Rosalinda’s Eyes (Chapter 3/final chapter)

Rosalinda galaxy 1

Rosalinda’s Eyes

Chapter 3

These divergent dichotomies of ours catch up with us over time.

I was my father’s son once upon a time, before I was on my own – before I was part of a new binary system. Another woman, Brenda, defined my life for the next thirty years, our time longer but less complex than the time I spent under my father’s roof. Brenda was all about love, the simplest, most powerful time there is, while my father was about unquestioned support, about passing on what he’d learned about what makes for a good life.

Then hate came into my life. Slowly at first, but with gathering momentum. It’s hard to look back at those years because there are so few memories worth holding onto, looking back at. Hate blinds so completely not even memory survives.

Hate is a little like putting on a suit of shining armor. It’s hard, beyond rigid, a polished shell covering all our soft, vulnerable parts. Difficult to move around in too, the limited range of motion, I guess, accounts for that. You lower a visor when you suit-up, see the world ahead through tiny slits and there’s no such thing as peripheral vision anymore. There’s just the one way ahead, and even the parts of the story you see aren’t really representative of the greater landscape anymore. Hate blinds you, makes you rigid, and about all you can do is charge off and hope it doesn’t hurt too much when you run into the walls of your own ignorance.

I put that armor on one day and intuitively knew it wasn’t a good fit, and I tried to cast it aside, turn away from all it wanted from me. Still, there came a time when I saw that cool metal still sitting there, cast aside yet still oh so shiny and strong looking, and I was tempted, sorely tempted to put it on again. And that’s when I fell into Rosalinda’s eyes. That’s when she cleaned my clock and set me straight, when I discovered how little I knew about life in the ‘hood, even my own little corner of our world.

I think she was getting me ready for the last act of my life, an as yet unfinished comedy waiting for a little resolution. And I say this advisedly: when I looked back at my life with Brenda, from the vantage point of my time with Rosalinda, I understood I’d gone through three decades of marriage absent one vital thing.

Passion.

I’d loved that woman to within an inch of our lives, yet in all that time I’d never felt the sort of passion Rosalinda brought into my life one afternoon. Yet I lay with her after and felt tugged between two stars, a planet caught in a tight binary system. Brenda’s had been a slow, steady warmth, probably more conducive to life but never too much so; Rosalinda’s was a spontaneous combustion, a cool blue star one minute, then impossible, blinding radiance the next. One had a sensible gravity well, pulling gently, holding me close, while the other went from zero-G to crushing in a flash – and once Rosalinda’s gravity took hold it was impossible to break free.

And her love, once given, was never in doubt. One hour with Bettina convinced me of that. One hour hearing the real story behind that love left me in awe. Left me reeling in wonder. So much in love I had no hope of recovering.

But you knew that already, didn’t you?

+++++

Her mother fled Spain in the 30s, when leftist ‘revolutionaries’ – though legally in power – were challenged by rightist ‘counter-revolutionaries’ – supported by, among others, Hitler and Mussolini, as well as large corporations. It was, in some respects, a civil war between ‘the people’ and large corporate interests, global interests that had vast sums of money set aside to raise new armies wherever their control was at risk. The war rapidly became a proxy war, with Hitler using the conflict to ‘blood’ the Wehrmacht, to get them ‘battle-tested’ in his warm up to the main event, and the Luftwaffe conducted the first large scale aerial bombardments in Europe’s history. The leftists were, of course, supported by the Soviet Union, but Mexico also played a role in the conflict.

When, in 1939, it appeared the leftists were going down in defeat, those with money fled to the Americas. Some to the United States of America, many more to the United States of Mexico – but often by way of New York City, and Rosalinda’s mother was in this latter group. Nineteen years old and by all accounts as glamorous as any movie star, Bettina Louise arrived in New York City one December morning sporting a high fever and severe pain in her gut, lower right quadrant. Appendicitis, in other words, and she was taken to Columbia Presbyterian where a brilliant young surgical resident operated. In the course of her post-operative care, Bettina Louise found out she was diabetic and she fell in love with the young surgeon, a man named Paul Latimer, and of equal importance, he fell in love with her too.

Bettina Louise went on to Mexico City, but the two corresponded, and their love only deepened. Her father was against all this, of course, and did not want his daughter getting mixed up with some unknown Yankee – from Oklahoma, no less – but when the surgeon finished his residency he took the train to Mexico City and that was the end of that. Paul had no trouble finding work, of course, but with his new family’s ‘connections’ he soon found himself working for the Ministry of Health – and knee deep in Mexican politics.

And of course, as his family’s political connections were ‘leftist,’ they still were invited to lavish political dinners, many at the Soviet embassy in Mexico City. And, of course, as rightist, corporatist powers emerged after the war, they took power in Mexico, and they began to purge the government of anyone even remotely leftist, or ‘communist.’ Fearing for their lives, again, Bettina Louise’s family fled to California, to Los Angeles, and Paul, of course, went to. He had no trouble finding work in California because he was a US trained and licensed physician, and his political work was as yet unknown.

Of course, all that was before the McCarthyite purges hit the United States, and within a year Latimer was unmasked as a high government official with deep ties to the Soviet Union. He was, in due course stripped of his medical license and eventually jailed for lying on his immigration forms, and he died in federal prison under circumstances that remained unclear for decades, having never seen the baby girl born to him and Bettina Louise in 1952.

After the McCarthyite ‘Red Scares’ subsided in the mid-50s, Bettina Louise was offered a part in a movie, and because her family needed the money she took the role. Over the next ten years she worked in several westerns, many with big stars like John Wayne and Gregory Peck, but she was never considered anything like a leading lady. No, she played the Mexican barmaid or the downtrodden shopkeeper’s wife, a decorative ‘extra’ with rarely a speaking part, but because of good looks she was always in demand and she always made good money, enough to buy a house near Elysian Park, enough to raise her daughter and take care of her ailing parents. After her father passed she took care of her mother, took work in an office at Paramount Studios, all while she raised her little Rosalinda. Because she was not simply attractive, she made better than good money in the back offices, for more than a few years, too.

Bettina Louise’s mother passed and then it was just the two of them, and Rosalinda took an interest in nursing after her grandmother’s death, though in truth medicine was really what interested her. Bettina Louise had taken her family name, Rodriguez, after her husband’s supposed disgrace, and in Los Angeles she was regarded as one of ‘them,’ a Mexican, and therefore some kind of Third Class citizen. Yet she wasn’t so surprised when most of the locals she talked to didn’t know the difference between Spain and Mexico, or that the State of New Mexico was in America, not Mexico, but she accepted what was and moved on. She tried to keep away from people who, in their ignorance, perhaps, found it so easy to judge, too easy to look away.

In time Bettina retired. She settled in for the duration in her little house by the park, saw Rosalinda graduate from nursing school and begin working at County SC. Her diabetes, always a problem, soon became a bigger issue and she lost a leg two years later, and that marked the beginning of her end. She lived long enough to see Rosalinda fall in love with a physician then was soon gone too.

I listened to Bettina’s retelling of her family’s origins in fascinated awe. So easy to see where her passionate intensity came from, her drive to excel. And me? I’d always considered her Mexican, when in truth there was nothing at all ‘Mexican’ about her, or her mother. They were Spanish-American, in truth as European as I, yet how comfortably had I slapped one set of labels on them – not to mention entire sets of expectations – because of a name. A name I knew nothing about. Because my expectations were so hollow, as hollow as my understanding. But hell, I guess you knew that already.

+++++

School had just let out for the summer when our third Saturday of flying came ‘round, and the girls were full of joy, full of all the anticipation that comes with graduating from high school. What came next had already been decided, of course. They were both starting at UCLA in August, so we had some serious flying to do over the next two months.

And I should say I had some serious flying to do too. Stan had me booked up several hours a day, five days a week, usually working with pilots trying for their instrument or multi-engine ratings, and before I knew what was happening to me I was working longer and harder than I ever had before. I mention this as I’d never planned for something like this…this new life had, quite by accident, found me – yet I wasn’t sure I wanted my life to be so suddenly all-consuming and hectic.

But there were Rosalinda’s eyes waiting for me when I got home, and that made all the difference.

I see her now standing in the kitchen, chopping and stirring, explosions of life in the air, twirling between the counter and the stove – turning the mundane into something like wild magic. She was a magician. Nothing less than that. She was one of those special souls who made life worth living.

Yet Bettina was now, more than anyone else in my life, the anchor that held me fast to the here and now, and I know that must sound distorted and strange. Where was Terry, you ask, my daughter? In all this had she simply disappeared?”

Well yes, if you must know, she had.

But that was about to change, too.

+++++

She called one day that June, and she was, like women in my life tend to when they call, in tears. She’d been counting on getting a position at Sloan-Kettering, but that hadn’t happened. She was devastated and needed some ‘Dad time’ – as she called it – but I was no longer just out the Long Island Expressway. I was about as far away now as I could possibly be, and she was in a cab headed to LaGuardia, would be at LAX in six hours…

This, coming at five in the afternoon. With a full day of flying lined up tomorrow, starting at 0800.

I turned to Rosalinda, then elbows deep in pyrex bowls full of marinading something, and told her the deal.

“Tonight? She is coming tonight?”

“Yup.”

“Excellent! I have time to make a paella!”

Dear God: When you have a minute to spare, would you please drop me a note, give me some sort of clue what it is with women and food? Yours truly, Clueless.

She, of course, called Becky, and then the three of them got to work. Kitchen cleaned and ready for inspection? Check! Maddie’s bedroom, ready for business? Check! Bathroom? Ditto! In two hours the house was an immaculate conception ready for hard duty, then the girls hit the cupboards and got to the real work at hand.

Me? Get out of their way, and stay away.

So I drove across town to LAX, got there about a half hour too early, sat around thinking about Rosalinda and Bettina – and Terry. What would happen when they mixed? Two unstable compounds joining under unknown pressures and temperatures…what would emerge? And would anything survive the reaction? For some reason I thought of stars colliding, and wondered what happens then.

She looked like she’d just been discovered in a concentration camp and set free. Emaciated. Gaunt eyed and scarecrow thin. She didn’t look like a cancer researcher – she looked like a cancer patient…with about a week to live. I wanted to cry, then I thought about Rosalinda standing in that kitchen – and I laughed.

“Dad? What is it?”

“Oh, nothing. I was just thinking about unstable chemical reactions…”

She looked at me like, well, I think you know, don’t you?

And I filled her in on my life since Long Island while we got on the 405, then the 10. About working on the house, a house she might have seen once in the past twenty some-odd years, and about flying with Becky and Bettina. And then – about Rosalinda.

“Dad? You’re seeing someone?” She sounded hurt, disbelieving.

“It just sort of happened.”

“A Mexican?”

“Nope. Spanish. Her father was from Oklahoma, a physician, trained at Columbia.”

“Oh.”

“They’re waiting up, cooking some sort of blowout dinner.”

“Really? Oklahoma food?”

I grinned. “I have no idea, kitten.”

She used to love it when I called her that. Now she seemed distracted and angry.

“So, what happened in New York?”

“They didn’t want me, that’s all.”

“Any idea why?” If she’d been acting like this, I knew the reason, but Terry? Not my little Terry…

“I’ve been having a hard time, Dad.”

“Hard? Why?”

“Since Mom died. Since you left me.”

A-ha. Thirty one years old and having a case of full-blown separation anxiety? Someone, somewhere along the line had screwed the pooch – and that someone had to be me, didn’t it? Yet in a flash I’m seeing PJ in my mind’s eye, hanging out there in the air apparent. Curled up on her duffel bag in San Fran, talking at breakfast about some drugged out cock dangling from her mouth. What goes around comes around, I think I might have said while trying not to choke on the irony.

“Are you angry at me for leaving?”

She nodded her head. “Yeah, but I understand. You have your life to lead, and I get that.”

“And that means there’s no room in my life for you? Is that what this feels like?”

“Yeah. I know I’ve been busy, inaccessible, but everything happened so fast and I turned around and you were gone…” And she was crying, real off to the races crocodile tears. Instinctually I thought about heading over to Tommy’s, but no. Time for a new tradition, I thought.

A game had just finished at Dodger Stadium and traffic was a little tense, but we were swimming against that tide, the going not too bad, and we pulled into the driveway a little before midnight.

Of course the entire neighborhood was ensnared in the scents coming out of my, well, Rosalinda’s kitchen, and even Terry’s remarks were hopeful, but stepping into the house was like stepping into another world. Lighting and furniture: perfect. Pitcher of sangria on the table, fresh citrus floating on top. Candles everywhere, the dining room table almost ablaze with them. It was almost five in the morning for Terry, yet she came alive in all the sudden attention.

Rosalinda had made a paella with scallops and huge prawns, and just to confound things a bowl of her guacamole adorned the middle of the table, and while I took Terry’s bag back to Maddie’s room she settled in, with the girls passing snacks and wine while Terry looked around in a daze.

Unable to drink anything but water these days, I sat back in a fat chair in the living room and watched the night unfold like some kind of lorded paterfamilias, and within an hour it was apparent that Bettina and Terry had suddenly become something like, well, if not sisters then really good friends.

And that was the last thing I remembered.

I woke up at six, feet up on an ottoman, a blanket tucked neatly under my chin.

The house, of course, spotless.

I showered and was gone before Terry woke, and when I came back a little before noon she was still unconscious. Rosalinda came in after three and Terry was still snoring away, but she filled me in on the parts I missed.

Terry put down most of the sangria in short order, after I conked out, then put down a six-pack of beer and was rummaging around for the hard stuff when Rosalinda stepped in and put the brakes on. The three girls talked until four or so, then Terry started crying and Rosalinda sent the girls away.

They talked some more after that, until Terry began running out of steam, then she helped my little girl to bed. Interesting conversation, that was.

Because Rosalinda now knew the lay of the land. The contours of my existence a priori, I think you could say. She finally knew the other Brenda, our backstory, and Terry’s and Michael’s, too. She learned what it was like to grow up with an airline pilot as father, all the nights away, the big events missed. What my son was like. Why I couldn’t talk about him. Even what my parents were like, too. All the million things I’d turned my back on and walked away from.

Rosalinda was always a good listener, an empath full of compassion – a rare combination – and by the time the evening was done she knew what was bugging Terry, and what she needed.

“And that is?”

“A job, here in LA. Someplace where you’ll be about ten minutes when she needs you. Which will be often,” Rosalinda added. Then she scowled a little – always a bad thing – and she looked at me: “You should not have left her so suddenly.”

“I know, but I…”

“See her, and you see your wife.”

“Yes, but I…”

“Had to get away from the memories.”

“I know, but I…”

“Have yet to grow up, face the responsibilities of being a father. You had your job, but now you are free of that. Well, the bill has come, and it is past due now.”

“So, what do I…”

“I have an interview set up with Oncology on Monday morning. Now the job is to get some food down her, pack a few pounds on her between now and then.”

Terry, for her part, took the position at County SC. I helped her put some money down on a downtown loft, too. About ten minutes away, on an average day, I think.

Need I say more?

+++++

That summer was loaded with divergent dichotomies, more than a little cognitive dissonance, but it passed by so fast.

Terry, moving cross country for the first time. Helping her settle in, learn the ropes in this strange city. I took her to Tommy’s of course, then had to explain, for the next several hours, why her stomach was rumbling like a volcano. And that it was not necessary to apologize, just roll down your window, please.

PJ. Where do I begin? When will it ever end? She and Judd, on the ropes within weeks. Then we found out she had stopped taking her meds and a whole new struggle began. Got her back on medication and she evened out again, but that’s when we learned a hard truth. Many psych patients don’t like their meds. They devise all kinds of weird ways to stop taking them and not talk about it – until the cake blows up in the oven. Judd loved her, I mean the real deal, and he wasn’t about to give up the fight, but it went deeper than that.

She came home on her bad days, went into the parent’s old bedroom and sometimes she’d just sit there, looking at the corner where Dad’s bed used to be. On those days I’d load her up in the Porsche and we’d drive out Sunset and go sit on the rocks above the surf, listen to the seagulls before heading in on Beverly, stopping off at Tommy’s for a dose of memory, with chili and cheese on top.

Maybe the biggest deal that summer came along in the middle of August, on a cool Saturday morning at the airport in Van Nuys. The girls took turns pre-flighting my Cessna, then, after our obligatory coin-toss, Becky saddled up and taxied out to the active. I stood there with Judd and PJ, Judd’s ex, too, a cute thing named Cindy, and of course Rosalinda and Bettina were there too, and we watched Becky make her run down the runway, lift up and fly a long, extended base, then settle in for a gracious landing. She taxied back to us and shut her down, and after she’d grasped the significance of the moment she bolted out the door and ran – right into my arms.

“You’re a pilot now, Becky,” I whispered in her ear. “And I’m so proud of you.”

Bettina was next of course, and I held Rosalinda’s shaking hands as her daughter charged the runway, and I looked at her up there, so proud of her – proud like a father, maybe like her father would have been – when she turned on final and the landing light popped on. My fingers were shadowing hers, I was feeling my solo again for the first time on a long time. I watched her landing with something more than pride in eyes, too. I loved her, simple as that. When I turned and saw Rosalinda’s tears, she reached up and wiped a few off my face, too.

Flying was far from over in the little house on Academy Road. Classes were still held every Tuesday and Thursday evening from six ‘til nine – and for the next four years, too. I took them through their instrument and multi-engine ratings, let them use 6-8 Romeo to build hours and hone skills, then they got their instructors tickets. Then they graduated from UCLA and both were soon gone, following in my footsteps one more time, both of them, into the Navy. Both of them, in time, pilots.

One more thing happened that summer. Rosalinda and I drove up to Vegas after the girls started school, and we tied the knot, made it official. Strange too, telling Bettina that next week she could call me Dad now.

She smiled, told me she had been for a while, if only to herself.

But of course, you knew that already.

After a certain age, getting old is funny. Like a series unexpected, not to mention unwanted compromises sneak up on you. Maybe we should expect the unexpected that attends aging, yet getting old is something relatively new for our species. Some people did indeed live to old age even thousands of years ago, but for most it’s a relatively recent development and I think that’s why more people are blindsided by the changes.

First, things start to break, things like bones, but then maybe your hearing or sight starts to fade, yet I soon figured out that the real killer is losing your sense of humor. If that breaks down you’re screwed, because all the rest barreling down on you soon becomes unendurable. Think of it this way: no one likes a sore loser, and you’re going to lose this one, one way or another. This thing called life…and no matter how well you take care of that meat and bones sack thingy that holds your brain, it will stop working the way you expect it to one day.

Before that day rolls around things are going to start to hurt. All those broken bones in high school, when you were growing up? Yup, they’re gonna hurt. The time you fell and twisted your ankle? Yup, that too. Then the real fun starts. The colonoscopies. The prostate exams or the PAP smears. Maybe a mitral valve will fail or your arteries will clog, or this or that and on and on. All those medical specialties in the hospital? They each represent the myriad ways we can take on our way out of this life.

I had two other sisters and I’ve not mentioned them here as both checked-out early. Deirdre in an automobile accident when she was seventeen, and Stacy, of uterine cancer at thirty. And then there was Michael, in Afghanistan. My parents and Brenda. You get used to the idea as the years roll by that this is a one way trip and no one gets out alive, but that’s not the point. It’s the time between birth and light’s out that matters, assuming anything at all really matters.

Judd came home one day and found PJ curled up in her favorite chair, not breathing. No warning. She’d had a stroke of some sort, an aneurism up there somewhere, and lights out. Nothing dramatic until the funeral, then all kinds of drama.

Rosalinda prepared one of her massive blowouts that night, and all our friends came over a few hours after the services, including half the LAPD, and I cooked steaks out back, just like my dad and used to. By the way, did I tell you about that?

It was a ritual, Dad and I, cooking steaks. Ever since I was a spud.

Twice a year he bought a side of beef, literally – half a cow – and twice a year we got a load of steaks wrapped in white butcher paper, ground beef, sausages and ribs – half a cows worth all packed into a chest-style freezer he had in the garage. Mom made a huge salad and cottage fried potatoes, and the night before Dad whipped up his marinade, and pay attention here, ‘cause I’m going to pass on his recipe.

In a two cup measuring cup, put about a cup of catsup in, then around a half cup of plain yellow mustard, add a hefty dash of Worcestershire sauce, a splash of soy sauce, a dash or two of Tabasco, some garlic, a pinch of cumin and, to top it all off, an ounce or two of bourbon – or, in a pinch, whiskey. He had this little metal skillet he used to simmer this concoction in, reduce it to a thick sauce over low heat, then he added a little more bourbon and lime juice, salt and fresh cracked pepper and stirred it until well mixed. He’d take six steaks and rub that sauce all over them, wrap ‘em up and stick ‘em back in the ‘fridge ’til cooking time.

When it was time to cook he got his fire going super hot to cook down the charcoal, and once he had a good bed of coals he’d toss a couple of stumpy cubes of mesquite wood on the coals, then toss the steaks on.

After PJs services I cooked forty New York strip steaks just like that, and I’d like to think she would have appreciated the gesture. She rarely ate meat – unless I was doing up ‘steaks a la Dad,’ at which point she became a ravenous carnivore. I had the same old metal skillet, the same recipe, the same brick and mortar Bar-B-Q in the back yard, and the results were – the same. Rosalinda, however, did not make potatoes and salad. Heaven forbid. Two paellas, enchiladas, empanadas, taquitos and enough guacamole to feed four hundred people. I charcoaled some flank steak and chicken and she made fajitas – as snacks for the main event! Judd called all the local patrol officers over for dinner, and they drifted in one by one, giving me a new perspective on how popular she’d become with all his friends in the department.

Of course Becky was there, Bettina too. Becky, still in the Navy, still flying, and Bettina now with, gulp, United, flying 777s from Houston to London twice a week. She told me she was engaged that night, to a flight attendant of all things. A nice guy who was trying to get into med school, flying to make ends meet when they collided. Becky? Devastated, in the end closer to PJ than she had been to her biological mother, but more than that she told me. PJ was her best friend that last year in high school, when we started flying together, another thing I never knew.

That’s another thing about getting on in years. You start to learn where all the bones are buried, where all the skeletons have been hiding, but in truth I think I found they’d always been there, waiting for me to get smart enough to figure it all out.

Judd gave me all PJs diaries; little books she’d kept under lock and key since high school. All of it, the cause of all her anxieties laid out in nauseating detail. Her fights with Dad, the guilt my mother laid on her doorstep, how she looked up to me – yet hated my guts because I was the boy and so got all the good time with Dad. I read through them one night a few weeks later and I was stunned to realize how central to all our lives my father had been, yet how peripheral Mother had been. He dominated everything about our lives while she remained in the background, he was always the main course while she kept to the shadows, making her salads and potatoes, yet PJs sketches of my mother revealed a troubled soul. Kind of mean, a borderline alcoholic by the time she was in high school, the classic portrait of a woman who could have, and should have done so much more. She was a woman who chose to remain at home and raise her kids, probably because her mother had too, and she saw no way out of the deal.

There is a little attic space in the house, and I hadn’t been up there in years, yet I found references to a box PJ had put up there buried in her diary. She’d labeled it ‘Mom’s stuff’ after we cleaned up the house, after Mom’s funeral, yet I’d never seen PJ do it. We’d always kept some stuff up there, things like Christmas tree lights and ornaments, things we didn’t use often, and I didn’t think there was much else up there, so this came as a surprise.

And so I crawled up there one day, flashlight in hand, and I tripped and stumbled my way around the rafters until I found PJs scribbling on a dried out box, and I carried it downstairs to my flight training classroom, opened it up like an explosive ordnance technician might open a suspect suitcase. Pictures and lots of academic transcripts lay on top, some of the things she’d written in high school, and in college under that layer.

I picked up the photographs first, most in black and white, though a few were color prints – and those had faded badly in the attic’s heat. Yet one thing was immediately clear: my mother had been a babe. Runner up in a Miss Pasadena contest, 1938, images of her on bandstands at a county fair, images of a sort of vitality that seems forgotten these days. Report cards, from first grade through high school. All As, not one B, not in any subject, over twelve years. Her transcripts from USC, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude, top of her class, an English major. Her senior dissertation, on Milton’s Paradise Lost. Transcripts from work towards her Master’s degree, said work cut off abruptly two months before I was born. Never resumed.

I carried her dissertation to bed that night and read it, all 117 pages of it. I didn’t understand half of the things she wrote about – she was so far over my head I felt like a dullard – but I learned enough to understand that I’d never known her in the least. She was this dull creature who kept to the shadows, right? Who made salads and cottage fried potatoes while Dad designed airplanes that carried movie stars around the world.

Madeline moved back in a few months later, after her husband passed, and we stayed up nights talking about mother a lot after that. My surprise was a surprise to Maddie, because she’d known mother quite well. She was also, I’d never known, an accomplished pianist, yet father didn’t think that warranted buying a piano, which had devastated her. All kinds of little contests of the will played out between them during our childhood, too, and in the end I ended up with this image of my mother as someone my father had slowly worn down over the years, beaten in a war of attrition, and as father wanted nothing more than a son to follow in his footsteps I got all his attention. The girls got the leftovers, maybe a little more after I left the house to go to USC, yet what struck me was how much the girls wanted time with him. It had to be obvious to him, yet he never relented, never spent much time with them at all, and I had to wonder why.

I found her diary in the bottom of that box, wrapped in brown paper, bound tightly with old shipping twine – like there were secrets inside she couldn’t quite get up the nerve to destroy – but I thought long and hard about cutting the cords, releasing those memories. I fixed myself a glass of iced tea and went to the living room, sat in the light, hoping to find resolution in her wanderings.

It’s a remarkable document, a chronicle of her times as much as it is about her life. Starting at age fourteen, she wrote a new chapter once a year, on her birthday. She recorded the most important things of the past year, both in her immediate life and the momentous happenings in the world around her. And she loved to write, apparently. She wrote beautifully, too, in handwriting so shatteringly clear, in prose so lucid there was no way you couldn’t see the point she driving home.

Growing up in the 30s, destitute lives all around her, the glamour of Hollywood just a few miles down the road. December, 1941 was important to her not because of events in Hawaii, rather because of a movie that came out just days before – Sullivan’s Travels – which at first seemed to sum up her experience of the Depression. Her own divergent dichotomies, if you will. Stranger still and unknown to everyone in the family, or so I thought, she had been one of five actresses to audition for the role Veronica Lake played in that movie.

Say what?

My mother? An actress? This was news to me, so I read through her undergrad transcripts again. I found the classes in drama, more classes in stage and film production. Oblique references to casting calls at Paramount and MGM. All news to me, so I asked Maddie.

“Did you know about all this?

“Of course.”

“I had no idea.”

“You were never close to her.”

“That’s not true.”

“Oh?”

“She was my mother. Of course I was close to her.”

“Is that why all those years you sent Dad birthday cards, but never one to her?”

I didn’t have a pithy comeback ready for that one, did I?

“Father didn’t want her acting,” Maddie told me with an air of finality, and I guess that really was that. She loved my father, and the idea of having a family, more than she was willing to entertain the notion of striking out on her own. And Rosalinda listened to that exchange with a world-weary, all-knowing glaze in her eyes, like yes, she too knew all there was to know about men and Hollywood, and how choices were narrowed and narrowed until there is little left beyond the burned our shell left by compromise and compliance.

There were more surprises in that box, more cause for introspective analysis and a sense of how thoroughly I’d betrayed my mother, but in the end it felt like some sort of choice had been demanded of me, some oath of fealty, that I never understood. Some forced choice very early on. Like I could be my father’s son or a mamas boy, and that was the divergent dichotomy that stumped me. Probably the first choice life threw at me, yet even so one I just couldn’t remember anything about. Maybe the choice was lost in a haze of unconscious denial or, more likely still, lost in some obscure coding sequence in my Y-chromosomes; whatever ‘it’ was, I felt I had grown up almost completely cut off from my mother.

Yet a few days later Maddie had one more insight to share, one more bombshell to toss my way.

“I was thinking about it after the other night, and I remembered something she told me once. She said something like she resented you from the first because she’d wanted a girl, someone who could help her stand up to Dad.”

Rosalinda was working in the kitchen just then but she heard those words and froze. Like some cosmic tumbler had just slipped and fallen into place.

Then she turned to Maddie.

“And you just now thought of this?” she said. “This most important thing? Do you want to torture your brother, too? Like all of you tortured your father?”

And Rosalinda ran out of the kitchen. Maddie sat and wept for a while.

Families are complicated things. Dangerous, too, if not handled carefully. Like marriages, families can swiftly move from beneficial love-love relationships into uncharted love-hate toxicity, and I was left reeling in unseen implications after that revelation. Like: when had my mother’s resentment settled in to roost? When she first picked me up and held me? When I suckled at her breast? And had father seen her reaction and stepped-in, tried to intervene? Only to make things worse, to drive her to new extremities?

I reread her diaries after that and the most obvious things stood out. No mention of me over the years – until I graduated high school.

Then, the last words about me in all her writings: “He’s gone now.”

Was that a sigh of relief, or an admission of failure?

What had I been to her? Why had all my sisters wanted attention from my father, attention he was unwilling to give them? Had my mother’s resentment of me fueled his resentment? Not only towards his wife, but his daughters, too?

Is that why PJ made her way to my doorstep in San Francisco? Why the boundary she saw between us was so amorphous, or is polymorphous a better choice of thought? PJ always seemed in a state of flux, pulled by different tidal flows. Had she been caught up in the ongoing drama between mother and father and been unable to pull free? Or had her biochemical imbalances predisposed her to a kind of schizoid break – like manic she took Dad’s side, then depressive she recoiled to Mother’s point of view. If so, I don’t know how she survived.

The point is, I think, she didn’t. Not well enough to break free of these flows, certainly not well enough to stand on her own as an adult. Not until Judd came along and helped her over the bridge, to walk free of the tides to the other side.

Yet now I had to ask myself one last question.

Had those tides affected all of us? And how? Did the difference between PJ and me reside solely in our coding, or had something else been put in place to get me through?

Mother’s resentment?

Had the walls she placed between the two of us actually served to protect me?

Odd, I thought. Kind of ironic, too, in a ‘what if’ kind of way, because pretty soon I realized there were no answers in these speculations, just all sorts of new, unexpected doubt. Casting memory in these new lights did little to settle the matter, did nothing to ease my mind, because I didn’t want or need to redefine my existence, my relationship with either of my parents, or PJ. They were gone now. Even Brenda and Michael – gone. Why redefine everything?

I remember reading an article about that time, something about astronomy. About galaxies colliding. About how those huge spiral bands interact in such collisions. With all the vast distances between stars still in play, stars within the galactic bands of each galaxy could avoid collision when the two galaxies ‘collide’ – or there could massive, devastating collisions. Stars could be literally ripped apart, their remains set adrift – until, that is, gravity pulls these remnants back together – and new stars were formed. In the endless seas of space, such collisions are more common than you might expect, too.

And maybe families are like that, too.

Random collisions tear us apart, and in the aftermath we reform in other, more comfortable gravities.

+++++

We had a big coming together when Bettina got married, not quite a collision but we had our moments. She’d met this big, garrulous Texan during the ‘meet & greet’ – when your pilot stands by the door as you deplane – and they’d sparked a wildfire and took off from there. Scott Kelly was working for an oil company, spent all his time flying to Africa and Saudi Arabia, but he wanted to settle down some, maybe have a kid or two – his words, not mine – and Bettina was good with that. Sort of. Really, I didn’t think she wanted to get off the merry-go-round just yet, give up her seniority and so miss making the captain’s list, but where women and biology are concerned I plead ignorance.

I thought maybe we could block off Beverly and have a street party at Tommy’s but Rosalinda wasn’t having any of it, so we settled on a church wedding and a street party centered at my house. Most all the neighbors were up for it, and there was kind of an otherworldly, old world vibe about the whole thing. Everyone, and I mean everyone walked down to the church together, and we walked back up and the festivities began in earnest. Rosalinda had set it up where each house had a little party going and people wandered from house to house, party to party, and tequila and champagne flowing in surreal abundance. As the sun went down the party moved to the street, and the band played while people danced out there under billions of light strung up across the street. Bettina and Scott cut the cake out there and a roar went up when they danced, and not long thereafter they cut another rug and took off to the airport to catch a plane headed for some island in the South Pacific. I thought the whole thing looked a little like colliding galaxies, but maybe that was just me.

Things got real quiet around the house after that. Like Rosalinda had seen the page turn once again, and a new, not quite unexpected chapter was about to unfold. I think most wives know this chapter is coming, and this is the one they really don’t want to read.

This is the chapter where their husbands get sick, then die.

This part of the story begins with the husband feeling a little too tired, then he experiences a fullness in his lower left gut. He’s no longer interested in eating, too, and she gets really scared then.

She makes an appointment, because he is, of course, too stubborn to admit anything’s wrong. The appointment is with ‘someone she knows’ – and not his daughter, who is otherwise more than competent to tell him he is experiencing indigestion. She takes him to the appointment because she is sure he will otherwise slip off to a movie and come home four hours later, telling her nothing’s the matter.

Said doctor, a man with tiny hands and sharp, ferret-like eyes, palpates the man’s belly and orders blood work and an MRI. Two hours later they rejoin the doctor in his office, a quiet, windowless room with cozy warm lamps all aglow, and the ferret faced man says something that goes a little like this:

“Welcome to the final chapter of your life. You have pancreatic cancer and you’re going to die real soon. There’s not a goddamn thing we can do about it, so why don’t you go home and figure out how you want to do this.”

I mean, really, I could tell you how he spent the next half hour telling me this, but what’s the point? I’d have appreciated the short and quick over all that florid nonsense any day, but the thing is – Rosalinda was in the room too, and she wasn’t taking this news too well.

She was the one who asked if there was nothing that could be done. No chemo, no immunotherapy?

“Not when it’s this advanced.”

“Advanced?”

“It’s metastasized. Liver, lungs, throughout the gut.”

Then there was the dreaded: “How long has my husband got?”

“Best guess, six weeks, two months, tops. Maybe less.”

I checked out after that, just sort of shut down and drifted away. If there’d been a window in the room I’d have gone over and stared at all those colliding galaxies, but really, at a moment like that what’s the point?

We walked over to Terry’s office after that, without an appointment I guess you’d say, and we told her the news. Well, Rosalinda told her. I just sort of stood there in a foul, mute humor while the words flowed between them, thinking about how I wanted to ‘do this.’

What the fuck did that jack-ass mean? How did I want to do this? I didn’t want anything to do with this. Leave me alone. Go Away!!!

Go out in a blaze of glory, perhaps? Is that what he meant? Or in a haze of morphine? Alone, in hospice, or at home, surrounded by family and friends? Or maybe flee, run into the arms of desperate measures, waiting con-men and other assorted jackals ready to offer comforting do-nothing measures, for a price? My guess was the poor guy had seen it all, had grown bored with charlatans and quacks. He had science to sell, not peace everlasting, and as I presented a no-win scenario he had little to pass along than science’s absolute benediction: “nothing we can do.” Let the chorus sing it to the angels: “there’s nothing we can do.”

Rosalinda called the girls that night, and we took Terry and Maddie out to dinner after. I, of course, asked for soup and took two spoonfuls, and that put a damper on things so I tried to eat more.

And that becomes the metaphor you live with those last few weeks and months of your life. You try to do things so the people you love won’t be too upset by the prolonged ordeal of your passing. You try to slip away, slip out of sight when the ugly things happen.

Rosalinda, on the other hand, cooked.

People, both friends and family, were a constant flood, and Rosalinda fed them all. My death was not going to be a lonely affair, not if she had anything to say about the matter, and things proceeded along nicely, that is to say I went from bad to worse much sooner than anticipated. In fact, I barely made it three weeks.

Maddie was there, of course, to ground me in the past, and Bettina too, holding me fast to a once and certain future, my last dichotomy. Terry stood back, terrified, and Rosalinda held her close, and the last thing I recall was standing out on an airport runway, watching Bettina come in for that first landing of hers. How I watched her turn onto final and settle in the groove, and how she turned on that landing light. How proud I was of her. I watched that light as it grew closer and closer, until there was nothing left but the light…

And then I was in this dark place, maybe in a rowboat on a lake in the middle of the night. Stars overhead, vast fields of stars. I saw an island ahead and started to row that way, then I saw my mother and father there, and my sisters, too, all of them waving at me, then stars colliding up there in the night, playing such strange music, their shattered light washing over me as I smiled at Rosalinda’s eyes.

© 2017 Adrian Leverkühn | abw | fiction, nothing but fiction…just some smoke and mirrors here folks…so move along, move along.

rosalinda galaxy 2

images NASA/Hubble

Rosalinda’s Eyes (Chapter 2)

rosalinda's eyes 2 im

Rosalinda’s Eyes

Chapter Two

I needed to draw a picture in my mind – of my parent’s house and what I planned to do with her. Yes, her. She was, when all was said and done, a feminine house, full of a woman’s personality – my mother’s. Clean and austere, a Craftsman style bungalow that veered to an almost Japanese austerity. She had been overbuilt, even by 20s standards, and that’s the 1920s for those too old to remember such things, and she was originally planned and constructed with three small bedrooms and a single, smallish bath. She had a large – for the neighborhood, anyway – backyard – and almost none out front. Due to my parent’s reproductive tendencies – and here, rabbits should hop forthrightly to mind – father built – and I mean ‘he’ built, not some contractor – an addition off the back of the original structure. Their bedroom, as well as a nursery – that would, in time, become PJs bedroom – filled this addition – and left a resolutely useless backyard in it’s unplanned aftermath.

The house is vaguely L-shaped, kind of a fat rectangle near the street – the original structure – and a long extension protruding into the backyard – his addition. There are two concrete slivers of driveway that lead to the one car garage sitting on the back property line, and a rusting four foot tall chain link fencing surrounds three sides of the property. Which is, by and large, flat. Until you get about two feet from the back lot line – where things change. The heavily wooded lot was carved out of a hillside, and the rear takes off into a near vertical climb, the face of this ‘hill’ a raw wound of exposed white shale streaked with intermittent ground cover.

I say intermittent because everything living in Los Angeles exists at the leisure of, some would say the mercy of mother nature. Drought is the norm in the basin, yet when the arid plain on which the city was built isn’t parched it’s virtually a flood plain. The scorched earth could handle the rain that typically falls here – but for the mountains that line the north rim of the original city, and when the rains come the waters run down to that flat plain and cause all kinds of fun. Taken as a whole, there’s no real good reason for Los Angeles to be where it is, other than it provided a nice place to put the Hollywood sign.

So, the shaded back yard went from small to smaller, and in it’s uselessness it became an orphan, a neglected step-child that sat alone, unused. My plan was to turn it into an oasis of multi-level decks – and almost completely covered in viney trellis. When I sat back there dreaming of all the what-ifs and might-bes, maybe drinking my second beer of the evening, I envisioned a hot tub filled with nubile nymphs frolicking in the twilight, waiting for me with open arms. The next morning I would see PJ in the tepid water, begging for a foot rub, and all thoughts of a hot tub vanished in an instant.

The bones of the house were sound, but her guts were rotten. The wiring was ancient, the plumbing prehistoric, and the appliance were already dated by the time Eisenhower took office. The kitchen countertops were a brilliant white formica streaked with pale yellows and blues, accented with truly lovely gold sparkles. Fashionable in 1938, I think.

So, need I say more?

There was one original bath in the original plan, designed by troglodytes for troglodytes, and the new one father added. Father being an aircraft designer, the new bath resembled the toilet compartment in a brand new DC-6, circa 1954. The bathroom vanity and shower stall were constructed out of laboriously shaped and formed stainless steel, the work no doubt knocked off after hours at the old plant in Santa Monica. There was something almost charming about this little cabinet sized bathroom, too. You could sit on the pot in there and close your eyes, almost hear old Pratt & Whitney radials humming away at fourteen thousand feet – which was, I think, the point of the exercise. I had mixed feelings about ripping that room apart, I really did, but in the end I gutted that room too. I did not have the heart to throw that stainless work away, however, and it sits atop rafters out in the garage even now.

When the girls – Becky, Bettina and PJ – and I ripped up the fifty year old carpet, still clean and serviceable, mind you, we found floors of varnished Douglas fir, and in pristine condition. We found mould, too, and this we quickly dispatched with solutions of bleach and then lemon oil. I pulled carpet tack-strips and filled holes with putty, then wet-sanded the whole house in one long day, let her air out the next, then we set on her like locusts and applied a fresh coat of varnish on the third day. And we slept in the back yards under tarps that week, in old Coleman sleeping bags we found rolled up in the garage, while Doris Parker provided refreshments and chow. With an old Coleman lantern sputtering away in the dark, we told ghost stories while we tried to ignore sirens in the distance.

I turned my old bedroom into a new classroom, put posters on the walls of all the things you’d normally find in a flight school classroom. A couple of old tables and four chairs, two newish iMacs and a flat panel to watch instructional videos rounded out the space.

The old kitchen? Gone, in a heartbeat. Ripped apart with pry-bars and a sledge, then hauled away. A cabinet company installed the replacement in a morning, granite countertops went in the next afternoon, new appliances the day after and we were back in business. Judd and Tommy Parker helped me repaint the exterior of the house, and replace a few shaded patches of wood that had succumbed to rot, while the girls painted the inside of the house, and a livable structure emerged within a few weeks, with work on the bathrooms next up.

And during all this time, every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, class was in session. Real, formal class. The kids wanted to talk airplanes all the time, and we did, but that wasn’t classroom time. My classroom was a Navy classroom. All business, no jokes, no war stories, and it took a few days but I turned those two kids into studying machines. Not coincidentally, their grades in school began to improve as they applied these new study skills to all their other assignments. Yeah, I’m bragging. I taught this stuff in the Navy for two years, so let’s just say I know how to teach.

We would do three weeks of classroom before our first flight together, and I wanted to stretch that time out a little to take a measure of the girls’ resolve, their interest and dedication, and I wanted the week we finished up the house to be capped off by their first flight with me – not to mention Rosalinda’s first of twelve Sunday afternoon fiestas. All in all, I was looking forward to Rosalinda’s after-church blow out almost as much as I was taking the girls up.

I’ve also avoided talking about the Second Coming of PJ and Judd. Deliberately, I might add.

It had been decades since I’d been around teenaged groping and non-stop necking – and, frankly, it was odd to see two old farts sneaking away in the middle of the day to fuck their brains out for a while, then hastily reappear with paint brushes in hand, trying not to look too smug, or too guilty. Personally, I think it was hardest on old Tom and Doris, because Judd invariably snuck into his old bedroom to hammer PJ, and despite their age they did their level best to ignore all this newfound nonsense – but I did see Tom’s smile when I obliquely referenced these goings on.

And one other funny thing happened during this time.

When the kitchen was disestablished as the center of our little universe, Rosalinda came down and invited PJ and I to dinner, at her house. We looked at one another, then at Rosalinda, and shrugged “Sure, why not…” Roughly translated, that comes out as: “Si, como no?”

As in: “I’m making empanadas tonight. Would you like to join us?”

“Si, como no?”

Or: “PJ? I’m going down to the Farmer’s Market. Want to come along?”

“Si, como no?”

Remember that old 74 Porsche 911 I bought when PJ fell in love with it? I never sold it, and now here it sat, covered under multiple layers of car covers. As I had supplemented this with various old beaters over the years, she still had less than fifty thousand on her odometer and I still used her sparingly. For everyday use I had a thirty year old Datsun pickup in the driveway, complete with lumber rack, for hardware store duties and Tommy’s runs, but when I wanted to go out and have some fun, the covers came off and I fired up the old six and popped the top.

And one night, after Rosalinda’s latest “Si, como no?” I asked her to go out on a little drive with me. I helped her into the old beast and off we went, into the valley.

“Ever been flying?” I asked, and she shook her head. “Never? Not in an airliner?”

“No, not ever.”

“Nice night out, isn’t it?”

She was looking up at the milky murk that passes for a night sky in Los Angeles and she seemed lost in memory, some place far away, and I let her come to terms with the moment, come back to me on her own. I made my way to the northwest corner of Van Nuys airport and parked, then walked with her over to the Cessna, showed her the key things about an airplane while I checked on a few odds and ends. Then I opened the passenger door.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Taking you up,” he said.

“Is this yours?”

“Yup.”

She looked at me and shook her head a little, then stepped up on the strut and into the cabin. I belted her in and closed her door, walked around to my side and climbed in. I talked her through the checklist, explaining everything I was doing, then yelled “Clear!” out the open window and started the engine.

She grabbed the armrest on the door – and my arm – when the entire structure started shaking and vibrating. “Why is it moving so much?” she shouted over the engine noise, and I shook my head, handed her a headset.

“No need to shout now. Sorry,” I said.

“So, why is this thing moving so much?”

“Prop-wash,” I explained. “The propellor is pushing air back over the airframe and the wings.”

She watched as I made little adjustments to knobs and levers, listened as I talked on the radio, then she heard: “Cessna 6-8 Romeo, altimeter two niner niner three, winds light and variable, ceiling and visibility unlimited, clear to taxi runway one six right” – and then we were moving. I was talking about things like ‘departure controls’ and ‘terminal control zones’ and I knew none of it made sense to her, but she seemed to relax, figured I knew what I was doing. She just nodded her head and looked out the window when we started our charge down the runway.

I talked on the radio almost all the time after that, but told her we were flying out towards Thousand Oaks, and there they would turn and fly over the mountains to Santa Monica, and from there to downtown. She would see things from up here she’d never imagined before, I told her, and she told me she felt like a bird more than once, especially when he made steep banking turns, and then she saw a black thing in the air ahead, and that we were going straight for it…

And in an instant they were inside the thing. The air grew cool and the ride very rough…

“What is this?” she cried.

“A cloud,” I told her.

“We are inside a cloud?”

“We are. Yes.” And when I looked at her she was smiling, her eyes full of wonder.

And a moment later, when we popped out of the cloud, she could see city lights ahead again.

“Are we over the mountains now?”

“Yes, that’s Santa Monica just ahead and to the left a little. We’ll turn and fly right over the airport.”

She could see the big marina ahead, and bigger airplanes coming and going from LAX, and then the freeway down below, the 10, pointing the way downtown, and I think it was the scale of the city that seemed most shocking to her from up here. Down on the streets the city feels endless, but almost always the same – flat and never-ending sameness; from up here she saw a land choked by crowded houses and buildings and endless streams of cars. People everywhere she looked, miles and miles of people, in every direction. Different, yet the same.

Another steep turn, then I pointed ahead. “Dodger Stadium,” then: “there’s our street, and the park,” and she peered through the window, looked down, saw her car in front of her house and this new perspective made more sense, if only for a passing moment, then all was as before. Endless disorientation, never ending humanity.

Yet I think then she understood I knew my way around this weird new place, this world above, and now she could understand why the girls wanted to learn about this world. He explained they had been up in the air for less than an hour, but to drive this route in a car would have taken all day.

‘And on foot?’ she asked. ‘How many days?’

I had to admit I didn’t know, but that I wouldn’t want to make the attempt.

And few minutes later she saw the ground coming up, then a bump and a chirp, braking – and we were on the earth again – and turning a little like a car, then ‘driving down a street’ to a parking lot. Familiar things, motions and concepts she understood. Then men outside guiding us to a ‘parking place,’ putting blocks of wood under our wheels, tying the wings down to the earth. A fuel truck pulled up, filled tanks in the wings while we walked back to the car, then we were sitting in the familiar again, driving down the freeway through canyons of people, surrounded by people – all of it now comforting.

“You hungry?” I asked.

“A little.”

“Tommy’s?”

“Si, como no.”

A few minutes later, sitting in the car with burgers and cokes I felt my own wave of the familiar.

“Why did you take me up there?” she asked.

“I think you needed to see the world from the perspective your daughter wants to see it from. See what it is she’s about to learn.”

“Okay.” She seemed to pause for a moment, order the words she wanted to use just so. “I’m a little afraid. Of all this.”

“Our kids grow up. They move on.”

“Perhaps, but it wasn’t always so. Bettina would stay with me, not so long ago. Even after she married. She would stay and have her babies with me, I would take care of her, then one day she would take care of me.”

“Is that the life you want for her?”

She shook her head. “No, I am jealous. I would love nothing more than to face life right now, at her age again, with so many choices. I never had such choices.”

“And she has these opportunities now because of what?”

“I know.”

“The only immortality we have is through our children.”

“What of your children?”

I turned away from that question, from her, from the memory of my boy’s death.

“And?” she asked, again.

“My son was a pilot. My daughter is a physician.”

“Was?”

“Afghanistan.”

“Oh, no,” she whispered.

“How’s your burger?”

“Terrible, but I love them, even so.”

“Nothing nastier, that’s for sure. I couldn’t face life without Tommy’s”

And thenshe took my hand in hers, held it for a moment. “Thank you,” she said, “for sharing all this with me.”

She hadn’t let go of my hand just yet, and I turned, looked at her. She was leaning back again, looking up at the sky, lost in thought. “It will never be the same,” she sighed.

“Old ways are bound to change when we tear down the walls of our experience.”

“A part of me wants to not allow Bettina to fly.”

“Understandable.”

“Yet if she must, she must with you. You will take care of her.”

“As if she were my own daughter, yes.”

And Rosalinda’s eyes? They smiled at me, and my world lurched off the rails.

+++++

Bettina folded her legs into the Porsche’s back seats, and the three of us drove to Van Nuys very early that next Saturday morning. We spent hours walking around the Cessna, opening engine cowlings and standing on ladders, peering down into fuel tanks and opening fuel petcocks, looking for water in the gas. Working controls, seeing how they worked, and why they worked the way they did. We talked engines and batteries, how they worked, why they failed. How barometric pressure effected everything from altimeters to engine performance in a climb. How ice formed on a cooling engine in a slow descent, and what that meant when it happened. Endless little things we’d covered in class were poked-at and examined out here in the real world: felt, touched, minds wrapped around, questions asked, and yet it was my job to lead them to answers they already knew.

I was teaching them to think again, for themselves, to ask a question then look for answers. Independent thinking, I think it’s called. When they ran into a wall, I showed them the door through the wall, or a way around it, but I always led them towards tools they needed to work out the answer. Give an answer, I told them, and it’s forgotten within minutes. Learn an answer and it stays with you for a lifetime.

Then I pulled out a coin and tossed it. “Call it,” I told Bettina.

“Heads!”

He revealed ‘heads’ and asked her: “Shotgun first, or coming back?”

“Coming back.”

“Back seat, then,” I said, helping her in, then showing her how the seat belt worked, then I helped Becky into the left seat, got headsets distributed and volumes checked. Becky had been up a few times before and was a little more sure of herself, but this was Bettina’s first ever flight, and her jitters were on full display. I held up the pre-start checklist and watched Becky run through the items, then call out “Clear!” before she started the motor. We talked about magnetos and how gyroscopes needed time to spin up, why there was two brakes, a left and a right, then I demonstrated how to make a really sharp left turn, then another, an even tighter turn to the right.

“Now, you try.”

And she worked the pedals and toes, with my hands and feet hovering above my set of controls all along, just in case, but she took to it naturally.

I checked in with the tower, got our runway assignment then turned to her: “My airplane,” I said.

“Your airplane.”

“You follow through on the controls, feel what I’m doing.”

“Got it.”

We taxied out to the holding area and I ran through the engine run-up procedure, then got our final clearance and moved out to the runway and applied power, started down the runway, she mirroring my movements all the way. I contacted departure control, got clearance to make the turn for Thousand Oaks.

“Okay, your airplane,” I said, “climb at 300 feet per minute for 2000, maintain heading of 2-7-0.”

“My airplane.”

“Cessna 6-8 Romeo, traffic at your eleven o’clock, 3500, Southwest 737.”

“You got him?”

She scanned, then, “Yeah, there he is.”

“Call it in.”

“Me?”

“You.”

“What do I say?”

“How about 6-8 Romeo, got him.”

She punched the transmit button and said: “6-8 Romeo, got him.”

“Now, look at your instruments. Your drifting right and in a descent.”

“Damn!”

“No, you looked outside and stopped scanning. Can’t do that, kiddo. You’ve already lost enough heading and altitude to bust your check-ride…got it?”

“Yes…” she said, looking dejected.

“And stop the pity party. Get your head back in the game, and I mean right now. Re-establish your heading and the climb. What are they, by the way?”

“300 feet per and 2-7-0.”

“Okay, try 300, not 4, and 270, not 265. See what happens to your airspeed when your climb at 400 feet per?”

“6-8 Romeo, traffic one o’clock, 5000 and descending, King Air en route SMO.”

“Got him?” I asked as she looked high and a little right.

“Yup.”

“Call it in.”

“6-8, got him.”

“Better.”

“6-8 Romeo, clear to three thousand five hundred.”

“6-8 Romeo,” she replied.

“Okay. Gimme two hundred more RPM, increase climb to 500 feet per.”

“Got it.”

He fiddled with the mixture, leaned it out a little as they gained altitude and watched the cylinder head temps until he was satisfied.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“We’ll cover that next week,” he said. “Keep scanning your gauges, then the sky. Six-pack, sky, then again and again.”

“6-8 Romeo, maintain 3500 and cleared direct SBA, contact tower 119.7 and good day.”

“6-8 Romeo,” she replied. “Okay, now what?”

“Let’s try one the old fashioned way. Tune 113.8 on NAV 1…okay, your drifting again. Scan!” I said, then I tuned in the VOR, set the display to overlay an old style VOR needle on the main screen, then swung the needle until it centered. “Okay, come to 2-8-9 degrees, and we’re at 3500 now so cut power a little, and re-trim for level flight.”

“Me?”

“You.” She cut power a little, then reached down and turned the trim wheel until she didn’t have to fight the yoke anymore.

“Keep scanning.”

“So many things…”

“If it was easy a monkey could do it.”

They landed at Santa Barbara twenty five minutes later, and Becky almost fell out of the cabin. “My knees are shaking,” she said. “I can hardly walk!” Even Bettina was nervous now, and it showed.

So, I shadowed them as they chocked the wheels and tied-down the wings, then led them into the little terminal for private pilots, a so-called FBO, or Fixed Base Operator, and called a taxi. I sat and listened while Becky exploded in a torrent of excited recall – and anticipation – already critiquing her performance, looking for things she could do better next time. All you can do is sit and listen and watch, pick up on things, and I did until the taxi pulled up, then I took them down to the harbor and they talked all the while. We ate fish and chips and drank cokes and talked for two more hours, then rode back out to the airport and I told them to pre-flight the aircraft, then followed them, looking over every move they made. Becky sat in back this time, and I watched Bettina closely as she climbed in and buckled up. She moved with calm assurance, there was a snap in her voice and in the way she moved about once she was belted in, something I recognized in an instant.

Bettina was a born pilot, and I knew that after about thirty seconds watching her. It’s something you can spot real fast, once you know what to look for.

On our climb-out she scanned better, she could multi-task better, manage distractions better. So much better I knew this was going to become a real problem, real fast. She’d be twice the pilot Becky could be, in half the time, and with competitiveness a given their friendship might soon grow strained, or worse. When we were driving home on the freeway, with Bettina in front this time, I looked at Becky in the rear view mirror, saw the indecision in her eyes, knew it was time for ‘the talk.’

We drove to Tommy’s and got a sack of burgers and some Cokes then drove over to the park, and the three of us walked over to a picnic bench. “How’d you think the day went?” I asked.

“I can’t do too many things at once,” Becky said. “It’s like I get overwhelmed.”

“What are you thinking when that happens?”

“It’s like I’m thinking about how I’m supposed to be thinking, not doing it, and it’s a…”

“It’s a feedback loop,” I said. “First you distract yourself, and then you start questioning everything you’re doing. Pretty soon you’re not in the cockpit…you’re flying inside your head, like an a daydream. And you keep that up, pretty soon you’re dead, too.”

I paused, let the words sink in.

“So…what do I do? Quit?”

I shook my head. “Nope. We work on a few tricks I know, to help keep you focused.”

“Like?”

“Actually, driving in a parking lot.”

“What?”

“You’ll see. Tomorrow, after Bettina’s mother tries to kill me with her salsa.”

We drove home a little later, and I tried not to watch Becky watching Bettina, but it was hard not to. Recognition hits first, and hard, then envy settles in, and I knew I’d have to stop this, and fast. I pulled into the driveway and then into the garage, and the girls went in and started getting the house ready for tomorrow, and I went next door, to the Parker house – because I knew Judd was waiting for me.

“How’d it go?” he asked straight away.

“Becky ever have any issues with ADD or ADHD?”

“No,” he said, a little surprised by the question.

“Good, so it’s just nerves. I need to spend an hour with her in the car tomorrow. Some multitasking exercises. Becky and Bettina…they’re competitive and jealous, aren’t they?”

“Since kindergarten. Best friends, and always competing off one another, pushing one another.”

I sighed, knew I had to figure out a way to turn this into a lever, to help get Becky up to the next level. “Okay. About eight in the morning, my house.”

He nodded. “Yeah. Can do. What’s up with PJ?”

“I hope you aren’t asking me, Judd, ‘cause I’d be the last one to know. What’s bothering you?”

“Moody. Up one minute, down the next. She ever been to a shrink?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Mind if I take her to someone I know?”

“You’re asking me?”

“Well, seems she won’t do anything you don’t approve of.”

“Who’s your friend?”

“Not a friend. A department shrink who helps out with other problems that come up.”

“He any good?”

“She. And yes, very.”

“You have my blessing. Need me to talk it over with her?”

“Could you?”

“What are you thinking? Bi-polar?”

He shrugged. “No clue, man. Not my pay grade.”

“Okay.”

“So, Becky? You think she has what it takes?”

“I think so. This stuff comes easier to some than to others…”

“And Bettina? She’s got it nailed?”

“You’ve seen this before, I take it?”

He nodded his head again. “Still, you think she can do it?”

“If she doesn’t give up, yeah.”

“She’s not a quitter. Never has been.”

“You gonna quit on PJ?”

“Nope. Not doin’ that again. By the way, you been by your place yet?”

“No…why?”

“Madeline’s back.”

I think I raised my eyebrows at that. “Really?”

“She had suitcases. Note I used the plural.”

“Really?”

“You better go. I heard a meltdown in progress an hour ago.”

Madeline and I went way back. She was my oldest sister, born a year or so after me. If PJ was a hellion, Maddie had been the family angel. She was soft-spoken, demure, brainy as hell and not the cutest girl that ever walked down the aisle, but she’d been the first person I’d called after Brenda passed. She’d married an economist who currently taught at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and she had worked as an administrative assistant of some sort for the past twenty years, wherever her husband had happened to land a teaching gig. When I walked across our lawns I saw an Arizona plate on the back of an old Ford Focus and sighed, then walked into a Mexican restaurant.

My new kitchen had been turned into something straight out of Like Water For Chocolate. Cutting boards loaded with chopped herbs and spices, peeled avocados and chopped tomatoes, pots on the stove bubbling away, meats on the counter marinading in pyrex bowls full of complex organic compounds – and there, presiding over all this sorcery: Rosalinda.

“Sure you’ve got enough food there?” I asked, incredulous.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I have relatives in town for just a few days, so I’ve asked them over.”

“Oh, no, more the merrier,” I think I managed to say, black steam pouring out of my ears. I heard wailing from one of the girls’ rooms and took off down the hall. Bettina and Becky were vacuuming and dusting my room, casting wary glances towards PJs old digs – so I ducked that way, expecting the worst.

And there she was, Madeline, curled up on PJs bed, bawling like a three year old. With her head in PJs lap, and they looked up when I walked in – and Maddie flew off the bed and into my arms – and then the crying went off the scale, sounding like police cars in the distance, coming closer every second.

“Divorce?” I mimed to PJ, who simply, and curtly nodded her head.

Maddie’s was always the hard luck story, and I don’t know how she did it. She wanted kids, so of course he couldn’t, was as sterile as a cuckoo. He couldn’t hold down a job, something, I think, about him not being a very good teacher. She’d drifted from menial job to menial job, paycheck to paycheck, and even Dad wondered how long it would last. Implosion had been considered inevitable for years, and now it looked like things had come to pass – and the residue was all over the house now.

“Tell me what happened,” I sighed, because really, what else are big brothers for?

Something about despair and suicide and how she was dragging him down, how she had to leave now or he’d simply end it all. So, she’d packed her bags and run home to LA, for the old house, hoping someone would be here.

Boy, had she hit the mother lode.

“Come on,” I said, “I know just what you need.”

We tromped through the house and out the door, piled into the old Datsun and made the run over to Tommy’s. Let’s not mention my farts were starting to smell like chili-cheese-fries, this was an action rooted in dire human need. When a human being, even a Los Angeleno, is in such need, food is an obvious route to succor and solace, but for someone who grew up near downtown Los Angeles, there are few places that scream comfort food more loudly than Tommy’s. If you live in a certain zip code it’s Nate ‘n Al’s further out Beverly, but for the rest of us it’s Tommy’s. Trouble was, my last two meals had been at Tommy’s, and my gut was already rumbling; one more Tommyburger with chili and cheese and I was sure I’d blow like Vesuvius.

But such is the measure of a brother’s love, right?

Need I say more?

We sat in the truck’s bed and munched away, talked about all the times Mom and Dad had hauled our asses down here, wondering how many burgers we’d put down on just this spot over the decades. There were a few more Korean signs down here than in 1960, but other than that not much else had changed. They probably hadn’t changed the grease they fried their potatoes in since 1965 – ‘cause the food tasted exactly the same that night as it had fifty years ago.

So, Maddie talked and we listened. It was time, she said, for another new start, another reinvention of the self, and that’s when what she said kind of penetrated.

We’d grown up accustomed to the idea that our lives would be a little like Tommy’s. It would be the same, from one generation to the next, that our lives would be just like Mom and Dad’s. Just like Tommy’s. We’d grown up, probably one of the first generations in human history accustomed to something like this idea we had of the American Dream, but it hit me just then how rare this moment in time was. America had won the war, true enough, but we’d won the peace, too, if only for a couple of generations, and now we expected that History was just going to roll over and play dead, that change was all dead and gone. What did that guy write? The end of history?

Wow. What a moron.

This is what change feels like, I said to myself. For everyone else around the world, that train had left the station a long time ago. Change was happening again at a blinding pace everywhere else, but we’d been slow to get back on that train, happy to stay off for as long as we could. And now, here it was, Change, and we had been stupid enough, or careless enough, to think that change was about recognizable things. Predictable things, even.

Tommy’s was all about that moment, all about hanging on to the past. In my mind’s eye, I could still see crew-cut boys driving by in BelAirs, see their girlfriends’ bobby soxed feet hanging out the window, still hear the Big Bopper and Wolfman Jack on the radio, so the bangers driving by with Mac10s and trunks full of ‘product’ just didn’t register on my radar. What did register was a brown dude and black one getting into an argument in the middle of the street, words heating up quickly, then the brown dude’s friends pulled them apart and everyone drifted away. Until the brown dude got to his car.

A white guy standing there asked the brown dude what was happening, and the brown dude reached into his car and pulled out a Mac10, and then started hosing down the parking lot with 9mm bullets, hitting the white guy in the neck, and my sister Madeline in the left shoulder.

I told you her luck was never the greatest.

By the time paramedics got her to County SC she’d lost a lot of blood, and after surgery she was listed in ‘Critical’ condition. By that time, of course, Rosalinda’s first backyard party was a wash, my Sunday taking Becky driving was as well. Life happens, I guess.

We brought her home a week later, thankful she hadn’t officially quit her job – yet – and still had insurance, and as soon as her husband heard about the event he drove over. They had a tearful reunion, and it looked like there was still some hope there so I tried to help them both along as best I could.

Something else kind of remarkable happened. Well, two something elses.

The first, Judd was as good as his word. He took PJ to see the police departments shrink, and after just one meeting PJ was on a regimen of antidepressants and bi-polar medication, as well as huge doses of Vitamin C for a week and some sort of ‘hormone thing.’ Judd passed-on word that we probably wouldn’t see any changes, dramatic or otherwise, for at least a few weeks, but no, by the time Maddie came home from the hospital I could see little differences emerging.

The second was a little more consequential, for me, at least.

Rosalinda camped out in my kitchen that week. She came over early and got breakfast going before we trooped off to the hospital, and when she got in from work she came down and got dinner going. I, for my part, resumed ground school, with only one class missed. Stan Wood had about a dozen students lined up and waiting for me, but he understood, put that off for a couple of weeks.

I opened by mentioning divergent dichotomies, and I need to pause here, talk about the second divergence that came to my life that week.

In the aftermath of 911 my hate for all things Arab knew no bounds, yet for many Americans I think hatred became more pervasive, and more exclusive. Us and Them, I think, as in whites vs the world. At least that’s the way it felt to me within a few months. I percolated in that mess while my folks fell away, and then while Brenda came undone. My son’s death, on the other hand, led me to the precipice, and I could feel a palpable anger directed towards everyone after that. Seriously, I was an equal opportunity Hater, no matter the race or gender. I was burning up with Hate.

And one day I looked in the mirror and saw that Hate in my eyes, and the feeling of revulsion was overwhelming. And now, suddenly, I Hated myself, too, and I remembered looking in the mirror and wanting to claw the eyes out of that mother fucker’s skull. I was full of seething hate, and it was beginning to boil over.

That’s when the whole move back to California thing grabbed me by the throat. The California I remembered, that I knew I was longing for, had always been the antithesis of Hate, and I knew I had to reconnect with that vibe – soon. This was an act of self-preservation…nothing less than a last desperate attempt to turn away from Hate.

The first time I saw Rosalinda’s eyes all I saw was her anger, her own brand of Hate, and I slammed the door shut to keep that Hate away from me. Like an alcoholic pushes away from the bar and walks out into the night before he falls. I didn’t take time to understand her fear; I just slammed the door shut and turned away, and in a way, she gave me my second chance. She came to me, to apologize, to help set things straight.

When Rosalinda came to help after Maddie went down, when I looked into her eyes that night, love came to me – like an epiphany. Not lust or attraction. Love, the antithesis of Hate. Reaching out, caring; that kind of love. She took care of me, and us. She wrapped her soul around me, all of us, and carried us past our anger, through our despair, and by weeks end I was so profoundly in love with this other person I hardly knew it left me breathless. She left me breathless. And feeling alive, like I hadn’t in years.

And it was as Spring around the old house. Love was everywhere Rosalinda happened to be, and when she fed us, her love found it’s way into our bodies. Yeah, sure, PJ was dosed up to the gills on psych meds, but the change was in her eyes too. When Judd came over the night Maddie got back, her’s wasn’t a juvenile love anymore. It was this new, serious thing; now all manifest purpose, not simple adolescent lust. The way she held his hands, the way she listened when he spoke…we all knew something was up, some kind of big change had finally hit her where she lived. Maybe she was finally growing up, but if so I think it had something to do with whatever it was in Rosalinda’s eyes.

Rosalinda and the girls had turned Maddie’s old room into a fairyland by the time I carried her into the house. Canopies and candles, something out of the Arabian Nights, and Maddie cried when she saw the results, but the point of all this was simpler still.

When I watched that banger shooting up the parking lot across the street from Tommy’s, I watched someone shoot my history, my comfort, right in the heart, and I felt my world filling with Hate again. And I found my way away from that darkness in Rosalinda’s eyes.

Need I say more?

+++++

PJ and Judd didn’t announce any kind of engagement. They just got in the car, drove to Vegas and did the deed, came back and told our little world what they’d done. End of discussion. By that time PJ was like a cactus flower blooming for the first time. Everyone was in love with her happiness, even Becky.

Maddie went back to Tucson, in love with life for the first time in years.

Flight school started in earnest, the girls sweating academics for the first time in their lives, living for Saturday morning and all the joy that entailed.

A few days after Maddie came home I loaded Becky up in the Porsche and she drove us over to the parking lot at Dodger Stadium, Judd waiting for us by an unlocked gate, and we drove in, set up some orange cones.

“Okay, here’s the deal,” I began, once she was behind the wheel again. “See this old radio? You tune-in new stations by turning this dial. You try it.”

She turned the knob slowly, moving from station to station.

“Okay,” she said. “Got it.”

“These buttons underneath are used to pre-set a station. You punch it and hold it a few seconds, then release it. Understand?”

“Yup.”

“So, see these cones? Set in a circle? Go in and drive around the inside of the circle without hitting a cone.”

“Right now?”

“Now.”

She entered the circle and started driving round and round, and she found it wasn’t as easy as she thought it would be, but she managed.

“Now, without taking your eyes off the circle, I want you to tune in your five favorite radio stations.”

“What?!”

“Don’t take your eyes off the cones, Becky. And don’t hit one.”

Within seconds she blew the cones and we stopped, and I let her reset the cones with her father, look over the scene and take a breath.

When she was behind the wheel again I resumed. “Now, look at the radio again. Look at the buttons, think about how they function, what they do, and what you have to do without being able to look at them.”

“Got it,” she said a minute later.

“Okay, eyes closed. Now, tune in five stations, and see your actions in your mind’s eye while you do it.”

She set about tuning them, and did so quickly.

“Now, open your eyes and reset them, retune five more stations, and this time, look around out there, everywhere but inside the car.”

She did it, and a little faster this time.

“Okay, now back into the circle. Once you’ve got a nice smooth turn going, retune back to your five favorites.”

It didn’t take her a minute.

“Okay, now out of the circle, loop around and re-enter, only going in the opposite direction this time.”

This was harder, but she just managed.

“Okay, stop. Now, do it in reverse.”

“What?!”

“In reverse. Use your mirrors.”

This took several tries, and I started talking, purposefully trying to distract her, but she just managed. An hour more, changing directions, changing speed, changing stations until the poor old radio was about to bust and then we stopped.

“Now, study the NAV COMM panel on the G1000 until you know it like the back of your hand. Guess what we’re goin’ to work on Saturday?”

“Got it.”

“Yes you will.”

She laughed and Judd took her and away they went, to pick up PJ for some time together, and I drove home to the empty house, thinking about which project I might work on the rest of the day. When I walked into the house the kitchen smelled like heaven, and I could just see Rosalinda stirring pots and chopping herbs.

“Do you ever tire of cooking?” I said as I walked over.

She turned, smiled, and I could see she was in a different kind of mood. She turned down the flame, covered the pots then came over to me. She took my hand, led me to the back of the house, to my bedroom.

I think she knew me by then, knew me well enough to let me into her world just a little. She was an astonishing woman, too. Gentle, in the beginning, then as we played each other’s music she went from soft jazz to heavy metal – deep, frenzied, confusing.

We lay together after, she with her hands crossed on my chest, her chin resting there, those eyes looking into me. I’d never once considered moving on after Brenda, really didn’t feel it necessary – yet now I knew something was happening to me…

And really, need I say more?

tommy's

And here ends the second part of this little ditty. © 2017 | Adrian Leverkühn | abw | and it’s all smoke and mirrors here, ladies and gentlemen, so move along, move along.

Thanks for stopping by.

Rosalinda’s Eyes (Chapter 1)

Truthfully, I have no idea where this came from. I started writing and it just started forming in the air before me. Have fun.

Rosalinda's eyes hdr

Rosalinda’s Eyes

I grew up on the doorstep of wild dichotomies, yet my parents never really tried to help us come to terms with the divergent world all around us. There were my four sisters and – me – the lone brother, the oldest – but not by much. My parents went into a kind of reproductive frenzy in 1945 and didn’t stop for seven years, and I think my father paused then only because he was trying to figure out how was going to pay for all those yearning mouths. The picture I had of my mother, by 1952, was of a terrified woman who lived in fear that her husband might come home from work – in the mood. The thought of one more childbirth sent her into paroxysms of scissor-wielding rage – as if my father had even remotely expressed interest in doing the hunka-chunka, scissors would magically appear from behind her back – and she would begin snipping away at his testicles.

“Get that thing away from me!” she’d shout, and those of us in the house old enough to know would have this vision of Van Helsing holding up a crucifix to ward off Count Dracula.

We lived in the shadow of Elysian Park, on Academy Road, on the east side of the park, an area just north of downtown Los Angeles – and the seminal event of my childhood involved baseball. The Brooklyn Dodgers moved to LA just as I hit my teens, and a new stadium was being built for them hard by the park. In time, we each graduated from Cathedral High School, the Big Catholic School near the park, and we went to St Peter’s every Sunday, too. And there was something weird about all that, too. In a city dedicated to the proposition that you needed to drive at least a half hour to find a quart of milk, we walked everywhere. To school, to church, to the local market – everywhere. Dad drove to work out in Santa Monica in those days, to the Douglas Aircraft Company, where he was an engineer. He designed several parts of the old DC-3, but what I remember most growing up was his work on what would become the DC-8. He would bring these colossal drawings of the cockpit home and we would go over them, and we would daydream about the places you could go in such a machine. How fast! More than 3000 miles! As work progressed, we would drive out to Long Beach on weekends and look at the first working mockups, then the first pre-production airframes as they came down the line. I stood by his side and watched the first one take off, and later that day we went to our first Dodgers game  together. Nirvana…

Anyway, I grew up wanting to be just like him. I wanted to draw airplanes and have kids, raise my family near the park and go to St Peter’s, send my kids to Cathedral High, so I did just what dad did: I went to USC and started on my degree in aeronautical engineering.

But there was already talk about Vietnam. About how maybe they’d start drafting kids ‘any day now.’ Recruiters were all over campuses all over the country in those early days of the war, and that proved to be one of the earliest divergent dichotomies I ran into. Kids with crew cuts, like me, and the kids who were beginning to look more and more like John Lennon and the rest of the Beatle-haired acolytes invading the country. Kids with football posters on their dorm room walls, and kids with day-glow posters celebrating peace, drugs and rock ‘n roll. And the poster above the bed in my dorm room was of a DC-8 main panel. Annotated. And I knew the function of every button and dial on that panel before I graduated – from high school.

Need I say more?

Two days after graduating ‘SC I swore an oath and got in a bus headed north, to Seattle, to OCS. Officer’s Candidate School. The whole Officer and a Gentleman thing Richard Gere would make famous twenty years later…that was my life that summer. Then another year learning to fly. The the real deal. Getting shot off a pitching carrier’s deck at three in the morning, in gales, dropping bombs all over Vietnam on multiple tours over the next three and half years. Then the arm twisting: please, re-enlist! No more combat, just training the next generation of pilots for combat – and just like that two more years disappeared – and I literally left the Navy as Richard Nixon waved good-bye that last morning, as he boarded Marine One in disgrace and fled to California.

I was never “anti-war” – or anti-anything – for that matter. I was for designing airplanes, then flying them, and that was about as far as my political engagement went. To say I didn’t care about politics would have been an understatement. I voted Democratic because my parents voted that way, and so did everyone else we grew up around. I barely knew what “abortion” was all about because no one ever talked about it – at least not in polite society, and I literally had no idea what homosexuality was until my third year of college. I never smoked anything growing up because my father didn’t, and the first time I smelled pot I thought someone was burning manure in the dormitory bathroom. My father drank one or two beers on Saturday afternoon, usually listening to a game on the radio while he worked on the yard or stuff in the garage, and so later, if I drank anything at all it was beer, and always in moderation. My father’s college grade point average on graduation was 3.88; mine was 3.89, and I tried not to gloat. He was very proud, however.

We were Irish Catholics, and we hung out with other Irish Catholics; blue collar, hard working men and women who either built LA or patrolled her streets. Tons of cops, in other words, and with the LAPD’s academy just up the street from our house, ours was arguably the safest neighborhood in LA County. It also had the most well behaved kids.

The extent of the ‘diversity’ I knew of growing up was simply this: in my world there were Irish Catholics, and there were Italian Catholics. If we had a common language it was Latin, and maybe English. And that English would be replete with old world accents. The only thing I knew for sure was that Italians were different because their last names ended with vowels.

My reality changed little in the Navy. I was a serious pilot and I took the meaning of the oath I swore to the Constitution seriously. I held the words “we, the people” to mean just that. Not we the white people, but all us, as in: we’re all in this together. I thought that way because, by and large, my father did. Because the people in our church did. My teachers did, and even the cops who came over for my mother’s corned beef did. Well, most of them did. I think the first racism I experienced came in the form of scorching expletives a few of those cops would let slip when talking about the negroes down in South Central, or around the Rampart Division.

The only negro I knew growing up was the old man who came by twice a week to mow lawns in our neighborhood. If there was a family that had only daughters, or no kids at all, they got their lawns mown by Mr Thomas. I’d hear his push mower spitting away, cutting across those little patches of grass on those infrequent afternoons, and sometimes I’d watch him work. He’d have to stop every now and sharpen those turbine like swirls of blade, or pump some grease into the single axle, then off he’d go, pushing his mower across the grass. Fifty cents a lawn in those days, and he was as regular as clockwork. Always smiling, always whistling some tune or another. I think for a dime or two he pruned bushes or weed gardens, so he kept busy.

When I came home in ‘74 I went to work for United Air Lines, moved to San Francisco for a few years, then to New York City, and I flew DC-8s for a couple of years, which was a blast for both me and my father, but we grew apart, finally, and that was something new for all of us. And I know I haven’t talked much about my sisters, and that’s because I think their lives were almost peripheral to both my father and I. All but my youngest sister, Patricia, that is. PJ. I barely knew her at all back then; she was not yet ten years old when I went to USC, and she grew up in the height of the counter-culture wars that defined the second half of the 60s. She was in trouble all the time, doing drugs, pregnant – twice – before she got out of high school. She was this red-headed lust bomb that wanted a father’s attention and never got enough, so she went looking elsewhere. Everywhere else, and so, of course, in due course she broke my father’s heart and he did exactly what he shouldn’t have and threw her out of the house.

When I moved to San Francisco after the war, into an apartment on a hill overlooking the airport, I’d not seen her since ‘68. My parent’s had neither seen nor heard from her in two years, yet one morning, very early on a Saturday morning, I was coming in after an overnighter from JFK and there she was, curled up on an olive green army surplus duffel bag – on my doorstep. I’d have never recognized her but for the shocking head of wavy red hair she had, and those freckles.

I knelt down and lightly brushed her hair aside, saw her face and wanted to laugh and cry, all in the same breath. She weighed maybe ninety pounds and the insides of her arms were covered with tracks; she smelled of beer and urine, and – of all things – patchouli. I opened my door and dropped my bag on the floor, then went out to rouse her.

Which turned out to not be the easiest thing I’d ever tried, so I picked her up and carried her to my bedroom, laid her out – and after I carried her duffel inside I called father.

“PJs here,” I remember saying before I’d even said hello and, as he’d been most upset about her behavior – and his own – I think he started crying. My mother was on the phone in an instant and I told her what I’d just found, and she wanted to know what they should do. “I think consciousness and coffee first, Mom. Let me talk to her, see what’s up. As soon as I know something I’ll call.”

I figured if coffee and bacon didn’t wake her nothing would, so I went to the kitchen and started in on breakfast, making more than enough noise to wake the dead, and sure enough, about ten minutes later in she came. Even looking half dead she was as seriously gorgeous as ever, and she walked over to my breakfast table and sat, rubbing her eyes first, then looking at me –

I was still in uniform, of course, looking every inch the figure of upright moral propriety – which, ahem, of course I was – and she grinned when I looked at her and said: “Well, there he is, ladies and gentlemen, Roger Ramjet!”

To which I replied: “Two eggs, or three?”

“You know, I could eat three, maybe more.”

“How long since you had something solid?”

She shrugged. “I passed out with some guys cock in my mouth last night. When I came-to he was passed out and his dick was still right where he’d left it.”

I was aware of staring at her, at the extremity of her behavior, and her need, and that until this very moment the contours of her existence had been a mystery to me. I remember thinking how shocked I was, how almost outraged I was, then how scared I was. In two years no contact with any of us, and now here she was. Of all the people in the world she could have gone to, she chose the man most like the father who had cast her aside, adrift…to wander in the wilderness.

Why? I mean, really? Why?

To perpetuate a cycle that would put her right back on the street? To make my life a living hell, if only to validate her own low opinion of herself?

“So, what else have you been up to?”

“Taking classes, at Berkeley,” she said.

That figures, I wanted to say. “Oh? What in?”

“Physics and cosmology.”

And I looked at her again, really more of a double take. “Really?”

“Yeah, ya know, I’ve been trippin’ out there for a few years so I figured I ought to study some of the things I’ve seen.”

And this was said with a straight face, mind you.

“Timothy Leary’s dead,” I sang.

“No, no, no, no, he’s outside, looking in,” she sang back to me, and we had a laugh while I put on a skillet full of eggs.

“I can’t remember how you like yours cooked.”

“Over easy.”

I poured her a cup of coffee and took it to her, and for some reason I bent over and kissed her forehead. “It’s sure good to see you,” I said, then I ducked back in the kitchen to turn the bacon again.

When I turned back to her she was staring out my window, at the runways laid out below. “You like it? Flying, I mean?”

“I do.”

“I think I’d like the travel part. See new things all the time.”

“I see the panel most of the time, then a lot of strange hotel rooms, but I know what you’re saying.”

“Think I’d be a good stewardess?”

“I think you’d be good at whatever you decided to put your back into.”

“Is that a yes?”

“Yes.”

“Could you help me? Get there, I mean?”

“Of course.”

I carried our plates out and sat next to here, and she turned, stared at the plate. “I think I need to turn my life around, Tommy,” she said, her voice hovering someplace under the rainbow, so gentle I almost couldn’t hear her.

“Well then,” I said, “you came to the right place, didn’t you?”

“Yeah,” she said, and she looked at me just then in a way I’ll never forget, and in a way I could never describe, not in a million years.

I called the parents, told them what was up and what was down and that she wasn’t ready to see father just yet, and I heard some peace in the old man’s voice for the first time in a long time. She asked if I had a car, and I didn’t, not yet, but I was thinking of getting one. She said she had stuff from the pad she’d been hanging out in, over in Oakland somewhere, and she’d need to get it soon or risk lose everything, so I rented a van and we drove over, collected her things from three different apartments and I had to laugh. A few pairs of jeans, a few books and phonograph records…maybe fifty bucks worth of “stuff” – and that was her lot in life. She’d been traveling light, that much was certain.

We passed a Porsche dealership on the way home and I pulled in, had a look around. There was a Targa on the lot, white with a blue interior, and she went right to it, fell in love with it on the spot. I filled out the paperwork, my first loan ever, of any kind, and it was approved two days later. She went with me to pick it up and we drove down Skyline Drive and over to Half Moon Bay, ate artichokes above the beach and looked at the Elephant Seals basking on the sand.

And to tell you truth, I’d never been happier.

Need I say more?

+++++

She graduated from Stew School a year later, and she snagged a posting in San Fran and started helping out with the rent. She’d taken my bedroom a long time ago; I was sleeping on a fold-out sofa-bed in the living room, sore back and all. On the rare occasion we were home together, we’d sit up and watch non-stop Star Trek re-runs all night long, or go out for a burger and a movie, and time sort of slipped into this unexpected sequel.

When she graduated she bid for this crappy route – SFO to Orange County to Sacramento and back to SFO – and of course she got it, if only because nobody else wanted it, but she was home every night. I was home every other night, so we had a lot of time together. One afternoon I was in early and doing some housecleaning when she came in, dragging her ass in the usual early October heat, and she plopped down on the sofa and told me to “sit down, immediately!”

So I sat.

And she flipped off her pumps and dropped her feet in my lap.

“Foot rub! Now, before I die!”

“Peej, you need a boyfriend. Bad.”

“No. I need a foot rub. Now please.”

And now of course I must backtrack. Explain that not only did I not have a girlfriend, I’d also never, and I mean not once, given anyone a foot rub. Not once. And not only was I a foot rub virgin, it had never been in my game plan to give any of my sisters a foot rub. Not one of them.

Yet I could see her feet were wrecks. Red, puffy in places, almost blistered in others, her need was acute, and real, so I got down to it – and she fell instantly asleep. I kept at it for a few more minutes then ran the bath and carried her in, told her to soak for a while, and that I’d find some lotion to rub on them. When she came out we resumed, and the first thing I mentioned – again – was that this was a far better activity for a boyfriend to manage for her, not her brother.

“I know,” she said, “but the thought of being with a man again revolts me.”

“Well,” I said – jokingly, I’m sure, “what about a girlfriend?”

And she looked away. “And what if I have a girlfriend? What then?”

“Do you?” I asked.

“Kind of.” And she explained how she and one of her dorm mates at the academy had had much the same experience she had with boys, and how they both felt ‘over the whole boyfriend thing’ by then.

And of course I asked if she had done anything with this girl.

“Like what, Tommy?”

“You know…whatever girls do with one another.”

“You mean, like…”

“Yeah, whatever.”

“You want me to tell you about it, Tommy? What that excite you?”

“No, as a matter of fact it wouldn’t.”

“Oh,” she said, and she’d sounded a little disappointed, too.

“I have some interesting news,” I said. “A chance to move over to 747s. First officer. A few months of training, then a posting to Kennedy. Probably JFK to Paris or Frankfurt.”

She brightened immediately. “Any chance I could tag along?”

This wasn’t surprising. When she’d mentioned wanting to travel, Sacramento wasn’t exactly high on her list of places to visit. Paris was, and this was the opportunity of a lifetime. I, for my part, had already looked into the possibility, and yes, it wasn’t a stretch, but she’d need another year or two under her belt before she could bid on one of those routes.

It was a logistics nightmare, getting her moved to New York and settled in a new apartment while I spent months in training, but father drove across with her, and I think the time was important for them both. I arrived expecting to find her in a one bedroom close to mine, but no, she’d picked out a really nice two bedroom place and so our life together continued – with little changed.

With Paris my first bid run, I found myself away much more than I had been, and she was locked into a JFK to Denver Stapleton run for at least a year, so we really were lucky to run into one another more than a few times a month. I came home one afternoon and found her in bed with another flight attendant, a woman, and I let it go without comment. Pretty soon almost every time I saw her she was with this woman, and I started doing a little research on her.

She was almost forty, and considered a hard case. She was curt, I learned, and often abrasive, but she was by any other measure an excellent flight attendant. She was routinely passed over for plum assignments and, I assumed after reading between a few lines, this was most likely the result of her sexual proclivities. The few times I ran into her she seemed almost suspicious of me, yet she was nice enough, in an offhanded way. And, I had to admit, with her around I’d never have to give my sister another foot rub – and that was a very good thing.

Yet when PJ did indeed get a Paris run that was too much for this other gal. She’d put in for the run countless times, and had been turned down countless times, so when PJ nailed it on her first try the woman lost it and disappeared. Fearful that I might have to resume foot rub duties, I asked what her intentions were now.

“I think I’m ready to jump back into penis infested waters,” she told me, and we laughed at that.

“What changed your mind,” I asked.

“Dildos never come in your mouth,” she said – with a straight face, “and I’m kind of missing that.”

“I’m sorry I asked,” I sighed.

“When’s the last time you popped your cork, Tommy?”

“Bangkok, 1970.”

“Dear God.”

“I know. Awful.”

“Want me to get you off? Just a one off kind of thing?”

“PJ, shut the fuck up, would you?”

“Hey, I could use the practice.”

“Get a dildo,” I said, rumbling away in disgust.

So, she started on the Paris run. Not necessarily on my flight, but every now and then she ended up on my plane. One December we were walking the museums together and she took my arm, almost in the way husbands and wives do, a very casual gesture – and I knew it then. A woman just wasn’t going to happen to me. I was going to have to go out and find one the hard way. Problem is, or was, I really didn’t know how.

So, I asked the captain on my return flight. His recommendation: stay away from stews. That was it. Like the poor guy had been burned by that fire more than once. Our flight engineer recommended the bar scene at TGIFridays. So much for that, thank you very much.

I went out to use the head mid-flight and talked to the senior stew on the upper deck and her advice was straight-forward and to the point. As long as kids weren’t in the picture, she said, she was available.

“What?”

“If it’s just something casual,” she repeated, “I’d love to go out with you.”

Her name was Brenda Collins, a nice Irish girl. She looked, those days, a little like Deborah Kerr, but with ta-tas the size of the Hindenburg. We went out that night, for a burger and a chocolate malt, and when I dropped her off she asked me in. So, as I’m sure you know, I ended up giving her a two hour long foot rub, which led to a thirty second, tonsil shattering blowjob.

We were of course married ten months later. About three months before our first was born. She’d been married once before, and she told me once it just didn’t take. We celebrated our thirtieth anniversary a few years back, so I feel most certain this turned out to be something a little more than casual. Even so, I still rubbed her feet, and she gave the most glorious rendition of Hail to the Chief when she played the skin flute.

+++++

But…

PJ started to come apart at the seams when Brenda moved into my life, and for the first time I began to think that all those moments filled with tense innuendo had meant a lot more to her than they had to me. And all of a sudden I realized I couldn’t just leave her in the lurch. I started spending more time with her, taking her out to dinner with Brenda from time to time, making her feel like she was an important part of something new, and better. I think I realized that, like the song, the more you give, the more you make. She went out on a few dates, and one of them took, another pilot, Derrick. She started having a life of her own again, a real, productive life of her own, and pretty soon we weren’t seeing each other all that often.

Brenda and I bought a house out past JFK, and life, for me, really started.

We had a boy, and two years later a girl, and even before I moved over to the left seat I was earning enough for Brenda to take extended leave and stay home with the kids. Both our parents were retired by that point, and both came out for extended stays, some more extended than others. To help with the kids, my father said, but we ended up cooking steaks over charcoal every night I was home, and drinking our ritual two beers more and more often, and PJ and Derrick came over for many of those nights, too. A separate, more enduring truce between Peej and pops was arrived at during that time of our lives, a peace that lasted forever.

And I don’t want to gloss over the next twenty years, but I can sum them up thusly: they were remarkably uneventful in the way America was during those years. Staggering material prosperity and almost endless opportunity defined our world views; you had to work at being poor in those days, or so it seemed. Our kids grew up along predefined pathways, went to Columbia and NYU, and my son stayed the course and went into the Navy, flew Hornets over Iraq and Afghanistan, while my daughter went to med school in New Haven, finished her residency at Sloan-Kettering.

What seemed to put an end to all that prosperity, all that certainty, was 911. A few years shy of my mandatory retirement, I could just see one of the impacts on the World Trade Center while approaching New York City. We were still out over Long Island Sound, and I felt a pure, white hot anger I’d never felt in the skies over North Vietnam. Like many Americans, I began to hate any and everything about Islam and Arabs, particularly Saudi Arabians. When I saw a news report about Israelis and Palestinians at each others throats again I’d turn and look away. I had zero interest or sympathy for their endless bickering anymore, and in fact thought the most honorable way out of the situation would be to forgive Mexicos debt and give Baja California to Israel in exchange for a few years peace. I figured with Israel out of the way the Arabs might let up killing each other, at least for a few months.

And after that it was so easy to Hate. Mexicans for this, Hondurans and El Salvadorans for that. Nigerians for failing to take baths seriously, Laotians for making better Thai food than Thai people. It seemed almost endless, the opportunities we created here to simply Hate People. Our politics became the politics of Hate and, like a cancer, our Hate began to eat away at the very heart and soul of what it meant to be an American. Maybe that’s what Bin Laden had in mind when he attacked America, but I doubt it. With a dozen people he accomplished what all the Japanese and Germans in the Second World War never could: he got Americans to turn against one another, to begin tearing the country apart from inside.

+++++

My mood blackened with the country’s, I think, and for similar reasons. Parallel trends, I guess you could say. Not long after 911 my father began to deteriorate, and quite rapidly, too. I’m not implying a causal relationship, either. He was old and his heart had begun to fail while Clinton was still in office, and the years passed quickly after that…too quickly. He passed in 2003, my mother a year later, and that would have been hard enough to take – but Brenda fell ill as well. Breast cancer, and it staged out at IV by the time she was diagnosed. So, father in ‘03, mother in ’04 and my wife in 2005. My kids gone, out of the house, and then – one-two-three strikes and you’re out of love right in the middle of the biggest increase in Hate the world had seen in seventy years. Oh yes. I retired too, so the one thing I loved was now gone. A victim of the simplest, most predictable thing of all: getting old.

So, I say this might have been a parallel trend with good reason. We the baby-boomer generation had witnessed and come of age in the greatest explosion of material wealth in human history, and that explosion had taken place in our collective back yards. A huge number of kids grew up with tennis courts and swimming pools and really excellent schools, not to mention The Beatles and cheerleaders in really short skirts, and then, in the span of just a few short years all we’d worked so hard to build seemed at risk – and just then our parents started dropping like flies.

So, dark world events eclipsed by even darker personal shake-ups. Got it?

I went out to LA after Dad passed to start to settle some of his lingering estate matters, and he wanted my mother to stay in the house, then, and when she was gone it would pass to me. The rest of his investments would go to the girls, assuming those weren’t eaten up taking care of Mom, yet she failed rapidly when she learned of Brenda’s cancer. I think seven months passed between my mother’s and Brenda’s death.

And one winter’s day a few months after the girls and I buried Brenda, a blue sedan pulled up in front of my house and a Navy Chaplain walked up and knocked on my door, told me that my son had been killed in Afghanistan. I took the telegram and went upstairs to our bedroom and didn’t come out for days. I’d heard the phone ring, of course. I just didn’t answer. I couldn’t, you see. I knew I’d have to confront reality if I did, that I’d have to tell my sisters and my daughter – and I knew I couldn’t. And not come undone in their presence.

So Terry, my daughter, started calling PJ, who started calling me, and with no response they came out to the house, saw my car in the drive and expected the worst. They came upstairs and found me curled up in a tight ball, the crumpled yellow notice still in hand, and they read the words and fell to the bed beside me and we cried for what felt like weeks.

There was no body to bury; we were given a flag and the grateful thanks of a nation – and that was pretty much all there was to it. In the aftermath I looked around Long Island and finally realized I didn’t belong there so put the house on the market and moved back to my parent’s house on the east side of Elysian Park. Back to LA. Back into a part of the country that now felt more like Central America than the city I had grown up in. Back into the middle of the front lines of America’s wars of dissolution, where firefights were waged nightly between the cops and too many gangs to count, where body counts went unremarked upon in the local paper because they were seen as a little too incendiary.

In the end I went back because there’s no place like home.

Need I say more?

+++++

The house needed work, but so too did the neighborhood.

Dad’s next door neighbors for the last twenty years, Tom and Doris Parker, were still on hand, but everyone else was gone. Oddly enough, many of the houses still belonged to cops, most long-time veterans with the LAPD, many of whom worked at the academy, yet even so most of the people around the neighborhood were not Irish Catholic anymore. Hispanic, I think, summed it up accurately, though there were a couple of black families around, some Asian, too, and this last group had torn down the original bungalows and erected boxy little apartment buildings. Unheard of thirty years ago, but the overall tenor of the neighborhood was little changed – beyond more bars on windows and a lot of alarm company signs on new, very strong fences. If you know what I mean.

Tom Parker had two boys working with the department, and when the moving van appeared outside my father’s house the Parker brothers were soon on deck to lend a hand, and Doris invited me over for dinner that night. Shepherd’s pie and Guinness, of course. And some fresh soda bread. We talked about the good old days, they fretted about the neighborhood, and Tommy and Judd filled me in on the real score. The war zone started down the hill now, on the other side of the 110, and the park wasn’t safe after dark. Gangs and dealers, they said, and the cartels owned whole neighborhoods. Two judges’ bodies had been found so far this year, out in the desert with their heads blown off, a cartel signature. They’d rendered opinions against cartel members, and the cartel’s judgement had been as swift as it was final. Cops were being targeted, their homes and family members too. This wasn’t police work, Tommy Parker told me that night. It was war. A war fueled by drugs, simple as that. Their was suspicion in the ranks, that hispanic officers had been targeted and compromised, that there were more bad cops in the PD now than there ever had been before. Hispanic politicians were turning a blind eye, Tommy said, because most were on the take.

I noticed that the more Tommy drank the more worked up he got, and I saw Judd distancing himself as Tommy’s rant became darker, and after Tommy left Judd hung around a little, maybe to clear the air.

“It’s bad,” he said, “but not that bad, and maybe not all that different.” Everyone knew Irish politicians had been on the take, that Irish cops had patrolled non-Irish neighborhoods differently than they patrolled their own. But true enough, the cartels had made a big difference, that too many cops had been turned and were now on the payroll. That judges had been gunned down, and too little was making it into the news.

“Life’s not that bad here,” he said. “Tommy’s still makes the nastiest burger on earth, the beaches are still the best because the babes are still the hottest. I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” he added, “and we’re glad to see you finally came back to your senses. Now, what are you going to do around here, besides pick your nose?”

“Get this house fixed up, first of all. Beyond that, not much.”

“You still fly?”

“No.”

“Could you? I mean, could you teach?”

“Yeah, for a few more years.”

“Well, I ask because my daughter started lessons but the cost got out of hand. Think you could lend a hand?”

“Let me look into it.”

Fateful words, like out of the mouths of babes – lost in the woods.

So…when I started clearing brush from the back yard, Judd and his girl Rebecca joined in on the fun. Judd hacked away with a machete while Becky and I hauled stuff to a dumpster I’d had delivered. Two days of solid work and the three of us had it down to dirt, and I had a landscape designer come and look over the site. Becky and I talked all the time, of course, about flying. She was about halfway into ground school for her private, or non-commercial license, and she’d stalled out, wasn’t making enough money to pay for both the flight school and the hours of flight time necessary.

And when I checked with local schools the next day I found the cost of flight time exorbitant, prohibitively so. I talked with a few schools about my experience and they all sounded more than interested about taking me on, but that wouldn’t affect the price any. Becky still wouldn’t be able to afford the flight time, even if I gave away my time for her ground school.

But what if I bought an old Cessna and brought her up to snuff? Could I do that myself, and have a little airplane to tool around the neighborhood? Have a little fun while I still could? I talked that over with a few of the flight schools and yes, as long as I was willing to teach and train other students for their regular fees, they take me on – and even maintain and store the aircraft for me. I’d be out a little up front money, and I’d have to commit to teaching a certain number of students a week, but all in all, I could make it work. In fact, one dealer said they happened to have the perfect aircraft just sitting around, so I loaded up car with my log books and copies of my ratings and drove out to the valley.

The aircraft was a two year old Cessna Turbo Skyhawk JT-A with a dual G1000 panel, and I knew it was priced way more than I was willing to spend – “but this one has low hours and the owner might be willing to make a really good deal.”

“How much?” I asked, and the owner of the flight school wrote down a number on a post-it note and passed it over.

I whistled. “Wow. Who’s the owner?”

“I am,” Stan Wood said.

“So, what’s the deal?”

“I could use an instructor with your experience, simple as that. If you’re willing to do instrument and multi-engine, I can guarantee you a six figure income, and I’ll make a shitload more than that a year, so it’s a win-win. AND – I’ll float the note with twenty grand down.” And with that he held out his hand. I think he was daring me to refuse, too.

And I took it his hand, then we went out and took her up. I’d brought along a camera and snapped away, planning out the evening ahead as I framed shots. And the thing is, there’s nothing like flying a little bird like a Skyhawk, and for the first time in months I felt myself smiling inside, and as she was just a gorgeous aircraft – and had a panel to drool over – I felt close to ecstatic.

So, I called Judd, asked him to bring Becky over that afternoon after he got off from work, then I carefully baited my trap, and by the time they walked in the door I was beside myself.

“So, I began. I’m going to need some help ripping up this carpet,” I began, and I could see her deflate. “Next, I think we’ll repaint. Inside and out. How much do you think that’s worth?”

“I don’t know,” she said, now clearly depressed.

So, I went over and fired up my iMac, pulled up a photo of the back yard. “Come take a look,” I said. “Here’s what I have in mind.” I think Judd could smell the set up now, and he walked over, stood by my desk, motioned Becky to come over too.

And when she was by my side I flipped to the next picture, an exterior shot with me standing by the pilot’s open door. Then one of the panel, another of us out over the Pacific, dozens more, in fact.

Her eyes were transfixed, and when I came to a closeup of the panel I paused there, let her look long and hard. “Is that a Garmin 1000?” she asked.

“It is. One of the first in the country, too.”

“Jesus,” she whispered, then she turned to me.

“So, here’s the deal. Class meets here Tuesday and Thursday night. We fly Saturday mornings, rain or shine, at 0-800. You pay for gas, and you help me get this house cleaned up. We quit lessons when you’ve had enough, or I die, whichever comes sooner.”

Have you ever been hugged by an 18 year old female LaCrosse player? It kind of hurts. On the other hand, turns out she was a damn fine little house painter.

+++++

Becky spent summers at her grandfather’s house, and she’d made a few friends in the neighborhood over the years, and one was another girl on the LaCrosse team with similar aspirations. She too wanted to fly, if not in the military then at the very least commercially. This girl’s name was Bettina Rodriguez, and Becky brought her by the house the very next evening.

“We wanted to know,” Becky began, “if the same deal applied for one more person?”

“What? Cleaning and painting, in exchange for lessons?”

“Yup.”

“I don’t even know you?” I said, looking at Bettina. “Or if your parents would even approve of such a thing.”

And I had never seen a look of such despair in my life. Not once.

“But…are you willing to work hard?”

“Yessir.”

“Now, what about your parents?”

“It’s just my mother.”

“Okay, what about your mother? Does she have any idea what you’re up to?”

“No, sir.”

“Any idea that you’re interesting in flying?”

“Only since second grade,” she said, grinning like I had just asked the stupidest question in the history of humankind.

“Is your mother home?”

“Si, yes.”

“Well, you’d better see if she has time to come talk to me about all this? And Becky? You’d better go too. I think this may take some serious arm twisting on both your parts.”

I’d never seen anything move that fast in my life. They were out the door like two Phantoms on a night catapult launch – and I laughed a little as I went to the kitchen and fixed a big pitcher of iced tea.

I heard a knock on the door a few minutes later; I padded across the living room and opened it – and there was PJ, in tears, a taxi out front, waiting.

“Do you have any money?” she blurted.

Need I say more?

+++++

I guess, in order to make a long story somewhat shorter, I’ll skip the details and just say that Derrick had had enough of PJ. He’d met someone new and filed for divorce, alleging PJs resumption of drugs, this time prescription opioids, as the proximate cause. She’d just retired from United and had nothing but time on her hands, and “Just look at me!” she cried. “I’m OLD!”

“Who the fuck isn’t?” I said, swearing for just the second time in my life. That’s sarcasm. You’re supposed to laugh. “Just what did you expect would happen?”

At any rate, about ten minutes after my narcissist, quasi-incestuous sister found her way back into my life, there came another knock on my door, one I held as vastly more important. I told her to go to our parents bedroom and to remain absolutely quiet until I came back to get her again. Maybe it was the tone in my voice but that’s exactly what she did, and when I heard the door close I went to the door and opened it again.

I don’t know what I expected, but there was this Mexican woman standing there, her eyes full of molten fury – the girls nowhere to be seen.

“Just what kind of sick pedophile are you,” this Hell-bitch from the Dark Side started screaming, “to entice little girls with promises of flying lessons!?”

I, of course, did exactly what you’d have done in similar circumstances. I slammed the door in her face.

And I watched her tromp off across my yard – and straight into Tom and Doris Parker’s house. More screaming, then Tom Parker reading this peri-menopausal Whore-bitch from Hell the riot act. Ten minutes later Judd’s car screeches to a halt out front and HE tromps straight into his parent’s house. Then more screaming, and I mean real hispanic testicle piercing screams, then the She-devil is stomping down the middle of the street and I swear I could see smoke and sparks and flames erupting under each step, then Judd was in a low crouch, sneaking over while trying not to let this flaming female Tasmanian she-devil see him dashing between our houses.

Ten minutes later I saw three totally cowed women marching right up the middle of the street again, this time right up to my front door.

Polite knocking – while Judd ran to a back bedroom, trying to find a place to hide.

I opened the door, gave her my best, most polite “Yes?” as I stood there, my door cracked open not quite an inch.

“Oh, si, my girls did not tell me so much about you, Mister…”

“It’s Captain.”

“What?”

“My name. Don’t call me Mister. It’s Captain. I flew 747s for 24 years. Y no me gusta ser llamado pedófilo en mi propia casa!”

A strong offense is, in my book, always the best defense.

“You speak Spanish?”

“Of course. And French. And German. And Italian,” I added, just for good measure, because I can ask where the bathroom is when I’m in Rome. I mean, can’t everyone? Dov’è il bagno, nes pas?

She was wide-eyed by that point, sputtering and apoplectic. I was enjoying myself, too.

“I must apologize…” she resumed.

The point I need to make here is you need to know when you’ve won, when it’s time to just sit back and shut up, listen for a while and to not press the point home any further than necessary.

“No apologies necessary,” I said magnanimously. “Now, what can I do for you?”

“May we come in?” she asked.

I wanted to say something erudite, something learned, something like “promise you won’t cut my balls off – with a soup spoon?”

But no, not me. I said something that sounded an awful lot like: “Of course.”

And then I laid out the deal. I showed her all my licenses, pictures of the Skyhawk. What I had offered Becky. What I was willing to offer her daughter in exchange for some work around the house.

“The girls mentioned painting? What are these lessons worth?”

“Around here, about ten grand.”

“Then that is not a fair deal. For you.”

“Okay. What’s fair?”

“They clean your house, three afternoons a week.”

“That’s not the deal I made with Becky.”

“For my daughter, then. Bettina?”

“Si, mama. I agree.”

“Then I do too,” Becky added.

“Fine,” I said, now looking this woman in the eye. “And I want one more thing.”

“And that is?” she said, returning my look with icy reserves of calm now. She was in her element now…combat had been joined.

“You prepare Sunday lunch here, at my house, once a month, for a year.”

Her lips began to quiver, her eyes to twitch. I had her, and she knew it, then she turned to her daughter. “And? What have you to say to this?”

“Mama…please?”

She turned back to me, utterly defeated, and said: “I agree.”

I didn’t know this at the time, but there’s no way you can win a battle of this type with a Mexican woman, let alone a peri-menopausal Whore-bitch from Hell Mexican woman. I might have known the simple truth of the matter if I’d had a clearer view of her face just then, of the sly, murderous grin that crossed her face, but I missed that.

At any rate, I’ve left off something in this retelling of events. Something vital. You see, once the steam stopped pouring out of this woman’s eyes and ears she was really quite lovely to look at. Think Penelope Cruz, with streaks of gray in her hair – and very, very short. Like five feet and nothing.

Anyway, the prospect of a home made Mexican dinner four times a month was suddenly more than interesting, and as they were about to leave I felt I’d made the best out of a sorry situation. I’d come out ahead, even.

“Oh? What’s your name?” she asked.

“Just call me Captain Tom. And yours?”

“Rosalinda,” she said as she walked out my door.

And I smiled. Billy Joel songs danced through my mind’s eye just then, but…

One other thing I ought to cue you in on. PJ – and Judd.

Once upon a time, back at the height of PJs high school slut period, the first boy to get her pregnant was? Yes, you guessed right: Judd Parker. The girl Judd swore to love until his dying breath? Uh-huh. She’s the one. How about this one: the number of months since Judd’s divorce had been finalized? If you guessed three…close enough.

When I went back to my parent’s bedroom there they were, sitting on the floor holding hands.

Need I say more?

+++++

And so, here ends the first chapter  “I have no idea where this is going, or how long it will take to get there,” he said, grinning.

© 2017 Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com

 

 

Strangers on a Train

Was working on this one Friday when a comment came in, asking if I knew of a certain book. I’d run across that book, in the place mentioned in the first paragraph of this story, almost 30 years before. Synchronicity, I think, is the word I’m thinking of.

strangers on a train

Strangers on a Train

He rubbed his eyes, looked at his fountain pen – leaking, again – a puddle of deep blue spreading on the paper. He picked up the pen and threw it in a nearby trash can, then took a little packet of tissues out of his jacket and wiped his ink off the paper and tossed that away, too. He looked at his watch and shook his head, packed up his things and grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair and walked out to the reception. The old man shoved the register across his desk and he signed his name, once again, then took off down the steps and out onto the snowy walk, but he pulled out his little Leica and took a shot of the stained ochre house. Mann’s last house, at the university, on the hillside overlooking Zurich. Now an archive where he’d spent most of the last week buried in drafts of old manuscripts and correspondence, and where he’d realized he was tired of academia. Of books and musty old curators and anything to do with German history. Even the idea of a life spent researching academic minutia – and in that frame of mind he put his camera away and took off down the hill to the main railway station. He went to the luggage storage window and retrieved his suitcase, then looked up at the departure board over the platforms: his train, an overnight to Rome, was due to board in twenty minutes, so he walked over to a news stand and very nearly dropped his bag when he saw the headlines.

“Shah Abdicates!” Screamed a Swiss paper, and “Khomeini En Route From Paris” was highlighted in blood red on another, from New York. “Oh, no,” he said, now noticing the unusual number of heavily armed police officers walking around the station platforms. ‘Maybe I should just go home,’ he thought. ‘Italy will only be worse.’

But no, he thought, knowing he was, even then, trying to rationalize the decision: he had almost an entire week before the next term began, and after a week in Lübeck and another here in Zurich, he was ready for some sun – and holding to the plan would still be the best thing to do right now. Two more months of snow waited back in Boston, and two more months of winter in that dreary apartment did not appeal to him that much. Preparing the final draft of his dissertation, weeks of consultations with his advisor, integrating his latest research into the middle chapters… No, he needed this time off. He needed to recharge his batteries, maybe meet a girl, have a fling, or just get drunk once or twice…

“Ihre Papiere bitte!”

He jumped back into the present, turned and looked into the eye of a uniformed soldier of some sort. Flanked by men in dark suits. All eying him closely.

“Certainly,” he said in English, and then the men relaxed some.

“You are an Englishman?” the soldier asked.

“No. American,” he said, handing over his maroon ‘special’ passport. The soldier handed the passport to one of the men, and this man stepped forward now, while he scanned the passport in his hand, comparing it to items in a notice on the clipboard in his other hand.

“Herr, excuse me, Mr Douglas, you have been in Zurich for the past week?”

“Yessir.”

“At the Hotel Engadine?”

“That’s correct, sir.”

“And before that?”

“In Lübeck, sir, north of Hamburg.”

The man grinned, slightly. “And here? What were you doing?”

“Research, at an archive.”

“Ah? What sort of research?”

“Academic, at the Thomas Mann archives.”

“Research concerning?”

“Mann’s role in convincing FDR that the need for a united front against Hitler was imperative, and…”

“That’s fine. I understand all the rest, yes?” the official said, handing his passport back. “Good afternoon.”

“And you,” he said, and he turned and followed the men with his eyes as they walked across the platform. Stopping other men about his age, he noted, men who looked and were dressed similarly – to himself. “Geesh,” he sighed. “What is that all about?”

He turned again, looked at the departure board, saw the yellow ‘Now Boarding’ indicator was lit up and he picked up two newspapers and paid for them, then walked across the platform, pulling out his ticket as he made his way through the shuffling crowd. Of course his car had to be all the way out the platform, he grumbled, and it was so far out he walked the last hundred meters in falling snow. A conductor checked his ticket and let him board the car, a First Class sleeper, and he trundled down the narrow corridor to his compartment, which was, of course, the farthest from the entrance – at the very end of the train.

He walked in, heaved his suitcase up onto the overhead rack and sat heavily, looked out the window at the snowy scene. The city, defined here by rivers and low commercial buildings, was emptying now as commuters came to the station for their evening ride home, and he saw skiers getting off local trains still in there ski boots, skis parked jauntily over shoulders as they clomped through the station. He saw a woman getting off the train just across the narrow little platform outside his window, saw her stop and look around, then look at his train. Deep burgundy colored coat, red fur collar. Nice legs, rather timeless shoes, burgundy colored pumps, a matching handbag. She looked nervous, yet somehow almost predatory. She possessed a peregrine alertness, like she was searching for something – her eyes registering recognition or threat, and then she turned – looked right at him. He thought he saw a briefest flash of smile, then she walked down the platform and disappeared from view.

And he watched two men appear behind her, just stepping out of the train she had, and they watched her for a moment, then followed in her wake.

“Interesting,” he said, then he picked up a paper and started reading about events in Tehran, and in Washington, wondering what the event meant going forward. A pivotal country in the heart of Persia, loaded with oil, going from staunch American ally to radical Islamic theocracy literally overnight. No wonder there are troops walking the platforms, he thought. After two deep oil price shocks over the past decade, not to mention the almost constant threat of war between Israel and her neighbors, and now the ever-present threat of terrorism – this would be a world-seismic event. And Europe, unlike America, was not separated from these changes by oceans. Parts of the second world war had taken place in the region, and one of Hitler’s goals had been to wrest control of the area’s oil supplies from Britain and America. Now, overnight, the region was in play again.

The train barely shuddered as it backed away from the platform, and he looked out the window as the train moved slowly out of the station, watching the city slip by in near silence. A minute later the train stopped, then changed direction, heading south now, and he resumed reading – an opinion piece about the need to approach Khomeini, try to avert a war of ideologies – and he laughed. That wouldn’t happen, he scoffed. Not in Washington, anyway. The Kremlin might try, simply con their way to a new understanding in order to keep the west off balance, anyway, but that would be the end of it. A new war was beginning, one that would play out over decades, a war that would bring untold changes to the world.

“Oh well,” he sighed. “Maybe academia isn’t such a bad place, after all.” He wasn’t a writer, or even a literary scholar. No, he was an historian, and he had studied foreign policy both as an undergraduate and, now, as a graduate student, so he could teach, easily, or he could go into government. Events taking place now, right now, would define the need for foreign service officers for decades to come. Maybe it was time to begin moving in that direction, he thought. Stop this wooly headed pursuit of academic trivia and move on out into the real world…

His compartment door opened and she was standing there. The burgundy coat with the red fur collar.

“Hallo,” she said, her accent English, as the room porter stepped up behind. “And I see you found our compartment?”

The look in her eyes. The searching, pleading look, so unexpected in a predator. No, someone was looking for her. Someone, or something dangerous. Those men…

“She is with you?” the porter asked.

And he stood, quickly. “Yes, of course. Here, let me help you with your coat…”

She stepped in, and as he helped take her coat he could smell unrelenting fear under layers of travel – and he noticed the conductors leering grin. Some sort of recognition, perhaps, that not all was on the up and up in this compartment – but the old walked away, left him to her devices, and he slid the compartment door to and turned to her.

“Well,” he said, smiling, “so nice to see you again.”

And she smiled too. “Thanks,” she said, looking at him.

“So, who’s chasing you?”

And she shrugged. “Mind if I sit?”

“No, please do.”

She sat by the window and sighed – and he handed her a handkerchief. She nodded, wiped her brow, then leaned back and sighed again.

“Tough day at the office, dear?” he quipped – as he sat down across from her.

She looked at him and laughed a little. “You might say so, yes.”

They heard the conductor coming down the corridor now, checking tickets, and she looked at him again.

“Shoes off,” he said, “feet in my lap. Now.”

And when the conductor opened the door he was rubbing her feet, she leaning back in sudden wedded bliss. “Ihre Fahrkarten, bitte?” the conductor asked.

“Ja, hier sind sie,” he said, handing them over.

He punched the ticket and handed it back. “You are going to Rome, Herr Douglas?”

“Yes, we are. Then on to Paestum. We’re on our honeymoon.”

“Ah. So, perhaps we need some champaign here tonight?”

“Yes, that would be wonderful. Is it possible to have dinner in our room this evening?” he said, handing over a 20 franc note.

“Yes, of course. I’ll see that your porter takes care of you immediately.”

“Thank you,” he said, and the conductor slid the door to again – and he began to move his hands away from her…

“Oh, please,” she said, “don’t stop on my account. I was rather enjoying that.”

He laughed, resumed massaging her feet while he looked her in the eye. “So, do I at least get the short version?”

“No, sorry,” she sighed. “Our honeymoon?”

“Best I could come up with on such short notice.”

She smiled. “God, this feels a little like heaven…”

He looked out the window, saw evening coming on fast now, the snow letting up a little, lights coming on in little chalet-looking homes scattered across the valley floor, cars driving alongside the train as they came into a village, slowing now – but not stopping. The train accelerated away and a lake appeared, the low mountains beyond now etched by the setting sun’s pale orange light.

He took the ball of her foot and pushed it towards her, stretched the tendons on the bottom of her left foot, then he ran his thumbs up the tendon, busting little crystalline nodules along the taught rod – and she twisted in sudden agony, took in a sharp breath – then he rubbed the area gently, before starting up again.

“My God in heaven, what are you doing to me?”

“Calcium crystals build up on that tendon,” he said, rubbing it carefully now, “that’s what makes your feet ache like that. High heels make it worse, I think.”

“Don’t tell me? You’re a foot doctor?”

He laughed. “Not quite. Historian. Had a girl friend in college, she taught me this little trick.”

“Thank God for girlfriends,” she moaned – as his fingers started in on her right foot. He found a big crystal and dug into it with his thumbnails, felt it give way and burst, and she almost screamed as relief flooded up her leg into her back. “Oh…” she sighed.

Another knock on the door, the porter sticking his head in, another leering grin as he looked down at the ongoing massage. “You wanted dinner this evening? In your compartment?”

“Yes, please,” he said, handing over another 20 franc note.

“Ah, very good sir. We have a trout this evening, or a lamb curry?”

And he looked at her. “A curry,” she said, “might be nice.”

“Make that two,” he added. “And perhaps a red wine?”

“I’ll bring a wine list by, sir.”

“Ah. Thanks.”

“Yes, sir,” the porter said, sliding the door closed yet again.

“It’s getting rather busy in here,” she said, leaning forward now, putting her shoes back on. “You should be careful doing that to a perfect stranger, you know?”

“Oh?”

“That’s like an aphrodisiac, or heroin. Addicting, I should think.”

He smiled. “You looked like you could use it?”

“Oh? And how do I look, to you?”

“Tired. Scared. Alone.”

She sat back again, looked up at the ceiling – scowling now.

“You’re very pretty, you know?” he said. “In a dangerous kind of way.”

“Dangerous?”

“Yes. I think it would very easy to fall in love with you, and yet quite dangerous to do so.”

“I’m not sure if that’s a compliment, or not?”

“More an observation, I think. Calling you pretty? That was a compliment.”

“I see.”

Another knock, and this time the porter handed over the wine list, as well as a list of snacks and light appetizers. “Cheese and crackers, some hummus and olives, please, and I think we’ll have this Pinot Noir,” he said, pointing to an item on the list.

“Very good, sir.”

She watched him move, his self assuredness a bit of a surprise. She’d wanted a momentary diversion, somewhere to hide for a few minutes, but now she wasn’t so sure if she wanted to leave him just yet. She felt sure she’d lost the men on her tail, but she also knew she could be wrong about that. She was cut off from the outside world inside this little compartment, yet that was a double edged sword she’d have to handle with care. But she felt safe here, safe – for the first time in two days.

“Could I see your ticket?”

“What…oh, sure,” he said as he handed it over.

Douglas Fairchild, ticket issued by an independent travel agent in Cambridge, Massachusetts almost six weeks ago. An historian, but too young to be teaching yet, too old to be an undergrad. So, a grad student. In Zurich. Either religion or foreign policy. She looked up, looked at his clothing: taupe tweed jacket, grey flannel slacks, pale yellow button down shirt, Harvard tie. He was like a walking advertisement, his appearance screaming ‘I’m an Ivy Leaguer!’ – and he probably had a serious foot fetish thing going under that staid Brook’s Brothers veneer.

She handed his ticket over and held up her leg. “What do you think of these shoes?” she said, flexing her foot suggestively in the air between them.

“Classic lines. When I saw you out there I thought you looked a little like Audrey Hepburn. Good choice.”

Another knock on the door: a small bottle of champagne, a tray of appetizers appeared and were set out on a small rolling table, and the door zipped shut.

“I think I’ll go wash up,” he said, and he disappeared down the corridor. She took a cracker and a slice of something mild and white, took a bite and sighed. Her first food all day, and she realized she was famished. He came back in a few minutes later, looked at her as he stood there, then he shrugged.

“Two of them,” he said quietly, watching her reaction.

“What’s that?”

“Two men. My guess, middle eastern, probably Iranian, maybe Israeli. They’re following you, asking the porter about you.”

She nodded her head. “What did he say?”

“That he hadn’t seen anyone fitting your description.”

“I see.”

He opened the champagne, poured her a glass, then sat. “You have the loveliest eyes,” he said. “What color – hazel or green – I can’t quite tell in this light?”

“More green I think,” she said, looking at him anew, trying to figure him out.

Another knock on the door, and the porter slipped inside, pulled the door to. “The conductor told me they are Iranian,” he said. “And that there are two more of them onboard.”

He nodded his head, took two one hundred franc notes out and handed them over. “Keep me posted, Emile.”

“Certainly, sir. We have a french onion soup this evening. Should I bring two down?”

“Yes, Emile, if you please.”

She watched this exchange with a growing sense of alarm, and no small amount of wonder. ‘Who is this man?’ echoed in her thoughts, then: ‘Is he dangerous?’

He took a cracker, looked over the cheese and shaved a bit of gruyere from a small block and took a bite, rolled his eyes. “Oh, God, I love this stuff,” he said, then he took a sip of champagne. “I could move here, you know, just to have cheese this good every day.”

“What?”

He chuckled, took another bite – sip, then leaned back. “So? What about you? Obviously from Devonshire. So Oxford, and, by the nature of these circumstances, I’d say MI6.”

She was speechless now. And not at all happy. “Devonshire? What makes you say that?”

“Your hair. Skin and eyes, too, but your accent is the give away.”

“You’ve spent time there, I take it?”

“My junior year. Oxford.”

“Ah, but that’s not all there is to it?”

“No. My Grandfather has property, near Wells.”

“Indeed? And you visit – quite a lot?”

“Used to, yes. Not so much recently.”

Another knock – and Emile came in with two soups. He put them on the table and took off their covers, grated cheese on top of croutons and disappeared again.

“Damn,” he said, “that smells a little bit like heaven.”

Still speechless as unseen implications rolled over her, she watched him eat for a while, then leaned over, started in on her crock. ‘Fairchild?’ she wondered. ‘Douglas Fairchild? Have I heard that name somewhere before? Could he be agency? Or is that his legend, and he’s moving about under an assumed identity? Well, there’s no way to tell now, is there?’

She looked at him again, now putting hummus on a cracker, then some cheese – oblivious. Or was his carelessness simply an act?

‘Perhaps I should just kill him – before he kills me…’

But no…there was something about him. In his eyes, perhaps. An unexpected kindness. A steadiness of temperament. Learned, almost a patrician air in his learnedness. Like a lion, she thought. A bored, sated lion, or a comic book hero – about to go soft from too little action.

“You know,” he said as he looked up from his soup, “they never put enough cheese on top.”

“Don’t they?”

“I suppose it would turn into a soupy, oniony fondue, but I can never get enough.”

She smiled at that. “You never make your own?”

He looked up. “No. Suppose I could learn, but I’m always too tired to cook when I get in.”

“Tired? Your studies?”

“God, yes. Twelve hour days in the library, day after day. And I’ve been leading freshman seminars since August. That added about 300 pages a week to the load.”

“What are you studying?”

“FDR, for the most part. How he struggled to build a coalition, a political coalition, to overcome the isolationism building before Lend-Lease.”

“Why the interest?”

“My grandfather again. He was in the House of Representatives then, and FDR enlisted his support.”

‘Fairchild?’ she heard an inner voice say. ‘Douglas Fairchild?’

“Your grandfather…is he in the Senate?”

He nodded his head. “Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.”

She swallowed hard, made a series of quick recalculations – as now, her mission had just been put on hold. She had just led this kid into serious danger, serious danger that could blowback all over the Prime Minister, endanger the so-called Special Relationship. Her job was no longer to get information to headquarters, it was to protect this boy from her carelessness, and his bad luck. Iranian agents might try to take her out, and they might very well take out this kid, too – while not knowing who they were dealing with, let alone what the repercussions might be.

“It is good soup,” she said as she took a spoonful, then a sip of champagne.

“You look like you just swallowed a squirrel,” he said, looking at her.

“What?”

“Nervous. You suddenly look very nervous. More nervous than just a few minutes ago.”

“I am.”

“Me?”

“Certainly you. I’ve led you into real danger. Inadvertently, but nevertheless.”

“That’s okay. I can take care of it.”

“Oh? Look, I don’t know who you think you can call, maybe the Marines or something, but there are four or more hostile agents closing in on me – as we speak, and you might get in their way. Understand?”

He nodded, took another cracker and spread hummus on it, shaved off another bit of gruyere and popped the whole thing in his mouth – then he smiled at her.

She couldn’t tell if he was deliberately trying to infuriate her, or if he was simply the most obtuse human being in the long, boring history of male chauvinism – then he took yet another sip of champagne. ‘I may kill him myself,’ she thought, ‘and save the world the trouble…’ He looked up at her and grinned, blinked rapidly several times.

“You know, you’re taking all this a little too seriously.”

“Perhaps you aren’t taking things seriously enough.”

“Perhaps because I don’t know what’s going on. Just what on earth did you do? And to whom?”

“I’m sorry. I can’t…”

“I know, I know. Well, tell me, did you kill someone?”

And she looked away, tried to hide her eyes.

“Ah,” he said. “I see. So these gentlemen are a little pissed off.”

“You could say that, yes.”

He stood and pulled his suitcase down from the overhead rack, unzipped a side compartment and pulled out a little black pouch, then he put the suitcase back. He sat next and unzipped the case, pulled out a little Walther, and a silencer, then screwed it on. He took the magazine out and checked the load, then chambered a round – and handed her the pistol.

“What,” she said, “are you doing?”

“I’m assuming you know what this thing does, and how to use it better than I do, so you take it. If I tried to use it I’d probably shoot my foot off.”

She looked at the pistol, an Israeli special. A TPK, 22 short, designed for close range head shots. “Ammunition?”

“Israeli,” he said.

“Jesus.”

“Don’t hold it close. I keep it as far away from soft tissues as I can.”

“Who…?”

“My dad.”

“Is he…?”

“Yup. Career. Seventh floor.”

“Oh dear God. This just gets better ‘n better.”

He laughed.

Emile knocked on the door, brought in two curries and a bottle of red. “They are in the dinning car right now. Six of them. Four Iranian passports, two Swiss.”

“Emile? I’m going to need to use the radio-telephone.”

“But it is not for public use, sir.”

“I understand. Perhaps it will be better if a dozen or so people are killed by terrorists on this train during the night?”

“I’ll have the conductor come by in a few minutes, sir.”

“Thanks, Emile.”

“We’re going into the Alps now,” she said. “Poor radio signal.”

“We will be, until Milan.”

“Where is this train going, anyway?”

He laughed. “That’s right, I forgot. Rome – by way of Milan, and Genoa. The coastal route. How’s that curry, by the way?”

“Swiss,” she said, not quite making a face.

“Ah.”

“And where are you headed? Rome?”

“Paestum. I wanted to walk the ruins there. And you?”

“I was going to try for our embassy, but the way was cut off.”

“So, any ole embassy will do?”

“Theoretically. I’ll be blown, but yes.”

“What’s optimal?”

“Disappear. Make my way back to town.”

“You married?”

“Me? Heavens, no. Why do you ask?”

“Just curious.”

“Well, are you?”

“Married? No, I came close…but, no.”

“What’s next? Teach?”

“Maybe. My father would like me to sign up, grandfather wants me to go to State.”

“What do you want to do?”

“I wish I knew…”

Another knock on the door, the conductor sliding the door open quietly. “You need to contact the authorities, Herr Fairchild?”

“I do,” he said, then he turned to her. “And is there a name I should reference?”

She leaned close and whispered in his ear.

“You’re joking!” he said, but she shook her head and he took off with the conductor – while Emile came inside the little compartment and sat with her while he was away.

Which wasn’t long.

“Did you get through?” she asked once they were alone again.

He nodded his head. “Yup, but the neighbors were watching.”

“Indeed.”

“The RT is right by the dining car. They’re just sitting in there, drinking coffee.”

“Gearing up for a long night.”

“As will we,” he said. “I’ve got strudel and coffee inbound, and I’ve got a deck of cards in the suitcase. Play gin?”

“Of course. And I’ll beat your ass into the ground, too.”

“That sounds kind of like a challenge,” he said, grinning.

“No, not at all. More a warning, a fait accompli. I’m going to kick your ass all around this little compartment, that’s all.”

“Assuming your name isn’t George Smiley, think you could tell me your real name?”

“George Smiley.”

“I see. Guess I deserved that, huh?”

She smiled, tried not to be too ironic about it, then Emile knocked and cleaned up their dishes, spread a fresh tablecloth and laid out silverware for dessert and coffee – then disappeared again, returning a moment later with two mountainous globs of strudel and a carafe of coffee. He produced a bowl of schlagsahne next, and heaped it on each pastry – leaving the bowl with their coffees before he disappeared, and they looked at the size of their desserts, then at one another.

“Dear God,” they said in unison, then they laughed for the longest time.

He took down his suitcase again and dug out his deck of cards, and when the cabin was squared away again he opened the deck and shuffled it. She cut and he dealt their hands, and a few drops in she ginned.

He raised an eyebrow, then dealt another hand – and she smoked him, again.

‘Something’s not right,’ he sighed, and he leaned forward, dealt again, and lost again.

“Odd,” he said.

“Isn’t it?”

Then he discovered her trick.

Dangling a shoe off her toe, moving her legs just so…and he grinned, went into the tiny head and stuffed a towel down into his briefs, rolled up just so. He went out and splayed himself just enough to reveal a monstrous bulge – and he took the next four games.

“This is too much fun,” he said, and then he moved around a little, pulled the towel up from it’s hiding place.

“Bastard!” she cried.

“Bitch!” he echoed, then he leaned over and put her shoe firmly back on her foot.

“Oops.”

“I’ve never seen such underhanded play before,” he said, smiling.

“Works, doesn’t it?”

“I suppose.”

“I had you pegged after five minutes.”

“I wonder what that says about you?”

She arched her eyebrows rapidly a few times, then grinned. “I’ll never tell.”

“You know, I feel certain you won’t.”

“Anymore coffee in that thing?” she asked.

And she felt the change before she heard anything – he did, too. Someone outside their door, listening. Then trying the lock. Her hand, going for the little Walther. Then Emile’s voice, down the corridor: “Excuse me, but you are in the wrong car! You must leave! NOW!” Hastily retreating footsteps – she putting the pistol away – then Emile, knocking on the door.

“Come in!” he said.

“This is the second time they have tried to come into this car. I have alerted the conductor, and we will try to put them off at the next stop.”

“No need,” she said. “They’ll just put someone else on at the next stop, and then we won’t know who they are.”

“But…”

“My concern, Emile,” he said, quickly trying to cover her mistake, “is the terrorists might set off a bomb if we tried that, or take hostages.”

“Ah, I see.”

“Just let them come, Emile,” he added, “but turn off the corridor lights.”

“Okay.”

Emile cleared the dishes on the rolling trolley, and a few minutes later the lights went out.

“You do know,” he said, “we’re the last room in the last car of this train.”

“Nothing behind us?”

“No. I, uh, well I borrowed Emile’s key, unlocked the door.”

“You didn’t?”

“Here’s my plan…”

A half hour later he felt that same presence, knew someone was just outside the door, and a moment later the door started to slide open. He saw a small silenced pistol slide past the curtain, then the man appeared – and he seemed startled to find an American, alone, sitting there making a sh-h-h gesture – with one finger up to his lips – then pointing at the folded berth over his head.

“She’s in there,” he whispered, and the Iranian nodded his head as he stepped up to the bed and tripped the release…

At which point she stepped out of the tiny head and with one – pffft – the agent fell to the floor, grabbing at the small, fatal head wound.

“Okay,” he said as he picked up the man, “you get the door.”

She stepped out into the corridor, saw it was clear and stepped aft, quietly, then opened to outer door – and he tossed the body out the back. Seconds later they were back in the compartment, and a minute later they heard Emile knocking on the door.

“Yes,” he said as he slid the door open an inch or two.

“Did you hear something?” Emile asked, trying to see into the compartment.

“I’m so sorry, Emile. When she gets on top she gets a little wild. I think it has something to do with the motion, ya know?”

“Oh, dear. Oh, no, excuse me…” Emile said as he retreated to his compartment at the other end of the car.

Twenty minutes later the presence announced itself again, and exactly as before the door slid open, the curtain parted when a silenced pistol entered, he sh-h-h’ed the man and whispered she was above, and when the man tripped the release she dispatched him. Two minutes later they were back in the compartment.

“This is too easy…” he said.

“They won’t fall for that one again.”

“Okay, let’s try this…”

Twenty minutes later the door slid open and the gun appeared; when the man entered the compartment he saw another man splayed out face down on the floor, apparently dead.  When he bent down to check for a pulse – pffft – down he went too, then out the back door.

“Was that number three?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“What are they? Morons?”

She broke out giggling.

“This is like Laurel & Hardy. I thought these guys are supposed to mean, ruthless killers?”

“Well, they are.”

“But they’re fucking morons!”

“Stop it,” she said, doubling over, laughing hysterically now.

The door flew open, the next assassin rushed in – and he took the gun right out of the man’s hand and she stuck the Walther up to his left eye and – pffft – down he went, right into his waiting arms.

“I’m getting tired of this,” he said. “Maybe tie one hand behind my back? Something, anything to give these morons a fighting chance?”

Forty minutes later the last two were dispatched and they stood there, looking out the back door, letting the frigid mountain air wash over their sweat-soaked bodies – when Emile walked up.

“This door is supposed to be closed, locked!” Emile said as he scurried up, and he shut the door, felt for his key.

“What are you looking for, Emile?”

“My key, for the door?”

“Is that it,” he said, pointing at a key on the linoleum floor.

“Ah, just so. Thank you.”

“Fell out of your pocket.”

“Ah.”

“Where are the Iranians?”

“They seem to have disappeared?”

“Really? How strange?”

“Yes, we just looked from one end of the train to the other, and not a sign of them.”

“Curious. How long until we reach Milan?”

“Oh, about an hour.”

“I’m expecting a business associate to join us there. Name is Jones.”

“Of course, sir. You’ll still be up?”

“Up? Why, yes Emile. I’ll still be up.”

“Very good, sir.”

“You’re awful,” she said once Emile was safely out of range.

“I am? Why?”

“You’ll still be – up!” she said, her pointing finger popping straight up.”

“Oh. That. Wishful thinking on my part.”

She smiled. “It is?” she asked.

“Yup.”

“Well, how long do we have?”

But he shook his head. “You know? I’ve never had a one night stand, and I’m not sure I want to, even with you.”

And she kissed him, once, before she got off the train in Milan. Teams from the CIA and MI6 escorted her to a waiting transport, and she was in London hours before he made it to Rome. He walked the ruins in Paestum, and in the winter light the old Greek temples took on the soft aires of forgotten dreams. He walked and walked, took dozens of rolls of film, all black and white, which seemed to fit his mood better than color.

He flew home on a Pan Am 747 and once back in Boston he rode the T out to Cambridge and found he’d forgotten to leave the heat on inside his apartment. His jet lag was terrible for days, and he walked around in a fog, barely able to come to terms with the things he’d done, so the next weekend he hopped on the shuttle and flew down to National. His father was waiting for him at the gate.

And uncharacteristically, his father was very quiet on the ride home. Once they were home, once he’d put his suitcase back in his old bedroom, he went downstairs and got a Coke, then went to his father’s study.

“Shut the door, son.”

He did.

“So, how was Zurich? Get much done?”

“A bit, yessir.”

“And how many people did you kill on that train?”

“Me sir? Technically, zero.”

And his father smiled. “Let me rephrase. How men dead men did you throw out the back of that train?”

“Six, sir.”

His father leaned forward, his face turning redder by the second, then all that pressure released. “Kind of fun, isn’t it?”

“Sir?”

“Bad guys? It’s kind of fun, popping them in the head like that. Sorry you didn’t get to take out a few.”

“Sir?”

“The first dozen or so are the toughest. Gets easier after that.”

“Sir?”

“Still, everyone down in Yorktown that’s read the after-action report thinks you’ve got what it takes, son. You know Russian, German and French, and you have the background. When are you going to decide?”

“Sir, I’ve put in my application, with the Peace Corps.”

He flew back up to Boston on Sunday morning, still unconvinced that a life of killing spies was the life for him, but he had promised his father not to decide about the Peace Corps until his dissertation had been defended and approved for publication, so he sequestered himself in his apartment and began writing in February, and he emerged from time to time, for groceries, mainly, and he wrote and wrote. March passed, then April and May. Then June and July. And August, too, but at last his work was at an end and he took it to a professional typist, then to his advisor, who took it first to one committee, then another. He was called in the middle of September to defend his dissertation, and he did so on the third day of October. A month later he was notified: he would receive his PhD in December.

“So GramPa, what’d you do next?” his granddaughter asked, swaying in the rail car.

“Well, when I walked home to that little apartment, your Grandmother was waiting for me right there, out on the front steps.”

“Yes, but who was she?”

“Who? Oh, that spy, from Britain.”

“From Devonshire?”

“That’s the one. She was waiting, said she had been for a few hours, and that’s when we made your father.”

“GramPa! You’re not supposed to say things like that!”

“What? We didn’t do it in the road! We went upstairs!”

“So, you’re telling me GramMa was a spy?”

“Yup. And a pretty good one, too, as it turned out.”

“Golly, that’s kind of hard to believe, you know?”

“Hmm? Why’s that?”

“Well…it’s GramMa! I mean, she’s just a little old lady!”

“Oh…is that what she is…?”

“I guess she’s more than that, huh?”

“You know, you never seem to talk to her all that much and I think she misses that. Maybe she’d like to get to know you better.”

“It looks different out here,” the little girl said – going to the window, looking out over passing farmland and trees.

“How so?”

“Like there’s more water here, more rain.”

“That’s true. This part of England gets a lot of rain. Do you know why?”

She shook her head, still gazing out the window.

“Well, it has something to do with a water current. Does that ring a bell?”

“The Gulf Stream!”

“That’s right. Now why don’t we go down and talk to GramMa for a while.”

“I don’t know. I think I’m a little afraid of her now.”

“Afraid? Why?”

“Well, you said GranMa killed people…”

“Yes, so? Soldiers kill people all the time? Are you afraid of soldiers?”

She nodded her head. “Yes. Kinda.”

“And police officers kill people too. Are you afraid of them, too.”

Again, she nodded her head.

“What about those big, bad terrorists? Are you afraid of them?”

“Uh-huh,” she said, nodding her head big time.

“Well, somebody has to kill the terrorists too, don’t they?”

“Yes,” she said quietly, “I suppose so.”

“You suppose?”

“GramPa, why are we going out to that old house?”

“To Devonshire?”

“Yes.”

“Well, after your grandmother and I got married, we lived there for a long time. I worked in London, and your GramMa continued to work, well, as a spy. Your father was born here, too.”

“Did she kill more people?”

“Why don’t you go ask her that? You can ask her about all kinds of things, you know? She helped a lot more people than she hurt.”

“Did she?”

“Yes.” He stood and held out his hand, helped her out the door and down the narrow little corridor, and he knocked on her door.

The nurse came and let them in, and his granddaughter slipped inside, through the little curtain beyond the sliding door, then he turned and went back to his compartment. He sat by the glass, looked at the passing landscape through a reflection he saw there. His face, staring back, and the passing landscape beyond, merging. He hardly recognized the old man in the glass, then realized he hardly knew that old man at all.

The trees and farms looked the same, he thought, but not me. Everything out there looked caught in amber, frozen in time, but not me. Not her.

How many more weeks do we have together?

Time, so precious now. So inescapably precious.

His time, with her, the most precious thing of all. But so too was the little time those two could share. So much would be passed along. Memories would be made, memories to last a lifetime. The little girl was old enough now, and she was bright enough; she would remember. His wife would pass along the secrets of a lifetime, just as he had passed on those secrets to his son.

He looked at the eyes in the glass. His eyes, so unchanged, looking back into God only knows – like strangers on a train, chancing to know one another.

© 2017 Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com

Hope you enjoyed. Happy trails… A

 

Images of Other Days

Here are the four impressions from the Images Series, united in one rendering. Not much new, just a few lingering missteps cleaned up.

Images of other days

Images of Other Days

Part One: Impressions of an Afternoon, in Spring

First Impression: Water

It is late in the afternoon, and the sky is green.

An early Spring this year, he thinks – but a different kind of weather seems to be lurking just out of sight. Yesterday’s air too cold; today’s too warm, too humid. Too early for this kind of unsettled warmth, too soon for the such big storms to be moving in – and he wonders what is happening to this world. Something feels amiss, out of balance, and nature abhors imbalance.

He is driving on an Interstate, and there is a wall cloud ahead, the hanging cloud an unnatural shade of greenish-gray. Seeing a large freeway overpass ahead, he pulls over to the side of the road, just under the sheltering concrete, and watches the cloud as it falls and spreads. An instant later heavy hail pours from the sky, thunder rumbles overhead, and just a few hundred yards away lightning strikes a green highway sign, the arc transfixed in time for several seconds – before blinking out of existence.

He leans forward, peers through the hail, and grabs the radio.

“3114, I have a funnel on the ground, I-20 at Spur 4-0-8.”

“3114, at 1848 hours.”

Seconds later warning sirens pierce the evening, and when hail turns to rain he ventures back onto the highway, paralleling the funnel cloud as it heads for a residential neighborhood…

“3114, notify Duncanville PD they have a funnel working, headed for the area between Clark and Cedar Ridge Road, headed south-southeast.”

“3114, at 1851 hours.”

The sun is setting and the air radiates green – everywhere. The clouds are green, the wet streets a series of shattered green reflections, and he watches as high tension power lines twist in the green air over the Interstate, then snap – showering green sparks as they snake their way down to the grass.

“3114, power lines down at 408, on the roadway; we’re going to need to shut down the Interstate…”

“3114, at 1853 hours.”

He stops on the left shoulder of the highway, strobes flashing, power lines writhing like sparkling snakes a hundred yards away, and he gets out in the rain, places large orange cones across the highway and stops motorists with an outstretched hand. More patrol cars arrive and, like a bleeding artery, the highway is clamped off, sealed. Power crews in cherry-pickers arrive, and soon traffic is backed up for miles in every direction.

“3110 to 3114.”

“3114, go ahead.”

“Duncanville and Cedar Hill are working a reported car washed off the road, Highway 67 just south of Danieldale Road. They’re requesting a Rescue Diver, so I need you to clear and get over here.”

“3114, code five.”

“3114, at 1922 hours.”

He cuts across the wide grassy median and runs Code 3, with lights and sirens running, to Highway 67, and he heads south a few miles and stops behind a crowd of police and fire rescue vehicles. 3110, the district’s evening shift sergeant, is waiting for him, watching as he gets out of his patrol car.

“You have your gear with you?” the sergeant asks.

“Everything but tanks,” he advises.

“FD has three. Will you need more than that?”

“I doubt it. At these depths and water temps, two will last longer than I will. What’s up?”

“Car washed off the road, about a hundred yards upstream from here. Witnesses advise it was a small car, hatchback maybe, red or dark orange. One witness states she saw five people inside, two adults, three kids. Officers are walking the banks, and they’ve found several deep holes where a car could get hung up.”

He nodded, looked at the swollen river, the fast moving currents. “I’ll need a couple of men holding safety lines…”

“Already rigged. But, well, there’s a lot of stuff ripping through the water, branches, things like that. And, uh, it looks like there are a bunch of water moccasins in there, too.”

“What?”

“In the first deep hole. I saw about fifty moccasins.”

“Well, shoot the goddamn things! Run ‘em off. I can’t get in the water with that many snakes…I won’t last a minute in there.”

“Can they bite underwater?”

“They can bite anywhere they want, and I don’t feel like getting’ killed by a bunch of goddamn snakes tonight, sergeant.”

A fireman, a Chief, walked up, and he was listening to their talk about snakes, then he spoke up. “We can dump a few hundred gallons of gas upriver, let it run down; there won’t be any snakes in the water for days after that. Fucks up their eyes, real bad.”

“As long as the EPA doesn’t find out, you mean?”

“There could be survivors in the water,” the Chief said. “We need to get you in as soon as possible. You think I care about what fuckin’ EPA is gonna do?”

“Okay. If you think it’ll work…”

“It does. Gimme about ten minutes to set it up.”

“You better gear up,” the sergeant said. “I’ll get the tanks.”

He went to the trunk, slid his duffel close to the edge and opened it, stripped out of his uniform and put on the wetsuit and booties, then his hood and, in the warm, humid air behind the storm he immediately broke out in a sweat. He grabbed his mask and fins, then his regulator/vest, and trudged down the road to a steep trail that led down to the river’s edge.

“Could you have someone bring the tanks down to the hole?” he said to the sergeant, then he started off down the steep trail to water’s edge. It was another hundred or so yards to the first hole, and he looked in the water as he walked along the water’s edge, saw perhaps twenty moccasins writhing around in the watery gloom. Men started shining flashlights on them when he stopped at the hole, and he looked down at the water’s edge, saw a half dozen white-mouthed, black skinned snakes coiled up on branches just beneath his feet. A patrolman walked up next to him, looked down at the snakes and chambered a round in his 870 pump and fired five rounds into the hive, and he watched bloody chunks break off and roll away in the churning water. He heard men wrestling SCUBA tanks down the trail, hauling them through the tangled brush, and he rigged one to his vest while men started shooting into the water, killing more snakes –

– then the smell of gasoline became almost overpowering –

More lights shining in the water, no snakes on the surface now so he heaved the tanks over a shoulder and strapped the vest tight across his chest, then slipped his fins on. Someone handed him his mask, and he slipped that on too, and once he double checked his safety line he jumped into the water.

The water’s force was remarkably strong, and he kicked against the current as he felt his body being pulled away from the bank. He turned, saw three men holding safety lines and he went under the surface, turned on his flashlight. The first thing he saw was a moccasin, it’s bilious mouth snapping at his hands. He grabbed it behind the head and pulled on the line. Men pulled him to shore, saw the snake wrapped around his wrist, and someone leaned over, cut the snakes head off, and he fell back into the flow, submerged again, then kicked his way to the bottom. He saw a faint glow in the murky water below and swam for it, saw the headlights of a reddish Toyota in the swirling muck. He grabbed hold of the front bumper and pulled himself close, looked through the windshield, saw four people staring ahead, their eyes cold and lifeless, then he pulled himself around to the right side of the car. The back door had been pulled open and it dangled in the current on a broken hinge, so he went closer and saw an infant car seat strapped in the middle of the rear bench. It was empty, and he choked back a sob.

He swam upstream, against the current as best he could, poking into the branches and limbs that choked off the river in drier times, and after a half hour of poking through limbs he saw an infant’s leg poking up out of a tangled mass of branches and garbage. He pushed through the limbs, got hold of the little leg and pulled a little girl’s body free, then he pulled on the rope, swam for the surface, cradling the little girl’s body to his own while men pulled him to shore.

He passed the little girl’s body up to waiting hands, and he could feel the gasoline in the water working into his skin.

“Find anything else?” the fire chief called out.

He spat the regulator’s mouthpiece from his mouth. “Yup, right below me, at about twenty feet. Four bodies, still in the car. Let me bring those up, then I’ll hook up a tow line. Oh, better toss me a couple more lines while I’m up.”

Someone shot him a thumb’s up and he slipped beneath the water as soon as he had the new lines in hand, and he swam back down to the Toyota and tied one off to the bumper, then he swam around to the dangling door and reached in, cut away seat belts and grabbed another little girl before the current could take hold and pull her free. He tied a bowline around her waist and pulled on the line, felt his body being pulled through the water until he broke surface once again, and he handed the girl up, waited for the line to be untied, then he dove, three more times, bringing up the other members of the family. He made one last dive and secured a braided metal tow line to attachment points under the front bumper, then waiting hands pulled him free of the water. He was shivering by then, though his skin felt like it was on fire. The fumes wafted into his eyes, up his nose, causing him to wretch.

He saw them then, in all their sundered humanity. A mother and father, their three kids, laid out on the banks of the river like they were taking a nap. Firemen helped him out of his gear, then up to the highway, and they used a firehose to wash away the gasoline on his wetsuit, and from his skin, then they threw him towels. He had a spare change of clothes in his duffel and changed in the back of an ambulance, then the first bodies were brought up and he saw the little girl, the girl from the infant’s car seat, and he had to turn away.

The sergeant was waiting for him outside on the highway.

“Sorry, but you’re the only accident investigator working southwest tonight,” the sergeant  said, “and we’ve got a bad one over on Stemmons, by Love Field.”

He nodded his head, walked back to his patrol car and took out his activity sheet, then checked in with dispatch, wrote down the location of the latest accident. He looked through the windshield, past the beating windshield wipers, as firemen loaded bodies into waiting ambulances, then he checked en route to the next accident.

He drove through traffic with images of that kid’s leg sticking up through branches down in the darkness, then he felt a snake wrapping around his wrist, saw it’s fangs through the green water, snapping away at his face – and he turned away.

Second Impression: Blue Smoke, Still Air

He is steaming mad, or he is at least acting that way.

He is sitting behind the wheel, waiting for his rookie to get her seat belt on.

“Any time now would be good,” he said, not a little sarcastically.

“Yessir.”

“I think I meant sometime today.”

“It’s hung up on my goddamn holster,” she said, almost crying.

“Jesus H Christ,” he groused, turning to help her. “Here, let me give you a hand.”

You weren’t supposed to cut rookies any slack, none at all, but this was only his second female rookie, and she didn’t look like a cop. For that matter, she didn’t act like one, either. She’d been a teacher, and a French teacher, at that, and her hair had kind of a French Poodle thing going. Curly reddish blond hair, deep brown eyes, skinny as hell – but she was unnaturally nice, too nice to be a cop, but that wasn’t what bothered him most. After just one night riding together, one night he’d not soon forget, he was more convinced than ever she should go back to teaching, or maybe social work.

She had been part of the first class at the academy that had focused more on a “being nice” style of policing – and less on the conventional “good ole boy” approach that had been employed for decades – a style which, to put it mildly, involved a more physically confrontational approach to dealing with criminals. Old timers regarded the new academy routine as suspect, too “touchy-feely,” and most were concerned such an approach would lead to more violence, and more officer involved shootings, not less.

But he’d been an FTO, or Field Training Officer, for a few years, and as such he was well regarded. The rookies he trained went out on their own well-grounded in the art of not just taking care of themselves, but in looking after their fellow officers as well, and that was considered a large part of the job, maybe even the most important part. The first girl he had trained was doing well, too, at least in the eyes of those who mattered most – his fellow patrol division officers – and that mattered, to him.

But Deborah Desjardins had come out of academy with with an oddball reputation. Smart as hell, cute as hell, too, she came out with an attitude, the same one she had when she went in, and that was bad.

She argued with everyone. Students, staff, instructors – it made no difference. If someone said something she disagreed with, she was off to the races, and she tended to disagree with everyone. No point of law was too trivial, no street procedure mundane enough – if she thought it questionable her hand shot up and she started asking questions – and his first day with her, just yesterday, had soon grown into something approaching a living nightmare, a nonstop series of questions and arguments.

Why this, why that, why not do it this way, shouldn’t you being doing this instead of that?

And this morning was starting off the same way, and suddenly, he had finally had enough. “Why don’t you just shut your goddamn mouth for a half hour, just shut up and listen. Pay attention, and really listen, because it’s obvious you aren’t learning a damn thing.”

“What?”

“Look, you’re too busy thinking about how you can object to something to even take in what’s being said. You get out on the street and fail to listen to every word being said, every sound in the bushes, and you’re going to get killed. And soon.”

“I resent being talked to like this!”

“And I don’t give a flying fuck what you resent. I do care about how you think. Your job right now is to learn how we do things – out here, in the real world – and not to question everything we do. If you can’t wrap your head around that one little thing, you need to let me know, and right now.”

“Why?”

“Because all I need to do to end your career in law enforcement, right here, right now, is write up one note and get it to the watch commander. You’ll be out of here within a half hour. No appeal, no due process, just gone. And as far as I’m concerned, you’re about ninety five percent of the way there. Got it?”

“But…”

“Ninety six percent.”

“We clear now? The gravity of your situation apparent now?”

“Yes,” she said, yet her voice was dripping with malicious sarcasm.

He got on the radio. “3114 to 102.”

“102,” the watch commander replied.

“Need to 25 with you about a personnel matter.”

“Red Bird Airport.”

“Code 5.”

“What’s this all about?” Desjardins said, her voice now defiant.

“I’m writing you up, terminating your training.”

“WHAT!?” she screamed.

“Are you deaf, as well as stupid?”

She crossed her arms, her lower lip jutting all the way to the little airport, and he pulled into the parking area by the old terminal building, spotted the lieutenant’s patrol car – parked under a shade tree – and he drove over, parked window to window in the shade.

“What’s up?” the lieutenant asked.

“She’s not going to make it, L-T. She just doesn’t have the aptitude or the attitude, and it’s my opinion the department shouldn’t waste another dime on her.”

“WHAT!?” she screamed, again.

“See what I mean?”

“I sure do. Have you written up her 4301 yet?”

“I was going to right now, sir, but I didn’t bring one with me. Do you happen to have one handy?”

“No. Tell you what…I’ll let her finish out the day with you, and you can turn it in after shift-change.”

“Yessir.”

“How’s your schedule look for Monday?”

“I’m free in the morning, sir.”

“Oh? Well, why don’t you save an hour for me, say around nine.”

“Will do, sir.”

“Seeya later.”

He drove away from the L-T’s car, turned back to their patrol district and resumed scanning traffic and buildings, not saying a word to her. And after a few minutes of silence, Desjardins was about to explode…

“Did he just schedule you for something?”

“Yup.”

“What, if you don’t mind me asking?” Her voice was subdued now, and she had relaxed somewhat, too.

“I’m a CFI, a flight instructor, and I’m teaching about a dozen guys in the department to fly. The L-Ts one of them.”

“No kidding? Where’d you learn to fly?”

“In the Navy, then I flew commercially for a few years, before the airline went bust. I had a mortgage to pay so applied with the department, and the rest is, as they say, history.”

“Do you like it? Being a cop, I mean?”

“Yeah. You know, I do. A lot more than I thought I would, too.”

“But you still love flying?”

“I’m a pilot. I guess that’s hard to explain, but…”

“No, it’s not. My father was a pilot.”

“Was?”

“He died, last year. Cancer.”

“Sorry.”

“I’m a lousy teacher,” she said, out of the blue.

“Why do you say that?”

“I couldn’t get along with anybody. Not students, not teachers, not admin. It’s always the same, wherever I go, too.”

“I guess you’re wondering why, too?”

“Yeah. Got any ideas?” she said, smiling.

“Yup. You don’t listen.”

“What?”

“Case in point. I think there’s this voice going off in your head all the time, and every time you hear someone talk, well, you aren’t paying attention because you’re listening to the voice inside your head. You’re trying to find a way to dispute what’s being said, or you’re trying to remember something you did, but did better than the person talking. So, you don’t listen…to what’s going on around you.”

He looked at her, saw her head nodding, then a tear running down her cheek. “I think you nailed that one,” she said, “right on the head.”

“Look, I don’t mean to pile it on, but in my experience when someone cries they’re trying to distract me, trying to run away from the problem, so why don’t you dry up now, try to confront the issue head on?”

“Are you, like, a closet psychiatrist?”

“No, but close.”

“Huh?”

“My parents are physicians. My father’s a heart doc, my mom was a shrink. I couldn’t get away with shit in our house, and they always had an answer for every question.”

“So, you’re carrying on the family tradition, I see. And I bet you’re married, too?”

“Yup. She’s in med school now.”

“Of course she is. And you’ll fly away soon, too. I’d make bet on that.”

“Oh, I will one day, but I’ll stay in the reserves. It’s too much fun out here – I’d miss it.”

“I think I would have liked it too.”

“Maybe. Odds are you’d get yourself killed within a year. Or get someone else killed.”

“You think if I learned to listen better I could do it?”

“Maybe. I don’t know.”

“What would it take for you to know?”

“I’m in Traffic, I’m an accident reconstructionist and I usually work motors…”

“Motors?”

“Motorcycles. But twice a year I get a rookie, and I spend six weeks with them. With you, but in this case five weeks and three days don’t count.”

“Oh.”

“The point I’m trying to make is simple. I work with rookies right out of academy, but they only send me the ones that are really questionable, the ones the academy staff just couldn’t make up their minds about.”

“The borderline cases?”

“Yup.”

“That’s me, huh?”

“That’s you. I know this sounds ridiculous, but it’s nothing personal. I’m trying to save lives here, especially your life. Your life, my fellow officers lives, and yes, even the public. I’m part of the last line of defense, one of the guys the department looks to, to keep our ranks strong.”

“I guess flying helps with that, too. Being an instructor, huh?”

“Sure it does, but back to your question, I don’t usually make up my mind with a rookie until the end of our time together.”

“Yet you made up your mind this morning?”

“I did.”

“That bad, huh?”

“As bad an attitude as I’ve ever seen, yes.”

“Jeez. I’m sorry. I really am.”

“3114?”

He reached for the radio. “14, go.”

“3114, advise public service.”

“14, code 5.”

“3114 at 1700 hours.”

“What’s public service?”

“Call in on a telephone land line. Sensitive information, too sensitive to let it slip on air.” He saw a ‘stop and rob’ – a convenience store – ahead and turned into the parking lot, drove slowly by the front, looking at everyone inside, then he pulled up to a pay phone and parked. “Go in and get a couple of cokes, would you?”

“Sure.”

He went to the phone, called in and took notes, then went back to the patrol car, called the shift sergeant and the watch commander on the tactical channel, then waited for her to get back.

“They didn’t charge me,” she said, exasperated.

“I know. Store policy. We drive in, show the flag, and it’s safer for everybody. And we get fatter, too, and Coke all over the seats,” he said, sighing.

She laughed as he backed out of the parking space and turned onto the street.

“What was the call about?”

“A suspicious person, but with a twist,” he said.

“And?”

“Patience, Deborah.”

“Okay.”

He pulled back into the parking lot at Red Bird Airport, only now there were a half dozen patrol cars there, waiting. He pulled up to the group and got out of the car, then repeated what dispatch had just told him.

“There’s a male, white, 43 years old, in a silver Dodge pickup, parked in front of the Sewing Center,” he said, pointing down Camp Wisdom Road. “Just served with divorce papers, maybe two hours ago. Wife works in the store, called and advised he’s out front, has a bunch of guns with him in the truck. He’s alternately threatening and despondent.”

The lieutenant and the sergeant looked at him, the the L-T spoke.

“Okay, you two swing by the parking lot, try to ID the truck on your pass, then report what you see. Stay on tactical.”

“Yessir.”

He got back in the patrol car, and Desjardins looked at him as he buckled in. “He’s armed?” she asked.

“That’s what the wife reports.”

“Ex-wife, you mean.”

“Nope. Not until the papers are signed by the judge, kiddo.”

“Right. What if she’s…?”

“Setting him up? Been there, done that. Or, this could be a suicide by cop. Or, he’s about to storm a sewing shop full of little old ladies with an AK-47. Take your pick, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends…”

He pulled out onto Camp Wisdom Road and they drove by the shopping center.

“Did you see it?” he asked.

“I’m not sure.”

He drove another block, then turned off the main road onto a side street.

“14 to 102 on 2.”

“2, go.”

“He’s parked facing the store, two rows back, right in front of the main door. He’s sitting on the passenger side right now.”

“Okay. Two units are at the rear of the store, going in now. You and 10 are going to enter the lot at opposite ends, try to remain out of sight and close on foot at 45 degree approach angles. Start now.”

“10/4.”

He drove back to the little shopping center and pulled in, parked out of sight, then turned to Desjardins. “You take the shotgun, chamber a round here, keep the safety on. Follow me, one step behind, a little to my right. If the door opens you take cover, get ready to back me up if I have to close on foot. Sergeant will be to our left, so don’t, for God’s sake, shoot his ass. Got it?”

“Yessir.”

“Okay. Let’s do it.”

They made their approach in low crouches, and he kept his eyes on the suspect by looking through the windows of parked cars; he saw the sergeant doing the same, and in less than a minute there were only a few parked cars between the suspect and the two of them –

– then the man looked over, saw the sergeant –

– then put the barrel of a shotgun under his chin and pulled the trigger –

He heard a muffled boom, and the truck’s cab filled instantly with blue-gray smoke – and he stood, ran to the truck’s door and peered through the blood-stained glass. He opened the door and the man’s decapitated body writhed out, a fountain of blood spraying out the stumpy remains atop his chest.

He pulled out his hand unit and called in: “3114, we’ll need the medical examiner’s and CID at the scene for photographs, and call this a Signal 60 at this time, pending final disposition.”

“Signal 60?” she asked.

“Deceased person.”

“What do we do now?”

“Preserve the integrity of the scene until CID gets here, then we get information for our report and clear the scene – hopefully in time for dinner.”

“What? Dinner?”

“Fuck yeah, man. I missed lunch, and I’m starving.”

“I hear that,” the lieutenant said, now standing by their side. “How ‘bout Whataburger? And I’m buyin’!”

Third Impression: Images of Firefights

He’d figured out once, a long time ago, that Sean O’Malley wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, but the kid’s heart was always in the right place. They’d shared a dorm room the first six weeks of academy, and he’d helped O’Malley out with everything from simple math problems to the finer points of Vernon’s Annotated Civil Statutes, and while O’Malley was as strong as an ox, he just wasn’t in the hunt when brainpower was called for. He’d played ball in school, football – because in Texas no other kind of ball counts for much – then he’d gone into the Army. O’Malley ended up, and he’d still never figured this out, flying helicopters over in ‘Nam. Hueys, for the most part. Slicks and Chickenhawks. O’Malley told him once that they’d figured out he was all balls and no brains, so he was perfect for the job. He got injured grunts out of the tightest, hottest L-Zs, and he did so with a shit-eatin’ grin on his face, no matter how tough the call. If someone’s life was on the line, O’Malley got the call, and his Huey was the most shot-up – and beloved – bird between Hue and Danang.

After the sixth week of academy cadets were cut loose, allowed to commute to school from home, and O’Malley called him their first night home, asked if they could car-pool, use the time to go over homework assignments or just shoot the shit. He said “sure, why not?” – and agreed to pick O’Malley up at five thirty the next morning.

He’d not met Micki O’Malley yet, Sean’s wife, though Sean had talked about her non-stop for the last six weeks. He got to their rented mobil home a little early and went to the door, and Micki came to the door, told him that Sean was still getting dressed.

“Can I get you some coffee?” she asked.

“Yeah, you know, that’d be good,” he said, but he was staring at the woman as she turned and walked away – because she was just about the cutest human being of the female persuasion he’d ever laid eyes on. Blond hair and blue eyes, freckles all over her nose and forehead, and bodacious legs too, but it was the enormous sense of ‘cute’ that lingered as she walked away – and he felt like he’d just looked into the eyes of every male’s idea of the perfect girl.

And he wondered just how the hell O’Malley had pulled it off. What could she possibly see in him?

Her coffee, on the other hand, was godawful stuff – not fit for the living.

Which, in the end, didn’t matter all that much.

He picked O’Malley up and they drove in to academy together five days a week, and he did so, he soon realized, because the O’Malley’s couldn’t afford a car – not yet, Sean said – and besides, Micki wasn’t really the ‘go to work’ type. She was a born housewife, Sean said, and was already baking their second kid in the oven when Sean made it into academy, so her getting a job just wasn’t in the works.

And that’s the way they both wanted it.

He also figured out, in short order, that O’Malley lived with the most sensuous female God had ever put on this earth, and the poor guy had never really had a chance. O’Malley loved Pearl Beer and Micki, and when he got off work neither was far from his face. And if Sean had a hard time studying, Micki was the reason. O’Malley dragged his ass out to the car every morning looking like she’d fucked his brains out all night long. Some mornings he smelled like it, too.

And yes, he was jealous.

Things developed into a pattern when he got to the mobil home. He pulled up and Micki met him at the door, and every now and then she reached up and pecked him on the cheek, then O’Malley would drag his ass out of the bedroom…

And Sean would say: “How’s it hangin’, Peckerhead?”

“Down to my knees. You?”

“Pointin’ at the moon, Ace.” And Sean would point at Micki with his thumb – and they all laughed.

So O’Malley struggled, academically anyway, through academy, but he graduated – at the bottom of their class – but once he was on the street he soon became everyone’s favorite. He was the class clown in briefing, cracking smiles wherever he went, and whenever he had dealings with the public, even as a rookie, his supervisors got calls telling what a great officer he was, and that he was an asset to the community, and to the department.

And it was the truth. He was.

But in time his stint in helicopters called out to him, and a few years after academy he applied to and was accepted in the department’s Aviation Division. After Sean finished training on Jet Rangers, he moved downtown, to Central Division, and life for them finally seemed better than good. O’Malley bought a house and moved his family in, and they finally had a new car, a first in their lives.

He invited Sean and his family over for an afternoon Bar-B-Q after the transfer, and their kids played in the pool while the wives talked about babies, and he and Sean talked about their days together in Academy. And the thing was, he realized, he really liked Sean, missed working with him. He was a friend, despite their radically different upbringings, and pretty soon the O’Malley’s were coming over most weekends. They came over for Thanksgiving, and there were Christmas presents waiting at his house for Sean’s kids, and so over the next year they became best friends. Again, or maybe just for the first time.

One night Micki called him – in tears, begged him to come over, and when he got there she took him to their bathroom. Sean was curled up in the bathtub, crying, and he smelled like a brewery. And urine. Sean was in a fetal ball, sobbing as recollections of hot L-Zs, going in for wounded troops, coursed through veins of memory, but it was apparent there was a whole lot more going on than just simple recollection. Sean was in distress, going down fast.

He called his wife, who by that time was a resident in Internal Medicine, and he asked her to come over. After she examined Sean she recommended he go see a psychiatrist, even a VA shrink – if they wanted to keep the department in the dark, but in the end it didn’t matter. O’Malley’s episode that night wasn’t his first, Micki sobbed, but this one, she said, was her last. Sean apparently grew violent as his episodes lagged, and Micki showed off bruising all over her body, and they loaded Sean’s kids in his wife’s car and she drove them to their house.

When it became apparent Sean wasn’t coming out of this one, he took Sean to the ER, checked him in and then called Tom Anders, one of the assistant chiefs, because Anders had been a light colonel in ‘Nam, and he knew the score. He took over and arranged for treatment with the VA, and when that fell short the department stepped in, and O’Malley went onto so-called ‘light-duty’ after he was cut loose from the hospital. He landed in dispatch, taking 911 calls and sending them to the appropriate operator, but he came to work with dark bags under his eyes, and often smelling like he hadn’t bathed in days.

Yet even the stress of taking calls proved too much, and one night Sean called him, in dire straits indeed. He got to the house just in time.

O’Malley was curled up in the bathtub again, a 45 Colt in his hand, the barrel in his mouth. He saw that and leapt on his friend, disarmed him and then called Chief Anders, and they carried him to the ER again. O’Malley spent almost a year at a psychiatric hospital after that, but Micki never filed for divorce. She and the kids stayed away, lived with he and his wife, but she never gave up on him.

When he was released this time he was put on disability, told he’d never work for the department as a sworn officer again, so Sean started applying with other departments in the region, and in the end, the County Sheriff took him on, baggage and all. After Micki agreed to move back in, they gathered all the kid’s and Micki’s belongings and drove her back to Sean’s house, but it was an uneasy, uncomfortable reunion, a fragile truce.

Still, a new routine developed, and weekend Bar-B-Qs featured in their lives once again. Sean was sober, he was off medication and feeling good, and he was enjoying the work over at the S-O – the Sheriff’s Office.

“So, what are you doing?” he asked.

“Serving paper, for the most part. Divorce, bad checks and evictions, but sometimes arrest and search warrants.”

“Really? That sounds a little intense?”

“Only had to do a couple so far, and I think I’m dealing with it okay.”

“Cool.”

“What about you? What are you up to know?”

“Still on motors, but I just went to Tac school. The thinking is we can get to calls faster on our bikes, maybe do a little recon before the rest of the team shows up, something like that.”

“Still doing the FTO thing?”

“Yup.”

“You give up on flying?”

And he shook his head, took a deep breath and held it. “Nope,” he said, letting his breath out, “but I don’t suppose I can ignore the situation much longer?”

“Is it Annie?”

“Yeah.”

“You know, you’re a good cop, but this isn’t what you were meant to do.”

He nodded. “I know, but the thing is, it’s as fun now as it was when I started.”

“Fun? That almost sounds like the kid inside talking, ya know?”

“Maybe so. Micki looks good, Sean. Makes me happy to see you together again.”

“I couldn’t live without her, you know?”

“I do. I think it’s mutual, too.”

And O’Malley nodded his head, looking across the yard at his wife, at his ‘bestest friend in the whole wide world.’ “I worry about…” he started, then he stuttered to a stop, thought about what he was trying to say. “I worry about her, if something ever happened to me, ya know?”

“You don’t have to.”

And O’Malley looked at him. “You love her too, don’t you?”

“I love you both. We both do.”

And O’Malley nodded. “I know. You’ve meant the world to us, too.”

“Come on, we better check on the ribs…”

And so time passed, several months, anyway, then one night, when he was working traffic on a summer’s evening, he got a Tac callout and rode over to a dodgy part of town, an area of run down bungalows over by Fair Park, and it turned out the Sheriff’s Office was going to try and serve an arrest and search warrant at a so-called ‘cook-house’ – a house where drugs were – allegedly – being manufactured. The warrant mentioned PCP and stolen automatic weapons, too, stolen from a National Guard armory, so a heavy Tac call-out was in progress.

He saw O’Malley standing in a group with patrol officers and other S-O deputies, and as he pulled up on his bike Sean turned and shot him the thumb’s up. “See they finally took the training wheels off that thing,” Sean said, grinning. “Do that mean you finally knows how to ride that thar thing?”

“I don’t know. This is my first day without ‘em.”

“So, how’s it hangin’, Peckerhead?”

“Down to my knees. You?”

“Pointin’ at the moon, Ace.”

And they laughed together one more time – at their time, this time.

He geared up when the Tac van got on scene, and then the team discussed how to take the house. They would surround it first, then monitor windows for activity, and when the team leader had an idea of who was where, they’d storm all the doors simultaneously, so the team spread out while patrolmen blocked off the ends of the block. People in the houses around the suspects’ house were evacuated, then the Sheriff’s deputies and Tac team members moved to the doors and windows.

He and O’Malley were teamed up and assigned the back door.

When the main team shouted “Police!” and crashed through the front door, he and O’Malley went through the back door. The way ahead was a simple, narrow hallway, with two bedroom doors about ten feet down the narrow corridor, on opposite sides of the way. There was pandemonium in the front part of the house, and they eased their way down the hall with their backs on the walls, each covering the opposite side of their approach, with O’Malley a little ahead of him.

As Sean approached the first door he saw the shotgun blast before it registered, and he saw O’Malley fall to the floor as gunfire erupted all over the house. He had an H&K MP5 and he turned, emptied the 30 round magazine through the wall and dropped the magazine, then reloaded. Moving forward, and low now, he peered around the corner into the bedroom, saw a man holding onto his belly, but a shotgun still in hand. Then the shotgun was coming up again, and he emptied the clip into the man’s chest and head. He darted into the room, checked to see if anyone else was hiding, then he dashed back to check on Sean.

O’Malley’s neck and face were a tangled mass of blood and sinew; buckshot had penetrated his left eye and that was simply gone, now a pulpy mess, but blood was pulsing out of two neck wounds, and foamy blood was coming out his mouth and nose. He leaned close, called out “MEDIC!” – and tried to staunch the flow coming from the neck woulds.

O’Malley grabbed him by the vest, pulled him close, and his last words were “Micki, Micki…loves you too…”

He took his friend’s hand, held on tight. “Don’t worry about her. I’ve got your back.”

He felt a last squeeze, and his friend slipped away.

He sat in that hallway for hours, holding his friend’s hand all the while, and people kept their distance.

Services were not quite a week later, at a Catholic Church over off Oak Lawn, and there wasn’t room enough for all the cops and deputies and Army buddies that came, and the procession out Hillcrest to Northwest Highway was simply huge.

Micki O’Malley stood by his side all the while, dressed in black of course, but everyone looked at her, then him, and shook their heads. It was so obvious now, wasn’t it? She’d been in love with him, and it had driven Sean to drink. That had to be it. Why else would such a great guy have had such a rough time?

Forth Impression: Impressions of concrete, and yellow pools of light

“2141, are you clear for a call?”

He put his ticket book in the Harley’s saddlebag and clamped it shut, then reached the radio.

“2141, go head.”

“Uh, 2141, reports of a male, black, on the overpass, I-20 and Highway 67, witnesses advise they think he may jump.”

“41, code 5.”

“2141, en route at 2245 hours.”

He u-turned in traffic, rode as quickly as he dared to an on-ramp for 67 and got on the highway, drove the half mile to the bridge and saw a man sitting on the railing, his feet dangling over the edge, as he approached. An ambulance was already on scene, stopped just ahead of the black man; the paramedics were standing back from the man – and they were clearly agitated.

“41, show me code six, and let’s get a few units out here to close the ramp.”

“2141 at 2248 hours.”

He walked up to the man – who turned out to be a kid, just a very big, black kid – and the kid had a pistol in his hand. It looked like a Beretta, or a Brazilian knock-off of a Beretta, but he could see there wasn’t a magazine in the stock, that it just didn’t look ‘right’ – and he sighed.

“I told them,” the kid said, waving the pistol at the paramedics, “and I’m tellin’ you, mutha-fucka…keep the fuck away from me.”

“Yeah. Sure,” he said as he walked closer, but he stopped a few feet short and leaned on the heavy tubular guard rail, his back to the traffic roaring by fifty feet below. He looked at the kid for a minute, then slid down until he was sitting on the pavement – and he could feel the kid staring at him, not sure what the hell was going on now.

“You know, my best friend died a couple months ago. A friend, here, on the force. He was killed, and I’ve been taking care of his wife and kids ever since.”

The kid looked at him, still not sure what was going on, but he turned now, and looked down at the cop.

“You know what the real pisser is? She’s pregnant again. She just told me, a couple nights ago. The problem is, well, I’m married.”

The kid slid down to the pavement and sat next to him. “Whoa…is it, like possible the kid is yours?”

“Yup.”

“Fuck…dude…what are you gonna do?”

“I don’t know, man. I haven’t…well, you’re the first person I’ve told.”

“No way…”

“Way, Amigo. Deal with it.”

“So, like, what do you want to do? I mean, like have the kid?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know, man. It feels too big for me, like I can’t handle it.”

“You love your wife, don’t you, man. If you love her you got to step up, make it right.”

He nodded, then looked at the kid. “What about you, man? What got you?”

“My girlfriend dumped me and I got bummed at work, and my manager fired my ass?”

“Really? What the fuck for…?”

“Oh, some customer started ragging on me and I shot my mouth off, told her to fuck off…”

He laughed with the kid. “No shit? Bet that was a sight…”

The kid looked at him, shook his head. “I don’t know, man. It wasn’t right. What she said, what I did. Nothing was right.”

“Wasn’t right for your boss to shit-can you, was it? I mean, what would you have done in his place?”

The kid leaned over, put his hands in his face. “I fucked up, man. Fucked up big time. Not sure I can make it without Amy, ya know?”

“What happened with her? Do you know?”

“No, not really. She started hangin’ with another dude in study hall and before I knew what hit me they were going out, then she just fuckin’ dumps me.”

“That’s fuckin’ cold, man. Sounds to me like you’re better off without her.”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“What about your folks?”

“They don’t fuckin’ care, man. No one cares, ya know?”

“I know it feels like that sometime. Like all the world is just hangin’ out there, waitin’ to take a shit all over you. Funny thing, though, sometimes just hangin’ back, chillin’ out for a while, finding someone to talk to, that’s all it takes to get things back in perspective. The trick is to learn how to hold on to your feelings – at least ‘til you can get to that place and talk it out.”

“I got no one to talk to, man.”

“Sure you do. You got me, don’t you?” He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a business card. It had his name and badge number on it, and a couple of department phones numbers printed near the bottom, but he took a pen out and scrawled another number on the back. “That’s my home number. You get in deep shit, need someone to talk to, give me a yell.”

“Thanks, man.”

“You ever been flyin’? Like in a small plane?”

“No. I ain’t been up in nothing. Never even been outta the city…”

“Well, tell you what. I’m taking a guy up this Saturday, in the morning. You want to come along?”

“What?”

“Yeah. I teach kids how to fly. You wanna come along?”

“What? You gonna teach me to fly?”

“Who knows, kiddo. Stranger things have happened.”

“So…what happens now?”

“You get in the back of the ambulance and take a ride down to Parkland. I meet you down there and we talk to a doc. If you want, I can call your folks, try to help straighten things out. If the doc thinks you’re okay, you go home, and you go flyin’ with me Saturday morning.”

“You want this?” the kid said, handing over the ‘pistol’ – which turned out to be a squirt gun, a water pistol.

“Yeah. Better let me get rid of that…”

He got back to the station as the day shift took to the streets, at 0800, and he went to his locker and changed into his street clothes, then called his wife and talked with her about his night. He grabbed a cup of coffee after, and his notepad, then went to the briefing room and started in on his reports from the night before, but a half hour later dispatch called him on the intercom, asked him to come up to the lobby.

The kid was there, along with his father, talking to the watch commander, and when he came out into the lobby the kid’s father came over and shook his hand.

“I just wanted to thank you, for what you did last night,” the man said.

“You’re welcome, sir,” he said.

“About this flyin’ thing…did you really mean that?”

“Yessir.”

“I ain’t never been in an airplane. Is it safe, for my boy, I mean?”

“Yes, it is. There are risks, but there are risks when you cross the street, or step into a bathtub.”

The man nodded his head. “Any way I could come along?”

“Sure. I can do that.”

“When and where?” the father asked.

“Saturday morning, how ‘bout eight o’clock, at Red Bird, by the old terminal building.”

“Know it well. We’ll be there.”

“Lieutenant, I’m still working on reports and, well, I’m supposed to be on at two and haven’t been home yet…”

“Taken care of. You’re off until Monday. Go back and finish up, and see me before you head for the barn.”

“Thank you, sir.”

When he got back to the briefing room Deb Desjardins was sitting at the table, reading through his notes; she’d already read through his – unfinished – report, but she looked up when he came in, and she smiled.

“I remember your handwriting, you know. Looks like a draftsman’s script. I never got how you do it, especially in a car.”

He shrugged.

“You told the kid you got Micki pregnant?”

“I needed an insurmountable problem, needed to appear vulnerable. I needed to get him to empathize with me in order to get him to trust me.”

“Jesus H Christ. And what, you just came up with that standing out there? And he had a gun in his hand?”

“I could tell something was wrong with the thing. It looked like at didn’t have a clip in it…”

“A magazine?”

“Yeah, sorry. And he wasn’t acting, well, threatening, not yet. Somebody who wants to commit suicide usually doesn’t want to take someone with him, and when I saw it was a kid, well…”

“How old is he?”

“Fifteen.”

“I saw him in the L-Ts office. Looks like a fuckin’ mountain.”

“Play’s offensive line over at Duncanville High. Made varsity his sophomore year – good student, too.”

“The shrink, at Parkland? He called the chief this morning. Said he watched you talking to the kid down there, that you saved his life. Anyway, he wanted us to know.”

He looked away, shook his head.

She shook her head, too. “I wonder if he knows how lucky he is?”

“Lucky? What do you mean?”

“Well, how many cops responding to a call like that would have seen the gun and taken him out, no questions asked?”

“Well, how many times might someone like that turn on the cop as soon as he pulled up, try to shoot him?”

“So, why did you do it?”

He sighed, shook his head. “You remember our first week? They guy in the pickup truck?”

She shook her head, too, turned back to run through the memory, reliving their approach, then that ‘boom’ – and the cab filling with smoke. Then opening the door, seeing all that stuff on the ceiling and running down the inside of the glass. “Yeah, you know, there are nights I can’t stop seeing those things. It’s like they’re never going to leave me, ya know.”

“I know. I wake Annie up in the middle of the night. Screaming, sweats, racing heart – the whole nine yards. I’m kind of resigned to them now.”

“Them?”

He laughed a little, nodded his head. “Ghosts, maybe. I don’t think they want us to forget them, forget their pain, so they come by for a visit from time to time.”

“Our last night together? You remember that one?”

“The bedroom window?”

“Yeah. That one…”

The call had come out mid-evening, around eight or so, parents called about their son, a kid in middle school. He’d fallen in with a bad group, drugs, falling grades, and they’d had a big falling out at dinner, a really big argument that quickly got out of hand, then the father had threatened to send the kid away to school, a military school, up in Indiana. When they got to the house the mother was distraught and the father livid, domineering, his blustering voice audible from the street as they got out of their patrol car.

They had gone inside, figured out the basic contours of the conflict, but the kid had locked himself in his bedroom and wasn’t coming out.

“Does he have any firearms in there?”

“Yeah,” his father advised. “A Colt Diamondback, 22 caliber, and a Winchester Model 94.”

“30-30?”

“Yes.”

He looked down at the briefing room table, at his report, then he looked up at Desjardins and nodded his head. “That may be the worst nightmare I have.”

She nodded her head, too. “I know. Mine too…”

Standing outside the kids room, knocking on the door. Hearing a commotion from inside the room, hearing a train in the distance. The window opening, the train louder.

“Something’s not right…kid’s not in the room anymore…”

He kicked down the door, saw curtains fluttering in the wind, saw lightning outside, then the deep rumble of thunder…close, and getting closer…

And the train…close, and getting closer…

He ran to the window, lightning flashed and he saw the kid running through the muddy field behind the house, towards the tracks. He crawled out the window, jumped to the ground and took off, but after days of rain the field was almost a muddy swamp and his boots sunk deep into the ooze with each stride, and the kid had a fifty yard head start.

He saw the train through falling rain as he ran, then as he got close he saw the kid lay down by the tracks, put his neck on the rail, and he drove his legs through the mud, running as hard as he ever had in his life, closing, closing…getting close now…and leaping…

He dove for the kids legs, pulled him back as the train passed and he sat up, saw the kid’s decapitated body crumpled up by his own, twitching now – and he sat up and screamed, began crying and pounding his fists in the mud…

Desjardins ran up and gasped, got on the radio and called in, then the kid’s parents ran up.

Father looked at his son and turned away, walked back to his house.

But the boy’s mother looked at her son, then at the officer crying in the mud, and she knelt by him, and she hugged him. She held his head while he cried, rocked him like a baby, and Desjardins came up to him and she held his head to her thigh.

“Know what?” she said, bringing him back to the present.

“Hmm, what?”

“I fell in love with you that night. With your humanity, I think.”

“Did you really –” he said, grinning.

“How many?”

“How many – what?”

“Suicides?”

“Me? On view? Maybe ten.”

“How many have you talked down?”

“A couple.”

“You know, there’s something I’ve always wanted to ask you.”

“Now’s as good a time as any. Fire away.”

“That form you threatened to fill out? The 4301, I think you called it? When you were going to cut me from the department?”

“Yeah?”

“I checked a few years ago. There’s no such form.”

“Yeah? How ‘bout that…?”

“Why?”

“Why? I don’t know. Just a feeling I had. Funny how things work out, isn’t it?”

Part II: Impressions of Summer, in the Evening

First Impression: Pictures of Plastic Man, in Pearls

‘Still an hour to go ‘til shift change,’ he thought, just glimpsing his watch on the Harley’s vibrating handlebar. Eleven at night. 2300 hours, on a hot August night. Quiet so far, too; only a couple of accidents, minor injuries – no big deal. He needed to pull in somewhere, get a Coke and write-up the last accident, and that would probably take him to midnight – and then three days off – three days in a row!

He saw a Mustang up ahead. New. Dealer plates on the back. Black, red pin-stripes. Big pipes, deep, throaty rumble. One guy behind the wheel, having trouble keeping the car in his lane, slowing for a red light a few hundred feet ahead. Middle lane, six lane divided road, light traffic.

He pulled over to the right lane, watched the driver swerve a little, sharply this time, then the driver corrected and got back in his lane. Keeping out of mirror angles, he pulled closer, maybe twenty feet behind the Ford and stopped, waiting for the light to turn green.

When it did, the driver in the Mustang pounded the throttle, then let up as quickly; then accelerated smoothly away from the light, then swerving through traffic erratically a moment later.

He picked up the mic and called the tag into dispatch, then checked out on traffic – hitting the strobes, letting the siren wail for a few seconds – and the driver lost it completely then, veered off the road, jumping a curb in the process, and he watched sparks fly off the underbody. The Mustang careened through the parking lot, narrowly missing several parked cars on the way to a collision with a large, concrete and steel light tower.

Smoke poured out from under the Mustang’s hood as he got off the Harley and, with hand on pistol, he walked up to the driver’s window.

He sees driver leaning back in his seat, his trembling hands grasping the steering wheel, and he hears hard, fast breathing, as if the man is in distress…

Then he sees blond hair bobbing in the driver’s lap.

She is in the short strokes now, and he backs off, waits for the performance to end – which isn’t too far in coming. The driver is pounding his head against the headrest, his hands are squeezing then releasing the steering wheel, then he is screaming, almost a Tarzan-like yell, a real, shattering Johnny Weissmuller yodel, and he laughs – then shines his Mag-Lite into the cabin. The driver, just coming back to earth, turns his head and looks at the motorcycle cop standing outside his window – and grins.

“Are we having fun tonight?” he asks the driver. The girl is sitting up now, clearly embarrassed, her face a pearlescent wreck.

The driver nods. “Yup.”

“You had anything to drink?”

“Not yet. But I intend to take care of that shortly.”

“Ma’am? You alright?”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” she groans.

“No ma’am. I need a straight answer. Are you alright?”

“Look, this son-of-a-bitch just shot two gallons of splooge down my throat. How do you think I feel?”

“Pretty damn good!” the driver said, grinning deeply now.

“Ma’am, are you in this car against your will?”

“No, but I sure didn’t know this son-of-a-bitch had a foot long dong hiding down there.”

He looked down, saw radiator fluid running out from under the new Ford and sighed. “You’re going to need a wrecker to get out of here, sir,” he said to the driver.

“What? Why?”

“Better come take a look.”

The driver got out, opened the hood and a boiling wave of steam billowed up into the air, and the steam smelled like scorched ethylene glycol and burnt rubber.

“Son-of-a-bitch!” he cried.

“That’s what I said,” the girl added, wiping stuff off her chin.

“This is gonna be the most expensive blowjob in history,” the driver sighed, then he looked at the motor-jock, ticket book in hand, and he cringed. “Man, don’t write me up. I work in the DAs office, and Henry will fuckin’ nail me for this.”

He sighed, shook his head. “Got your ID?”

“Yeah, yeah.” The driver went to the car, fished around in his jacket, pulled out his wallet and ID, handed it over.

He looked it over, then filled out a ticket, handed the lawyer his ticket book. “Go ahead and sign it. I’ll have to call in the morning, but if you’re legit I’ll cut you some slack, void it out.”

The driver seemed a little put out, but took the ticket book and signed on the dotted line, then handed it back.

“You need me to call you a wrecker?”

“Yeah, could you?”

“Sure. No sweat.” He walked back to the car, looked at the girl. She had finished cleaning up the mess on her face and neck; now she looked up at him sheepishly as he came to the window and leaned over.

“You sure you’re okay,” he asked.

“Yeah,” she said, gently now, “I’ll be okay.”

“Not the safest place to do this, you know?”

She nodded her head. “Would you like my telephone number,” she asked.

“I might, but my wife sure wouldn’t,” he said, smiling. “Can I call someone for you, or you want to stick it out with Tarzan?”

She handed him her business card, looked up at him. “Just in case,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am. You have a good night.”

Second Impression: Hand in flame, reaching skyward

It was the first day of a new school year, and every officer in both Patrol and Traffic was geared up to work school zones this first morning. Indeed, for the next week anyone busting a school zone would get hammered. No leniency. No excuses. Just a massive fine. Fifteen over the limit and a trip downtown for Reckless Driving, per orders from both the Mayor’s and the DA’s office. Too many kids killed last year, and a big PR campaign was underway.

He was set up in a parking lot near a large elementary school, the school located on a busy, six lane divided roadway. There were volunteer school crossing guards at four of the major crosswalks leading to the school, and it didn’t take long.

A little red pickup zipping through traffic, he guessed a solid forty five in the twenty miles per hour zone, and the truck tripped his radar at 46. He tossed the radar in his saddlebag, pulled in behind the boy and flipped on his lights – the kid pulled over and looked at him nervously as he walked up. He explained to the boy why he was being stopped, and asked his age.

“Fifteen, sir.”

He nodded his head, had dispatch call the kid’s parents, ask them to come to the scene, then he called for a Juvenile Division officer to come to the scene and get ready to take the kid into custody.

He heard: “Jimmy, don’t!” and turned, looked at the crosswalk – and he could see it unfolding before it happened. He started memorizing the scene, the placement of vehicles, the locations of people…

A hundred feet away. Cars stopped in the outside and inside lanes, the middle lane clear. Six kids in the crosswalk, following the crossing guard – one kid darting out ahead of the guard. His name, apparently, Jimmie. A red car in the middle lane, Toyota Corolla, four door, estimated speed fifty. Girl, blond hair, high school, not paying attention, doesn’t see the kid because of the other stopped cars – they’re blocking her view.

Hits the kid as he crosses into the middle lane, his angle of departure a little to the left, towards the inside lane, knocked about fifteen feet up into the air, flies about seventy feet before landing on the inside lane. Body tumbles about fifty feet more then comes to a rest on the concrete median, and he’s marking the impact points in his mind’s eye when he realizes the red Toyota is out of control now, heading right for him.

He jumps out of the way as the Toyota skids past, slams into his Harley before careening into the back of the stopped pickup truck. He pulls out his hand unit and calls dispatch:

“2141, 36B my location, pedestrian down, signal 60, secondary collision and impact with previously stopped vehicle. Need EMS, possibly a helicopter my location, and code 3 backup for traffic control.”

“2141 at 0755 hours.”

He runs to the kid in the street, feels for a pulse and there’s nothing, so he runs to the Toyota. There is gasoline all over the scene now and he calls dispatch again. “2141, get me an engine on scene, I’ve got gas all over the place, and three kids trapped inside their car.”

“0756 hours.”

“Get back!” he yells at onlookers and passers-by – as he runs around to the passenger door, tries to pull it open. He cuts the seatbelt free of the girl sitting there and cradles her head as he pulls her free, and someone helps him carry her to the sidewalk. Black smoke starts coming up from inside the Toyota’s engine compartment and in an instant fire engulfs the little car. He jumps back, then runs to the pickup and sees the boy is now unconscious, slumped over the steering wheel. He opens the door, pulls him free and throws him over his shoulder, runs to the sidewalk and more people help him put the kid down.

Two men are spraying the Toyota with small fire extinguishers as he runs for the driver’s door. He reaches in through the flames and yanks the girl free; her clothes on fire now and people help him douse the flames. Someone empties another fire extinguisher on the car and he sees a little kid in the back seat screaming – before the car disappears from view in howling flames and boiling black smoke.

Fire trucks in the distance. Sirens. He looks down, sees the scorched flesh on his hands and arms – but oddly, he can’t feel anything.

Patrol cars, paramedics and firemen are everywhere now, making an opening for two helicopters. Three kids are loaded and the helicopters rise into the morning air, head for Parkland.

The Watch Commander is walking the area, talking to the chief by radio, describing the scene, then walks over to him.

“You look like a fucking hot dog,” the lieutenant said, shaking his head, “like someone held you over the fire too long. Why aren’t you on the way to the hospital?”

“I’ve got to get my measurements, L-T.”

“Bullshit. We can do that.”

“No, sir. This is on-view, and I know where everything is,” he says, pointing to his head. “I know where the key points in the sequence are. I’ve got to get my points marked, my measurements down now. I can do the rest later, but I’ve got to get those down now.”

The lieutenant nodded his head, called a patrol officers to help, and he got to work.

Third Impression: Wet grass and smoking clutches

He hated this stuff. With a passion.

Once a year, three days of recurrent motorcycle training. Running cones. Endless courses of cones. Tight circles, so tight his Harley’s floorboards were ground down to nothing now. U-turns, inside the space of a single parking place. High speed sprints, then locked up brakes and a sharp, 90 degree turns to the right, followed by a quick left and another sprint. All day long, over and over. Smoking clutches and scorched brake pads and frayed tempers, all brittle by day’s end.

The course was set up at DFW airport this summer, on the vast concrete apron outside fire station number three, but this was the third morning, so at least an end was finally in sight.

But this was the joyride day, the real world practicum day. The tough day, in other words. The day you were scored – by how many times you put your foot down. With a new clutch assembly installed, and fresh rear brake pads too, his Hawg was ready for the grind, the mechanical grind, anyway, but he remembered this was the most emotionally, as well mechanically stressful day of the class. It was supposed to be; it was designed to be. When you were a rookie motor-jock, and after three weeks of training, this was the day, and the test, that so many washed-out on attempting – and who then went back to patrol.

If any of them washed out today, they’d get one more chance, get to make one more run, next week – and another failing score would see a quick return to patrol, and a measurable loss of face in the eyes of brother Traffic Division officers. Scoring was simple, too. Put your foot down at any time on the joyride – and lose a point. Five points and you were out, sent to the barn.

The group started out running, one at a time, down closed runway 13 left – at very high speed. An instructor rode alongside, kicking his bike’s left saddlebag – as hard as he could. Once at the end of the runway he entered a circle, rode around slowly, letting the adrenalin rush taper, fade away, and when all the other officers finished it was out onto Highway 114 and a quick ride down to Texas Stadium. Into the stadium parking lot, a meandering course to an open gate, then up the inclined ramps inside the stadium to the upper deck. Up steep steps to an opening a couple hundred feet above the 10 yard line, then down the steps, through the bleachers to the bottom row of seats and a hard left turn. Fight off the vertigo, make the turn – without putting a foot down – then run along the seats to the next set of steps, then another hard left and back up the steps. Without putting a foot down. Then around the deck – up, down, up, down.

He felt his clutch slipping more now, compensated with more rear brake, but he made it out without a point off. They rode into the city, rode through downtown traffic – stopping at red lights – without putting a foot down when they stopped. Clutch simmering now, they rode out to Fair Park and rode the ramps up and down through the old Cotton Bowl, then ran over to Adair’s for hamburgers and Dr Pepper – foot down allowed here – then a long, high speed run on back country roads to DFW, where one last course through the cones was set up for them, waiting to claim one more careless victim. One of the official Police Rodeo short courses was set up, and here the scoring was adjusted a little. Time became a factor, with any time greater than one minute through the course disqualifying, while a foot down still garnered a point off.

With his clutch in terminal decline he entered the course, zipped through and went over to the fire station, parked his bike and hopped off. His hands still shaking, he took off his helmet and sat on the grass under a shade tree. He wiped the sweat from his face, tried to ignore his shaking hands and trembling knees.

He caught his breath, looked on as the rest of the guys made their runs through the course, then he heard a thunderstorm in the distance and sighed. A motor-jock from Plano came over and sat by him, and they looked up at the clouds as another rumble echoed across the airport.

“Nothing like running home in the rain,” the guy from Plano said.

“Unless it’s hail. I really love riding in hail.”

They both wiped sweat from their heads, then one of the firemen came over. “We got some Cokes in here, on ice.”

That was all it took.

He got up, held his hand out and helped the other guy up, then they walked inside the bays to a big, galvanized tub full of ice, overflowing with red cans of Coke. He grabbed one, popped the top and downed it, then let out a huge, billowing belch.

“Goddamn, that feels good…” he sighed, and he saw one of the instructors walking his way and grabbed another Coke.

“Looks like you’re number two today. 47.3 seconds and no fouls. Not bad,” then he looked at the guy from Plano. “57.5 and three fouls. You pass, but that time sucks. You need work, amigo.”

“That’s what he told me last year,” the guy said, slamming down his third Coke as the instructor walked away. He ripped off a burp that lasted minutes, then grinned.

The last jock was about to enter the course when he heard sharp thunder, now very close, and they turned, saw a dark wall of cloud racing for the airport, then lightning arcing through the clouds overhead. A few sprinkles hit the pavement, and the instructors looked nervously at the clouds, then at the last guy weaving through the cones.

“Gonna be close,” he said, and the guy from Plano burped again, a long hissing burp easing past his nostrils, nodding his head all the while, then the last guy was through, parking by the station.

More thunder, this time right overhead, and a lightning strike over by 114.

“Alright, guys,” one of the instructors said. “Let’s take cover.”

The group went inside the bays, but all the huge overhead doors were open, the immense fire engines, in effect, aimed at the runways – waiting, while a table was set up with hot dogs and hamburgers, firemen sharing their dinner with the cops.

He went over to one of the bays overlooking the runways on the east side of the airport, watched a little Learjet flare and land a few hundred yards away and he was glad he wasn’t flying this afternoon. He watched an American 727 struggle with a gust on the far side of the airport, then felt a sudden shift in the wind. He was about to turn away when he felt a ripple in the air, then he saw a huge, billowing fireball behind the cargo terminals…

“What the fuck,” Plano said.

He watched as the back third of an L-1011 tumbled through the grass just beyond the cargo ramp, smoke and bodies flying through the air, fires starting and instantly smothered by the heavy rain that had just started falling – and everyone was running for the parked bikes, starting them as they strapped helmets on, then screaming across the cargo ramp to the grass. He threw the Harley’s kickstand down as he stopped, then ran into the grass, ran through a sea of smoldering bodies and glistening grass…

Forth Impression: Speed

He was sitting right seat this morning, Deborah Desjardins doing all the driving now as she was well into her third week of training. It was warm out by eight that morning, and the air conditioner in the Dodge Diplomat was already having trouble keeping up, so running with the windows down seemed a better option, at least until afternoon came ‘round. Eighty days in a row with temps above 110 degrees, but she was getting used to it now, not complaining as often. Still, when you weren’t used to wearing a vest, a bullet-proof vest, in this heat, the misery index tended to shoot off the scale.

“Where to?” she asked after she’d double-checked the squad car’s inventory of flares and cones, and after he’d loaded his dive gear and reconstruction duffel in the trunk.

“Take 67 south to Camp Wisdom. Remember your briefing? There’s been a spike in burglaries in our district, and both DeSoto and Duncanville are reporting the same. Did you write down the suspect vehicle information?”

She looked at her notes, read through and he shook his head as he watched.

“Deb? CCR! You got to get this shit into memory. You can’t stop and consult your notepad out there…you’ve got to know what you’re looking for. Black Camaro or Firebird, damage on right rear quarter panel, some kind of decal on the back glass, maybe an STP decal. Sergeant read that out, not for your amusement but for you to have in mind while you patrol your district. Got it?”

“You memorized all that? This morning?”

“Yeah, you got to. I can remember shit like this from two weeks ago, some from months ago. And you’ve got to. We’re not cruising around out here just for fun, we’re looking for specific targets. You see a black yada-yada-yada today, you turn on it and we scope it out. Got it?”

“Yup.” She left the station and made for the highway, and they drove south out Highway 67. “Are they mainly hitting houses, or apartments?”

“Good question. The sergeant didn’t specifically tell us, did he? But he gave us street names both here and in Duncanville. All residential, single family homes.”

“Understood. I’ve got to memorize all these street names too. Right?”

“Yup. Pain in the ass, but when I was a rook I took a street map of my patrol beat into the house with me, and just started memorizing street names and block numbers. It’s tedious, but using a map is the only way to go. You’ve got to not only know the names, you’ve also got to know the quickest way from X to Y. Remember the Civil Service Exam? The most direct way is often neither the quickest or the safest way. All these things come into play, but here’s a clue. This knowledge takes time to acquire and assimilate. You have time now, as a rookie, to start learning this stuff, but you really have to apply yourself. It ain’t easy, and it won’t come together without hard mental prep time.”

She nodded her head. “It’s funny, driving out here, how suddenly everyone starts to drive the speed limit.”

“Yup. People see the bubble gum lights on top of the car and they get religion – real quick. But there’s a lesson in that, too. Know what it is?”

“Something about showing the flag?”

“Maybe, but no, something a little less obvious. The guy driving a little too perfectly, too carefully, he’s usually hiding something. You look at his car carefully. Is it well kept? Are the tags current? The inspection sticker? Sometimes you’ve got to drive close, get a closer look, see if he looks like a scrote.”

“A scrote?”

“Yeah, derived from scrotum, I think, but someone who looks hinkey, suspicious. It’s a perception thing, too. You can look at someone out here, after a while, and you can almost read their arrest and conviction record before the printout is in your hand. Certain types of tattoos are a dead give away, but I can see it in the eyes now. More a smirk, you know? No respect for the law, or for the badge, and that usually comes after a little time in the big house.”

“The big house?”

“Behind bars.”

“Oh. What do you think is the common denominator? I mean, behind criminal behavior?”

“Wow. Now there’s a question. Maybe a pointless one, but let’s see. If I was going to lay one thing out there, it’s that most street criminal think they’re real smart. That makes them lazy, and often careless. Another word that comes to mind is stupid.”

“Stupid? Really?”

“Yeah, you watch a few when you arrest them. They do things they think are smart, but in the end those moves are self-defeating, not thought through real well. Poor planning, poor execution. Stupid, in other words.”

“Then why do so many get away with stuff?”

“Well, I hate to say it, but luck plays a big role in that. Not to mention we’re stretched thin, especially at certain times of the day, and, believe it or not, cops aren’t immune to fucking up, too. The problem with being out here, exposed like we are, is that when we fuck up we, generally speaking, get fucked up. My biggest fear isn’t getting shot, it’s being run over on a traffic stop, or out on a highway, working a wreck.”

“Really?”

“The closest I’ve come to getting killed was working a wreck out on I-20. A couple of 18-wheelers got into it, jack-knifed across all lanes of traffic, and one of ‘em was a chemical tanker. I get there, park on the shoulder and start helping a patrolman get cones and flares set out on the road. A sergeant was parked up beside the tanker truck, his strobes on, flares set back from the truck. I see a car barreling along, in the lane I was standing in, and I put out my hand – like, “STOP! Now!” – but the car doesn’t slow down, not one bit, and as I leap out of the way all I can see is a ‘little old lady’ – squinting under the steering wheel – as she roars by, doing at least seventy.”

“No shit?”

“And she plows right into the tanker truck. She was killed instantly, but so was the sergeant. I mean vaporized. The explosion knocked us off our feet, blew out windows in houses and businesses on both sides of the interstate, and the sergeant’s squad car was just a black, scorched pile of twisted metal. That fast, you know? Probably thinking about his kids, but who knows? Maybe he coulda done X, Y, or Z if he had been paying closer attention, but he didn’t, and he was just dead. Smart guy, nice, dedicated. Great father, good husband, and he was a friend, too. And I watched him die. That’s part of the job too, one you need to get ready for. It’s not ‘if,’ Deborah, it’s when. It WILL happen to you, someday. You WILL see someone you know get seriously hurt, or killed. You WILL go to a lot of funerals, dead officer’s funerals, and it will fuck you up.”

“How many have you been to?”

“Three. In the last year. When there’s one anywhere within driving distance, the chief likes at least four motorjocks to show up.”

“Jesus.”

“When it happens to a friend? Man, that fucks with your head, big time.”

“How many? For you, I mean?”

“Too many, Deborah. One would be too many…but…too many. Uh…Camp Wisdom Road, one mile.”

“Got it.”

“Turn left at the light, go down to Hampton and make a left.”

“K. Where we headed?”

“The country club.”

“What?”

“Turn right on Red Bird, then right, the next right, into the lot.”

“Okay?”

“The maroon Jaguar over there. Under the tree. Pull my side up to the driver’s door.”

“Right.”

He rolled down his window when the car stopped. “Hey, Dad, how’s it going?”

“Alright. Who’s this?”

“New rookie. Deborah Desjardins.”

“Pleased to meet you,” the old man said, eyeing the rookie closely. “Why don’t you talk this asshole into bringing you to dinner at my place this weekend. Sunday afternoon.”

“I, uh, well, I’ll try, sir.”

“Well, you’re invited, so come on over anyway.”

“Bad case this morning?” he asked his father.

“Old guy, in his 80s, replaced his mitral valve last year. Bacteria all over it, eating it up. Tried to fix it…I told him it was too risky, but he insisted.”

“Lose him?”

“Yup.”

“Whoya playing with this morning?”

“Bill and Henry. They ask about you, you know? They’ll be there Sunday, so try to come, willya?”

“Yeah.”

“You too, young lady.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Seeya later, Dad.”

He rolled up his window as she pulled ahead, and he pointed at the road. “Right on Red Bird, then the next left. Lake Placid, I think, then let’s start cruising the alleys.”

“Right. Now what the fuck was that all about?”

“Hmm? What?”

“Inviting me to dinner?”

“Guess he liked you.”

“So? He’s not married to, like, your mom?”

“She passed a couple of years ago.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“He’s lonely as hell, and he’s a world class flirt. I think you’d have a good time.”

“So, did you arrange this little meeting ahead of time?”

He turned and looked at her, grinned: “Who? Me?”

“Hell, I guess I should be flattered.”

“Flattered?”

“That you’d think of me that way. Someone your dad might like.”

“Look, kiddo, if I wasn’t married I’d be all over you.”

She blushed, turned away.

“Next alley, make a right.”

“K.”

“Windows down, go real slow,” he whispered. “Slower…now…stop. Engine off.” He got out of the car and tip-toed along slowly, up to a six foot tall wood fence. He crouched low, walked up to the fence and pushed aside some shrubbery, peeked over the fence then motioned her to get out of the squad car and come over, but he was grinning like a fool. She walked over quietly and looked over the fence, then tried her best not to break out laughing.

A naked blond, by the swimming pool, with a German Shepherd between her legs, doing the deed…

She doubled over laughing, stumbled back to the car and got in, watched as he came back and got in the car…

“Goddamn!” she said, now laughing hysterically. “You knew she was going to be here? Doing that?”

“Most mornings, all summer long.”

“Shouldn’t we arrest her? You know, like animal cruelty? Something like that?”

“Did you see that dog’s face? Does he look like he’s suffering to you?”

She started laughing again, this time harder.

“I mean, you’re going to testify in court? Testify about the look on the mutt’s face? Really? That fuckin’ dog is in Hogg Heaven. Animal cruelty?”

She was losing it now.

“Roll up your window, dammit! You don’t want to disturb them, do you?”

“Goddamn you,” she snorted. “You’re a sadistic sonofabitch, you know it?”

“What? Don’t it make you horny?”

“Stop it!” she tried to say, but she was laughing harder now. “I’m about to piss my pants…”

“2141?”

He picked up the radio, all business now. “2141, go ahead.”

“2141, signal 53, Woodstock and Oak Forest. RP advises a black Camaro in the area just pulled into one of the houses on the cul-de-sac, unsure of the address.”

“41, code 5.”

“2110, show me code 5, and get another unit en route.”

“Units en route at 0935 hours.”

“Do you know how to get there?” he asked.

“No…”

“Left to Reynoldston, then make a right. We’ll turn left on Polk.”

“Okay.”

“Put your overheads on.”

“Got it.”

“Slow for the intersection…look both ways…okay, bust it…!”

“Yeah, got it.”

“Traffic on Polk is gonna be shit,” he said as they approached the intersection. “Okay, nose out just a little, let people see the strobes…okay, you got it…go now…”

She turned left… “Should I keep the lights on?”

“Hell yes…right lane now…Oak Park ahead, right – at the school, then an immediate left…”

“Got it…”

“Slow…down…you got to look ahead, but you have to scan the side streets, remember – look out for the little old lady with her air conditioning going full blast. She can’t see you or hear you…okay, here’s the school…”

“Yeah, got it.”

“Left now, lights off, and about two blocks…lot’s of kids…keep it down now.”

“Okay.”

“Slower…there it is, about eleven o’clock, reddish brick house, hipped roof. Got it?”

“How the fuck do you see these things?”

“Pull over here,” he said as he picked up the radio. “2141, show us code 6 and we have the suspect vehicle in sight now. 2110, can you approach from Oak Trail?”

“2141 at 0939”

“2110 received.”

“2113, show us code 6 in the area at this time.”

“0939 hours.”

He pulled binoculars from his duffel and looked at the black car. “2141, 27 on Arkansas 132 George Paul Sam.”

“Received at 0940.”

He looked at the house, saw movement inside a window then looked at the front door. “2141 going to TAC2,” he said, switching to the tactical channel. “2141 on 2, front door kicked in, male white suspect in the house.”

“2113, coming up behind you.”

“2110 on Oak Trail.”

“Okay, they’ve seen us…running for their car…switching to primary…2141, suspects are in their car, backing out the drive…coming right by me now…”

“0941 hours.”

“Turn around!”

“I’m trying…”

“Just cut through the fucking yard…!”

“Got it…”

He reached down, turned on the lights and siren…as 2113 got in behind the Camaro. “Keep on ‘em, close it up, stay with them.”

2113 busted the intersection with their lights and sirens going, 50 yards behind the Camaro, and they heard the officers in that car take the lead, call the chase.

“That’s Tim,” she said.

“Tim?”

“We were in academy together…”

“Okay…come on, keep it tight. If they wreck out, we’re the lead and we can’t lose ‘em…got it?”

“Yessir.”

“Ease up on the steering wheel, don’t choke it…take a deep breath, good, keep breathing…remember, scan ahead AND the side streets, always ahead…”

“2113, we’re at Camp Wisdom and Polk, southbound.”

“2110, get an air unit up, notify DeSoto and Duncanville we’ve got a chase headed their way.”

“0941.”

“2113, passing under I-20 now…”

“0942.”

Two more patrol cars joined the chase, fell in behind the shift sergeant, 2110, so there were now five patrol cars following the Camaro.

“Roads choke down out here, get hilly and the surface is rough – these shit cars can’t handle it.”

“Air 2 monitoring, think we have ‘em.”

“0942.”

“2113, passing Wheatland Road.”

“0943.”

He looked over, saw their speed was over 80. “You’re doing good, keep a few hundred feet behind now, at this speed if something happens you need a buffer.”

“2113, turning west on Danieldale.”

“0943.”

“Okay, get left in the lane and brake before you start the turn…that’s it…now accelerate through the turn…attagirl. That was smooth. Remember, smooth increases speed, jerky slows you down.”

“Got it.”

“There are some choppy hills up ahead, lots of trees, reduced visibility and sight-lines. Got it…?”

“Yup?”

“You okay?”

“Yup, think so.”

He looked at her, hard: she was sweating and her lip was quivering but she was doing okay.

“Uh, 2110, we’re approaching Cockrell Hill Road. Is Duncanville aware of this pursuit?”

“2110, 10/4.”

He saw a slow car ahead, a big yellow car, and a sharp little hill – but the Camaro pushed it, started to – make the pass –

“Don’t do it…don’t do it…” he whispered, but 2113 started to pass the slow yellow car too. He watched the Camaro duck back into their lane atop the hill – then 2113 went head-on into a pickup truck – at about 80 miles per hour.

“FUCK!”

“2141, 2113 is out of the chase, 36B about a quarter mile east of Cockrell Hill, we’re in the lead.”

“0945.”

“Okay, get around that shithead…”

“2110, someone behind me stop that yellow car.”

“DeSoto 211, we got em, sir.”

“Cite ‘em for failure to yield and hold ’em at your jail.”

“Got it, sir.”

“Uh, 2110, get EMS out here Code 3, looks like multiple 60s.”

“What?” Desjardins cried. “Dead?”

“Concentrate on your driving, Deb. You have one job now. Don’t lose these fuckin’ scrotes. Got that?”

She became feral, possessed, punched the accelerator – hard.

“Ease it up, don’t let your anger carry you away.”

“Right.”

“2141, we’re going south on 67 now, uh…wait one…okay, 2141, the guy on the right is leaning out the window, he’s shooting at us…notify Cedar Hill we’re in their jurisdiction now for Sig 1A.”

“2110 to Air 2, you got a sharpshooter on board?”

“Air 2, negative.”

“2141, their engine is smoking…looks like they’ve thrown a rod, slowing fast now, they’re going for the frontage road…”

“0947.”

Smoke pouring out of the underside of the Camaro, the two men jumped from the car as it rolled to a stop on the frontage road…

“2141, out on two suspects running into the woods, 300 yards south of Wintergreen Road.”

“0947.”

Police cars from four jurisdictions slid to a stop, twenty patrolmen started running into the hilly scrub west of the highway; Desjardins was following the driver of the Camaro with her gun drawn. He heard a pop-pop-pop, saw her stop, aim and fire two rounds – and he ran to her, then ran with her – to one suspect down on the ground, two bullet wounds in his chest.

“2141, Signal 33 shots fired, one suspect down, one suspect still at large.”

“0948.”

“Air 2, second suspect in custody.”

“2141 to 2110, my partner took out the driver, and he is Signal 60.”

“2110, notify CID and the watch commander.”

“0949.”

Fifth Impression: Martyrs in shadow, part one

‘Still an hour to go ‘til I finish up with this mess,’ he thought, and he rubbed his eyes, looked at his watch. Seven thirty already, but the sun was nowhere near ready to go down. Two more hours, at least, ‘til he could wrap up his measurements and head home. Nineteen hours straight. Called back to work at midnight, on his only scheduled day off this week, five hours after going off duty. Now, nineteen hours on top of that. Two bad wrecks in the morning, and he had been heading in to work on those reports when this one came out. A school bus full of kids going to a church campout. Railroad track. Driver not paying attention. Speeding train. Thirty four killed, seventeen injured.

“You know, there’s not enough room in the human soul for this much heartbreak.”

He turned, looked at a pastor and saw a kindly soul, at least that’s what he thought when he looked into the old man’s eyes.

“You knew…”

“All of them. Every one of them.” The old man’s eyes were red, watery and red, and he could tell this soul had endured enough today.

“Why don’t you go home now, sir. You look…”

“The Lord will give me strength, son. Don’t worry about me.”

He followed the pastor’s eyes, turned and looked at the last two bodies being loaded in a medical examiner’s van, then looked down at the ground and rubbed his eyes again.

“What about you, son? How are you doing?”

“You know, I’ve been better.”

“You look tired. More than tired. Your soul looks – well, almost broken.”

He smiled. “Does it? I’m not surprised.”

“Oh? Why do you say that?”

“It’s been a bad month, sir.”

“My name is Ewan. Ewan Biltmore. Please, call me Ewan,” the old man said, handing him his card.

He took it, looked it over, then got out his. “Here’s my card, sir. You’ll need the information, this service number, for your insurance company and, I assume, legal counsel.”

The old man nodded his head, looked him in the eye. “Perhaps you can’t speak now, but please, call me when you have some time.”

“Sure.”

The old man walked across August’s scorched grass in a fading breeze, over to an old station wagon and to the arms of his wife – and he watched them as they held on to one another, consoling one another in the face of this sudden eclipse. He turned, found the department photographer, confirmed all the angles he needed had been covered, then he walked the half mile down the rough gravel roadbed to the locomotive, up to the engineer.

“Sorry to keep you so long,” he said. The man was about fifty, his expression bleak, lifeless. “Could you tell me again exactly what you saw?”

“Like I told the detectives, I was approaching the crossing and I see the bus slowing, then the driver looks, and I could see his face.”

“He looks? What do you mean, he looks?”

“He looked up, right at me.”

“How far away were you when you saw him look up at you?”

“Fifty yards. Maybe a little less.”

“Your speed?”

“Forty, on the nose. Those NTSB guys have the recorder now, but I swear I was right on forty.”

“I’m not questioning that, sir, just need to make sure I’ve got my notes squared away.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Where was the bus, I mean what part of the bus did the locomotive strike? Front, middle, rear? Just your opinion, okay?”

“You want my opinion?”

“Yessir.”

“That guy waited for the train, and the driver pulled out onto the tracks, then stopped.”

“He what?”

“I been sittin’ here thinkin’ about this for a few hours, playin’ this thing over and over in my head. I see that guy lookin’ at me, his face all blank like, then he pulls right up on the tracks…and stops, and he never stopped lookin’ at me…not once, the whole time.”

“You think he, what? He committed suicide?”

“Yessir, I sure do.”

“You tell this to anyone yet?”

“No, sir, I haven’t. No one asked me about my opinion – ‘til you did.”

“What about the kids? Any of them in the back of the bus looking at you?”

“They all was, officer. All of ‘em, lookin’ and screamin’ – and I can still see them…oh sweet Jesus!”

The engineer turned away, leaned over and held onto a handrail, vomited once, then wiped spittle on his arm. He turned back a moment later, looked at the motorcycle cop standing there, almost like a robot.

“One more question…Anything like this ever happened to you before?”

“Couple of suicides, yeah, but never anything like this.”

“Okay, Mr Simmons, I guess I’m done here. Take my card; anything else you want to tell me, give me a call. You have anyone you can talk to about this?”

The man shrugged, looked away. “Won’t do no good. Wasn’t anything I could do, you know? I just ain’t ever gonna get those kids’ faces out of my mind.”

“I know. Still, sometimes talking about these things helps. Then again, sometimes nothing does.”

“What about you? You seen shit bad as this before?”

He looked away, thought of the Tri-Star tumbling through the thunderstorm a few weeks ago, the bodies in the grass, the smell of jet fuel and seared flesh still fresh in his mind, then he looked back at the engineer.

“You have a…no, sorry. Adios, Mr Simmons.”

“Yeah. You too.”

Part III: Sketches of a hot Summer Night, in Rain

First Sketch: Of Shadows and rain

“2141, show me in-service with an accident report, and I’ll need a second service number the a Signal 60 supplemental report, with one -95 for JCID.”

“2141, clear at 1845 hours, second service number 8521197.”

“1197, received.”

It was close to dinner time and he looked at his watch, figured he was close enough so he might as well run home, maybe grab some dinner and get out of the heat for a few minutes. He started the Harley and checked traffic, then u-turned in the street and started for the highway. The neighborhood was hilly, full of dense brush and tall trees between widely spaced houses, and the afternoon sun was slanting through the trees, casting long shadows in the stillness. A father and son were tossing the football in their front yard and they waved as he passed, and he waved back, smiled at similar memories of his father on autumn mornings, then he thought of the kid back there in the road. No more football, that much was certain.

Running wide open with his girlfriend on the back of his dirt bike, he’d lost it in a corner and tried to brake but high-sided – and they’d been launched as the bike flipped sideways.

His trajectory took his right thigh through a stop sign – and severed it completely. His body landed in a bleeding heap and tumbled, his outstretched arms impacting the curb and shattering both in several places, with the remainder of his severed leg vaulting into a vacant field, almost lost among tall weeds and scraps of gravelly litter.

The girlfriend landed in the street, and a kid speeding through the neighborhood in a pickup truck didn’t see her until it was too late to stop. People in their homes ran out and stopped the boy from bleeding out, but the girl was beyond help, dying slowly before their eyes. Mothers hid children’s eyes from the sight – but for too many it was too little too late, the damage done.

And now the damage done to three lives was irreparable, and for the girl, final. There were open bottles of beer in the kid’s pickup, alcohol on his breath, and at fifteen his life was now little more than wreckage, just as surely as the other boy’s dirt bike was scrap.

And now it was his job to make sense of it all.

To make sense of the senseless.

Pointless, too, he thought. Physicians and surgeons would try to put one life back together, and maybe psychiatrists could fix the other life, but what about the girl? Lawyers and insurance companies would slug it out, he knew, and they’d rely on his report to get to some kind of arrangement, some sense of closure, but she was gone and her death would never be anything more or less than senseless.

Once the road was closed he’d gone about the scene making his measurements, taking photographs and talking to witnesses, and when he, in the end, knew what had happened he just shook his head, put his stuff away and wanted to disappear down a deep hole. What were fifteen year olds doing out on the streets in trucks and motorcycles? Playing? Playing their parts in a vast mechanism of automobile manufacturers, car dealerships and insurance companies, all orchestrated by oil companies and big government. Profit and loss statements to some, nothing but shattered lives to all the others: parents called from homes to scene after scene, day after day, futures wiped away in an instant. “The show that never ends,” he sighed.

Freedom. Free to be irresponsible. Free, to look like a pizza smeared down seventy three feet of asphalt. Free, for the stump of your thigh to look like a spiral sliced ham. That’s freedom, alright, and he wondered how he would react if he got the call some dark and stormy night.

He was riding home and he stopped at a stop sign and sighed. “How many this month?” he wondered. Fifteen – by last weekend, and five more so far this week? Twenty dead, and those were just the wrecks he’d worked. Day in and day out, no time off for holidays, people were simply out there killing themselves in record numbers – and nobody gave a damn. Killing more in a year than in ten years of war in Vietnam, and where was the outcry, the outrage.

Just the price you pay for freedom, right? Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, or so goes the song…until it happens to you. Then there’s some outrage.

He thought of the TriStar tumbling through the field short of the runway, smoldering bodies on wet grass. He’d walked up to the first water tower, where the cockpit impacted and he couldn’t recognize anything human. And yesterday, an NTSB investigator told him the cockpit was found there, right where he’d been looking, and everything, the entire cockpit – man and machine – had been compacted in the impact to a lump about the size of a shoe box.

He heard a car pulling up behind his Harley and saw people sitting there, looking at him, waiting – and he shook his head, waved them to pass, then he paddled over to the side of the road.

Two girls, teenagers, pulled up alongside.

“Are you okay?” the girl closest to him asked.

And he nodded his head. “Yeah. Thanks for asking.”

“You were at the wreck, weren’t you? Stacy…she was our friend.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, but he turned away, didn’t know what to say to such grief anymore.

He heard doors opening and closing, felt them standing by his side, putting their arms around him and he realized he was crying. He’d been crying for weeks, ever since the moment –

The spinning hulk coming to a rest. Running through fields of gold, running through bodies falling like rain, then through the smoke – a man, walking. He was running towards the man, saw his white skin black now, black and peeling, his business suit smoking, and the man walked right up to him.

“Excuse me,” the man said – and he remembered the voice, “but I seem to be lost. Do you know the way to the baggage claim?”

And then the man fell into his arms.

Dead.

He put the side-stand down and climbed off the bike, went and sat on the side of the road, the girls still crying as they held onto him.

Another car stopped – Stacy’s mother, it turned out – and she came up to see what was the matter, what was wrong, and soon she was holding the girls, and him, crying as the sun slipped behind trees far, far away.

Second Sketch: Martyrs in rain, part two

‘Desjardins fourth week of training,’ he wrote in his training log, ‘and she’s made progress but it’s a struggle for her to let go of old ways of seeing the world…’

He looked at her across the briefing room table, thought of her those first few days…so self-centered, almost narcissistic. Always questioning, never listening for an answer, never watching things take shape right in front of her face – to blind to see – seeing so much she was blind to everything going on around her.

But she was changing. The chase, losing her friend from Academy, shooting a man who was getting ready to shoot her. She was starting to listen. Just. She would make it, he knew, but only if she could keep on listening.

They walked out to the patrol car in a light rain, and she checked out the car while he put his gear in the trunk. She got behind the wheel and checked them into service while he settled-in and put on his seat belt.

“Where to?” she asked, but he just turned her way and shrugged.

“You listen during briefing? Even maybe just a little bit?”

She picked up her notepad and he snorted, shook his head. “Goddamnit all to hell,” he grumbled – and she put her pad down and sighed.

“Sorry,” she said, looking down.

“Concentrate! Commit to memory! Recall! CCR – got it! Now think…what happened in our district today?”

“Two burglaries…?”

“Suspect information?”

“Male black in an old Datsun pickup, light blue, maybe a lawn mower in the back?”

“Anything on Camp Wisdom this morning?”

“Armed robbery, gas station at Cockrell Hill, in Duncanville.”

“And the suspect did what?”

“Came into Dallas, east on Camp Wisdom.”

“Vehicle description?”

“Red Firebird, first three on LP are 277.”

“Good. Damn good. So, based on that, where should we go?”

“Camp Wisdom to Red Bird, neighborhoods first, before people start coming home from work.”

“Okay? So, what are you waiting for?”

She smiled, turned on the windshield wipers and into traffic, then made for Highway 67.

“You still flying? Doing lessons and all that?”

“Yup.”

“Could you take me up sometime?”

He turned and looked at her, then resumed scanning.

“It’s just, you know, I’d kind of like to learn how to fly.”

He looked at her, didn’t say a word – yet.

“It looks like it would be fun, I guess. Up there. Free as a bird.”

He sighed. “Yeah. When we finish up together, if you still want to give me a call.”

“Who was your favorite FTO?” she asked, out of the blue.

“Guy named Ed MacCarley. Worked deep nights, downtown, out of Central.”

“Worked?”

“Retired a few years ago, went sailing.”

“Sailing.”

“Yup.”

“Alone?”

“No.”

“Have you heard from him? Since he left?”

“No. Don’t imagine I will, either.”

“Oh?”

He pointed ahead. “Focus on the road. Three cars in front of us. What do you see?”

“Red Firebird.”

“And?”

She sped up, pulled close enough to read the license plates then slowed down, pulled back into the right lane.

“Don’t get caught up day dreaming, Deb. Did you see the light blue Datsun pickup headed north?”

“What? No…”

“You were talking about flying just then.”

“Shit.”

He sighed. “No lawn mower, driver was white.”

“Shit.”

“None so blind as those who will not see. You can’t talk and think about this shit at the same time, so don’t try.”

“Shit.”

“You know, we need to work on your vocab.”

“Right.”

“Yeah, take a right – on Red Bird, let’s take the back way in, by Westmoreland.”

“Reason?”

“My ass is twitching.”

She took the Red Bird exit, drove down to Westmoreland and turned left there – and a moment later he said “Stop, now.”

He was looking out the right side of the car into a thick stand of trees and he picked up the radio before she managed to stop. “2141, show us out on a 54, Red Bird at Westmoreland.”

“2141 at 1615.”

He was out the door, running, and she still hadn’t seen a thing, let alone a ‘welfare concern,’ but she got out and started running after him – then she saw it. Him. A kid, young boy, naked, holding onto a tree, crying. When she got to the kid he was already kneeling there, talking to him.

“Hey buddy,” she heard him say, “what’s going on?”

The kid was in shock, taking deep breaths between vacant sobs, and she guessed he was eight or nine – and there were bruises all over his torso and legs. Wide bruises, straight edges.

He took out his hand unit and called in: “2141, need an ambulance, code 2 this location.”

“1617.”

“Can you tell me your name, buddy?”

The kid was shivering in the rain, looked up and saw the badge, the uniform, then fell into his arms, suddenly hyperventilating.

He held the kid close, and as he stood she watched the kid wrap his arms around her partners neck, legs around his waist. He cradled the kid and walked through the trees back to car, telling the kid it was all over now, that everything would be okay now. That he was safe now.

And she knew he was telling the kid the absolute truth. She could feel it in his voice, in the strength of his words, and the kid felt it too and he let loose, started crying – and then she saw feces, runny diarrhea running down the kids legs, urine flowing down her partners shirt and pants – but still he held on to the kid – and he held on tight until the ambulance and a fire truck arrived, ten minutes later.

Paramedics took the kid and put him in the back of the ambulance, and he got his duffel out and took out a change of clothes, had firemen hose him down. He toweled himself dry and changed in the street, then went to the back of the ambulance. A paramedic saw him and stepped outside.

“Kid’s been raped. No telling how many times, but a bunch. I’d say he was strapped down for an extended period of time, maybe days. He’s dehydrated and…”

“Okay, I got it. Is he stable?”

“Yup.”

“Hold off on transport for now. I need to talk to him first.” He turned, called the watch commander. “2141 to 2102, need you to 25 my location, and 2141, need someone from CID this location, code 2.”

“2141 at 1625.”

“2102, code 2.”

He turned to Desjardins. “Take a fireman, go back and see if you can pick up a trail, but don’t let anyone see you. There are house about a quarter mile in…”

“Right.”

He went back to the ambulance, stepped inside and closed the door. The boy was wrapped in blankets, an IV running wide open into his right arm. The boy was staring ahead, wide eyed, almost catatonic – and he sat next to him, ran his fingers through the boy’s hair.

“Look at me,” he said, and the boy turned to the voice. “I need your help now, and you’re the only one that can help me. Understand?”

The boy nodded his head.

“Do you know the man, the – who did this to you?”

The boy nodded his head, and he didn’t break eye contact.

“Do you know where you were when this happened?”

“No,” the boy said, his voice far away and tiny.

“If I drove you by the place, do you think you would recognize it?”

“Maybe. I’m not sure.”

“Did you know the man who did this to you?”

“There are a lot of them. They keep us in cages, then they take us out and take pictures of us while they do things…”

“How many boys? In cages?”

“I don’t know. Five or six in the room I was in. I think there are more, in the other rooms.”

“How did you get out?”

“The lock on my cage wasn’t shut right and I snuck out, crawled through a window where they do the laundry.”

“How long ago? Did you crawl out the window, I mean?”

“Not long, but I’m not sure. Maybe an hour?”

“Could you tell me your name?”

“Jason.”

“What about your mommy and daddy…”

“Don’t call them,” he cried, suddenly very frightened. “Please, don’t…”

“Okay, Jason. I won’t, but can you tell me why?”

“They took me there, left me…”

“They took you there? Why?”

“It’s a secret. I can’t tell.”

“Okay Jason. No problem. I want you to just stay here and rest, okay? I’ll be right back – in a minute.”

He stepped outside, the hot rain wrapping it’s arms all around him and he shook himself back into the present, tried to keep his anger in check – saw the watch commander’s car pull up behind the fire truck – followed by a gray Ford Fairmont – and he walked to them as the lieutenant and a detective got out of their cars.

“Saw a kid over there in the trees,” he said, pointing, when they were standing together in the rain, “naked, in shock, semen around his anus. I just finished talking to him, says he’s been locked in a cage for a long time, along with several other kids in cages, raped and photographed during the act. And here’s the thing. His parents dropped him off there, left him…”

“What the hell…?” the lieutenant said.

“My rookie and a fireman are looking for a trail, but he said he escaped recently, like within the hour, so I’m thinking we may be able to find the place. Put him your car, Andy,” he said to the detective, “drive him around, see if he can point out the place…”

But he saw Desjardins running through the woods just then, the fireman behind her, and she saw him and altered course, came up to him and joined the group, the fireman as well.

“Other side of the woods, street,” she said, gasping in the wet air. “Men looking, calling out a name…”

“Jason?”

“Uh-huh. Yup.”

“One of them is a pastor of some sort, has the collar, anyway” the fireman added – and the lieutenant sighed, looked away – for he was a religious man.

“How many houses in the area?” the detective asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, wheezing, “Long street – maybe fifty?”

“Front door open at one house near the end. Pale orange brick, white asphalt shingles.”

“Let me have your hand unit,” the lieutenant said to Desjardins, then he took it from her hand, angrily lifted it to his face. “2102.”

“2102?”

“Get a TAC team rolling this way, and about ten patrol units – and notify 100, have him head this way.” The L-Ts voice was dripping cold fury now, and his hands were shaking.

“Uh, 10-4, at 1633,” the dispatcher’s voice trembling now.

“Okay,” the lieutenant began, “we need to block off American Way, both ends of Cedar Circle, and, well, probably Corral, too.” He turned to the fireman: “Get onto your chief, tell them to standby for a pediatric call-out, better notify Parkland, too.” He thought for a moment, then shook his head. “Better use a land line, keep as much of this shit off the air as possible.”

He walked back to the ambulance, stepped into the air conditioned space and wanted to sigh, but he walked back. leaned over the boy and scratched his head gently. The boy was woozy now, coming out of shock, but as his body rehydrated his color was improving, and the kid looked up and smiled when he saw the uniform.

“You feeling better now?” he asked the boy.

“Yup.”

“The house? Orange brick?”

The boy nodded his head.

“Do you know what color the front door is?”

“White, and there are white shutters, too.”

“The roof?”

“White.”

“Okay.”

He stepped outside, went back to the group. “Kid says orange brick, white door and shutters on the house, white roof, too.”

“That’s the one,” Desjardins said.

“We’re gonna need a warrant, lieutenant,” the detective said. “This is too thin.”

“Exigent circumstances. They know the kid is gone, they’ll be cleaning up their act right now.”

“So? We let them alone, let things settle down, hit them in a few days?”

“And what if they decide to get rid of a bunch of witnesses? What happens then, detective?”

The detective shook his head, thought he knew how this was going to end. “I’m going, gonna try to get the house under surveillance.”

The lieutenant nodded his head, looked at his watch. “Damnit! What’s taking them so long…”

“I can take Desjardins, we can work our way behind the house,” he said…

“Go!” the L-T said, tossing the hand unit back to Desjardins.

“Come on,” he said, grinning. “Up for a little run. Again?”

He took off into the woods and she followed; he heard her swearing under her breath and he slowed, let her catch up. “This is why you ran and ran and ran all during academy,” he said, trying not to sound too ironic. “And the reason why you’re about to drop right now is you haven’t run since you got out of academy. Right?”

“Right, you fucking asshole.”

He laughed. “And no more Dairy Queen. Got it?”

“Fuck you.”

“God damn you’re slow,” he said, picking up into a near sprint. The cursing got louder, but a few minute later he slowed, held up a fist and stopped, and she stopped beside him, knelt when he knelt, by his side. She watched his breathing, wanted to reach out and hold him, kiss him. Love him.

“That’s it, down there,” she said, pointing through thick brush at the orange brick house. There was no activity now, either in the yard or along the street, but he saw the gray Fairmont pulling up several houses further down – under a thick tree, of course, and he laughed, then picked a way through the woods so they could get around behind the house without being seen.

And she cursed when he took off at a dead sprint, followed him around the back of the neighborhood and into deeper woods. She saw him leap through the air and slowed, then detoured around a coiled up copperhead, trying to keep up with him while keeping an eye on the ground now – but he had stopped, had a fist raised again, then he was almost tip-toeing through dead leaves and broken branches, moving noiselessly now, and she tried to mimic him.

He was kneeling behind a tree when she caught up to him, and she could feel a shuddering pulse hammering away inside her skull – yet she tried to breathe soundlessly – because he was.

“2141, 102, we’re behind the house, maybe twenty yards, lots of activity inside, screaming, crying.”

“Any reason you shouldn’t go in now?”

He heard a man’s voice inside – “No, we have time…I’m not going to do that!” then a physical altercation started.

“2141, we’re going in, need code 3 backup!” He started for the back porch, picked up a wrought iron lawn chair and threw it against a sliding glass door, and she followed him through cascades of falling glass…

Third Sketch: Sitting in the shade on a summer afternoon

They drove by her apartment a little before seven, and she was waiting for them – dressed a little too well, he thought. Nice dress, high heels and makeup, and he hardly recognized his rookie. She seemed nervous, a little self conscious as they drove across town to his father’s place, but it had been a hard couple of days. The shooting review board, hours of questioning by Internal Affairs and a routine interview at the DAs office – but no verdict yet. No decision whether her first shooting had been justified or not.

Neither would be allowed back on the street until there was one.

He wasn’t worried, though.

But she was. She was rattled, unsure of herself now.

“You look nice,” his wife said as Desjardins got in the back seat. “Has he told you much about his father yet?”

She looked at his eyes in the rear view mirror, then looked at his wife. Much taller than expected, she thought. Kind eyes, but kind of mad, too. Like she’d seen enough, knew enough about people to remain curious.

“Just that he’s a heart doctor of some kind,” Deb said.

“Well, he’s brittle,” his wife said. “Like: push him hard and he’ll break. Don’t talk about June, his wife, unless you want to see him break.”

“Okay.”

“For that matter, don’t talk about June around this guy…”

“Alright,” he said, “that’s enough.”

She watched the exchange, sensed friction in the action and reaction, the give and take. Like both had been worn down by such back and forth over the years. Like she had had enough hushed reprimands over the years, and now she turned away, looked out the window as the drove south on Preston Road past the country club. A few more blocks and he turned down Willow Wood Circle and drove down to the very end. He pulled up to the curb and stopped, went around and helped his wife out of the car, then came around and got her door.

“Thanks,” she said, but she saw he looked distracted, careworn, and wished she’d ducked the invitation, but he led them down to the walkway and then up to the door. It was a two story affair, pinkish brick that seemed darker in the shade of so many trees, and the steep roof was vaguely French, she thought, and it was sheathed in what looked like slate and copper. He rang the bell and a maid opened the door, told them “everyone is out back, just awaitin’ for y’all…’ and he led them through the house to the backyard.

And it was like a forest back there, she thought. A solid canopy of dense foliage, not a shred of sunshine making it down to the ground. And no grass, either. Nothing but plants and monkey grass, until she saw the pool. Small, multi-level tiers, and the walls and bottom of the pool seems to be made of black slate – and the net effect was of being in a grotto of some sort. Like the world outside this house was a world apart, held away by the illusions created by and within these walls.

“I guess you’ve had a rough few days,” she heard, and she turned to the voice, saw the man from the maroon Jaguar – and she looked down, saw his outstretched hand. She took his hand and he held it for a moment, looking into her eyes, then he seemed to sigh a little, and draw inward. “Could I get you something to drink?”

She looked around, saw that a cluster of kids had formed around her FTO, and she desperately wanted to get back to him, back to something familiar – because suddenly she felt very out of place. The women were diamond encrusted and well-coifed, the men looked like fashion models just in from a catalogue shoot – and she felt like someone her partner’d just dragged in from the boondocks.

“You know, I really don’t know what…”

And he smiled. “Come with me,” he said, and the old man led her into the house, to the bar, and he went inside the little room and picked up a glass and filled it with shaved ice, poured a little dark rum, then a little light rum, and finally, something she didn’t recognize. He stirred the contents then added pineapple juice and a splash of orange juice, poured everything into a blender and added more ice. He hit the switch for a second and poured the contents into a chilled martini glass, looking at the color before he handed the drink to her.

“Try this,” he said, smiling – and she did.

“Oh my God,” she breathed. “That’s so smooth!”

He beamed. “It’s strong, so not too fast – or you’ll be sorry.”

“Sorry?”

“You might do something you’ll want to forget later.”

“Such as?” she said, a little suggestively.

And he looked at her just then, looked into her eyes again. “You never can tell, Miss Desjardins.”

He even pronounced her name correctly, and that, for some reason, thrilled her. She watched him come around for her, and he held out his hand, led her back out into the yard. “Now, why don’t you come over and tell me what in heaven’s name convinced you to become a police officer?”

He was so unlike his son, so easy to talk to, so attentive, so unwilling to criticize. When her glass was empty he went in and made her another, and another, and she found it easier and easier to talk to him, told him things she’d never told anyone before – and pretty soon he didn’t look like a man in his fifties. Didn’t look even a little like her own father.

No, he looked like a man, an attractive man who was paying serious attention to her.

“Look,” she said after an hour of increasingly intimate questions, “I’ll never find my way to the restroom, so could you take me, please?”

He looked at her and smiled, then stood and offered his hand, again, and led her inside – to his bedroom, then he stood with her outside his bathroom and he looked at her.

“I’m curious,” she said. “Do you want me to fall in love with you, or am I reading this all wrong?”

He smiled, looked away, looked around his room. “Do you know, you’re the first woman who’s been in this room since my wife passed.”

“No one in the bed?”

“Not a soul.”

“Why me?”

“I’m not sure I know how to answer that. Not yet, anyway.”

“You’d better lock that door,” she said, “and turn out the lights.”

Forth Sketch: In a darker light

He looked at the name on the post-it note and searched memory for a moment, then recalled the face. Ewan Biltmore, the pastor from the bus wreck, all those kids. He looked at the number and went to the briefing room, dialed the number and sat at the sergeant’s desk with a notepad out, at the ready.

“Reverend Biltmore’s office, this is Barbara speaking. How may I help you?”

He told the girl who he was, and that he was returning the ‘reverend’s’ call.

“One moment, please.”

The man’s voice came on, rich and sonorous. “Yes, son,” the man said, “I just wanted to know how you’re doing?”

“I’m fine, sir.”

“I see. I ask because you seemed a bit distraught the other day.”

“Yessir, it’s been a rough few weeks.”

“Do you attend services, son?”

“No sir. Not in years.”

“What happened, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“After my mother passed away, I just…well…”

“I understand. Look, I don’t want to keep you, but I wanted to invite you to services this Sunday. We serve lunch after, so bring an appetite, would you?”

“I’m working Sunday, sir, but if I’m free I’ll try to stop by.”

“Yes, I’d like that. Hope to see you then.”

“Goodbye, sir.”

“Yes, good day to you.”

He looked at the clock on the wall: 11:23 – not quite time to check in service. He went over the hit list, the speeding-related accidents over the past week that Traffic Division used to set radar enforcement schedules, and the L-T had circled Kiest and Westmoreland, between noon and three, and put that in his box. He dropped off a supplemental report and headed to the parking lot, checked out the Harley and put on his helmet, then checked into service.

Out onto Illinois then south on Cockrell Hill Road to Kiest, just like yesterday. Just like the day before yesterday. Just like tomorrow would almost certainly be.

Yet…what was waiting for him out here today, he wondered. What shit-storm was waiting to break open and fall from the clouds. “And who’s gonna die,” he asked no one in particular.

Certainly not God. God’s not interested in questions, is he?

He thought of Biltmore as he pulled off the road a few hundred yards south of Kiest, thought of the locomotive engineer’s words: “I see that guy lookin’ at me, his face all blank like, then he pulls right up on the tracks…and stops, and he never stopped lookin’ at me…not once, the whole time.”

Why? Why such despair? Why would someone be willing to kill himself – and dozens of children, too? A church employee, no less?

He pulled out the radar gun and flipped-on the power, ran the ‘TEST’ circuit, then pulled out his tuning forks and knocked them on his knee, one by one, holding the vibrating rods up to the radar aperture and hitting the trigger. When all three checked he put the forks back in his shirt pocket and looked at a car – headed his way – at, he guessed, 38 miles per hour. He held up the radar and triggered it, saw the car’s speed at 37 and falling – rapidly now – and with his visual estimate verified he sat on the bike with the radar balanced on his thigh, waiting for his first customer of the day.

It didn’t take long.

Bright orange corvette. Heavy acceleration from the light at Kiest – a manual transmission, convertible. Visual estimate 55 and climbing, in a 35 zone, and he triggered the radar, then dropped it in the left saddlebag and toggled the starter, pulled out into traffic as the Corvette streaked by. Strobes on, siren next, get in close, read the plate. She’s signaling now, got religion real bad now…

“2141, traffic.”

“41.”

“Out at Westmoreland and Silverwood on Texas personalized Henry Oscar Tom, Lincoln Edward George Zebra.”

“11:55 hours.”

He got off the Harley and looked over the car, slowly, then walked up to the drivers door. Blond hair – long; face – sunburned. He moved closer: white gym shorts, orange halter top, bare feet. Inspection sticker expired, no seat belt. Fingernails? Long and black, with little red spots on them. Perfect, he thought. A black widow…

“Morning ma’am,” he said, running through the department’s mandated ‘seven step approach’ for initiating a traffic stop: “Hello, my name is officer ‘insert your name here’, and you were observed having sex with a donkey, in violation of the Laws of the Great State of Texas…”

“…And I’ll need to see your driver’s license and proof of financial responsibility.”

“My what?”

“Proof of insurance, ma’am.”

“Oh.” She rummaged around in seat, then the car’s glove box – then turned to him. “Sorry…I must’ve left them at home,” she said, batting her eyes. “Was I really going fifty five?”

“Ma’am, I’ll need your full name and date of birth, please.”

“Mindy Haskell, March third, fifty nine.”

“Keys, on the dash, please?”

“What?”

“Car keys, up there on the dash now.” He walked back to the Harley and picked up the mic: “41, need a 27, 28 and 29 on Haskell, Mindy, female white, three, three, fifty nine.”

“11:59 hours.”

“Ma’am, please keep your hands where I can see them.”

“2141, stand by to copy 29 information.”

“Oh, great,” he said, reaching for the mic. “41, go ahead.”

“Multiple 29s signals five, twenty three, and that D-L comes back suspended for signal 40 times three.”

“41, confirm warrants, and I’ll need a unit for transport, dispatch wrecker this location.”

“1200 hours.”

“Ma’am, hands where I can see them. Now.”

His hands go to the Sig226 on his hip – but her hands aren’t coming up. She’s looking at him in the door mounted sideview mirror, and he can see her eyes.

‘Not scared,’ he says to no one in particular, ‘and that ain’t right.’

The Sig comes out and he steps out of her line of sight, moves to the right, and he sees her turn, sees the pistol in her right hand as she lifts up in the seat, then the pistol is coming up and everything slows down.

It sounds like a loud ‘SNAP’ and he feels the bullet slam into his vest – but two rounds have left his Sig by then. The first round hits her left eye, the second goes through the right side of her neck, exits after going through her spine.

He hears “2230 out with 2141 – signal 33, shots fired!” on the radio and he wonders who 2230 is, then sees a patrol car across the street, sliding to a stop. “2230, ambulance code 3 and 41 looks okay, one suspect down.”

“1203 hours.”

His chest is on fire and his breathing feels constricted – and he’s stumbling backwards, then sitting on the pavement, pulling off his shirt then pulling the velcro straps on his vest, throwing it off.

He sees Desjardins running his way and he’s pulling off his t-shirt, clawing at his chest. “I can’t breathe,” he hears a voice say, then he thinks ‘I’m falling – backwards – slowly’ – and he hopes she catches his head before it hits the pavement, because that might hurt.

Fifth Sketch: Martyrs in rain, part three

He’s sitting outside in the twilight, on the grassy lawn, the orange brick house behind him now. News helicopters circle overhead, trying to get the shot they’ll lead with for the ten o’clock news, and the watch commander and the chief are talking with reporters down the street, the camera’s bright lights attracting a million flying insects. Desjardins has been in an ambulance with one of the last kids they found – a boy, maybe six years old, hiding under a bed. She heard his cries, found him – and now the kid wouldn’t let go of her. He’d counted sixty cigarette burns on his thighs and torso, then gave up and walked back into the living room.

The cages had been moved into the garage by the time they stormed in, and the men were busily setting up rooms to look like this was an ongoing church school, that everything was peachy keen and hunky dory. “No, no problems here, officer, and sure, you can come in and look around. See all our happy, smiling children?”

A detective walked over and sat down on the grass next to him, pulled out a steno pad and flipped to a page he’d written on earlier that evening. “Okay, let me run down what you told me, see if anything else comes to mind.”

“Sure, fire away.”

“You were out back, behind the tree you marked, and you heard someone yell ”No, I’m not going to do that!”

“Yup.”

“And you put the 33 out, ran for the back porch, the sliding glass door, and you picked up the chair on the way, threw it into the glass door and you and Desjardins entered the residence that way.”

“Yessirree–Bob.”

He chuckled at that. “I’m curious…why not just try the door?”

“I was kind of in a hurry. Anyway, I was thinking, ‘What would Steven Seagal do, you know?’ Would Seagal just try the door? Fuck no. He would pick up that very same chair, throw it just exactly the same way I did.”

“I can quote you on that?”

“Fuckin-A.”

“Okay. So, first thing you see is a kid, throat cut, on the floor, and at least one other body halfway in a large, black garbage bag.”

“That’s a big ten four, good buddy.”

The detective looked up, frowning: “You alright, man?”

“No, I am not alright, man. I’m very seriously not alright. Make sure you put that down in your fuckin’ report, too, wouldya?”

“Yeah. Got it. So the next thing you saw was the reverend. Ewan Biltmore. And you say you saw him at least once before?”

“He invited me to services once, then lunch.”

“And you went?”

“To lunch, yes.”

“I’m curious. Why?”

“Couple of weeks after I worked a bad wreck, the accident with the bus from his church and the train…”

“Oh, shit. Didn’t know that was you, man.”

“Yeah, well, he called me, wanted to see how I was doing.”

“How you were doing?”

“It was a bad’ wreck, Sherlock.”

“I know. So, Biltmore has a gun, a Smith 629. He sees Ainsworth coming in through the front door and he was getting ready to shoot, and you take him out. A double tap? That right?”

“Yup, once in the chest, the next right between the eyes.”

“You’re still on the pistol team, aren’t you?”

“Yup.”

“Okay, that accounts for the head shot. So, you run to Biltmore, Desjardins takes off for the sound of someone crying in a bedroom, and that’s when you hear more shots, run to the bedroom where you think Desjardins is, and you say she drilled that Pridemoor fella, twice.”

“Yup, and that’s when she heard that kid, got him out from under the bed.”

“Right, got that. So, you hear two shots next, you think Ainsworth’s, that right?”

“I think, yes, but I couldn’t see that part of the house from where I was just then.”

“Okay. Then the shotgun, what sounded like a shotgun, and by the time you got to the garage Ainsworth was down, and you hear the garage door opening. You see two men running, both with what you say were rifles, and then one turned on you, and that’s when you fired shots three and four?”

“Yup. Two head shots.”

“Why not double taps?”

“I was angry. I thought, gee, maybe I should shoot them in the nuts, but no, I had to do it the hard way.”

“I see. And after that?”

“I started looking for survivors.”

“Anything you want to add?”

“No.”

“If you think of anything…”

“I’ll call you, slick.”

“You need anything?”

He coughed once, then looked up and laughed –  shook his head and turned away before he said what he wanted to say. What he needed so say.

He felt her by his side a few minutes later, sitting there on the grass. She was looking at his hands and he looked down, saw blood all over them and he wondered when that had happened.

“Damn,” he said. “I don’t remember how I got blood on…”

“Ainsworth,” one of the paramedics said as he walked by. “You were doing CPR on him.”

“Hmm,” he said. “Weird, ya know? I don’t remember doing that.” He turned and looked at her, saw the expression on her face, in her eyes. “You know, there are guys that have been here twenty years and never drawn a gun. Now there’s you. Two weeks and two down. If you’re not careful, you’re going to develop a reputation.”

“I was thinkin’, you know. I wanted to…I think I got into this because…”

“I know.”

“I think I’m going to turn in my letter. Go back to teaching.”

He shook his head. “No. No, you’re not.”

“Oh?”

“You’re not, because I’m not going to let you.”

“You won’t let me?”

“Yup.”

“And why not?”

He turned and looked her in the eye: “Because, you’re too good a cop.”

She looked at him, let his words roll around in her mind for a while. “You know,” she said, “I hope I never meet your wife.”

“Oh?”

“It’ll be a bitch telling her how much I love you.”

He nodded his head, looked down and laughed. “Wait’ll you meet my old man.”

Part IV: Images and Echoes of Other Dreams

First Image: Ice, in mud

He was, along with every other Traffic Division officer, on duty that night.

New Years Eve.

DUI checkpoints on all the major ‘party-hearty’ roadways, every available patrol car working radar, working the highways – but it was 28 degrees out – and a light drizzle was falling. Bare tree limbs turning white as ice coated them, streets and sidewalks glazing over rapidly, and by 2200 hours the streets were, he thought, good for only one thing: ice skating.

Everyone was inside drinking, getting ready for Dick Clark to make his annual Times Square Countdown, and he knows by the time people get out to their cars they’ll find themselves smack-dab in the middle of an upside down winter wonderland. Hopefully before they did something really stupid, like start their cars and try to drive home.

Still, he was hopeful. The roads were, so far, remarkably empty, very few people were out and about – yet – and he was in one of the departments new Suburbans. The normal tires had been swapped for winter tires, and he’d just stopped by the garage and had them put on chains. He was good, but how many people in Baja Oklahoma were? On a night like this, Trouble was out and about, ready to make mischief on his appointed rounds.

He rotated his left shoulder, felt bone fragments tearing into muscle and winced, let his arm down slowly and realized he’d been holding his breath. He sighed, took a deep breath and tried not to think about it.

“2141.”

And he knew what the call was even before he picked up the mic.

“41, go.”

“2141, 36B, Greenville and Caruth Haven, officer on the scene advises code 3 not necessary.”

“41, code 5.”

“2141 at 2230 hours.”

He left downtown and got on Central, drove north as quickly as the chains allowed and exited at Caruth Haven, turned right and there it was. Patrol car already had the intersection blocked off, the scene secure, so he was just here for the report. Weird, he thought, because they only called him for the bad ones, and this didn’t look all that bad – then he saw one of the cars.

“Oh, god no…” he groaned, then shook his head – wished he could be anywhere else than here right now.

He gathered his notepad and opened the door, stepped out on the ice and nearly fell before he was halfway out the door. He steadied his fall with outstretched arms and winced, very nearly cried out when his left shoulder took too much weight.

But he managed to walk over to the wrecked gray Maxima and look inside.

The L-T was sitting there. His friend. The watch commander at the Biltmore bust. His sense of religion shattered in the aftermath, then his marriage shattered too. Divorce, almost bankrupt, the L-T had come to him, asked for help. Financial help, anything at all. Help to try and pull his life back together. He’d lent him money, co-signed a couple of loans with him and the L-T had been getting there, slowly, but at least he had some kind of life now, something worth living for.

Then he saw the girl in the passenger seat. Young girl, maybe in her twenties – at least he hoped she was – wearing hooker heels and cheap perfume.

“Hey, L-T…what happened?” But he knew. He could smell the booze on his friend’s breath, on his clothes, in the air, and when his friend looked up at him it was all there, plain to see. Eyes red and glassy, and he’d been crying. The girl was looking away, clearly trying to act bored – which meant she was hiding something. “Okay, hang tight, let me see what’s going on out here.”

He walked over to the officer who’d responded first. “What do you have so far?” he asked them.

“The lieutenant ran the red light,” the officer said.

“Oh, did you observe that?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Then someone alleges the L-T ran the red light. Is that a more accurate statement?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Any other witnesses?”

“No sir, not yet. I’ve been securing the road.”

“Uh-huh.” He walked over to the other car, an old black Firebird, a real scrote-mobile, and he looked at the two guys in the front seat. Total hooks; scraggly blond hair, house tattoos on their knuckles and forearms – and they were nervous now, watching his every move with angry eyes as he walked up to the driver’s window.

“Howdy,” he said genially. “Reckon either of you can tell me what happened?”

“Yeah, that bastard ran the red light…” the driver said.

“And which bastard would that be, sir?”

“Fuckin’ whack-job in the Maxima.”

“Okay. Can you tell me what happened?”

“We come out of that gas station…”

“Which one?” he asked, starting to sketch the scene.

“That one, there,” he said, pointing across the intersection.

“If you don’t mind, could you sketch where you were, which pump you were at, and what happened next?”

He watched as the driver took the pad, his hands shaking, then he took the pad back when he finished and handed it back. “So, those pumps over on the far side?”

“Yessir.”

“I’ll need both your licenses, as well as your registration and proof of insurance,” he added, and when the driver handed over the papers he looked them over, saw the insurance was expired and for another car, while the passenger said he didn’t have a license. “Nothing? No ID at all?”

“What do you need that for?” the passenger said. “I didn’t do nothin’.”

“Just for the reports, sir. I’ll need some kind of ID.”

The man got his wallet out, handed over his state issued ID card and he took it, thanked them and said he’d be back in a minute. He walked over to the first officer on the scene and looked him over. Young, arrogant, lazy. “Did you bother to ID those guys, run their car?”

“No, sir,” the officer said. “Thought I’d leave that for you.”

“Oh? Well, thanks. Here are the IDs, and here’s the tag number. Run them, now, and get CCHs on both those jokers. And keep your radio volume down.”

He walked over to the gas station and found the attendant inside. “Did you see what happened out there,” he asked.

“Yup. Sure did.”

“What pump did those guys use?”

The attendant pointed at pumps on the other side of the station. Not the ones the driver had indicated.

“How did the car exit the station, sir. Could you sketch it’s path on this diagram?

The man sketched an altogether different route than the driver had, one that put them exiting the station and driving about a hundred yards on the wrong side of the divided roadway before turning south on Greenville. “Do you have a readout you could print up showing me which pump these guys used?”

“Sure,” the man said, and he printed up the receipt, handed it over.

“I’ll just need your name and a phone number sir.”

“The station number okay?”

“Both would be best, sir.”

“Yeah. Sure.”

He walked back out onto the ice, walked gingerly back to the first officer, looking at the contrite little turd as he walked up.

“Driver has warrants, both have CCH for signals 1, 3 and 5.”

“The car?”

“Plates come back on a 77 Mustang…”

“And that car is?”

“Not a Mustang, sir.”

“So, let me get this straight. You’ve got a stolen car over there, driven by a dude with a criminal history including murder, burglary and armed robbery, and with warrants out for his arrest, and you’ve been letting him sit there, watching you, not knowing whether he’s armed or not, for about a half hour. Is that about right?”

“Well, I uh…”

He picked up his radio and called dispatch: “2141, I need the district WC and about three units for back up this location.”

“2141 at 2241 hours.”

He turned to the officer. “Get your 870 and get behind that fuckin’ car, right now,” he growled.

“2141, we have returns on the second ID now.”

“41, go.”

“Suspect Leftwich has an active BOLO and warrant out of Beaumont for Signal 1, signal 3.”

“41, confirm warrant, expedite backup to Code 3.” He looked at the officer and shook his head, knew the kid had no business being out here and wondered what his story was. “I guess you didn’t hear me? 870, cover the rear of the car? Like…now?”

Ten minutes later the bad boys were on their way downtown and he walked over, talked to the district watch commander about the officer’s performance – and the old man shook his head.

“Navy SEAL, thinks he knows it all.”

“He’s a menace, L-T.”

“You’re the third person to tell me that in the last two weeks. Write him up and I’ll send it in to personnel.”

“Who was his FTO?”

“Another SEAL.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. Oh. Now, what about Truman?”

“Drunk, but the accident wasn’t his fault.”

“Damn.”

“Yessir.” A DUI for a cop meant immediate termination and loss of certification. Period. State law and no exceptions allowed for any reason, personal or otherwise.

“You know him?” the L-T asked.

“Yessir. We’re friends.”

“Goddamn. You want me to assign this to someone else?”

“No, I got it. I’ll put all my notes with the supplemental, and you should have Nelson assign someone to double check my report, but it’s cut and dried. A rookie patrolman could’ve worked this one. Just not that asswipe,” he said, nodding at the other officer.

He walked to the Suburban a few minutes later, and the SEAL was waiting for him by the front door. He turned on the Olympus Pearlcorder in his shirt pocket as he walked up, smiling as he approached.

“What did you tell the L-T?” the SEAL asked.

“What happened out here.”

“Such as?”

“Dereliction of duty, incompetence, and that you’re a menace to your fellow officers.”

The SEAL grinned. “Oh, is that right?”

“No, it’s not right. Everything about your performance out here tonight was anything but right.”

“Here’s a piece of advice for you, hotshot,” the SEAL said. “Maybe you need to be careful what you say from now on. And who you say it to.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said – but the SEAL was walking away now so he got in the Suburban, pulled out the little Olympus and spoke into it for a few minutes, describing who said what, and why, as well as when and where.

“2141, are you clear for a call?”

“2141, 10/4.”

“2141, DPS advises they have multiple cars in the water on Highway 67, the west span over Lake Ray Hubbard. Two are submerged, no survivors reported.”

“41, code 5.”

“2141, clear and code 5 at 0014 hours.”

He sighed, made his way south to Highway 80, then turned northeast, heading for 67, mindful of the ice now. It was almost an inch thick and snow had started falling; there were cars off the road everywhere he looked and whole neighborhoods were dark from power outages. He heard Lieutenant Nelson call dispatch, report that all accident investigators were now working calls and to get out the reserves, get back-up on the street now. Then Nelson called him.

“205 to 2141.”

“41, go.”

“Don’t let DPS rope you into doing their report. Get back here as fast as you can.”

“10/4.”

“And 41, go to inter-city now, keep me posted.”

“Got it.” He switched over to channel three and called in. “41 to 5, go ahead.”

“Check 6.”

“4.”

He pulled over at the scene on 67, walked over to the DPS trooper and got the low-down, then walked back to to Nelson’s car, took out his Olympus and played the recording.

“Well fuck,” Nelson said. “Nasty little fucker, ain’t he, threatening a brother officer and all.” Nelson grinned, then looked at the scene. “You better get suited up. Need a hand with that shoulder?”

“Yeah, see if the fire department has any tanks handy. I’ve only got one 60 with me.”

“Okay. Oh, I heard Truman was in that wreck on Greenville.”

“Yessir. A 40.”

“Fuck.”

“Yessir.” He walked to the back of the Suburban and got his dry-suit on, and he was about to hook the 60 pound tank to his vest when a fireman arrived with an 80. “Whew,” he said, “thanks.”

“Hey, better you than me…that water’s freezing now. Literally, I mean icing up.”

“Swell.” He pulled his hood on and sealed it, then walked down the highway to where two cars had left the road. Two set of tracks, both yawing left as they tried to steer back onto the highway, and one of them appeared to have begun to flip on it’s top as it entered the water. Someone helped him into his BC and he snapped the vest tight and pulled his mask down, walked into the water, felt pressure as the water pushed in against his skin, but no leaks…

He turned, held out his hand and a fireman threw a safety line out and he caught it, clipped it onto his vest. “Get another ready,” he called out, then he sat down in the water and slipped his fins on, cleared the vest and took a deep breath, put his mouthpiece in and cleared it too. He crab-walked over the slimy boulders below until he was under water, and he turned on his flashlight, started walking along the bottom until, about fifty feet out, he saw the first car. He swam over to it, shined his light inside and saw two kids, maybe five years old, in the back of the station wagon – and both were still alive, breathing in an air pocket at the bag of the wagon.

They couldn’t have much oxygen left, he thought, not enough to mount a rescue operation, and he shone his light in again, looked at one of the kids fingernails. Blue nail-beds, hypoxic already.

He tapped on the glass and one of the kids put his head under the water and saw him. He smiled, pointed at the left side passenger door and made a slamming fist motion, then swam to the door and saw it was locked – so he reached for the rescue hammer strapped to his leg. It took two swings but the glass broke and the pressure inside the wagon broke too, flooding the back.

He had the door open within seconds and swam in, grabbed both kids and pulled them free of the car, then yanked sharply on the safety line, felt sure hands pulling him in. He broke surface and the kids started coughing and gasping, and a dozen firemen and police officers were in the water within seconds, helping him to shore. Both were in deep hypothermia but both were alive, and he asked for slack and submerged again, swimming down to look for the second car.

It was a little orange Honda Civic, resting on it’s top about fifteen feet beyond the station wagon and he swam down, looked in the window, saw all he needed to see for now and swam back to the wagon, looked for the driver and saw an old man face down on the front seat – lifeless. He reached around, unlocked the door and on the off chance felt for a carotid pulse, but no. Nothing. He hauled the man out and pulled gently on the safety line, felt pressure as he was pulled through the water again. When he was almost to the shore he held up two fingers: “Two more,” he said as he handed over the man’s body – before he disappeared under the waves again. He swam back to the Honda and easily opened the door, saw several empty bottles of beer rolling around on the ceiling and shook his head. He pulled a young man out, felt for a carotid pulse then pulled on the safety line, and a few minutes later went back down again, for the young girl he’d seen crammed in the back.

He pulled the girl’s leg and her naked body slipped towards the door and he stopped, looked at the knife wounds on her hands, the slit throat. Defensive wounds on her arms and hands – and why was she naked, in this weather? He closed the door, pulled sharply on the safety line, felt himself jetting through the water, breaking the surface a few feet from the rocky shoreline. He pushed his mask up on his forehead, treading water.

“Is this DPS’s call?”

A trooper on the rocks called back: “It’s mine. What do you have?”

“Homicide is my guess. Naked, slit throat, defensive wounds on her hands and arms. Probably better to tow the car up intact, preserve what evidence might be left?”

“Like what?”

“Semen would be my guess. Pulling her body through the water might wash away anything like that.”

“Fuck.”

“Anyway, you think about it while we get the first car hooked up.” He swam up to shore and took a metal tow line from the wrecker driver, then swam down to the wagon, secured it to the rear tow hook and swam around the car one more time, saw a kid’s teddy bear resting on the muddy bottom and picked it up. He surfaced and gave a thumb’s up to the wrecker driver and swam clear of the towline, then watched the wagon slide clear of the water, then up onto the roadway.

“Just leave the body in the car,” the trooper called out and he swam over and took the towline down again, swam around to the front and hooked it up. He looked the scene over, then surfaced again. “Car on the roof. One more line, please,” he called out before he took the second line down and hooked it to the rear axle. Back on the surface he called out “Take in line one!” and he watched the Honda spin on it’s roof. “Okay, take in two,” and he watched as the Honda flipped over on it’s tires. “Okay, hold on while I let the second line go.”

He swam down, released the second tow line and pulled it clear, surfaced and called out: “Okay, she should come in easy now.” He walked up the rocky bank as the Honda rolled up the incline, but he stood there a moment, then turned and dove back into the water, swam down to the bottom. He could see where both cars had been and he swam around, poking in the mud as he moved along inches above the bottom.

His eyes caught something, a flash, an impression, and he swam over to a large rock, swept his beam of light around the area. A knife. Serrated edge, eight inch blade. He picked it up, put it in his vest pocket and swam back up to the rocks and climbed out. When he saw the trooper waiting he walked over to him.

“Got an evidence bag handy?” he said, opening his pocket.

The trooper took the knife, shaking his head – and he walked back to the Suburban, found Nelson still there, waiting for him. He looked around, saw the ambulances were gone and turned to his L-T.

“How’re the kids?” he asked.

“Girl was shocky, they did CPR once, got a rhythm and took off for Parkand. The boy’s fine.”

“Hot damn! We got lucky tonight.”

“Yes, they did.”

“What time is it?” he asked, unzipping his dry-suit and climbing out of it.

“Not quite three.”

“Shit, how long was I in the water?”

“‘Bout two hours, I’d say. You cold?”

“No, not with this fleece. I was sweating in there. Feels good out here.”

Nelson shook his head. “Better you than me, Ace.”

“Why does everyone keep saying that?”Second Image: Shadows in the dark light of day

Cleared after the Biltmore shoot, he and Desjardins saddled up for their last week riding together, and if he signed-off on her she’d go to deep nights for six weeks, then to days for six weeks. After that she’d go to traffic, probably with someone other than him for a week, then to CID for a week. She’d be assigned a district and a shift after that, but ride two-up for another year, and if she passed all that she’d be cut loose – to a car of her own, a beat of her own.

“You feel like driving tonight?” she asked as they walked out of the station.

“You don’t, I take it?”

“No, not really.”

“Yeah, okay,” he said as he put his dive gear in the truck. She did the walk-around, checked flare and cones and the 870, then got in the right door and buckled up. He got in and looked at the expression on her face, shook his head and checked into service, then took off down Illinois, heading for 67. “What’s the problem?” he said a moment later.

She sighed, looked out the window at traffic, then turned to him. “It’s your father.”

“Oh?” he said, slowing for a stop light.

“I think I’m in love with him.”

He turned to her, grinning. “About goddamn time, Deb.”

“What?”

“Why do you think I invited you over there? I was hoping something like this might happen…”

“You…what?”

The light turned green and he took off, turned on Zang then slipped onto the freeway. “Yeah, I mean, why not? He’s lonely and you’re cute as hell? It’s a match made in heaven, right?”

“You think I’m cute as hell?”

“Look, Deb, I told you day one if I wasn’t married…ya know?”

“But you are, right?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Are you two doing okay? Arguing a lot?”

He looked at her, frowned. “It shows, huh?”

“Like a fucking bonfire.”

“It’s been going on a while. She wants me to quit, start flying again.”

“So? Why don’t you?”

“I dunno. Maybe I like it out here, ya know?”

She shook her head. “That’s insane. You ought be outta here, like yesterday.”

“You think so?”

“I do, but here’s the real problem. I want you so much it hurts.”

He looked at her again, frowned, shook his head.

“I’m not kiddin, Ace. I’ve had it bad for you, real bad, since about the second week.”

“That’s half infatuation and half Stockholm Syndrome…”

“Stockholm…? Why do you say that?”

“‘Cause I’m holding you hostage. Your career is in my hands, remember?”

She laughed. “I’m trying to be serious.”

“Yeah? Well, so am I. I’m here to train you, get you ready for a life out here. I’m not here to fall in love,, and neither are you.”

“So? Have you?”

“What? Fallen in love with you?”

“Yeah?”

He turned, looked at the road for a long time, not saying a word, then he looked at her and shook his head. “What makes you say that,” he said, softly.

“I see things. I see things, like in your eyes.”

“Look, I care for you, alright? But that doesn’t mean I’ve fallen in love with you. Okay? Got it?”

She nodded her head, looked away. “Yup.”

“Goddamn…I wish you were butt-ugly and had a face full of zits…but oh no, you had to be so fuckin’ cute it makes my heart ache. You had to have a voice that makes me melt. And yeah, I could fall in love with you in a heartbeat, but you know what? Ain’t gonna happen. It just is not going to happen.”

“You know what? You keep telling yourself that and you just might get around to believin’ it – but I doubt it.”

“2141?”

“41, go.”

“2141, signal 53, possible 14. Reporting person is a pilot landing on Runway 17 at RedBird, advises a gold sedan is parked in the trees off Mountain Springs, possible in-progress 14.”

“41, code 2.”

“2141 at 1615.”

“2110 code 2.”

He exited on Ledbetter, tore down to Old Hickory and made a hard, sliding left, yawing on the gravel and correcting, and seconds later they were on scene.

“Check us out,” he said, bailing out of the Ford just as it slid to a stop. Gun drawn, he ran past the gold Mercury Montego and she saw him skid to a stop – then turn around, laughing.

She ran up, heard music playing from a boom box and then saw a teenager – fucking a blow-up sex doll – complete with blanket spread out on the ground and a six-pack of beer in a cooler.

The kid was oblivious, and when the sergeant pulled up they walked over and explained what was going on…

“No shit?”

“No shit. Yet, anyway.”

They all walked up just as the kid was in the short strokes, grunting away like a pig, then blasting away into PVC ecstasy, and the three of them burst out in applause…

The kid rolled over, going from pure white to crimson in seconds.

“I give him a ten on form, but a three on the exit,” he said.

“And the East German judge gives him a five! Boo-hiss!” Desjardins said, and the kid was staring at her now, devastated.

The sergeant walked up to the kid slowly. “Do you have a permit for that sex doll, young man?”

“Uh…w-w-hat?”

“Do you have a permit for that sex doll? In order to use a sex doll in public, you have to have a permit.”

“Uh…n-no, I didn’t know…”

“Well, that’s a felony you’ve just committed. Did you use a rubber, at least?”

“What?”

“A rubber? Did you take steps to insure you don’t get that doll pregnant?”

Desjardins turned and staggered back to the car, trying not to let the kid see her laugh.

“Look, the last thing we need is for a bunch of pregnant sex dolls to start showing up at Parkland. No permit. No rubber. What kind of irresponsible young man are you, anyway?”

“What? Dolls can’t get pregnant!”

“Can too. Why do you think the state requires a permit?”

The sergeant turned to him: “Get his ID, call it in.”

He walked close and the kid lunged at him, tried to grab his gun and the sergeant took out the kid’s arm with his nightstick, pulled him up and slammed him into the Mercury and cuffed him.

“2141, 27, 29 on subject.” He called in the kid’s information, and while they waited for the return he started talking to the kid. “Why’d yo do that?” he asked.

“I ain’t got no permit. I don’t want to go to no jail. I know what they do to kids like me in jail…”

“Oh? Been to jail before?”

“Been to joovey. Couple times.”

“What for?”

“Jackin’ off.”

“Jackin’ off? Where?”

“House next door. I sneak in, jack off on Mrs Zimmermann’s panties.”

“Still doin’ that?”

“Not as much as I used to.”

“2141?”

“41, go.”

“Subject clear, negative 29, negative 27.”

“41, 28 on Paul George Ida – 283.”

“Standby.”

The kid looked nervous now and he walked over to him, looked in his eyes. “Where’d you get the car, Ronnie?”

“What car?”

“2141, have returns.”

He motioned for Desjardins and took the kid by the belt and walked him over to the patrol car. “This kid’s about to rabbit on us,” he said. “Lets get him in the back.”

“I ain’t gonna run…”

“I know you’re not.”

“Then why?”

“It’s air conditioned. You look hot.”

“Oh. Thanks.”

Once he was strapped in he reached inside and turned off the radio, then went out and called dispatch. “2141, go ahead.”

“Vehicle reported stolen two days ago by registered owner, Zimmermann, Edna, 3001 Gladiolus, city.”

The sergeant walked up, shook his head. “What do you think his mental status is?”

“IQ about the same as a head of lettuce?” Desjardins said.

“Yeah. My thought too,” the sergeant said.

He looked at them, shook his head, “I think we need to get to that house, check it out.”

“Why?” the sergeant asked.

“My guess? The kid killed her, took some money, bought the doll and came out here.”

The sergeant nodded his head. “I’ll follow you.”

He got behind the wheel, turned on the radio. “2141, 10-95 one, code five to address on 28 for a 54.”

“2141 at 1643.”

“2110, I’ll be with 41.”

“1643.”

It wasn’t far. A few blocks, a few turns. A nondescript beige brick house, tan shingles, brown trim around the windows and doors – just like most of the other houses in the neighborhood. Front door locked, back doors too, but when he looked in a bedroom window he saw the woman on her bed, hands tied behind her back with pantyhose, her neck twisted at an unnatural angle, her body starting to bloat as it decomposed.

“2141, need the ME this location, and a truck with hazmat suits for a Signal 60 evac, possible signal 1. If someone from juvenile could come down, too?”

“41 at 1650.”

“2110, get two units over here for traffic control.”

“1651.”

He walked back to the car, got in the driver’s seat and pulled out his Miranda Card and read through the kid’s rights. “You understand what I just read you, Ronnie?”

“Yeah.”

“When did you kill her?”

“I didn’t kill her. I was just going to scare her.”

“Did you stick your thing in her, Ronnie?”

He nodded his head. “Yeah. But I didn’t mean it to…it just kind of happened.”

“Did she know you took her car?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

Firetrucks rolled up a moment later and he left the kid with the sergeant.

“Better you than me,” the sergeant said, laughing.

He led Desjardins to the truck and they put on bright yellow hazardous materials suits, but she looked at him like he was nuts…

“Trust me,” he said, and when they were sealed-in the suits they walked up to the front door.

“No air conditioner going,” a fireman said.

“I know.”

“Hey, better you than me…”

“I know.”

The fireman put a huge pry bar up to the lock and pushed a little – and the door knob exploded, fell to the concrete porch and scattered – and he pushed the door open, walked in.

“This way,” he said to Desjardins. “Bedroom’s back here.” He walked up to the door, saw it was closed. “God damn,” he moaned.

“What?”

“Look, I can’t do this to you.”

“What? What can’t you do?”

“I can’t let you open that door.”

“What? Why?” she said, reaching for the knob.

“Don’t do it, Deb. I mean it.”

She stopped. “What are you saying?”

“Look, every rookie gets one of these, but I just can’t do it to you.”

“What?”

“When you open the door air pressure in the room changes. The skin ruptures…basically…the body explodes. It’s fuckin’ awful.”

“Did you do it? When you were a rookie?”

“Yeah, and they sent me in without a suit. Had to burn the uniform.”

“Then it’s my turn, isn’t it?”

“I don’t want you to.”

“Why? You protecting me?”

He turned away.

“I knew it. You do love me. Don’t you?”

He turned and looked at her. “I told you. I care for you.”

“No! Say it. Tell me that you love me.”

He shook his head. “Don’t do this to me, Deb.”

“Then shut the fuck up and teach me how to do my job.”

“Okay. Right. Look, that shit is going to fly everywhere, so the trick is to open the door and jump back…”

“But if I go back out there without that shit all over me, they’re going to know you warned me, right?”

He nodded his head. “Right.”

“So? You’d better stand back.”

“Nope. You’re not doing this alone.”

She turned and looked at him again.

“I wish you were a man.”

“What?”

“Man enough to tell me the truth – how you feel about me.”

“Actions speak louder than words, Deb.”

He took her hand – and she reached out for the doorknob.Third Image: Broken dreams

He was sitting at an exercise machine, working his shoulder back and forth, up and down – with two pounds of resistance – about all the joint could take today. His physical therapist was a real charmer too, he thought. Like a Marine Corps drill sergeant is charming.

“Come on. Don’t cheat…move that joint all the way up.”

He was sweating, cursing under his breath.

“You pussy! My Aunt Gladys can do better than that!”

“Does your Aunt Gladys have four fucking pounds of stainless steel in her fucking shoulder, you cunt!”

She laughed. “That’s the spirit! Come on, fight through the pain…that’s it, FIGHT!”

They worked ten more minutes, then she took his temp and BP and wrote them down on a chart. She handed him a towel then she rolled him back to his room, and a nurse came by and they helped him up into the bed, his left femur still not ready to take any weight.

“So,” she said, “you’re with the PD? A motor-jock? What happened?”

“Working radar, truck went by, down there, on Harry Hines. Just robbed a store. They blew by and I had them on radar at close to 70, then the BOLO comes out. Anyway, some clown starts shooting at me…”

“I remember. You went through Snyder’s windshield, right?”

“Yup. That’s me.”

“Thirty six fractures. Man, you are going to be a human barometer.”

“So my wife tells me.”

“How long have you been in here?”

“Five weeks now.”

“That’s right,” the drill sergeant said, suddenly making a connection, “your wife’s a doc here too, right? Internal medicine?”

“Yup…and speak of the devil, here she is now!” His wife walked in – in green scrubs and a lab coat – and he looked at her. “Scrubs? What gives?”

“Your dad did one of my patients this morning, and he let me scrub-in and watch.”

“Fun. Ready for another residency?”

She laughed. “Not quite. Oh, he and Deb are going to come down in about a half hour, she’s bringing in some Chinese.”

“Ah…awesome. I’ve been craving…”

“I know. I gave her the list.”

The drill sergeant stood, excused herself, but not before she told him she’d be by at ten tomorrow morning – for a little more fun, she said – a little too sadistically.

“I can’t wait.”

She turned to him after the therapist left, tried to smile. “Your white counts are weird. Need to do a few more tests.”

“Another needle. Oh, I can’t wait.”

“I know.”

“Weird, huh. Is that one of those fancy new medical terms?”

She came and sat on the edge of the bed, ran her fingers through his hair, shook her head. “What am I going to do with you.”

“A blowjob would be nice?”

She laughed. “You’d say anything to get me to do that, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes, I would.”

“Sorry. No can do.”

“Yeah, me too.”

She turned away, looked at his most recent vitals on the board. “Still running a fever?”

“All night. Look, if you have someplace you’d rather be, you don’t need to hang around.”

“No, no, I wanted to see Deb. It’s been a while, ya know?”

“Have you seen her since the wedding?”

“Once, I think, right after the accident.”

“How’s your – friend?”

“She’s fine.”

“Are you staying over there now?”

She nodded her head. “Sometimes.”

“It’s funny, ya know. If I’d lost you to another guy – I think I could understand that better.”

She looked at him, a little too defiantly, he thought. Gloating, maybe? Like: what did you expect? Gone all the time, never home. Not one vacation in the last three years. But why –why with a woman? Something else he’d missed along the way?

“Things happen, I guess,” she sighed.

Deb and his father came in a little before noon and they talked about life outside the hospital for a while, and Deb talked about all the usual BS going on the department, but he found himself looking at the ring on her finger more than once, and at how good she looked. Happy, he thought, and his father looked happier than he’d seen in years. Maybe ever – and that made him happy too. Then he looked at his wife and he felt like he’d lost something precious, even vital, while a world beyond reach began spinning out of control.

And soon enough both his wife and father excused themselves, he to make rounds, she to see patients. Once they were gone he looked at Deb, and she hadn’t taken her eyes off him in minutes.

“Your father told me about what’s going on,” she said, out of nowhere. “With Carol, is it?”

“You didn’t know?”

“No.”

“Good. That means I wasn’t the last to find out.” She laughed, and he did too, a little. “How’s Dad doing? Treating you alright?”

“He’s an amazing man, took me flying last week.”

“Ah. Where to?”

“Uvalde.”

“I guess he told you that part of the story?”

She nodded her head. “Sad.”

“You know, my mother knew. Everything, all along, when I was growing up. Never said a word about it.”

“I think I would have liked her.”

“I suspect she knows you now, somehow. I can’t imagine a little thing like death keeping her from taking care of Dad.”

“He loves you, you know. The accident scared him to death. He cried for days, until you were lucid.”

“I can’t imagine what life would be like without him. You do love him, don’t you?”

“I do. More than you’ll ever know, but never as much as I’ll love you.”

“You know, when she came in, a while ago, she asked if she could do anything for me…and I said, sure, how about a blowjob? She just walked away, too. I guess it hit me then. She was never into things like that. Never once, in ten years, did she ever do anything like that. Said it was revolting.”

“Yup, she’s a lesbian alright.”

They laughed, for a long time.

“So, would you like it if I…?”

“Like what?”

“Give you a blowjob?”

“Nope. I love you too much to put you through that kind of guilt.”

“And what if I love you too much to let you lay their suffering.”

“Look at me? I’m not going to push you away – but only because I can’t. But I will ask you not to, as nicely as I can. Again, because I love you, and I love my father. And I know this much, Deb. If it’s meant to be, between us, it will be. I’m willing to wait, if you are.”

“You’re a Boy Scout, you know that? Too nice. To a fault.”

“So are you. A Girl Scout, I mean,” he said, laughing a little.

“What are you going to do?”

“What? Now? Get into PT, get my body back. Six months, that’s the word. Six months and back to unrestricted duty…”

“No.”

“No – what?”

“No, as in no more duty. No more department. Take a medical, retire, move on. It’s time, and you know it…”

“No, it’s not, and I know it.”

“It’s going to kill your father…if you go back. You have no idea how much he worries. Your becoming a cop was childish, infantile, a need to act out cops and robbers fantasies, a need for adoration…”

“Adoration?”

“Yes, adoration. Can’t you see that? All you’ve wanted, your whole life, is to fly. Your father told me…in the middle of your second year in med school you dropped out, you dropped out because you got a position flying. Who does that? And then, when that was taken from you, you start this whole cop bullshit? Why”

“I thought it would be fun?”

“Fun? Bullshit. Think about it? Up in the cockpit, everyone adoring you, all those stripes on your sleeve, walking through terminals. Then that gun and badge, and wherever you walk, people…”

“If you say adoring me I’m gonna puke. It’s more like the exact opposite…”

“Sure. Tell it to that kid. What was his name? Jason? At the Biltmore shoot. That’s real adoration, in case you didn’t know it…”

He looked at her, shook his head. “How’d we get from blowjobs to taking me down a notch?”

She rushed to the bed, took his hand and kissed it. “Oh, my love, I’m not taking you down. I want you to do what you were always meant to do. Can’t you see that? I’m trying to protect you, and your father, from all this childishness.”

“Policing isn’t childishness…”

She sighed. “No, it isn’t, but your doing the job is like living out a child’s fantasies. Your father told me with your grades, your MCAT scores, going back to med school was still a possibility, but even if you couldn’t, there are so many other things you could’ve done. Why go out there and put your life on the line – everyday? Why do it? What were you trying to prove?”

“Deb, you know as well as anyone it’s a war out there. A war that’s been raging since the beginning of time. Good and evil, right and wrong. If everyone turns away from their responsibilities, to insure we aren’t overrun by evil, well, then evil wins. I’m just doing my part. Giving back. I feel that in my bones, too, and that’s the God’s honest truth of it.”

She looked at him, blinked her eyes then nodded her head a little.

“Okay. I can buy that. But even so, you’ve given enough. Done enough. It’s time to move on. You’ve been walking the razor’s edge for years. You need to move on. Too many people…need you.”

There came a gentle knock on the door, and she walked over, opened it a little. She saw an older man, little Ben Franklin glasses perched low on his sunburned nose, and a young woman standing behind him in the corridor, but the man looked over Deborah’s shoulders into the room.

“Hey? Rookie? What the fuck are you doing in bed? Time to get up and get dressed…we got work to do!”

“Eddie?” he whispered, his voice full of wonder. “Ed Fuckin’ MacCarley! Oh my fuckin’ God! Eddie! What are you doing here?”Forth Image: Flames and mud

He had his favorite spots. Like fishing holes, he’d once thought. Places where he liked to sit up and, with radar gun in hand, watch traffic, waiting for ‘the big one.’ The 60 in a 30. The 45 in a school zone. The really egregious violations.

It was called ‘stroking.’ As in, ‘yeah, I got a good one out there today, stroked him for 75 in a 55.’ Or: she got a double stroke – meaning two tickets, or the dreaded ‘triple stroke’: three tickets, three strokes for the truly big assholes. The more a ‘scrote bitched and moaned, the more strokes he got – simple as that. Nice people usually got away with one, or even a warning.

He sat up in the shade of an old pecan tree and pulled out the radar gun from the Harley’s saddlebag and went through the calibration procedure again, the bike balanced between his legs, a light breeze blowing on this sunny Spring afternoon. ‘God, what a glorious day!’ he said to himself – and he closed his eyes, felt the wind sifting across his arms, over his face.

He was on a two lane road that approached a school playground, set up where the speed limit dropped from 45 to 30 – and he looked down the road, saw a little red car headed in at close to 70; he watched as the car passed the 30MPH sign and pulled the trigger.

“72,” he grinned – and the little car’s brakes locked up, the driver looking at him as she skidded past. He put on his strobes and pulled out behind her, but she was already pulling off the road into a faculty parking lot at the school. He pulled in behind her and killed the strobes, then checked out on traffic with dispatch and dismounted, approached the car.

He saw blond hair, long, wavy blond hair – and black skin. As he got close: long legs and purple fishnet stockings, a gold lamé dress – and the shoes, too. Big hands, and aircraft carrier sized shoes.

“Yes, good afternoon…” he began, scanning the car for weapons.

“Well, it was. It sho ain’t now,” the woman said, lightly laughing.

“Yes, well, you were observed doing 72 in a 30, and I’ll need to see you license and proof of financial responsibility.” He watched her closely now…hand on his Sig.

She opened her purse, pulled out a license and an insurance card and handed them to him.

He looked at the license and did a double take. “Uh, it says your name is Harlan T Polk. Is this your license – that your name?”

“Yes it is,” he said, his voice now a deep baritone. “Any problem with that, officer?”

He bit his cheeks, tried not to laugh as he walked back to the Harley. “Uh, 2141, need 27, 28 and 29 on…” he said as he called out the driver’s and vehicle information, then he added. “I’m out on a female, black, in a gold lamé dress in heels.”

When dispatch read out Polk’s information the radio erupted in squelch pops, a sure sign that everyone knew what was going down, and sure enough, by the time he finished writing up Polk’s citation two patrol cars drove by, officer’s hooting as they passed.

He walked back to the car and handed over the ticket book. “Press hard, you’re making three copies,” he repeated – as he did for all his paying customers, then he took the ticket book back and tore out Polk’s copy, handing it to him. “By the way,” he continued, “I’ve heard that talking in a falsetto like that really damages your vocal cords, and there’s an increased risk of cancers in the throat associated with it.”

Polk looked up at him like he had just stepped out of the mothership and said ‘Take me to your leader.’ “You for real?”

“Yessir. I read that in an Otolaryngology Journal a few months ago.”

“You what?”

“There are speech coaches that can help you with this, over at Parkland.”

“Say what?”

“Where were you going, I mean, why so fast?”

“I’m late…for one of my customers, if you know what I mean…”

“Ah…well, you have a good afternoon, Ma’am, and please try to drive more safely.”

Polk shook his head, rolled up his window and drove off – slowly – and he walked back to the Harley – shaking his head, too.

A patrol car pulled up, windows rolled down.

“Was she cute, at least?” the FTO in the passenger seat asked.

“Not my type,” he said. “Hands too big, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh, you like them trannies with teeny peckers?”

“Yeah, man,” he said, grinning, and everyone laughed.

“You get many of those?” the rook behind the wheel asked.

“No, not many. A couple, I think, in the last year.”

“How did you keep from shooting it?” the rookie said next, and he looked at the boy’s FTO. The old man scowled, rolled up his window and they drove off while he mounted the bike and started the engine. He cleared from traffic, stowed his ticket book and the radar, then rode off for another fishin’ hole.

Another good one, too. An alleyway, heavily shaded, and another speed transition zone. He was about to open his saddlebag when he saw a car headed his way…weaving across two lanes of traffic…and he saw two black men in the front seat. As their car passed he saw one man with a glass pipe in his mouth, then a sudden fiery flare-up coming from the pipe.

Free-basing? While driving? He called into dispatch: “2141, signal 61 on traffic, southbound Clark at Big Stone, two male blacks – and get a unit headed this way.”

“1310 hours.”

He pulled in behind the black Camaro and it was obvious the driver had no idea who was behind him, let alone why. There was a small strip shopping center ahead and he flipped on his strobes, and – still – no reaction.

Just another fireball, this time from the driver’s seat.

He saw a patrol car ahead, in the shopping center – but they apparently didn’t – and he flipped on his siren, finally causing an – immediate – reaction. Paraphernalia started flying out the window, most into the hands of the officer standing by his patrol car’s door, then the driver decided it was time to try and flee. His speed leapt from an annoying 20 to, perhaps, 35, but the kid obviously couldn’t see well, at least well enough to see the lane markers – or the sharp curve in the road ahead.

The Camaro left the road at 43 miles an hour and nosed into a very deep drainage ditch. And both were not wearing seat belts, as it happened. He checked out on traffic, called for an ambulance as three patrol cars screeched to a stop behind his Harley. Five officers, three with shotguns, emerged – and advanced in a line on the steaming Camaro. Guns aimed, spreading out as they approached – he joined the advance, then crawled down into the ditch, and down to the passenger’s door – and he looked in.

“Y’all might as well start traffic control,” he said to men above,“because these kids are about 99% dead.”

“Well, shit,” one of them, the rookie from earlier that afternoon, said, “thought we was gonna get to shoot us some coons.”

He looked at the FTO again, then walked over to him. “You need to get this kid off the street, now. He has no business being out here, and you know it.”

The man nodded his head. “I know, but my hands are tied on this one.”

“Yeah? Well, y’all just go on. Really. Get him away from me.”

They left, the rookie still driving,  and he walked back to the Camaro, got down to the bottom of the muddy ditch and felt for a pulse on the driver’s neck, but the neck flopped over, obviously broken when it impacted the steering wheel, so he crawled around to the passenger’s door and reached in. Firm, steady pulse, barely conscious…

“Hey, amigo, can you hear me?”

“Yeah…what happened, man?”

“You’ve been in an accident. Try and hold still, we’ll get you out of here in a second, okay?”

“Yeah…like where am I?”

“Don’t worry about that now, just try to hold still…the firemen are here now…so just hang on…” he made way for firemen and paramedics as they jumped down into the muddy ditch and he crawled up the steep bank – just as another patrol car drove up.

He smiled. Dickinson, The Duke, another kid he’d trained two years ago.

“Hey,” he said as he walked over to Dickinson’s patrol car, “they finally took the training wheels off your car, huh?”

“Yeah, solo – three months. What is this shit, anyway?”

“Total clusterfuck,” he said, running down the sequence of events.

“Well, fuck-a-doodle-doo,” Dickinson said, holding up an evidence bag full of paraphernalia – and two baggies full of white powder, “lookie what I found?”

“Holy shit…what say we go pull this car apart and see what else we find…?”

It turned into a long night.

Fifth Image: Interceptor

Betty Sue Rollins walked out to her ‘63 Rambler Cross Country station wagon – with two buckets full of the Colonel’s Secret Recipe fried chicken in a big paper sack – and she put the chicken behind her seat and got in her car, started the motor and drove through the parking lot for the exit…

Mark Tyler was stopped at the red light on his brand now Honda VF1000F “Interceptor”, revving the engine with sharp, sudden twists of the wrist, and when the light turned green he hammered the throttle and dropped the clutch –and the Interceptor popped into a ‘wheelie’ for a second, then rocketed away from the intersection. He looked down, for a split second, and saw he was passing a hundred – when something caught his eye…

A beige station wagon, pulling into the road just ahead –

Before his mind had a chance to register the event, before his hands and feet could react and engage the Honda’s brakes, the motorcycle penetrated the driver’s door – at what would later be measured between 127 and 129 miles per hour.

The motorcycle penetrated the drivers door and metal was fused to metal in the instantaneous friction of the collision. The motorcycle’s engine and chassis collided with Betty Sue Rollins, vaporizing her torso and arms, literally, leaving her dancer’s legs intact – severed from mid-femur down.

The Rambler slid a few inches to it’s right, but the overwhelming force lifted the left side up and the car began to flip, sideways, through the air. Tyler’s abdomen and legs were fusing to metal at this point, his chest and head arcing down into the car’s roof, the force great enough for his face to break through the thin metal roof, flesh fusing to metal again, in the process. When the overturning motion was complete the Rambler slid on it’s roof another forty three feet, grinding Tyler’s head and chest into the concrete roadway well before the car stopped sliding.

Witnesses and onlookers ran up to the Rambler and stopped dead in their tracks; most turned away in horror, a few dropped to their knees and vomited. The first patrolmen on the scene blocked off the scene, called for more units – and an accident investigator.

It was Sunday, and his day off when the pager started beeping. He was sitting with his father and Deb by the pool, but he was on-call and in uniform, his Harley waiting in the driveway out front. He went inside and called dispatch, wrote down the particulars and turned, saw his father standing there – his old man’s hopes dashed one more time.

“You have to leave, I take it?” his father asked.

“Yup.”

“I suppose you’re getting back at me. For all the times I left, when you were growing up?”

He walked over to his father, hugged him. “Look, I’m happy for you, for you both. Have you set a date yet?”

“Christmas Eve. I’m hoping you’ll be able to drop by,” his old man added – more than a little sarcastically.

He laughed, a little, then leaned over and kissed Deb on the cheek. “Gee. Bye – Mom…”

Everyone laughed at that, and he walked out to the Harley and got on, checked in service – and his father jogged over, put his hands on his son’s shoulder. “I’m proud of you, son,” his father said, and they both choked-up a little bit.

“You know? That’s the first time you’ve ever said something like that to me?”

“I know. I know, and I’m sorry.”

They looked at one another and he slipped the transmission into first and let go of the moment, flipped on his strobes and siren, riding through Sunday afternoon traffic out Preston to Royal Lane. The area already secured, he surveyed the scene and made his measurements, took his photographs, then called in, asked for a department photographer to bring some High Speed Infrared and a Wratten 25A filter on an 85mm lens. He talked to witnesses, dozens, as it turned out, and every recounted version was uniformly the same: high speed acceleration for a few hundred yards, perhaps two seconds, then a shattering impact.

Another one for lawyers, he sighed. Cumulative negligence. The driver of the Rambler: failing to yield right of way; the rider: speeding, obviously, but reckless conduct as well. Insurance companies and their lawyers would struggle to apportion blame, divvy up all the various liabilities, but he looked at the senselessness of the scene, again, and wondered what it would take to stop the carnage?

The boy? Seventeen years old. His motorcycle endorsement not even a month old. The bike: three hours off the showroom floor, a father’s last words to his son – “be careful out there.” Rollin’s son called to the scene, his breakdown immediate – followed by murderous rage. News crews walking the scene, their camera men walking behind reporters all imaging the carnage, interviewing the boy’s father, the mother’s son. All the tears, all the anger, and it would all be forgotten by tomorrow morning – and by next weekend he would be at another scene almost identical to this one. More father’s burying sons, more grandmothers and aunts and uncles would be driven to the basement at Parkland for autopsies in an endless parade of gasoline fueled misery. Happy motoring! He said to himself, then:

“Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends…”

He couldn’t, of course, rely on witness statements to establish the motorcycle’s velocity – not speed, mind you, but velocity. He would have to derive that using simple physics, and he had to make sure he had all the vectors to make that formula work. All the approach vectors, all the departure vectors, the coefficients of friction: for the roadway, for the car’s roof – and he’d have to establish a baseline acceleration vector, too, but he’d have to wait, do that tomorrow – with a real Honda. A new one, with the intersection blocked off. That exercise would take more hours, more traffic units. Then he’d autopsy the bike, in order to derive an additional speed estimate, this time by measuring front fork deflection and deformation.

Once Rollins’ body was removed he had the department’s wrecker hook up to the Rambler, tow it up to 30 miles an hour, then cut it free, slide to a stop, with Tyler’s body still fused to the metal, and he measured the distance it took the car to stop and wrote that figure down. He took a patrol car and did the same thing, measuring the braking distance to determine a baseline coefficient of friction for the concrete. He measured everything about the roadway. He observed the traffic signals, for sequencing and nominal operation. He marked locations of everything from witnesses to stopped cars. Everything there when the event took place.

This preliminary part of his investigation took five hours, then he rode downtown to Central, to his office in the Traffic annex, and he fixed coffee then laid out all his notes on the huge drafting table. There were no computers to help him with the math, no drawing programs or pre-packaged Accident Investigation programs to do the work for him; in fact, the courts insisted that all the math be done in pencil on paper, so that each step could be checked for error.

With his notes on the table he drafted the scene, in pencil, right down to the correct radius for each corner, all the medians too, then the exact placement of traffic signals and drain openings, the locations of man hole covers and every surface irregularity he’d noted on the pavement – right down to large cracks in the concrete.

Two hours later he began placing vehicles and witnesses on the drawing, down to the inch, noting where they were located at the time of impact. He penciled in the approach angles, then the departure angles, and with that established he began to construct the vector diagram he would use in his ‘conservation of linear momentum’ calculations.

Using an H-P 41 calculator he ran through the math, arrived at a speed of 129, then he filled out the State accident form, reducing the accident to a series of simple written explanations. With that complete he started in on the much more detailed, infinitely more complex departmental forms, and all his notes and completed drawings were folded up and put in a large manilla envelope, attached to this report, then put in the L-Ts in-box. Fifteen hours after he sat down at his drafting table, twenty one hours after he took the call, he left the station and rode home – just as the sun started to peek above the horizon.

She was gone by then, of course. An angry note on the corkboard by the refrigerator signaling her cold fury, her growing contempt for his lingering absences. He groaned, walked to the little bedroom he was sleeping in now, and he fell into a deep sleep – as images of crashing motorcycles pushed their way into his dreams.

Sixth Image: That’s the way heroes go

Her belongings were boxed up, waiting for movers to come by and pick them up, and he walked around the house looking at a world without her in it. Only his pictures on the walls now – her’s all packed. His stuff in the kitchen – but nothing she’d bought over the years. He walked out back, looked at the swimming pool, looked at memories of parties they’d had out there over the last two years, when his father had come out for dinner with Carol.

That’s the night they met, wasn’t it?

She was a scrub nurse, and he’d asked her to come with him that night. That was when all this started, the long slide to “goodbye and good luck.”

He walked further out into the yard, looked over the fairway. His father had bought five lots out here at Preston Trail, and had built five very large, very fancy “spec” houses on Club Oak Drive. Then he’d simply leased one to him, and to him alone. Her name wasn’t on one piece of paper.

“Why not, Dad?”

“Because I don’t trust her, son. I never have. There’s something different about her eyes, something I don’t recognize, and I don’t trust it.”

Yeah, he whispered to the trees, he always was better at people.

“Right again,” he sighed, “one more time.”

He looked up, saw a Baron on base, in the pattern for Addison, and he squinted into the sun, tried to make out the color – but no go. He turned away, looked at his watch and nodded his head. That was probably them, coming back from New Orleans after the long weekend. Said they were going to drop by on the way home, too, so he went inside and stripped off his uniform, jumped in the shower and washed the day away. He dried off and put on some shorts and a polo shirt, then walked out to the mail box and picked the letters out, looking over three days of mail. He flipped through, found one envelope from TWA, another from American – and he looked at them both for a long time, his hands shaking a little, then he went inside, put them on the entry table – still unopened – and walked to the kitchen, poured himself an orange juice.

Nine years. Nine years – and that’s it? Just turn and walk away from it all? Like it all never ‘really’ happened?

He laughed long and hard, wondering what life was ‘really’ all about – while he wiped a sudden tear from his eyes. 384 fatality accidents. Three shootings. Too many felony arrests to count. Shot twice. Two motorcycle accidents resulting in forty-plus fractures. Fifteen fellow officers trained – including Deb – his new ‘mother.’ Too many funerals attended. Too many friends gone. Lost forever. Some shot, like Sean, some accidentally run down out there on the streets. All of them now simply dead and gone.

He thought of MacCarley, still out there on Awaken. In France, with Sarah, on the canals. “Living the dream,” Eddie had called it. He’d found the dividing line, found his way out of the blue. Not a bad way to go, he thought.

He heard a car pull into the circular drive out front, saw his father’s Jaguar stop on the far side of the glass door, and he watched his old man go around and get Deb’s door. She was his pygmalion, he thought, his diamond in the rough. The country girl with the pure heart he’d been smart enough to recognize, and now she was his elegant wife, beyond gorgeous – yet still working for the department, though behind a desk now. Assigned to ‘Crime Prevention’ – working schools, talking to classrooms full of kids again, teaching them about the world ‘out there.’

He watched her as they walked in, so beautiful it made his heart hurt – literally hurt. Anything money could buy, hers now. And he couldn’t think of anyone more deserving.

He let them in and led them past mounds of stacked boxes to the living room, but his father darted to the guest bath and they heard him let go – the loud “Ahhhhhh” audible, he felt sure, all the way to Oklahoma. Washing hands, then the customary loud fart – just for good measure – and he bounded back into the room, grinning.

“Good one, Dad.”

“Good what?”

“About a seven point four on the Richter Scale.”

“Y’all head that one?”

“They heard it in St Louis, Dad.”

“Bosh!” his old man said as he walked to the kitchen. “Deb? Anything?” he called out.

“Ice water! Gallons of ice water!”

“K.”

“How was Brennan’s?” he asked.

“Heaven, as always. John and Claire send their best.”

He nodded. “I always liked them. Good people.”

“You had a thing for their daughter, didn’t you?”

“In junior high, yes. When I was twelve, I think.”

“She remembers you. Divorced recently. She wanted me to make sure I told you that, for some odd reason.”

“She was always a cute.”

“She’s not cute anymore. She’s what I would call drop dead gorgeous.”

His father was walking back from the kitchen – but he stopped at the entry table. “What’s this?” he said, picking up the envelopes. “Not even opened yet? Deb? Here, please!”

She scrambled over, took the envelopes and carried them into the living room while he brought their drinks in.

“Not even opened? What the hell is wrong with this picture?”

“Just brought ‘em in, Dad, when you guys pulled in.”

“Uh-huh. You gonna open them, or shall I?”

“Oh, you go ahead.”

Father looked at son, shook his head just so – to indicate mortal disgust – then he ripped open the one from American and shook his head, frowned. “No go,” he said – tossing the envelope aside – then he opened the one from TWA. “Report first May, Kansas City, for First Officer training on L-1011s,” he said, and he came over and pulled his son up into his arms, hugged him for what felt like hours. “Well, I guess that interview went better than expected!”

“Maybe, yeah.”

His old man stepped back, concern in his eyes. “You’re going to take it, aren’t you?”

“It’ll mean moving, Dad. Maybe LA, probably Boston. I’m not sure I want to do that. Be away from you two.”

“Take Boston. I’ve been wanted to buy some property up there, maybe retire on Nantucket, get a big fucking sailboat.”

“Well then, Boston it is,” he said glumly.

“So? You’re gonna take it?”

“Yeah, you know, I’m gonna think about it. How long do they give me to confirm?”

His old man read through the letter again, looked up. “Next Friday; a phone call will do.” He looked at his son, saw indecision in his eyes and frowned, then he looked at his wife, saw the tears in her eyes and grumbled. “I think you need a swift kick in the ass, but in as much as I can’t kick worth shit these days, why don’t you let me take the two of you out to dinner. Maybe a swift kick of bourbon will do the trick?”

“Is Edelweiss open on Sunday?” Deb asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “At five.”

“Could we go there tonight?” she asked. “Does that sound good?”

He looked away as the phone rang, and he went to the study and picked up the handset. “Hello?”

Silence.

“Hello?”

“It’s me.”

“Hello, you.”

“I don’t feel good.”

“Oh?”

“About all this. About – everything.”

“What’s on your mind?”

“You. You’re on my mind. I can’t get you out of my mind. Not all week long.”

“And?”

“This is all wrong. This wasn’t supposed to happen to us.”

“No, it wasn’t,” he said, and he felt his eyes filling with tears. “No, it sure wasn’t.”

“I’ve been talking with Carol all afternoon. About my feelings for you, for us. She says she can’t be the one to come between us.”

“Well, God bless Carol.”

“Look, don’t be trite…”

“I’m not, I mean it. God bless her. You tell her I just fell in love with her, too.”

He heard their laughter.

“Don’t tell me…she heard that?”

“Yup.”

“Hey, Carol! I love you!”

More laughter.

“I was wondering. Could I come over? We need to talk.”

“Uh, yeah, sure. Dad and Deb are here, we’re going to run down to Edelweiss. You wanna join us, or come by later?”

“We’re close. Could we just drop by now? Say about ten minutes?”

“You live here. You don’t need to ask for permission to come home.”

Her’s was a long pause. “You’re right. And thanks for understanding. We’ll be there in a few.”

“Yeah.” He hung up the phone and went into the living room…

“Did I hear that correctly?” his old man asked. “Second thoughts about all this nonsense?”

“She wants to talk. Coming over now, or so she says. About ten out.”

“Well, hell, we better get this road on the show…”

“Nonsense. I told her you both are here, and that we’re going out to dinner. Asked them to join us, as a matter of fact.”

His father looked at Deb and grinned. “Always spending my money for me.”

“Like father, like son,” she said to him, grinning right back.

And he kissed his wife…hard.

“Y’all go get a room, wouldya?”

He heard a siren in the distance, saw a dirt bike running up the fairway out back, chewing up the grass – and they all went over and watched as an Addison PD patrol car chased the bike up the fairway.

“Shit, not again…” he said.

“Is that the same kid as last summer?”

“Yeah, the Andrews kid.”

“Thought they caught him?”

“His father’s a big deal with one of the oil companies downtown, a lawyer, I think. Got him off with a slap on the wrist, paid for all the damages.”

“Live around here?”

“Yeah, just up the street.”

“Well, come on, Doll. Let’s give these two have some privacy. You finish up early just give us a ring, we’ll meet you at the restaurant. We’ll shoot for five, maybe a little after. That okay with you?”

“Yeah, sure, but you ought to stay…”

“Bosh…” he said, standing. “Y’all have some serious talking to do. Don’t need me looking over your shoulder…” He reached out and Deb took his hand. “Come on, darlin’, let’s hit the road.”

He walked out with them, heard the siren and the revving engine a few blocks away, and he helped Deb in her seat while his father opened his door – but his old man just stood there, waiting – and he walked around, took his old man’s hand.

“A year ago and I wasn’t even sure I’d see you walk again, and now this. TWA. I’m so proud I could bust.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

“And I’m married to the sweetest gal that ever lived…thanks to you.”

“To me?”

“She told me, a long time ago, how you two feel about one another.”

They looked at one another for a time, and he nodded.

“Anyway. I thought my life was just about over, only now I find it’s simply beginning again. The next chapter. And you got me there, son.”

They heard it then, getting closer. The siren, the Andrews boy on the dirt bike, then he saw her car, a bronze BMW 325 convertible, coming up the street. They turned, saw the dirt bike roaring down the street, the Addison police car a hundred yards behind – and everything went into slow-motion…

His wife, turning into the drive, her eyes looking at him, then at the dirt bike.

The kid, paying attention to the cop behind, not the road ahead.

The last minute reaction, then the bike slamming into her door. The BMW lifting, rolling – and his eyes were locked on hers.

Then she’s gone and only a haze remains. He’s on his knees, sliding into the ruins, trying to get to her, and he sees his father and Deb pulling Carol out of the gasoline soaked wreckage, people running from houses, standing and staring, women crying, children peeking out from behind skirts, mother’s shepherding their kids away.

He has her hand, can feel her trying to squeeze his hand. Her face is intact, but her chest is torn apart and she’s bleeding out – her blood falling down on him as he looks up into her eyes.

“Love you,” she whispers, and he pushes up through the twisted metal, kisses her – then people have his feet, his ankles, and they are pulling him away from her, away from the sudden fire that is engulfing the wreckage. He stands and watches for a moment, then dives for the pavement, for a way back into Hell – but strong hands have him again, pull him from the brink.

His father. He’s beside him, holding him, crying with him. And Deb. She has him now and he looks at her, not knowing where love is anymore. Where one love ends and another begins. Where life stops for a moment, and changes, moves to a different beat – like a broken heart, he imagines.

But his father fixes broken hearts, doesn’t he?

He breaks away, walks down the street – then turns and looks up at the sky. He shakes his fist at God and screams “You mother fucker! You Goddamn mother fucker!” – then he falls to his knees, crying.

Coda: Out of the Blue

He’s at Central two weeks later, cleaning out his locker, going over memories of the last nine years. The walls in this room feel so familiar, even the smell of the place is like a warm embrace. Almost like home, yet anything but. He has boxes filled with ticket books, hundreds of them, each ticket a memory – some good, some bad. Folders full of incident reports, reports he wanted to keep for one reason or another. Hundreds of photographs, most from wrecks, a few of fallen friends, all neatly labeled and catalogued away in boxes now, ready to go home with him. Letters of Commendation, diplomas, training certificates, all filed away, meaningless now to anyone but him. He carries a couple of boxes out to his car, then goes in to get the last one when he sees her, standing outside the locker room, waiting for him.

“I guess you thought you could just slip away,” she said, “like a thief in the night.”

“Worth a try, I guess.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head, “it wasn’t.”

“One more to get,” he said as he walked past her. He came out a minute later and walked past her again, kept on going through the station, out to his car. He put the box in the trunk and turned, looked at her. “What’s up?” he asked.

“When are you leaving?”

“Now.”

“Why won’t you answer your father’s calls?”

“I’m not ready for that yet.”

“And you’re ready to fly?”

“I am.”

“Presto, ladies and gentlemen, and the Wall–Comes–UP! Just like that, huh?”

“Just like that.”

“And what happens when the wall breaks?”

“It won’t.”

She looked into his eyes, searching for something, anything to hold onto – and not finding it. “Yeah. Who knows, maybe it won’t. So, this is it?”

He nodded his head, looked away and she watched him for a while, then took his hand.

He responded to her touch, closed his eyes and saw her in the wreckage, the fear in her eyes, the words forming on her lips.

“What are thinking?” he heard her ask.

He turned, looked her in the eye. “Life is but a dream.”

“Yeah, row, row, row your boat. But what about me? What about us? Were we a dream, you and me?”

He leaned over, kissed her on the forehead, then looked around and sighed. “I’m gonna miss this place, you know? I’m going to miss every mother-fuckin’ moment of this place.” He opened his door and got in, started the motor and backed out of his parking space, then he rolled the window down and looked up at her.

“I’ll see you around the campfire, darlin’ – ” and he looked at her once again, then slipped away into midday traffic and was gone.

She watched for a while, for an hour or so, and in the end she smiled a little, wiped away a tear or two.

“Yes, you will,” she said, as she walked back into the station.

© 2017 Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com

Sunset at the Pink Water Café, Chapter 4

sunset logo

So, another ending. Life as metaphor. An End well met? Perhaps.

+++++

Sunset at the Pink Water Café

Chapter Four

Sitting in the cockpit of the Air Force C27J Spartan, he listened to an analyst’s evaluation of the situation over an encrypted line, checking the team’s reasoning once again, while the transport bounced around inside a frontal boundary. Of the fifteen replacement crewmen bound for a Russian oceanographic research vessel, that had been docked in St Johns taking on fuel and supplies earlier today, three tripped Customs alerts when they checked through checkpoints: known SVR and GRU operatives with military backgrounds, and certainly not oceanographers. Canadians photographed the group and imagery was in Langley within minutes, and a further eleven of the fifteen were identified, all former military with established dossiers in CIAs files.

A hit team, in other words, the analyst argued.

And with zero equipment in their luggage.

The research vessel had departed St Johns 14 hours ago, and an Air Force E-8 was keeping track of it’s progress, the analyst advised. The ship had traveled 120 miles, heading south along the coast, then turned to 2-4-0 degrees. And such a route would, the analyst said, carry them about a hundred miles off the coast of Nova Scotia, on a route that would take them on a passage along the US seaboard.

“And let me guess? Who’s out there?”

“The Jimmy Carter has been tailing the Severodvinsk for three days, sir. She’s closing on sea mounts and canyons, working her way into shallower water, the skipper thinks.”

“They’ll transfer to the sub out out there,” Jim said, “then work their way closer to shore.”

“That’s my guess,” the analyst said. “Skipper on the Carter wants a few million sonobuoys dropped from the shelf off Halifax all the way around through the Bay of Fundy. We can fine tune their approach once the Severodvinsk gets into shallower water, but he wants to drop back some now. Not enough room to hide, something like that.”

“What’s going on up on the seventh floor?” Jim asked, referring to the operations directorate on the top floor.

“No decision yet. They’re still talking with the White House.”

“Swell.”

“I know. Looks like three days ‘til they can make the transfer, and maybe two more for a real cautious approach. If I was going to do this I’d try to get in the channel between Grand Manan and the coast. It’s real noisy in there…easy to hide.”

“Well, they’d break the 12 mile limit, and it’s full of lobster pots. Not real smart.”

“They need to get within a mile or two if they’re coming by inflatable. A helluva lot closer than that if the team is going to swim for it.”

“They won’t do that.”

“I don’t think so either.”

“What about sleds?”

“Possible,” the analyst said thoughtfully. “Hadn’t thought of that. Several on the team have the relevant experience.”

“Do we know what the range is on that new unit is?”

“The two man units, uh, let’s see, looks like about 30 klicks, so call it 10 to 12 each way, with a little in reserve.”

“That would put them off the twelve mile line, on the east side of the island.”

“Deniability?”

“Exactly. Uh,” he said, looking out the cockpit windshield, “looks like we’re getting ready to land. I’ll get back to once we’re airborne again.”

“K – out.”

He looked up, saw runway lights ahead through rain and intermittent clouds, and the little transport flared over the numbers and rolled out on runway 34, then turned off to the northeast, and the pilot taxied to the Canadian Air Force facility on the east side of the airport. An airman opened the door and a blast of rain soaked him as he ran down the slippery metal steps – then across rain-soaked concrete to a waiting US Navy P-8A, and he climbed up those steep stairs and into the cabin. An airman close the door behind him and the Boeing’s engines spooled up as he walked into the cockpit, putting his raincoat in a closet as he walked forward.

“War Eagle 3-0, clear to taxi,” he heard the tower say as he strapped into the jump-seat and put on the proffered headset.

“Rolling.”

“Uh, three-zero, change of runway and departure information. Wind now 2-6-0 at 18, taxi direct to two niner from your position and hold just short of the active. At 1900 left turn direct VOBEG, then hit GAGMA at 6000.”

“Eagle 3-0, 12 and 6. Got an altimeter?”

“Still two eight niner five.”

“Got it.” The captain turned to her co-pilot: “Checklist?”

“Complete.”

“Flaps?”

“Set.”

“Bugs?”

“Set.”

“Armed and crosschecks?”

“Set and checked.”

The captain held just short of the runway, flipped on the lights as she checked in with the tower: “Eagle 3-0, holding short of the numbers.”

“3-0, hold for the MD-80 on short final.”

“Roger.” She looked past the ensign in the right seat and scowled. “See anything?” she asked.

“Nothin’. Weather’s really closing in fast…nope, there he is…”

Jim bent down, looked out through the rain splattered glass and could just see strobes bouncing off the Air Canada jet’s belly, then it flared and settled onto the black asphalt, thrust reversers roaring a moment later, the air behind the MD80 full of drifting spray and settling exhaust.

“Eagle 3-0, clear for take off, and expedite, please.”

“3-0,” she said, advancing the throttles a little, and as the 737 lined up on the centerline she advanced the throttles, jogged the rudder pedals a little as the jet began it’s run.

“80 knots,” her ensign co-pilot called out 18 seconds later, then “V1…and…rotate.”

She pulled back on the yoke, eyes on her instruments: “Positive rate.”

“Gear up…”

And moments later they were in solid cloud, the sudden turbulence extreme.

“Clean the wing,” she said, and Jim couldn’t tell where they were now, even what their attitude was, until he looked at the screens on the panel. Nothing but gray ahead, then the lights turned off and he couldn’t even see that, so he focused on the panel, watched her ease into a deep left turn, saw a waypoint on the screen, and when they hit that point she made another easy left, and another waypoint appeared ahead. Five minutes later the P8 climbed out of the clouds at 12,000 feet and she turned to parallel the coastline, then she turned and spoke to him.

“Better head aft now, sir. You can monitor the ship better from there, and we’ll be over the Carter in about, oh, twenty three minutes.”

+++++

She watched his men walk into the house next door, but one of them, Tom, slipped through the rain and knocked on the door. And, surprisingly, waited for her to come to the door.

“Where is he now?”

“He had to leave, quite unexpectedly,” the man said. “Do you need anything?”

“Is it safe to go outside?”

The question seemed to startled the man. “Ma’am?”

“I have no idea what’s going on around here, but what I read on Google sure opened my eyes.”

“Oh?”

“How he save those Russians, and now, how the Russians are trying to get back at him.”

“That’s online?”

“It sure is. Want to read what I found?”

“No, not really.”

“Is it true?”

“Ma’am?”

“Are you hard of hearing, or is it just my voice?”

He laughed a little, looked up at the house next door. “Ma’am, you’re safe here, but if you’d like me to walk Jimmie, I’d be happy to.”

Of course Jimmie was out the door in an instant, circling in the rain, looking for just the perfect spot to let one go, and when he finished his business he pranced up the steps and back into the house, then turned and looked at her.

“I guess not,” Tom said and they both laughed.

“Will he be back tomorrow?”

“Should be, but I don’t have any word on that yet. How ‘bout I come over and tell you as soon as we hear something?”

She nodded her head, remembered his promise to keep her in the loop – then turned and went inside. When she slipped under the sheets Jimmie came up and laid beside her, his chin resting on her thigh, his eyes focused on hers like twin laser beams.

She looked at him for the longest time, then turned off the light and away from his searching eyes, but she rolled over a few minutes later and saw the pup’s head on Jim’s pillow; he was facing her now, but his eyes were closed, and he was snoring gently. She looked at the pup for what felt like years, and she couldn’t help thinking that, somehow, these two were connected in some vital way.

+++++

He watched the research vessel far below on a screen, the stabilized, night vision image clear enough to make out sailors on deck, but there wasn’t much to see yet. They came up on the Carter’s track and at 0100, exactly, the radio operator picked up a UHF burst and ran it through the computer.

“Skipper reports the contact is holding steady on course 2-1-0 and has slowed to five knots,” the operator said a few minutes later.

“Ivan has got to be nervous now,” the Navy commander said. “Just a matter of time till he picks up something out there that spooks him.”

“Been a while since he’s tried something this brazen, don’t you think?” Jim asked.

“Yup. They must want you real bad.”

“Nice to be wanted,” Jim sighed. “Got a track for your sonobuoys?”

“Computer sets the deployment pattern. All the pilot has to do is get down to about 200 feet and 180 knots, then engage the autopilot. The computer flies the airplane and spits out the buoys, and we’ll get half laid this trip, the other half later today. More difficult now, too. Since they closed Brunswick, adds about three hours to the evolution.”

“Short-sighted. Closed too many bases, thought Ivan was gone. Well, people are waking up now.”

“This is a decent platform, endurance-wise, anyway. I thought we did a better job in the old P3, though; pilots have to fly slow to do half of the things we need to, so speed ain’t a real asset. Stealth would be, but these crates aren’t stealthy.”

“Cheap and easy to get hold of. Easy to get past committee, anyway,” Jim added.

“Did you hear the Admiral Kuznetsov is out there?”

“Nope. Where is she?”

“RORSAT picked her up five hours ago, two hundred north of Lajes, headed north. Of course they know when the birds pass.”

“If she’s headed this way, that would change the dynamics.”

“The Astute and the Warner are moving in, should get a baseline course for us by mid-morning.”

“This is getting interesting,” Jim sighed.

“Isn’t it? Think it’s worth the risk?”

“Yup.”

“Where will you take her?”

“Bucksport.”

“If you don’t start the next world war, you mean.”

“There is that,” Jim sighed, smiling.

+++++

She was in the café, still feeling depressed, when she saw his slate blue Land Rover coming down Main Street – Jimmie in the passenger seat, his head hanging out the window…his ears flapping in the breeze. He pulled up right outside the café and hopped out the door – Jimmie waited for his door, then he slipped down onto the sidewalk and waited for Jim to open the café’s door, then they made for the corner table as she walked over, menus in hand.

And she saw dark circles under his bloodshot eyes, thought better of tearing into him and handed him a menu.

“What’s he got going back there this morning?”

“Fish chowder and, believe it or not, about a half dozen fresh Dover sole. Sautéed, with lemon butter and broccolini.”

“Done. Tea?”

“Blueberry.”

He nodded his head. “Sorry about last night. Something came up.”

“Yeah?” she said knowingly. “I understand.”

“Do you?”

“No, but at least I understand you’ll never change.”

He looked at the hurt in her eyes and bunched his lips, and he seemed to deflate before her eyes.

“Look,” she sighed, “all I know is I don’t know. Okay? And that not knowing is a lot worse than knowing.”

He looked up but she was walking away, so he looked down at Jimmie and shook his head. “I fucked up, boy. Big time.”

The pup looked in his eyes and saw something, because then he got up and stood, put his hand on Jim’s shoulders and leaned forward, licked his chin – and Jim leaned forward and hugged the pup, put his face to his, nose to nose.

“I know. I’ve got to do better,” then Jimmie nibbled his ear before he licked it a couple of times. By the time she came back with his tea and chowder the pup was on the floor again, curled up and sleeping.

“Hear about the Sheriff?” she asked and he looked up.

“The Sheriff?”

“Drunk, bunch of kiddie porn on his lap. Arrested, took him down in Bangor this morning, for some sort of hearing, maybe arraignment?”

“Whoa. Kiddie porn? Up here?”

“Yeah. Lot of people freaked out this morning, talking about it. You know, ‘it can’t happen here,’ that kind of thing.”

He nodded his head. “The Devil’s greatest triumph was convincing people he doesn’t exist.”

She seemed shocked by that. “What? I didn’t think you…”

“What? Good and evil? That they don’t exist? Of course they do. It’s all around us, all the time. So much so that we forget it exists, that it’s real.”

“But…?”

“So, you can’t measure it, take a photograph of it, but you can’t take a picture of love, either. You can’t put love on the scales and measure it.” He looked at her again. “I love you, by the way. In case you wanted to pick that up and throw it against that wall over there.”

“Do you enjoy reading my mind?”

“Yes, Ma’am. Very much.”

She turned and walked away. Again. She brought his sole a few minutes later, then turned away – without saying a word. Again. She brought him his check when he finished, and he paid her, watched her walk away again.

“You’re gonna get a lousy tip today,” he said after she put his change on the table, and she grinned – before she turned and disappeared into the kitchen.

“Hmm,” he said, looking down at Jimmie, “I think we need to get out of here…before she kills something.”

So, he drove home and they went inside, turned on his computer and made the encrypted connection while Jimmie settled in by his feet – again. Revised plans started pouring in: two subs with SEAL teams onboard now northbound from Norfolk, several hundred special forces types already digging-in around Lubec and on Grand Manan, the Gerald R Ford almost in position to intercept the Kuznetsov – a giant chess board taking shape far away at sea, all because he’d managed to keep two Russian president’s safe and out of harm’s way. All because he’d pissed off the wrong spy. He sent a note to Langley and slipped off his clothes and into bed, and it seemed only a few minutes later he felt someone shaking him away from the dream. The soaring dream. Only something was wrong now. Something dark and forgotten.

He sat up, saw it was dark outside, saw Tracy, out of her clothes now, walking into the bathroom. He heard the shower next, then Jimmie coming in the room, his paws wet, his grin fresh, and he stumbled into the bathroom, barely made it to the toilet before he vomited. He saw streaks of blood in the water and groaned, looked at his watch and made a few quick calculations.

“You okay?” he heard her ask.

“I’ll let you know,” he croaked.

She turned off the water, came to him, saw the blood in the bowl and lifted him up.

“What is that? Blood?”

“Probably. Yes.”

“Do you have an ulcer?”

He shook his head, walked back to the bed and sat on the edge, sweating now, and he picked up a little radio and called: “Tom?”

“Sir?”

“Need the doc. Now.”

“Yessir.”

“You have a doctor over there?” she asked.

“Sure. Don’t you?”

“No.”

“Ah, well, there you have it.”

Tom and a woman in khakis came in through the back door, walked up to him. The woman, the physician, put the back of her hand on his forehead while she checked his pulse, then she told him to lay back and she palpated his gut.

“It’s too soon, sir,” she said. “We need to get you back to Philadelphia.”

“How long will I be away?”

“Two days, best guess – maybe three.”

“Can’t afford that now.”

“No choice, sir. It’s that or big trouble.”

He sighed, looked at Tom. “Okay, let’s get going, but I want to be back here by Saturday morning.”

“I’m coming too,” Tracy said, and everyone turned to look at her, then at Jim.

“She’s coming too,” he said, grinning.

Tom looked at him, shook his head then sighed. “Okay.”

The physician went back to the safe house next door and came back with an bag of plasma, then she started an IV and shot a little morphine into the line. She hooked up the bag next and set the drip, waited for Tom to bring the Suburban to the drive. Once he was settled in the back seat, for the first time with Tracy by his side, they drove around to Eastport, waited for the Challenger to arrive. He slept on her shoulder until, sometime in the middle of the night, he once again sat back and felt hard thrust pushing him back in his seat, and he looked out a tiny window as the earth fell away in darkness. Again.

He was unconscious by the time the Challenger landed at Northeast Philadelphia Airport, and an ambulance met the little jet, drove him down to the Abramson Cancer Research Center.

By then, Tracy was beside herself, deep inside an unknown landscape of mysteries so terrifying, so far from her experience, that she felt herself shutting down. She called Darren later that morning, told him what had happened and where she was, and he told her to take care – which left her feeling hollow, even more unsure of herself.

He had, she learned, stage four colon cancer. He had been treated conventionally, with chemo and radiation, almost two years ago – but treatment had failed. Miserably. Then he’d come here, been treated with an experimental protocol that used a tailored HIV virus to trick the cancer into remission, and that had worked. He felt wonderful but his physicians argued against his returning to work, so he had continued treatment, begun rebuilding his life here.

Then a Russian team entered the city and tried to take him out at the little townhouse he’d moved into northwest of downtown. He’d been moved to a safe house after that, then yet another team tried to take him out. In retaliation, a Russian diplomat in London disappeared, his mutilated body turning up in a Syrian whorehouse – the message clear – and the attacks stopped.

He resumed treatment, got better – to a point, and began to work out, to build himself back up – all that began almost a year ago. Then, just before Christmas, another team was turned back, and the decision was made to move him – almost – out of harm’s way. A suitable location was found, assets moved into place, modifications made – only this time the idea was to keep the location quiet, but only for a while. Three months ago mention of his movements began to show up in routine chatter, on lines of communication known to be compromised, and assets globally began watching for a response – so that they could be drawn in, closer. And observed

The plan this time was to hurt them, to make the cost of doing business as usual a little too steep for comfort. And that’s when the Navy got involved.

+++++

By Friday morning he felt – almost – human again, and a team from Langley dashed up to brief him on the mission’s progress. It was critical that he be seen in Lubec some time during the day tomorrow, critical that he go to the café – because that’s where, according to reports going to Moscow, he was seen, at least twice a day.

“So, there’s someone in town? Watching?”

“Yes, we thought it was the Sheriff, but the reports are still going out, an encrypted burst transmission.”

He laughed. “No, it couldn’t be that easy!”

“What?”

“Check on a guy named Dooley. Paul Dooley. He was living in Bangor after his divorce, until a recently. Showed up a few weeks after I moved in. Tom has the details, so check with him.”

“So, the question is…can you make it back up by tomorrow?”

“Yeah, we’ll head up tonight.”

“Prognosis, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Oh, you know me. I’m gonna live forever.”

“Yeah, okay. Anyway, if this plan works, there’s no telling how they’ll react.”

“No telling. That sounds about right.”

“They’ll try again, that’s for sure.”

“Reckon so.”

“And that doesn’t bother you?”

“No, not really.”

“I’m curious. Is there anything that does? Bother you, I mean?”

“That girl out there,” he said, pointing at Tracy, waiting outside in the corridor. “She does something with her finger…well, that bothers the hell out of me.”

+++++

She walked down to the café a little earlier than usual the next morning, wrote Darren’s specials on the board – in pink and blue chalk, just to spice things up a little bit – and she stuck her head out back, looked at all the progress the carpenters and plumbers and electricians had made over the past four weeks, but Dooley wasn’t out there. “Hasn’t been here for a few,” the contractor said, shrugging his shoulders, but she saw Vance walk by a little before noon, a few minutes after Jim and Jimmie came down for lunch, and he looked in the window as he passed, then looked down at the ground. Other eyes took note of his passage, however, and Jim smiled.

“This could be fun,” he sighed.

A massive Russian submarine slipped into the Bay of Fundy two nights later, and Russian commandos dove into the water and mounted electric sleds, took off past North Head and crossed Owen Basin under the dark moon, though other men, unseen ‘til that moment, boarded the submarine, and a half hour later the submarine was under tow, on the surface, bound for the Penobscot narrows.

He sat in his study that night and watch his plan unfold. The commandos, captured on the rocky beach a little before sunrise, never got a message off, while a billion ruble submarine – stripped of all it’s secrets, was towed out to sea and set adrift, months later. Spies were caught that night and would be tried in courts, sent to prisons, but all that was for tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow to deal with.

When morning came he walked down to the café and went out back, looked over the addition. The drywall was finished and carpenters were trimming the doors and windows, and Bruce pointed out where the piano would go. Jim pulled a sawhorse over and put it where the piano bench would go, and he sat there looking out all that glass for a long time, wondering what it would feel like. The sun setting over the world, all that pink water.

He walked back to the house, found Tracy just getting out of bed, and the smile on his face was not lost on her – yet like everything these days she wondered how long it would last.

+++++

A few weeks later, the addition complete, the truck from a music store in Boston pulled up to the café and four men muscled a huge box out the back and carried it inside. They carefully unboxed the Clavinova and set it on the wood floor in the indicated corner, and Jim beamed while Bruce stood behind his new bar, mixing old fashioneds. The men hook up the concealed speakers that were already in the walls and ceiling and, when everything was ready, they powered up the full-sized concert grand.

“Well?” Bruce and Darren sighed, looking at Jim – and pointing to the piano.

“Reckon I ought to,” he said, grinning. “Just to try it out.”

And everyone laughed. Everyone watched, even Jimmie, settling by his feet again.

He sat behind the keys and played a few disjoined notes, then riffed along warming up, his eyes closed as he remembered nights with his wife so long ago, so far away, rocking back and forth in the music of another night, in other arms – as he drifted into Gershwin’s Prelude Number 2. He felt hands on his shoulders just then, in the here and now, and when he finished the piece he looked up, saw Darren crying by his side, Tracy too, her arms wrapped around Darren.

He drifted into Summertime, looked out the window into the distance, and he watched the sun slipping towards the far horizon behind lozenge-shaped clouds drifting by. The sky turned orange, then pink, and the water turned with the sky – orange to pink – and he felt their love all around him. In the air, all around this new space.

He heard the bell on the front door twinkle as it opened and he turned, saw Vance and three other men walking in, silenced pistols coming out of shoulder holsters and he laughed, then he smiled, and the hair on Jimmie’s neck bristled.

“Oh,” he sighed as he soared, “this is going to be so much fun…”

© 2017 Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | adrianleverkuhnwrites7@gmail.com | a little work of fiction, every syllable of it.

Sunset at the Pink Water Café, Chapter 3

sunset logo

Chapter 3 here for you today, and I think I mentioned in a comment a few days ago that this story exists in shades of metaphor. Jim and Tracy and Dooley and Darren, all of them metaphors, shadows of a paradigm slipping from our grasp. A few queasy moments in this one, so hang on for the ride.

+++++

Sunset at the Pink Water Café 

Chapter 3

Jimmie heard her first. His ears perked when he found her peculiar gait among all the other noise out there, while she was still on the strange hard stuff beyond the grass, then he stood when he heard her footsteps brushing through the grass, hoping she would take him outside, play with him for a long time, but he looked at the man on the floor and didn’t know what would happen next.

She came up the steps and opened the door, came into the house, walked into the living room – then saw a man sprawled out on the floor, apparently unconscious. She ran over, knelt down and checked his neck for a pulse, signs of breathing – but everything appeared normal, at least as far as she could tell – yet she had no idea who this was, let alone what had happened.

She was about to get up, call for an ambulance when she heard more footsteps on the landing just outside the door, and she turned, expected to see Jim walk in the door – but no, that wasn’t what happened. Not at all.

She watched her world turn upside down when Paul Dooley and Sheldon Vance walked in the door. They walked in and looked around the room, then Dooley saw her kneeling on the floor, and he smiled. There was nothing nice about his smile, she saw. Nothing like this afternoon.

“Well, lookie here. My, my, already on the floor…waitin’ for us.” he said as he walked over to her, then he saw the other man on the floor and stopped. “Who’s this? Your new boyfriend, maybe?”

“No, I don’t know who he is. Can you help me get him up into the chair?”

Dooley laughed a little; Vance went over and nudged the man with his foot.

“Looks out cold to me,” Vance said, then he bent over and slapped the man’s face. No reaction, nothing at all, and Vance stood up and shrugged.

“Good,” Dooley said. “No witnesses…”

And then she looked at Paul, who was now undoing his belt and unbuttoning his jeans, flipping off his work boots, stepping out of his jeans…

“What are you doing?” she asked, not believing what she was seeing.

“We’re gonna have a little party tonight, just the three of us, and guess what? You’re the guest of honor.”

“What?”

He pulled down his briefs – letting his cock free to dangle between his legs – and then he leered at her now. “Suckee, suckee, five buckee,” he said gleefully, then he stepped forward, coming for her…again. “Just like old times,” he sail, almost giggling.

“Who’s that,” Vance said, but Dooley heard a click-pffft, like the sound of rushing air, then something bit his neck, pain like a wasp’s sting, or a hornet, maybe –

And she saw Jim step out of the shadows, a pistol of some sort in his right hand – which arced over to Sheldon Vance and click-spitted again. She saw a little spat of blood form on Vance’s neck, watched him react, bring his hand up to the side of his neck – “Ahh, ouch!” he said – then Dooley went down on his knees, eyes rolled back in his head and he slowly slumped over backwards, trying to stop his fall with an outstretched arm. “Oh, fuck,” Dooley said as he let himself down to the shiny oak floor. “Somethin’ don’t feel right…”

And then Vance stumbled, leaned against the wall, then he was trying to hold on to something, anything, as he slid to the floor, and he ended up in a sitting position with his back against the wall, his chin on his chest.

Jim walked into the room and the stranger on the floor sat up, looked at the two men on the floor and grinned, more men walked in from other hiding places and she looked around at all this sudden commotion and didn’t know whether she wanted to hide her eyes or run away or cheer for the good ole red, white and blue…

“Did you just kill them? Simple as that?” she cried, but he came over to her and held out his hand, pulled her up.

“They’ve been watching you, and your house, for a couple of hours. What’s up with them? And why is this dickhead wagging his weenie in my living room?”

So she sat down and she told him, them really, because all of them, all eight of his men, walked in and listened to her retelling of events now almost thirty years old – with all of them soon regarding the two on the floor almost like dog turds they’d just stepped on.

Jim looked at them, shook his head, then said: “Tom, get my bag, would you?”

“The black bag, sir?”

“Yup.”

He walked over to Dooley, leaned over and looked into the man’s eyes. “What hit you in the neck is a voluntary muscle relaxant. That’s why you’re still breathing, and that’s why you can’t move. You’re not going to die, so just try to relax”

‘Tom’ brought in a small black case and handed it over; Jim opened it and took out some eyedrops and a few other odds and ends.

“That’s also why you can’t close your eyes, or even blink, so I’ve got to put some drops in your eyes from time to time, until you come out of this.” He put drops in Dooley’s eyes, then tossed the vial to one of his men. “That boy looks uncomfortable sitting like that. Let’s get him down on the floor, then put some drops in, would you?”

“Yessir,” the other man said.

“So,” he said, looking at her, “which one is this?”

“He was my boyfriend in high school. Paul Dooley. And that’s Sheldon Vance. He held me down most of that night, jacked off on my face once, then fucked me in the ass.”

“Did he, now. Well, too bad for you, Sheldon.” He turned to her, his face a blank mask now: “You might want to go home now.”

“What are you going to do?”

He sighed. “I think class is going to be in session again for these boys. It’s time they learned a thing or two about what happens to rapists in the real world.”

“No, I’m not leaving,” she said defiantly. “And I won’t let you kill them.”

“Kill them? No, just a little civics lesson, but it won’t be pretty.”

“I don’t care. I have to watch, to make sure…”

“Well, suit yourself,” he said, and he took a vial out of his bag and leaned over Dooley, put two drops on the man’s tongue, then he walked over and did the same to Vance.

“What’s that,” she asked.

“It’s an LSD analogue. Sort of the same thing, but this little home-brew heightens the sense of paranoia,” he said as he took latex gloves out of his bag and slipped them on. Two wrapped syringes came out next, and he pointed at Vance, said “get his pants down,” and men snapped to, pulled that man’s pants down, including his underwear, then he walked over to Dooley, leaned over and looked into his eyes.

“Can you talk yet?”

Dooley worked his mouth, tried to say something and failed, then tried again. “I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you, man…” he whispered.

“Indeed. Glad to hear it. Now Paul, do you know what this is?” He held up a snake, a rubber snake, but one that looked remarkably like a live coral snake, and he held it up carefully to Dooley’s eyes, taking great care to hold it, then he put it back in his bag. “That’s right, Paul, this is a coral snake. You’ve heard of those, haven’t you? Well, Paul, what I’m going to do is this. I’m going to put that coral snake right up your dick. I’m going to put that snake to sleep first, then I’m going to just slide him right up that dick of yours, all the way up into your bladder. Then that snake is going to wake up. And Paul, do you have any idea what that poor snake’s going to do once it wakes up?”

“Fuck you!” he slurred, and he watched as Dooley’s eyes rolled back, the LSD analogue taking hold now.

“No, not at all Paul. I’m not going to fuck you. That snake is going to fuck you, right up your ass. Just imagine that snake coming up behind you, then fucking you up the ass, just like you fucked Tracy up the ass. Remember that? How good that felt? Well, that snake is going to enjoy fucking you up the ass just as much as you enjoyed fucking Tracy, only his dick is a lot bigger than yours.”

“Oh, no…” Dooley cried, and he leaned over, put more drops in his eyes.

“Yes, Paul, much bigger, and it’s going to hurt like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. So, Paul, I’m going to have to get your dick hard first, so I can slide the snake up there, and this is going to hurt a little, and I’m sorry for that. But I can’t push that coral snake up your dick is it’s soft, can I?”

He opened a syringe, screwed down the plunger to prime the binary chemical load, then swabbed off Dooley’s dick with an alcohol swab, quickly slipped the needle into the base of Dooley’s penis – then slowly depressing the plunger. He went over and repeated the process on Vance, right down to dangling the snake in front of the terrified man’s face.

“No,” Vance whimpered, “no snakes. Please, no snakes.”

“Ah, so you’re afraid of snakes?”

“Yes!”

And Jim frowned at that, shook his head at Vance’s tears, his uncontrolled trembling when he held the snake in front of Vance’s eyes again.

“Oh well, that can’t be helped, I’m afraid.”

He walked back to Dooley, bent over and flicked the dick with a gloved finger – and it was beginning to react to the medication, getting harder by the minute, and he nodded, then looked up at her.

“Anything you’d like to say to him now, before we do this?”

“No. Will it hurt?”

“Excruciating pain, yes. When it wakes up and bites him, he will experience total agony.”

“Good. But…won’t he die?”

“I’ll administer an anti-venom when that happens,” he said, and he saw his words were having the exact affect he wanted. Dooley farted, began to cry…

“Don’t do this to me…what kind of monsters are you?”

Jim nodded, leaned over and looked into Dooley’s eyes. “I’m so sorry about all this, that this is going to hurt so much, but there’s nothing I can do about it. Neither can you, for that matter, so why don’t you just relax now…it’ll all be over in a minute.”

“No, please, don’t do this to me…”

“What? Are you sorry now? Sorry for what you did to Tracy? Are you?”

“I didn’t do nothin’ to her.”

“Oh. I see.” He went into his bag, pulled out a small envelope and a tube of sterile lubricant, then opened the envelope, pulled out a small sterile sleeve. “Okay, Paul, if you’re not going to tell me the truth, guess who’s coming out for a visit?” He pulled the snake out and handled it carefully again, held it just above Dooley’s face –

– and he cried out again: “I didn’t do nothin’!”

“Of course you didn’t, Paul. And you go right on thinking I believe you, too.” He put lube on the end of Dooley’s dick, then opened the sleeve, peeled back the wrapping and took what looked like a six inch long piece of glass tubing out and in one smooth motion slipped it inside Dooley’s urethra. “Here it comes, Paul. Here comes the coral snake…”

The man screamed, coughed and screamed again.

“That’s alright, Paul. It’s almost all the way in now. But Paul, once that snake is all the way in I can’t get him back out. Do you understand, Paul? Once I let go of the snake he’s in there for good, until he wakes up, then, well, you know what happens then, don’t you? So, are you sure there’s not something you want to say to Tracy now?”

“I’m sorry, Tracy, for all we done to you that night…I’m so sorry…”

“Tell me, Paul, just what did you do to Tracy that night?”

“We fucked her, he fucked her in the ass, we fucked her all night long…”

“Paul, did you like it? Did you like fucking her up the ass?”

He grinned. “Oh yeah, it was great, the greatest night of my life. I loved it, we all did.”

“So, you’re not really sorry, are you, Paul? Not really?

“Shit no. I’d do it all over again…”

“That’s what you were going to do tonight, isn’t it, Paul?”

“Oh, yes. I can’t wait to fuck her up the ass again…”

And put a gag in Dooley’s mouth then squeezed his dick, causing the crystalline sugar rod to shatter, and he kept squeezing the dick until he saw blood run out the tip. The rod melted quickly after that, and Dooley’s muffled screams filled the room – and Tracy looked down at him for a minute, then stood and left the room.

He walked over to Vance, and began again.

+++++

He and his men were sitting around the card table, deep in a new hand when they saw a sheriff’s car drive up the street and stop in front his house. An old man got out and walked up to the door and banged on the glass, then on the wooden door frame. “Open up,” he called out, and Jim went to the door, opened the door and smiled.

“Yes?”

“I just come from the hospital. Two men down there, their dicks all torn up, and they you done something to them.”

“Excuse me? Who said what?”

“Two locals, say you stuck snakes up their dicks.”

His eyes went wide and he laughed. “Snakes? Not likely, I’m deathly afraid of snakes, and besides, we’ve been playing cards since five this afternoon.”

“I’m gonna need to see some ID,” the old sheriff said, and eight men pushed back their chairs and walked over to the door, their pistols and badges now clear for him to see. “You all law enforcement,” he asked, now cowed.

“Federal,” Jim said. “Counter-terrorism.”

“Why didn’t you guys check in with me, let me know you’re here?”

“Because,” Jim said, “we’re not here. You didn’t see anyone in this house. Not one soul. Is that clear enough for you? Do I need to elaborate?”

“Yessir, I got it.”

“Now, I don’t know who you have down at the hospital, but it sounds to me like somebody took too many drugs tonight, maybe got hold of some really bad shit. You wish ‘em a speedy recovery, though. Tell ‘em I hope they get better, real soon. Now, goodnight Sheriff.”

She watched the old man walk out to his car from his bedroom, watched him drive away, then walked out to the living room, walked up to the table and put her hand on his shoulder. “Thank you, all of you,” she said, and Tom looked over at her and winked. “Five card stud,” he said, looking right at her. “You in, or you just gonna stand around lookin’ all cute ‘n stuff?”

+++++

Life slipped into new patterns after that night.

She moved most of her things down the street, put her clothes in the closet – in his closet, as in: her clothes next to his – and she looked at that development in wonder. Looked at what that really meant. For the first time in nearly three decades she had given her heart to another human being, yet she still had no real idea who, or what he was.

She only knew that he was dangerous. A most dangerous kind of human being, a great unknown, like a shadow in the night, lurking out there beyond the trees. He would walk by and she would feel that in her gut…that he was a feral beast, the creature of a child’s nightmare.

And that night lingered in her mind for days. The way he walked around the room, the gentle way he talked to Dooley and Vance as he stripped away their souls, laid them bare. Practiced was the word that came to mind, too. Like he’d done this so many times he’d grown bored with their fear. They were toys, not human beings, and yet when then were through with them, after they loaded Dooley and Vance in the back of one of the Suburbans and drove away in the night, after they were pushed out the back of the moving Suburban onto the beach road, when he came back to her he was as gentle and caring as any soul she’d ever known. So he just didn’t compute, she told herself. Things didn’t quite add up. Like two separate souls inhabited one body, one gentle and sweet, the other an unspeakable monster.

Yet she loved him. She loved him because he instinctively understood what had happened to her all those years ago, what it had cost her over the years, in the most human terms. And he – without hesitation or questioning her – acted on her behalf, to protect and avenge her. So, she understood he had been trying to protect her, and probably in the only way he knew how – so, could she hold that against him? Truly?

But what did his actions say about the man? Who he was, at his core? What he had done with his life?

And, she knew, he would have to tell her – because she wasn’t about to ask him again.

The first time she tried he turned her questions away, inverted their meaning and deflected her searching looks. The second time she asked that dangerous monster settled in his eyes – and she had to turn away, quickly, lest the other man, the creature who lurked deep within those shadows, came out to play.

Yet one moment she knew his was a gentle soul, playful in the extreme, yet also deeply caring. He was an attentive lover, wanted her to have at least twice as much enjoyment from their intimate moments together, and he seemed to need her happiness for his own to be complete.

But she soon noticed he grew tense every Sunday afternoon, and the crescendo of his anxiety always came around six in the evening. When his computer, or something like that in his study, buzzed loudly – and he shut the door as he went inside. Jimmie stood and growled until she either walked outside or down to the bedroom, and he would come out of the room, his face glum one Sunday, or seriously excited, as had happened last week, and she could let out her breath again. Regardless, his face was stern and all business when he came out, and his men would come over and they talked in hushed, angry tones while she worked in his garden or finished folding their laundry.

And Jimmie?

When he came out of the room Jimmie relaxed, and it was as if nothing had happened. One minute a snarling creature ready to rip into her throat, the next just another gentle soul ready to love, and be loved. Feral – docile – in the blink of an eye. Birds of a feather, she thought…

But the changes just didn’t make sense.

Or did they?

“Just who the hell is he?”

+++++

And another routine was quickly established, soon set in stone. He stopped cooking lunch and dinner, except on Mondays, and he walked down the hill, to her. He walked down to the café and in the front door at 11:15 sharp, for lunch, and at 5:00, on the nose, for dinner. And Jimmie always came with him. Soon everyone knew the corner table was his, or…theirs. For the pup curled up at his feet and just slept – until it was time to leave again,

About ten days after “that night” Paul Dooley came back to work, was working out back framing a bathroom wall when he walked in, right on time, and she came over, told him about the day’s specials then mentioned, in an underhanded way, that ‘a friend of yours is out back…’

“Oh? Splendid!” And he’d walked right through the kitchen and out the back door, onto the framed and decked addition – and Dooley was about five feet away, on a step ladder, when he stepped out there. He walked around for a while, until Dooley saw him, then he walked back inside, stuck his head in Bruce’s office. “Lookin’ good out there,” he said, and Bruce looked up.

“Yes, now that they’re back up to full strength they should make good time.”

“Oh? Something happen to someone?”

“Yeah, one of their carpenters had some kind of bladder infection, something like that.”

“Ah. Well, looks good, lots of progress. Can’t wait to see it once all the walls are up and rocked.”

Bruce smiled, looked at him, then cleared his throat. “Got a minute?” he asked.

“Sure.”

“Come on in, have a seat.”

“Yeah?” he said, “What’s up?”

“I was looking over the plans, thinking about maybe getting a piano, putting it in a corner out there. We’ll have room for a piano, maybe even a trio, something like that. Evenings, ya know. Try to set a new mood around here. Maybe a small dance floor, too.”

“What? Jazz? Stuff like that?”

“Oh,” Bruce said, leaning back, “jazz, classical, even old Elton John.”

“Sounds interesting. What are you thinking you’ll need?”

“I don’t know anything about pianos, neither does Darren, but Tracy mentioned you play so I was wondering, could you help us pick out a piano, maybe get that up and running once we get close to opening?”

“Up and running?”

“Well, maybe you could play a few nights a week, for an hour or so?”

“Ah, kind of sing for my supper, eh? Well, we’ll see. I can certainly help get a piano in here, and there are a few options to go over, but we can talk about that in a month or so.”

“Great, thanks! So, what’s Darren got for lunch today?”

And his routine at home changed a little after that. He started playing more, working on pieces he’d played easily years ago, but that challenged his hands more these days. And when the addition out back took shape he walked out there and looked over the area where the piano would sit. And he’d picked out a nice one, too. A Clavinova, of course, but a full size concert grand, and he could hardly wait to dance with it.

Then one afternoon Paul Dooley walked up the street, trying to act like he wasn’t there, and he walked up to her house and looked at it for a while, then kept on walking up the hill. But of course by that time several people were looking at him, wondering what he was up to – and one of his men slipped into the trees and watched Dooley from a distance, watched Dooley walk up and get into the sheriff’s car, then drive away with him.

And that night the man gathered around the card table, waiting, and the sheriff’s car drove by as the sun set, and again, a few hours later – and then the loud buzzing alarm went off in his study and she thought that odd, as it was a Wednesday. He disappeared inside the room and talked for a few minutes, then he came out and looked at his men.

“Okay, let’s roll,” he said, and they left the house, left her sitting in the living room, alone, and they got in their Suburbans and drove off into the night. The drove south on Main, then out the old County Road where the sheriff was set up, working radar, or so he liked to tell people. When they pulled up to the sheriff’s car he was hurriedly stuffing girly magazines into a briefcase, and he was not amused that these strangers had interrupted his routine.

“What are you lousy sons-a-bitches doin’ out here?” he fairly screamed.

And as he watched Jim walk up to his window he heard a ‘click-pffft’ sound, then swatted at the wasp that must’ve just bit his neck.

“How’re you doin’, Sheriff?”

The old man slumped over behind the wheel, began babbling and drooling.

“My oh my, Sheriff. Have you been drinking? You know, it sure smells like you’ve been drinking. And look what we have here. Juggs Magazine. And Little Beavers, too. Why Sheriff, do you have a thing for little girls? Oh, and look at what we have here. An envelope full of pictures? Of little children, being fucked by…why Sheriff? Is that you? Are you beating off to pictures of you fucking little children?”

The Sheriff mumbled something incoherent, then his bowels cut loose, filling his pants.

“Opps, looks like we’ve had an accident. Well, I hate to say this, Sheriff, but we’ve put a call into the State Police,” he said as he emptied a pint of bourbon onto the sheriff’s uniform, leaving a few good swigs to pour down his mouth. “I guess you know what a DUI is going to do for you, don’t you? Not to mention all that kiddy porn.”

More mumbling, then a State Police trooper’s car pulled up behind the caravan and one of his men went over and introduced himself to the trooper, explained what they’d found when driving out of town. The trooper checked their IDs and was duly impressed, then she examined the sheriff’s car, found all that kiddy porn and they helped her get the sheriff hand-cuffed and into the back of her car.

They watched as she drove off, content with having cleaned up a little of the local trash. For now. Then they watched as the C-27J circled the airport and landed, never once turning on any lights during it’s approach.

They drove out the county road and turned into the airport, and he ran to the Air Force transport and climbed aboard, then the aircraft taxied – again, with no lights – to the end of the little grass strip. The engines spooled up and the Spartan sprinted down the runway and leapt into the sky, then turned to the north northeast and disappeared into the night.

+++++

She watched the Suburbans pull into the drive next door, saw he was gone – again – and she wondered where he went – without explanation – on these sudden nights. ‘No point,’ she said to herself as she turned out the lights and went to sleep. “He’d never tell me…”

He wasn’t at lunch the next day, neither did he come by for dinner, but an hour after she walked up to her house she heard one of the Suburbans pull into his drive, and she watched, from her living room, as he went inside and, she assumed, looked for her around his house. Yet a few minutes later all the lights went out and she cursed his name, then went upstairs and crawled into her own bad, in her old room, the room of her childhood.

When she couldn’t sleep he tried to touch herself, tried to get herself off but she knew that was pointless now. She couldn’t even get wet down there without his touch – so she threw back the sheets and put on her slippers, walked down the stairs and out the door. Cussing now, as a light rain began falling, she pounded down the street and across his yard, threw open his front door and tromped down the hallway to his bedroom door. She threw that door open too and walked over to the bed, threw down the sheets and, like a heat-seeking missile, her mouth zeroed in on his cock – and just then she realized he was sitting there, that he’d been waiting for her, that his cock was hard, and slippery, and she flew onto his lap, impaling herself on him. As soon as he was all the way in she slipped into an almost convulsive state, writhing in sudden ecstasy as he held her down, twisting under her and driving up deeper inside from time to time – then he reached for her clit and with his thumb began massaging her. She growled for a moment, then began to roar, finally howling her way into a monumental, thrashing orgasm – screaming “Oh, God, oh, God!” over and over and over again.

When she was falling back to earth he flipped her over and slipped his cock into her mouth, and as soon as her liquid warmth encased him he felt himself explode – and he watched as his cum erupted, oozed past her lips, began running down her chin and onto her breast – then he slid down and put his face on her nether lips and began hammering her clit again, with his tongue this time.

She became a thing possessed now, wrapped her legs around his face, her feet on the back of his head, pulling him closer, and she was lifting up to put more force on her bud, pulling him deeper still – and within moments she was pounding the mattress with clinched fists and her legs shot straight up into the air – her thighs squeezing his head so tightly he thought he might pass out. He drove his tongue in as deep as he could just then, and a silky wave of fluid washed over him – and that only seemed to release a second, much deeper wave of orgasmic contractions…

“Oh, fuck…put it in me…now…”

And he moved up, ran the head of his cock over the running river and slid in, the silken grip surreal now, almost molten. She had her legs up, his face resting on the sides of her feet and he started licking the bottom of her strong arch, then he bit it, started sucking the skin there and her back lifted, he felt her contractions from the head of his cock to the small of his back and everything was suddenly unstoppable. He felt his orgasm begin somewhere in his thighs, the pressure building until his entire being felt wrapped in hot light and a million pricking pins of lust –

And then he felt light headed, like he was standing on a mountain high above timberline and a cold wind was blowing in the sun. He lay there, very still, propped on her legs as the feeling grew more intense…this feeling of altitude, high altitude, and of howling winds. He put his arms out to his side, felt the wind lifting him high into the sky –

And he was flying. Like an eagle, he thought, looking down at the earth far below, soaring on unseen currents, banking on a breeze then looping over into a steep dive…his wings back as he fell on unseen prey far below. He could hear his cry, an eagle’s piecing call even over the roar of the wind, and he took a deep breath, opened his eyes and saw her there, looking at him, her eyes full of wonder.

“Where did that come from?” she whispered.

“Oh, God I love you,” he said – then he was on her, kissing her with more passion than he’d ever felt in his life – and she was all arms and legs now, wrapping herself around him as they rolled on the bed in a frenzy of abandoned restraint.

“Don’t ever leave me like that again,” she cried. “I can’t stand not knowing where you are, not knowing if you’ll come back to me…”

And he stopped, looked into her eyes. “Alright. I promise,” he said, then he took her fingers in his mouth, one by one, licking and sucking on them, “on one condition,” he added.

“And what would that be?”

“We fly to Vegas, and you marry me.”

She grew very still then, and she moved away, looked him in the eye. “Is that what you really want?”

“More than anything in the world,” he said softly, sucking on one of her nipples.

“Alright. I’ll accept, on that one condition.”

He moved to her other nipple, began tonguing that one, and he felt them growing hard as he worked them over, felt her thighs trembling and her hands pulling his mouth closer – and he pushed her down again, buried his face between her thighs until her body was almost on fire, her being on the verge of spontaneous combustion.

When she came down this time he left her again, spiraled away on thermal currents until he was high over the mountains, looking down. Clouds were gathering along a far ridge, a deep storm coming and he looked down into the forest far below. He saw her running then, running like a fawn, her tawny, spotted skin dancing in the sunlight, oblivious to the warning wind building around her, carefree, alive, running through the trees without a care in the world.

He wondered what it was like to run free, to run through forests – without orders. What it must feel like to kill just for the sake of killing, without having to be told to kill. He looked at the fawn and wondered if he should let it run free a while longer, or if he should fold his wings back now, and fall on her.

He knew they were getting close now. The team had been spotted in St Johns. Leaving the airport, headed to the wharves. So, they would come by sea this time. Not unexpected, he thought, and he looked at her – sleeping by his side. So cute, he thought. I could lick those freckles for all eternity, kiss those lips, fall into her eyes and swim away. He trembled and jerked for a moment, felt himself falling through lightning and rain, the wind and enfolding darkness too close now. Close, but not touching.

She would die, he knew. She would get to close to the lightning before he could save her, so maybe it would be better to kill her now, before all the pain came crawling through the night – before the real suffering began.

He reached out, put his hands around her neck –

And the current, the charge of her skin touching his, reached into him – and he closed his eyes, felt the wind and the rain and he flew higher, reaching out for the sun.

© 2017 Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | adrianleverkuhnwrites7@gmail.com