she gave me will last all the rest of the days of my life as the brightest of life’s best, most memorable moments. She held me, kissed me, let me slip the ring on her finger and when I told her I would love her until the end of time she seemed to weigh those words against the chalice of memory, then she took hold of them and held my words as her own. We were married on my birthday a few months later.
Ben was my Best Man, by the way, and he smiled and smiled when, standing by my side, he saw his mother walking down the aisle.
She wanted me to adopt her boy, so he could share our name. Not be so – apart – I think she said. He didn’t seem to mind and so, after lawyers and courts finished their part of the bargain, all of a sudden I had a son. And without the thrills and frills associated with pregnancy…all so neat and clean.
And the next summer, before we’d known each other quite a year, we went to Switzerland together. A working vacation of sorts, as Liz attended some medical conference for a few days while Ben and I rode the rails to Interlaken, and then through the Bernese Oberland. She studied at night, took a few exams then she was free and we drove to a little airport outside of Zurich and flew to the town of Samedan, deep in a remote corner of southeast Switzerland. We were met by a guide, then driven a few miles north to an even smaller village – La Punt Chamues – where we stayed overnight at a small inn. With backpacks and tents, we took off with our guide – on foot – the next morning and walked up into the Engadin, beyond the Haus Serla on our first day, then up the Val Prüna the second. Liz wanted to move on, to climb around the Languard to Georgy’s Hütte but both our guide – and the weather – proved uncooperative. “Your son is too young for such a climb,” the old man said, “and besides, there will be snow up there the next few days.” He took us higher, however, to a series of small alpine lakes well above timberline, and that night he caught a few trout and grilled them under the stars. The walk down proved more difficult than the climb up, yet I noticed a few things about Ben those few days that impressed me.
Most kids his age I knew would have freaked out making such an arduous walk, yet he never griped, and never seemed to tire. He stopped all the time, however, and would bend over and look at some microscopic flower here, some weird lichen there, and each time our guide would come over and answer questions, enjoying the kid’s academic enthusiasms, and one evening, right after we made camp, Ben took off in search of some furry animals he’d seen and was soon scaling a really significant rock wall. The guide looked terrified, yet Liz never seemed to break a sweat over it.
“What gives,” I asked as I watched her – and her boy.
“His father was a real alpinist, a serious climber. I suppose it comes naturally, yet the last thing I want to do is hover over him, put a damper on his curiosity and inclinations. He needs the space to grow.”
“You don’t worry he’ll fall?”
“No, not really,” she said as she looked at me. “It’s not in his nature to fall.”
“I’ve been thinking about my father’s boat,” she announced one day later that first summer. “We either need to use it or sell it.”
“Boat?” I asked. “What boat?”
“Oh, it’s a sailboat, he kept it up in Acadia, in Southwest Harbor, actually. Do you know how to sail?”
“No, I mean it…do you know how to sail. I mean, really sail.”
“Really sail? How’s that different from regular sailing?”
She walked to her desk and pulled a small length of rope from a drawer and tossed it to me. “Can you tie a bowline?”
I tied the knot and looked at her. “Next?”
“What’s the longest trip you’ve made on a sailboat?”
“Los Angeles to Honolulu.”
“Shit. Okay, you can sail.”
I grinned. “What kind of boat are you talking about?”
“A Hinckley Sou’wester 52, about fifteen years old.”
“That’s a handful. Do you know how to sail? I mean, really know how to sail?”
Liz could toss off a mean scowl when the mood struck.
We drove up 95 a week later, then up the coast through Rockland and Camden before finally entering Acadia National Park. The boat was a navy hulled beast named Antares, tied up at the Hinckley yard and she had of course been fully commissioned. We stepped aboard and she started the engine while Ben and I cast off her lines, then Liz motored into town and tied off at a lobster pound on the north side of the harbor.
“Ever been here,” Liz asked while we made fast her lines.
“Nope. Where’s here, by the way?”
“Beal’s Lobster Pound.”
“What? Does animal control drop them off here?”
She sighed, shook her head. “I hope you like bugs.”
“Homaridae,” Ben said.
“Gesundheit,” I said.
“Jesus H Christ!” Liz added before jumping down to the dock and walking over to an inclined ramp that led up to the pound – otherwise known as a restaurant in less deranged parts of the world. “You’re in a mood, aren’t you?” she said as she disappeared into this other world.
The place had ‘bugs’ alright. Lobster right off the boats in steel tanks, salt water flowing through at a prodigious rate. “Pick the one you want,” the girl behind the counter said, “and we’ll call you when it’s ready.”
Kind of an odd way of being a carnivore, I think I recall telling someone, anyone who might listen. Pick your animal, look him in the eye before sending the poor creature to his death, and it was all little more personal than, say, eating a hamburger at a drive-through, but damn…it turned out I was sure was in the mood for a little mass murder that day. A two pounder just wasn’t enough, and then Ben and I got into a little contest…who could eat one the fastest…and things went downhill pretty fast from there. They served little hunks of corn-on-the-cob with their bugs, everything swimming in steamed butter, and when Ben and I started in on the corn, mowing down rows like a couple of old typewriters, Liz looked at us and shook her head.
Liz had been, I think I should tell you, born in that house on the square. Born with, well, not a silver spoon in her mouth but more a gold plated shovel. The best analogy I can come up with is British royalty. Grandfathers on both sides had been more like patricians in ancient Athens, scions of political dynasties with residences in DC, farms in upstate New York, yachts in Maine or Florida, summer cabins in Colorado – and endless money. The people I met, people in her ‘circle of friends’ more often than not, looked and even smelled rich. There was something in these peoples’ eyes, too: the easy-going care-free existence that came from having ‘arrived’ left a directness of gaze that was at times unsettling. You were ‘sized-up’ in an instant, like her friends shared some kind of DNA that allowed them to instantly recognize one another.
What all this means is she had certain expectations about how one should behave when out and about. If you recall the old Cary Grant-Katherine Hepburn version of The Philadelphia Story you have some idea what I mean. Kind of a stuffy, overbearing ‘adultness’ that was a little too much for me at times.
I grew up on a ranch with four brothers and so many sisters I lost count. The dinner table was a scene of barely restrained anarchy – the strongest got the most while the meek were lucky to get enough food to survive. Very natural, in other words, and something my parents did absolutely nothing to curtail. It was, I think, a valuable part of our education too. You hesitate, you defer, you go hungry, and as long as you didn’t rest your elbows on the table my folks just watched quietly, kind of a wry, knowing smile on their faces.
Liz grew up an only child, with servants serving her day and night. Literally. They came to the table and held platters of food out, let her take as much or as little as she wanted, and I think in an odd way the experience came to define her expectations a little too much. People didn’t ‘horse around’ at the dinner table, they didn’t race through cobs of corn or tails of lobster. No, they ‘held’ polite, quiet conversations. Laughter might be heard when an insider’s trading tip was tossed around knowingly before dinner was served, or perhaps when someone made the unpardonable sin of wearing brown socks with their black wingtips, but never while engaged in the more serious business of dining. Around the table was where you demonstrated your bona fides, your upbringing, your standing in the club.
And yet I think it was that part of me that had become the most important thing to her. She loved my sudden spontaneity, the way I broke down all the conventions of her life – the way I was bringing all these attributes to her son, as well. All that spilled over into the way she sailed versus the way I did. She was a Point A to Point B sailor, no deviations allowed, while I was more a ‘lets go over there and check out that little cove for a picnic’ kind of sailor. She had been fired like a heat-seeking missile all her life…Miss Porter’s School and Radcliffe, then Harvard Medical School and Mass Gen. I had gone off to study business and ag sciences at a state college, and been roped into Navy ROTC after a kind of a spur-of-the-moment decision. Point A to Point B for Liz, and endless side-trips down the road less traveled for me. So while I wasn’t the technocratic pilot she might have first envisioned, she didn’t run when she realized I was half circus clown.
And while one way of life is not necessarily better than the other, I think Liz realized, after she finally found out all my dirty little secrets, she was seeking balance in her life, and Ben’s too. Like she knew she’d missed out on a lot of fun by being less spontaneous, so maybe it was worth a few extra bits of flying corn or an errant spray of butter to bring a little balance back to their lives. Of course that’s it!
Or, well, just maybe, I’m really full of shit.
The best part of us was, in the end, us. The time we spent together – us, the two of us. All her native spontaneity resided behind closed doors, under –or on top of the sheets. She seemed to crave the physical side of us, and I mean crave as a literal addiction to pleasure – physical pleasure. Near the end I felt this as an overwhelming need on her part, and oddly so. I recall one time, while making love at a hotel in New York City, she was between my legs – the cheetah devouring her prey – when I came. She had been using her hand and her mouth, her hand furiously as I grew close, and when I popped-off she started licking at everything as it flew through the air, then she grabbed my cock and wiped it all over her face, still licking away feverishly as she smeared cum all over her face. It was a most appreciated, if slightly whorish display – coming from her, anyway – and one that really shocked me with it’s feral intensity. It was, I have to add, very unlike her.
And looking back now that craving was like a sign.
On some level, in some way she knew something was wrong.
And I heard her one day on the phone in her little book-lined study off the living room. I heard words like ‘remission’ and ‘over’ and ‘there’s just no point, is there?’ – then I walked into the little room and sat across from her, while, mind you, she continued talking on the phone.
She looked at me as I sat and continued talking, then said her goodbyes and rang off.
“Remission?” I asked as she looked me in the eye.
And she nodded her head a little, then looked away. “Yes. Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.”
“Before we met?”
Again, she nodded her head just a little, a very slight acknowledgement of the lie she had been living with all the time we had been together.
I stood, went over to a window and looked out at the trees and the grassy square across the cobblestone street. “Wow,” I think I said, though it was probably more a whisper. “Why?”
And I felt her behind me then, her arms coming around and I took her hands in mine and held them tightly.
“I was afraid…am afraid…for Ben. More than anything, for him. I knew I’d be going soon, relatively soon, and he doesn’t have anyone else. I wanted him to have a father, someone who’ll be there for him…when I’m not…”
I think the feeling was a little like when you pop the valve on a beach ball and squeeze so very hard all the air rushes out in one frenzied burst.
“I’m just curious, but did you ever really love me?”
She wheeled me around with such intensity I nearly fell, and she held my face in her hands and kissed me so hard I recall the impact drew blood.
After an eternity she pulled back and I didn’t have a single doubt left in my mind what her feelings were, but, with my face still in her hands she spoke. “Pat, there hasn’t been one moment since we met I haven’t been out of mind in love with you.”
I nodded my head. “Ditto,” I added. “What about Ben? What does he know?”
“Nothing. And I want to keep it that way for as long as I can.”
“Got it. What are we talking about here? Prognosis, time-frame, that kinda stuff?”
“I’ll start chemo soon, but statistically that’s a wash. Odds are it won’t work again, odds are a year, maybe a little more. It’s kind of hard to say right now.”
Well, it turned out she was dead right concerning the first point – chemo didn’t work – and she was dead wrong about the time she had left. She overshot that runway by about six months.
There’s no need, I assume, to replay the whole Ryan O’Neal – Ali MacGraw deathbed scene from Love Story, is there? No “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” tossed back and forth between star crossed lovers and estranged fathers like the Mad Hatter and Alice playing tennis at a tea party?
When the contours of her fight became clear I called corporate and took a leave of absence, and I stayed with her through the first abortive round of chemo until she gave up. After CHOP treatments began to show the first overt signs, beginning the second week of treatment, she told Ben about her history with the disease. He was predictably upset but dealt with it as best he could – by reading all there was to know about the disease…in three days, I think, then school began and I drove him up to Concorde.
Odd too, the whole high school thing. He’d been ready for college by the time he was twelve but Liz insisted he stick to the established age-progression and he motored along, bored to tears, that autumn. His heart wasn’t in it, however, and by October he came home and his teachers sent material along for him to keep up with things. As he was certifiably smarter that all his teachers combined it wasn’t really an issue, however.
Liz rallied in November, then crashed – for good – right after Thanksgiving, and she passed on Christmas Eve, at home, as she wanted.
Yes, I was a wreck, and so was Ben.
Here’s the thing, though.
I’d called my folks before Thanksgiving, told them what the score was and they called all my brothers and sisters. Two days before Thanksgiving it was like the Normandy invasion all over again, with Louisburg Square the scene of this latest family beachhead. The house absorbed all of us with room to spare and my mom and half a dozen spare sisters got to work the night before and made her grandmother’s dressing and the always dreaded green bean casserole, and with all hands on board three birds were needed and all the woman cooked through the night – Liz included – and I’d not seen her so happy in months.
Thanksgiving itself was, by my family’s standards, at least, a typical affair. Too much food and way too much horse play.
My oldest brother was, as always, the instigator: he took a green bean and licked it clean then (you can’t make this stuff up, really) slipped it halfway up a nostril (hang in there…it gets worse), then he blocked off the other nostril with a finger, tilted his head back and blew through his nose: he launched the bean halfway across the dining room and my mother looked completely aghast, my father red-faced and livid.
And I turned to Liz, expecting the worst.
She had already licked a bean clean and was tilting her head back by then, but her first try came up a little short. Her effort arced through the air and landed on my plate, and even Dad was laughing his ass off by that point.
My folks stayed in Boston after Thanksgiving, Mom helping the housekeeper, and then the hospice nurse with all their daily chores, leaving Dad to while away the hours teaching Ben all there was to know about cattle ranching in Montana – which of course devolved into endless speculations about grizzly bears – and how it was better to kill them before they ate you.
Most of the clan returned, ostensibly for Christmas but we all knew it unlikely Liz would last that long. Still, all those coming arrived by the 22nd and so were all around for Liz’s passing. They were around, in other words, for me – and for Ben.
And because it turned out he had a family after all, he was alright.
Almost a week later we carried two urns seaside, down to a rocky point near Plymouth, Massachusetts, and we stood there by the sea, gently, as we waited. Liz had wanted to be cremated because, I suspect, her first husband had been, and she wanted to join him on an outgoing tide. Near the place she married the first love of her life, as she put it.
“When it’s your turn,” she told me, “I want you to join me there. I’ll be waiting for you.”
“Yippee-skippy…an eternal threesome,” I muttered – and she laughed.
“He never held a candle compared to you, Pat. Not in that department.”
“Oh? So, what? You want me to give him lessons?”
She laughed a little and we talked a lot, and I held her as she passed later that Holy Night.
Ben stood by me while I thumbed through tide tables, and when the time was right he tossed a leaf out on the water and we watched it drift away, then we held their urns and let them slip away from us, too.
So, here’s the scene, two summers later. In Concorde, New Hampshire on a bright, sunny day.
I’m standing beside Ben while he walks around the flight school’s red and white Cessna 150, looking over his shoulder while he does his pre-flight walk-around, then as he belts himself in and pulls out his checklist.
“You got it from here?” I asked him, looking nervously as he walked through the routines I’d taught him for months now.
“Yeah, Dad. Don’t worry, I think I have it down now.”
Dad? Did he call me Dad? Did he tell me not to worry?
I nodded my head and closed the door between us, moved away from the flight line as he called out: “CLEAR!”
The prop turns, the engine catches, and I see him talking on the radio, then I watch with my heart in my throat as he taxis away from the ramp for the active. Flaps come down, I see him work the controls and zero out the trim tab, then I listen to his run-up – first one magneto, then the second, then both – and as he turns onto the active I wish I had a scanner so I could listen to him in his moment of glory.
The Cessna runs down the runway and at about the right time I see the nose lift and he begins a gentle climb away from the earth, and from me. He flies a simple right hand pattern but draws out his final approach – just like I told him – and he flares over the numbers and exits the runway at the first turn out, and then I realize I’ve been holding my breath all the while.
His first solo, my first ever promise to him – kept.
I’m watching his little wings as he taxis back to the ramp, to me, and I hear it then.
I know that sound, I tell myself. That’s Liz’s laugh, here on the wind all around me.
And then I feel her behind me, close now, closer than forever, and I feel her hands on my shoulders, then her arms as she comes closer still, as then she’s all around me – again – the way it should be.
“You forgive me?”
It’s a whisper, really, just something passing on the wind. Then I feel something pinch me on the ass as a whirling gust crosses the ramp, and another gale of laughter comes for me…
As Ben turns and brakes to a stop. He sets the parking brake and retracts the flaps, then opens his door and runs into my arms. I feel her there with us under the sun, and while I’m not sure whose tears I cry, now I understand a father’s pride – and her’s.
(C)2016 Adrian Leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, of course, though a few names and places have been changed to protect the guilty.