Beyond and Within

beyond and within hdr

There’ll be a bunch of submissions at Lit for the long 4th of July weekend – for stories following a “Siren’s Song” motif, but as there wasn’t a lot of guidance beyond that I ran with it. I’m tempted to call this version 1.0, but this story is what will show up over on Lit in a few days; still, I may tinker with the arc over the days and weeks ahead. Of course, those who’ve been following these posts over the years may recall that Alan Parsons Siren’s Song is one of my favorites, so of course I wove that song into the story. I just had to. Sorry for being so predictable. Oh, you may pick up hints of the old Jon and Vangelis song He Is Sailing here and there. Purely unintentional, I do believe…(cough-cough)

So, anyway, here it is…and this one is dedicated to my little Sara.

//

Beyond and Within

He was lost to the fire, in the dance above the embers. In that glow – pulsing red tinged with black and white – feeding ascent, always to the stars, force always dissipating. 

A snapping sound, pulled from the trance, and he watches sparks lift in the twilight, climbing towards fronds leaning from the trades. He saw them then. The girl – no, a woman now – and the dog. He met both so long ago. Impossible, he knew, the fragments of him that remained.

His eyes followed a floating ember until it disappeared high among the early stars.

“What was it like then, Grandfather?”

“Hmm? Oh, our mother was a much smaller place in those days. People from the far side came to swim in the sea for a few days, then they flew home in vast machines. We could not sail so far in a lifetime.”

“So? Is that important?”

“Mother is large again, as she must be. That is what’s important.”

“As she must be?”

“It is a question of balance. Nothing is as it should be when life is out of balance.” He turned and looked at the girl and the dog sitting on the point above the rocks, watching the same place in the sea.

“Are they out of balance, Grandfather?”

He turned and looked at his children’s children, and he could see that they had followed his eyes. They too were staring at the girl and the dog.

“I did not see the signs – until it was too late. But in the beginning all was as it should be. We were so far apart, and yet so close. He studied ways to move around the mother, and so did I. That is how we became friends.” He turned his face to the dome of the night and listened to a star for the longest time. “Yes,” he sighed a moment later, “I should have listened to you. But, you see, I had forgotten how.”

+++++

On another night years before he turned to face the night sky and studied patterns caught within the fabric of time; some time later he turned and studied the surface of the sea for signs he had memorized when he was very young. Signs that were echoes of stories his father had told him, stories of currents and wind patterns, stories of what had been, and, sometimes, stories about the music of things to come – about the music of the stars. What seemed like hours later, at least to the men rowing that night, he turned his face ever so slightly and closed his eyes, and with his face just into the wind he saw the scent of blooming flowers and fresh rain borne on a darkening breeze.

He pointed to a star low on the horizon and one of the men adjusted their course; moments later the great sailing canoe turned ever-so-slightly, tracking true on the new course. He looked at the star once again, listened to the music that had crossed the gulf of memory and he nodded, acknowledging the blessing.

His name was King – because his name reflected his place among the people, and King was sailing now, visiting his many islands before the season of storms. He looked at the star until the point of light was lost behind the line that divided the earth from the sky, then he looked down at his wife – still lost in the fever sleep. There was nothing he could do now but wait for the music, so he turned his face to the ringed one and opened his arms, waiting at the edge of the world for the first chord… 

+++++

“American two-two-tango, turn right to one-three-three degrees, descend and maintain one-nine-hundred and report passing NITER; expect a straight-in one-three left, contact Love tower one-two-three-decimal-seven and good-night.”

“Center, two-two tango to one-three-three and nineteen hundred, one-two-three-seven.”

He turned and looked at the FO candidate in the right seat and tried not to shake his head. An FAA examiner was sitting behind the rookie – writing down every mistake the kid made – and he knew, just by listening to the pen grating across the paper, this would be a report for the record books.

The kid’s father was a board member and had somehow gotten this boy into a transition class, and yet already the word was the kid had blown every sim-check but one. He shouldn’t even be on this ride, he thought as he shook his head. Had things really grown so warped? Could money indeed buy anything?

Lining up for runway 13L at Dallas Love Field, all the kid had to do was hold 133º and nineteen hundred feet and he’d be golden. The examiner would check to see if the kid could hold their altitude at plus-or-minus fifty feet and a heading within two degrees, yet already to kid had blown the limits and was three hundred feet below their assigned altitude.

“Captain?” the examiner asked.

He sighed. “My airplane,” Captain Denton King said, taking the yoke in his left hand and putting his right on the throttles.

“No,” the kid said, contradicting his captain and breaking one of the biggest safety rules in a commercial cockpit, “I’ve got it.”

“Stewart – ?” King said, his voice now sudden, deep growl. “Get off my flight deck. Right – now.”

The kid seemed to shake when he caught the tone behind this captain’s words, and he nervously shook off his harness and scrambled out of cockpit door. 

Without saying a word, the FAA examiner slipped into the first officer’s seat and buckled in. “Your airplane, Captain. I’ll handle the checklist.”

“Thanks, Ben.”

“That pecker-head is even worse than the scuttlebutt. He’s got no business being in an airplane.”

“Yeah, and he’ll be right back up here next month – at least until someone passes him, anyway. You wanna call us in?”

“Got it,” the examiner said, putting on his headset. “Love tower, two-two-tango passing NITER.”

“Two-two-tango, roger, wind now out of the north at one-seven, gusts to two-three knots. Thunderstorm now three miles north of the airport.”

“Two-two, we have the lights.”

“Understood. Clear to land one-three left.”

A bolt of lightning arced across the sky, seemingly between their 757 and the threshold, and then the bottom fell out. “Uh, a little wind-shear,” the examiner said, his voice steely calm.

“Got it,” King said. They’d lost another three hundred feet in a heartbeat and now the old Boeing 757 was just a few hundred feet above some apartments buildings. He watched the rate of climb indicator register positive and he eased off the throttle a little, at least until he was back on track to intercept the glide-slope, then he shrugged his shoulders, eased the tension in the small of his back. More lightning, one arc hitting Bachman Lake, and the runway lights flickered once – then lights all over the airport blinked out.

“Uh, two-two-tango, I think we’re going around now.”

“Two-two, missed approach approved, turn right to one-eight-zero passing one thousand, contact Center one-two-five-two.”

“One-eighty at one and one-two-five-two,” King said as one of the other instructors came into the cockpit.

“Real vomit-comet back there, Cap. What’s up?”

“Just lost power at Love.”

“Was that wind shear, or what? How much did we lose?”

“Three hundred and a little bit.”

“Ouch. Glad Stewart was off the stick.”

King thought about that for a moment then got his ass back in the cockpit and worked the new approach into KDFW that they picked-up from Dallas Center. Still, the thought was out there waiting for him, and driving home on LBJ an hour later it was all he could do to get the kid’s mistakes out of his mind – and the inrushing memory of all those apartment buildings just below. Stewart had already lost almost 300 feet when ordered off the flight deck, but what if he’d let the kid figure it out for another few seconds? What if the examiner hadn’t chimed-in when he had? At the very least they’d have burned some shingles off those apartments, but he couldn’t bring himself to think about the other likely outcome.

He turned south on Central and got off on Mockingbird – and made it home in time to see Sharon and Jennifer load-up and head off to school. After he kissed them both he watched them drive away, and after he closed the door to the house he peeled off his uniform and went straight to the shower, tried to wash all the lingering uncertainties out of his mind – yet in the hot mist the vision returned. All those rooftops down there in the night, all the people sleeping, dreaming, every one of those souls oblivious to the little drama playing out just over their heads. 

The line between life and death was often razor thin, but this night had been a little too tricky. How many times, he wondered, had he cheated death. How many more times could he get away with it? When would the bill come due?

He let the hot spray beat down on his neck and shoulders long enough for the water to cool a little, then he turned off the tap and toweled himself dry, put on his pajamas and went to his office to check email before grabbing the officially mandated eight hours. Nothing, not even the usual junk mail – then he realized this was Saturday and even the spammers took weekends off. But no, Sharon and Jenn had just left for school – so it was Friday…? He shook his head but knew he was too tired to think about anything else. Bed was calling now…

He had just slipped under the sheets when he felt sleep running through the dark, then a giant hand pushing the 757 down towards inrushing rooftops just below…he looked to his right, to the FOs seat, saw Stewart sitting there – grinning maniacally as the rooftops reached up for them…like the very earth was reaching up to swat them out of the sky – like an impudent fly.

Then he heard warning bells and distant impacts, noises that did not belong in his cockpit and his eyes opened. He still heard the bells – no, the doorbell – and it was ringing insistently. His eyes felt like burning gravel as he sat up and reached for his bathrobe, then he staggered for the entryway. By the time he got to the double-doors he could see two cops out on the walkway, one with an aluminum clipboard in hand. He rubbed his eyes as he opened the door…

“Yes…?”

“Sorry, sir,” one of the cops said. She had her clipboard in hand now, a pen poised to write. “May we come inside?”

He shook the cobwebs from his mind as he looked at the girl, then he stepped aside and opened the door. “Please. Could I get you some coffee?”

The policewoman was older, and he thought the other cop with her looked impossibly young, almost a teenager.

“Thanks, no,” the girl said.

“You’ll excuse me,” he said, “but I didn’t get in from work until almost eight this morning and I’m still a little beat. I’ll be right back. There’s bottled water in the fridge,” he added, pointing somewhere towards the kitchen. “Please, help yourself.”

He walked to the head and relieved himself, threw on some cargo shorts and sneakers, then a clean t-shirt before heading back to the living room. Both of the cops were still standing at the door, waiting stoically, if a little impatiently…

“Sorry ‘bout that,” King said.

“No problem, sir. Is a Sharon King your wife?”

“Yes?”

“And are you the owner of a 2021 Volvo e90 wagon, silver in color?”

“Yes? What’s wrong? Has something happened…?

“I’m sorry to tell you, sir, but another vehicle hit the car she was driving this morning. Your wife was killed in the collision, sir, and…”

He felt her words, saw the rooftops reaching up through the night – clawing into the sunlight for him once again. “I’m sorry? What did you say?”

“Sir, is there someone I can call? Someone to be with you right now?”

“Was she alone?”

“Sir?”

“Was there anyone in the car with her?”

“Oh yes, sorry. A young girl, and she’s reportedly stable and on her way to Baylor.” She looked at the man, at the calm professionalism etched on his features and she wondered what he did for a living as she watched him pull a cell phone from his shorts and dial a number.

“Dad? Look, it’s Sharon – she’s been in an accident of some sort and they’re taking Jenn to Baylor. Yes…I think so; look, I know it’s early but could you come over? I just got in and I’m in no condition to drive. Yeah Dad, thanks.” He flipped off the phone and turned to the cop with the clipboard. “You say she was hit by another…”

“Actually, sir, it was a dump truck. Ran a stop sign, hit the driver’s door broadside at a fairly high rate of speed. Looks like airbags saved your daughter from the worst of it.” She watched her words penetrate the fog this time, looked at his shaking hands and knew the dam was about to break. She put her clipboard down and moved to him, took him in her arms as the tears started, and by the time she had cupped his head to her shoulder he was almost out of control, sobbing as he realized his world had just come undone.

His eyes were closed tight, the flames of burning wreckage all around him, the apartment buildings on fire as tons of jet fuel cooked-off several wood-framed buildings. “Oh God,” he cried. “Not again!”

The girl held him, not really sure what had happened in that moment – only that this fellow human being’s need was real, and she felt she could meet that need. “Are you all right,” she whispered a moment later, and she felt him stiffen as resolve and control reasserted and pushed aside that other layer of feeling. Another gulf of infinite space passed and he finally pulled away. 

“When you’re ready, we need to ask you a few questions,” the patrolwoman stated, calmly reasserting another layer between herself and this sudden stranger. He walked to the kitchen and she followed, watched as he popped a pod into a coffee-maker on the granite counter and started a brew.

“Sure I can’t make you something?”

“Have any decaf?”

“I think we have half-caff. Will that do?”

“Yessir.”

“What about you?” King asked the other officer – the one that looked about thirteen.

“Water, sir – if you have any handy?”

“Bottles in the ‘fridge, or grab a glass and help yourself. Ice and water dispenser in the door, glasses in the cabinet,” he added, pointing in the vicinity of the refrigerator. When he finished her coffee he walked to the living room and sat down heavily, rubbed his eyes once. “You said Baylor? They’re taking my girl to Baylor?”

“Yessir.”

“Could you tell what kind of injuries she has?”

“No, sir…I’m not qualified, but she was sitting up and talking the last time I saw her.”

He nodded his head, rubbed the bridge of his nose. “You have some questions for me?”

“Yessir. When did you see your wife last?”

“As I was coming in this morning?”

“From?”

“Training flight, all night.”

“Training? Who?” the young officer asked.

“I was the senior captain on a training flight last night. We take off from DFW with a half dozen first officer candidates, a couple of captains up for a recurrent check-ride, and we cycle back and forth between Houston-Hobby and Love Field, let each pilot make one take-off or landing.”

“Really?” the patrolman said, now clearly interested. “Who do you fly for?”

“American.”

“What type…”

“Look, if you want to talk about this stuff some time, call me and come over. Right now I need to grab a shower and put on some clothes…”

The doorbell chimed and he went to the front door, then walked off to his bedroom, leaving a wizened old man at the door – staring at the two cops. “What’s happened?” Bennett King demanded, and the two cops snapped-to when they recognized the old man’s face, and that voice.

Pushed by the unseen hand of protective obedience, the patrolwoman came to the old man and told him everything she knew.

+++++

King stood before the towering flames and watched his wife’s wreathed form disappear within tendrils of crackling black smoke; in time he watched embers pulse and fade, and as one last orange spark left her body – beginning their journey to the stars – he stood and watched the glowing orb ascend past the known…and on – to what? The unknowable? 

He remained with his people – as cold and quiet as stone – through the night, yet when the great star came and chased away the night everyone saw that King too had gone. Had he journeyed to the stars – again – and would he return this time?

His people stood around their morning fire, watched the night’s last embers fade in the coming of day, and they looked for comfort in the afterglow – but they were afraid now – afraid of the stars, and what waited beyond. Where was he, they wondered?

+++++

When he and his father made it up to surgery they learned Jennifer had a ruptured spleen and other, suspected, internal bleeding, but that “the best surgeons in Dallas were working on her.” It would be, a candy-striped volunteer told them, a few more hours before word came down from the O-R, but they were welcome to wait here or in the well-stocked cafeteria… 

The policewoman and her rookie showed up a half hour later and she produced a photo of Sharon – taken at the Medical Examiner’s basement facility over at UT Southwestern-Parkland – and she asked him to identify the body.

He had looked at the image, a quick, evasive, sidelong glance and then he turned away quickly – somehow nodding his head while trying not to fall down. Her beautiful face looked purple and contused in the greenish light, the left side of her skull was grossly deformed, but yes, it was Sharon. The same girl he’d met on a flight to Amsterdam once upon a time…now more than fifteen years ago. 

He turned away from this cops portion of reality and drifted back to that night. The captain asking him to make a round through the cabin, a “meet and greet” to calm passengers after a little rough air off St Johns. Sharon had been sitting alone, was obviously terrified of flying, and when she looked up, saw his uniform she had almost burst out in tears. He knelt beside her in the aisle and talked with her, and later the next day he met her at her hotel and they talked some more. Within a week he loved her and knew his life would never be the same.

And now, looking around the corridor outside of Surgery he knew that was irrevocably true.

His daughter, fighting for her life. Sharon, on a cold stainless steel table just a few miles away, her remains now a broken, misshapen shell. Suddenly it was impossible to reconcile the various images in his mind – then he saw Sharon looking up at him through a veil of tears, asking…“What happened to us? Why am I here?” 

‘I’m sorry, babe. There’s nothing left of us now but the memories,’ he whispered, and her bruised face nodded.

“If there’s anything I can do to help,” the policewoman said, her voice softly sincere as she handed a card to him, “please call me.”

He looked up at the girl and nodded as he fumbled her card into a pocket. “Thanks. Thanks for, you know, being there.”

She nodded, then turned abruptly and walked away. And he was surprised to see tears in her eyes – and that the image of those tears remained with him for hours.

Were all women, he wondered, destined to cry after they met him?

“Her spinal cord is intact,” Jennifer’s surgeon advised when he finally came out the double doors, “though we found some swelling around the third cervical vertebre. Internal bleeding appears to be under control…” and they heard that Jennifer’s prospects were guarded – but good. He tried to listen to the surgeon after that, but waves of relief surged over him and he knew he was drifting off. When the physician went back inside the double doors he walked to a window and looked at the setting sun, then at his watch. He and his father had been in the same squalid waiting room for almost ten hours, and that meant Jenn had been under at least that long. Something wasn’t right. Her injuries were worse than the surgeon was letting on.

He was aware his father was beside him and he turned and looked at his old man.

“It’s tough, son, but she’ll get through it. So will you.”

He nodded.

“After all you’ve been through,” his father added, his old voice now a whisper as he rubbed his eyes.

He put his arm around his father’s shoulder and held him close.

+++++

She was sifting through the dead woman’s effects at the station when she came across the letter. From someone professing eternal love. Someone obviously not her husband. She held the paper in her hands and looked at the handwriting – very feminine, and very strong. She looked at the envelope, and at the return address, and she frowned. 

She decided to visit the address after she finished-up the days supplemental reports. There were no felonious crimes involved involved in the accident, so the woman’s effects would soon be returned to her husband. And, obviously, he would find the letter, then doubts and questions would forever cloud his memory of the woman – the wife he thought he knew.

And so she wondered. Should she? Should she destroy the letter?

She decided to talk to the woman first.

+++++

He leaned over his daughter, looked down at her groggy smile, at the hope and fear and confusion he saw in her eyes. 

‘But isn’t that just what I feel?’ he asked himself as he looked into his daughter’s eyes. ‘So much like Sharon’s,’ he thought, ‘but kind of like me, too. Confused – ’

“What happened?” she asked as she came out of the ether.

“You were in an accident, honey. On the way to school.”

“Where am I?”

“Baylor. You’ve been in surgery and your head is immobilized now, so don’t panic if you feel closed in. I’m right here, and so is Pa-Pa.”

“Your father’s here?” Jennifer asked, her voice now unsteady.

He smiled. “Yeah, I broke down and called the old goat. Sorry to disillusion you.”

And she had smiled then. “I’ve been hoping you two would kiss and make-up one day,” she added, smiling a little more now. “Where’s Mom?”

He took her hands and looked his daughter in the eye, then simply shook his head.

“Oh,” Jenn said, and that was that.

He squeezed her hand as gently as he dared but there was no response and he wondered if she could feel him – yet he was afraid to ask. “I haven’t had a chance to think about it much,” he whispered.

“I remember you leaving last night,” she said, trying to brighten things up – like she always did. “A training flight, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“How’d it go?”

“Not bad. Did you hear the thunderstorms?”

“Yeah, big winds, then some hail. Were you in that stuff?”

“Almost. We managed to run away in time.”

She looked at him now, looked deeply into his eyes. “Was it bad?”

“A little,” he said, thinking of the inrushing apartment again, then the flames and burning people came by for another visit. It was always the same, and he knew she knew all about it. Of all the people in the world, he wondered, his fourteen year old daughter knew him best of all. As Sharon had grown more cool and distant over the last year, Jenn had stepped in and filled the emotional void.

“Am I going to be okay, Daddy?”

The words tore through him like gales of doubt, and he shrugged as he looked into her eyes. “From what they’ve told me so far, yes. But a lot depends on how well the surgery went.”

“I can’t feel your hands,” she whispered as she looked away. “Daddy…I’m so scared.”

“I am too, Honey. I am too.” He wiped away her tears as she fell asleep again, and this time he got up and walked out to talk with his father.

“Well?” his old man said, his eyes burning now.

He shrugged. “She couldn’t feel my hands.”

“Damn. What did the doc say? Two to three days ‘til we know for sure? If the swelling goes down?”

He nodded. “Let me take you out, buy you a steak and some whiskey.”

“You sure you can stand to be around me that long?”

“I’m not sure I can stand to not be with you any more, Dad. I need you, and I know Jenny does too.”

His old man nodded and he watched as his father wiped away a tear. “That sounds good to me, son.”

He put his arms around his father’s shoulder and they walked down to the elevators.

+++++

The door opened and a woman stood there. Attractive, controlling, almost domineering. She knew the type…all too well.

“Yes?” the woman said, looking at the policewoman – and at the clipboard under her arm.

“Is your name Goldstein?”

“Yes? What’s going on? Is something wrong?”

“May I come in, Ma’am. This is something personal, and private.”

“Yes, of course,” Goldstein said while holding the door open, and she stepped into the living room, looking around the ornately decorated room as she did. Tasteful, almost elegant décor. A few framed photos on a bookcase, a diploma on the wall over a little writing desk. University of Texas, Austin, a B.S. in sociology twenty years ago.

“What’s this about?” Goldstein asked, then her eyes went wide when she saw the letter on the cop’s clipboard. “Where’d you get that?”

“From Sharon King’s purse.”

“What’s happened?”

“An accident. She was killed earlier today.”

Not a blink, not one tear, just the shallowest layer of recognition before cold, hard denial set-in.

“Denton? How is he? Does he know yet?”

“Yes. He’s at the hospital.”

“The hospital?”

“His daughter, Jennifer. She was injured.”

And that caused the woman to come apart at the seams. She sat, buried her face in her hands and started crying. 

And after that first unravelling they talked. For a long, long time.

+++++

“You seem distracted, Denny. What is it? What else is happening?”

“The dreams again.”

“What? From that accident?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s been, what? Two years?”

He nodded. “Yeah. Close enough.”

“Are you seeing someone?”

“Yup. The flight surgeon hooked me up with a counselor over at Southwestern. She teaches grief counseling, if you can imagine that.” He paused, looked up at the ceiling. “I wonder, Dad. What kind of society have we become that we need so many grief counselors?”

“We probably always did, son. There just wasn’t anyone like that waiting in the wings.” His old man chuckled as he looked down at his hands. “We’re not where we thought we’d end up, are we?” He was trying to smile now, but the look in his son’s eyes was troubling. He’d never seen so much uncertainty in his boy before, and to find it now, when he needed to believe in himself most – if not for his own sake, then for his daughter’s? “What are you going to do now?”

“I’ve got to get Sharon’s family down here for some kind of service…”

“They’re the religious ones, right?”

“Yup.”

“Still broke, I take it? Wallowing around in their superstitions, living on the edge of yesterday? On the outside, looking in? Isn’t that the way her father put it…?”

“They worked hard to get Sharon to school, Dad. They’re not bad people.”

“I suppose. They’ll want a full service, no doubt.”

“Yeah. You know, Sharon and I took care of that a few years ago. Everything is all set; I called the funeral home a few hours ago…”

“And you called her family, too? Where do they live now?”

“Kentucky. Near Frankfurt.”

“Hillbillies. How’d you get involved with a bunch of hillbillies?”

“You never got to know Sharon’s people they way I did, Dad.”

“Oh, she was a sweet gal, sure enough…I’m just not sure about those mountain people.” The old man took a long, deep breath, then let it slip out slowly. “Geezus, it’s hard to talk about her like that, in the past tense already.”

He looked away, didn’t quite know how to respond to words so inward looking, but his father had always been somewhat callous, almost a narcissist. But, he knew, most politicians were, especially the successful ones – the ones just like his father. “When do you go back to Washington,” he asked, though he already knew the answer.

“Hmm? Oh, the next session starts in another week, but I’m supposed to go to Dubai the day after tomorrow.”

“Dubai?”

“I’m trying to broker a deal with the Saudis – that Yemen shit.”

“Waste of time, Dad. Those people live to die, worse than samurai culture.”

“Too much invested to walk away now, son. We can’t, so we won’t.”

“They keep buying our funny money, isn’t that what you mean?”

“Something like that, yes.”

“What was that the kids on campus used to rally ‘round? No more blood for oil?”

“When was that?”

“‘91, during Desert Shield. Not much has changed since, has it?”

“Too much money in the chase, son. Musical chairs. No one wants to be the last man standing.”

“You want to come to the service?”

“No, but I will if you want me to.”

He looked at his father, at the implacable foe that had chased his generation from the start. If his father’s generation had been consumed with getting out from under the Greatest Generation’s shadow, his generation would be cleaning up their mess. And now, even now, there was no duty to family in this man – unless someone happened to be filming a campaign spot, when suddenly family values shot back into the spotlight. He shook his head, looked away, then stood and held out his right hand.

“Always nice seeing you, Bennett.”

But he turned away before his father could react, and he walked from the restaurant and into the night.

+++++

She walked out of Goldstein’s home and down to her squad car, checked-in with dispatch and drove back to Central where she finished her last report. A few minutes later she walked out to her personal car and got in, checked her watch and pulled out her cellphone. She thought it over then dialed his number.

“King,” said the voice on the other end of the connection.

“It’s Officer Green, from this morning.”

“Oh, yes. What can I do for you?”

“I need to talk with you. Tonight, if possible.”

“I’m sitting on the patio right now; just come around the side and let yourself in the gate.”

“Thank you, sir.”

On the patio…now? She looked at her watch and shook her head.

She drove up Central to Mockingbird and then took the backstreets to his house and parked on the street a few houses away, then walked to the side gate and let herself in. He was sitting by the pool on a dark slate terrace, looking down into the black water.

And he must have heard her because as she drew near he began speaking.

“Have you ever wondered what its like down there?” he asked, his head nodding towards the water.

She stopped and looked into the pool, and only then noticed the walls and floor of the pool were finished in deep slate-colored tile, even the grout, and so the effect was like looking into a grotto at midnight.

“Wondered what – about?” she thought – aloud.

“What it must be like to live down there, in the sea?”

She walked up to him and waited for the moment to pass.

“You’re off duty, I take it?”

“Yessir.”

“I see. Scotch and water?”

“Scotch, neat.”

“Good girl.”

She smiled – because in a way he reminded her of her grandfather, and she watched him disappear into the house. He came out a minute later carrying two glasses, and he put hers down on a little glass-topped table between two wicker patio chairs. “Have a seat. Tell me what’s on your mind.”

She sat, picked up the drink and took a long pull, then set the glass down. 

“Doris Goldstein.”

She was watching him as she said those two words, but he didn’t flinch – or even blink an eye.

“And…?” he asked.

“What do you know about her?”

“She works with my wife, as a guidance counselor for the school district.”

“Anything else?”

“Oh, only that she and my wife have been lovers for a while.”

“And you know about that how?”

“How? Oh, a million little things. You put all the pieces together and you just know. What’s this got to do with…”

“I found a letter in your wife’s purse. I didn’t know what to do with it?”

“I see.”

“How’s your daughter?”

“They tell me its even money right now, and to top it all off she’ll be on antibiotics for the rest of her life – until those stop working, anyway.”

“And, if you don’t mind me asking, how are you?”

“Me? I’m peachy.”

“So, you’re Senator King’s son? What’s that like?”

“Peachy.”

“I take it you don’t like peaches?”

He laughed at that, then looked up at the cop. “Why are you here?”

“Because I didn’t want you to be alone tonight.”

He nodded, tried not to smile then shook his head. “And, I wonder, why is that?”

“Do you want to talk?”

“About what? Twisted Swedish metal or my wife, now in a refrigerated box at the morgue?”

“About what comes next.”

“Oh? What comes next?”

“That girl, for one. Doris Goldstein too, I guess.”

“My wife’s lover? Really? She comes next?”

“She’s devastated. And she still loves you.”

“You talked with her tonight, I assume?”

“Long enough to know what her feelings are, or were, about you?”

“The ghost of Christmases Past, eh? So, she told you we had an affair?”

“Not the details, but…yes.”

“Jesus. And let me guess. That’s why she homed-in on Sharon.”

“Seduced was the word she used.”

“To get back at me?”

“She seemed to think so, at least tonight she did.”

“You know, once upon a time I thought about joining the Jesuits. Think I made a big fucking mistake on that one.”

“I doubt your daughter would agree with that.”

“How’s your drink holding up?”

“Fine. Did they chase you off the floor?”

“Yup. Told me they’d call if there was any change and to go home, try to get some sleep.”

“And then I called.”

“And I couldn’t sleep anyway, so glad to have the company. You have to go in tomorrow?”

“Three days off, then I’m on reassignment. Teaching at the academy.”

“Oh? What do you teach?”

“Penal Code 101.”

“Sounds thrilling.”

“So, you’re involved with training now?”

“Kind of involuntarily, but yes.”

“Involuntarily?”

“I was involved in a crash a few years ago. Nightmares ever since, unless I sleep during the day.”

“What happened?”

“The shit hit the fan. Outside of Hartford, Connecticut, a few years ago.”

“Windsor Locks? That one?”

“Yup.”

“I thought they called you a hero after that.”

He shrugged. “Doesn’t make the memory any less intense, I guess.”

“So…do you like training new pilots?”

“No, not really.”

“You want to go back to flying a schedule?”

She saw him look up at the sky and she looked up too, perhaps involuntarily – and she wondered: what did he see up there? What must it feel like to live, and work, up there…?

“Never see the stars anymore – at least not from the city, ya know? I hear it’s called light pollution. Like we’ve fucked up everything else on this planet, so why not fuck up the stars, too.”

“They’re still up there, or so I hear.”

“Not here, they’re not.”

“Is it so important?”

“Maybe, but whatever else you might say about all this,” he said, spreading his arms wide, “we’ve lost our since of magic, or maybe our sense of wonder. All that’s left is entertainment, and social-fucking-media.”

“So, why flying? I mean, why not the family business?”

“Politics?”

“It’s an honorable profession…”

“No, it’s not. Maybe it used to be, but those days are long gone.”

“You mean there are no more honorable men?”

“There’s too much money in it these days, and now, to put things in perspective, you don’t serve the common good. And cops…you serve the interests of your puppeteers, somewhere off in the shadows.”

She almost laughed. “Oh, is that what I do…?” She paused, looked at him still looking up at the sky. “Is that what I was doing this morning?”

“Sure. It serves the puppeteers’ interests to preserve the appearance of normalcy. Of security. The puppets have to be happy in order to keep the whole show running, because without the system the puppeteers are nothing but shadows on the back of a cave wall.”

“You sound like someone right out of the sixties.”

“No such luck. I was born the day Kennedy was killed…”

“Which one?”

“You mean…you know the difference? I am amazed.”

She laughed. “I got my degree in U.S. History.”

“An educated cop. Now ladies and gentlemen, there’s an oxymoron just for you – behind curtain number three.”

“So, you hate cops too?”

“I hate what cops have become.”

“That’s an awful lot of hate you’re carrying around inside,” she said.

“Yeah. Ain’t it the awful truth,” he said, trying an awful lot to sound just like Cary Grant.

“What was that all about?”

“What?”

“The voice, the accent.”

“A Cary Grant movie, from the thirties.”

“Oh.”

“I like the popular perception of moral certainty in those films. United by the depression, all of us working for the common good.”

“Except that wasn’t how it was. Not really. Films were usually stories of the jolly escapades of the ultra-rich…”

“Ever see Sullivan’s Travels?”

“No.”

“You should. Might shatter a few misconceptions.”

“The thirties weren’t all about…”

“Oh…I know. There have always been puppeteers. There always will be.”

“When we got here this morning…when you first came to the door…you were sweating and looked anxious. What was going on?”

He looked down at his hands for a moment, then turned and looked at her. “I don’t know you well enough for that one, kiddo.”

“Try me.”

He shook his head. “Maybe some other time…”

His cell phone chirped and he picked it up… 

“King.”

He listened, but he was up and running for the garage even as he listened, and she got up and ran after him. As he approached his car he paused and turned to her: “You’d better drive. Keys are in the ignition.”

She nodded without comment and got behind the wheel; while she adjusted the seat and mirrors he opened the overhead door and she looked at him, thought about the number of men she knew who might so openly trust a stranger – let alone a woman – and she wondered about this man once again. He was so self-aware, yet not self-possessed, yet the idea this came from flying never entered her mind.

“I assume you know the quickest way there,” he sighed – and she noted no tension in his voice, just a calm “let’s work the problem” way of talking she found utterly unnerving. ‘If this was my daughter,’ she thought, ‘I’d be coming apart at the seams…’

She stuck to surface streets and made her way to Gaston Avenue, dropped him at the main entrance and drove off to park his car – and only then did she notice the time – after three in the morning…

Then she realized she’d had nothing to eat or drink but half a shot of Scotch – how many hours ago? – and she rummaged in her uniform pocket until she found a roll of antacids and popped two, chewing the chalking crud and swallowing hard as she walked over to the main entrance. Half expecting King to be on his way to his daughter’s room she was surprised to find him at the main information desk, eyes hooded and red, the volunteer behind the desk looking more concerned than apologetic.

“What’s happened?” she said as the pieces began falling into place.

“She never woke up,” he said. “An aneurysm of some sort. Undetected. Massive. She’s gone.”

His was a robot-like demeanor now, even the motions of his arms and face while he talked seemed mechanically contrived, almost ritualized, and the old man behind the counter motioned to her, ‘asked’ her to come close with a nod of his head.

“I’ve called someone down to talk to him,” the old man whispered conspiratorially. “Shouldn’t be long.”

She nodded, smiled, then turned back and looked at King. He had gone rigid, was staring at an unseen spot somewhere beyond the floor, and the only movement she saw was a line of muscle twitching from his temple to his jaw, and when she stepped closer still she watched his carotids pulsing in his neck. She counted the hammer blows – 120, maybe 130 – and she saw a fine bead of perspiration had formed on his upper lip.

She took him by the arm and led him to a row of standard-issue hospital waiting room chairs and guided him down, then she knelt in front of him and put her hand on his cheek…

Nothing. Not even a blink when she snapped her fingers in front of his eyes.

She felt someone kneel beside her on the flecked terrazzo, saw a while lab coat and a stethoscope and she moved aside, watched the rapid assessment and the knowing nod. Orderlies appeared, a wheelchair summoned – and fearful of career consequences she dashed to intervene.

“Denton, it’s time to go home now.”

“Hmm – what?”

“It’s time we went home. Now. You need to get some sleep. We can deal with all the rest in the morning.”

“Oh, yeah. Nothing to be done now, is there?”

“That’s right, we can tackle it all in the morning, make all the calls. Come on, Honey. Up-you-go.” She pulled him upright and put an arm around his waist and forcibly led him out into the night. Moving from the heated lobby into the cool air of another autumn dawn she felt him stiffen, then shake his head. He stopped walking and looked around, then turned and looked at the policewoman by his side.

“You know, I hate to seem forward right about now, but I don’t even know your name.”

For some reason they both found the idea hilarious. He looked at the woman for a moment and then they both started laughing. And they laughed all the way to his car, oblivious to the stares of early morning visitors arriving at the hospital.

After she drove inside the garage she went around and helped him out of the car, and in that moment – in their just coming together – a gentle need came for them both.

+++++

King was sailing now, alone and with his eyes closed, feeling the direction of the wind and the spray on his upturned face, contours of the seafloor through subtle variations in the little boat’s motion. From time to time he opened his eyes to the music of the night sky, followed a star as it left the rim of the known and climbed the ladder of the night, then another, and another. When at last the great star lightened the far rim he smiled and sat for a while, drank some water and ate some fruit, and he even slept before resuming his journey. 

When the great star was high overhead on the seventh day he stopped and looked at the color of the water, then his eyes swept the horizon for the sign – but when all he saw was hollow nothingness he frowned and sat in the hollowed hull. He ate another piece of fruit and savored the taste of faraway land, then he closed his eyes and waited for sleep. 

The dream came again, the dream that made no sense. Chaos and screams, tumbling water and pointless death – all within fragmented images that made no sense to him.

He woke with a start, saw the great star now close to the far rim, the coming of darkness not far now. He stood and scanned the horizon again, saw her plume and smiled.

She was old now, almost ancient, and she moved with the fullness of age – and she was moving away from him.

He knelt and pounded on the side of the boat several times, then stood and saw she was coming for him now. He watched for a moment then began paddling her way, and just as the great star met the rim they came to one another – she to him first, as always – and his spirit soared when he met her eyes.

The first time he met her his father’s father had been there, and the old man had shown him the hidden ways to this place. The old man had slipped into the water and caressed his friend’s face, then his father had, too. After a time they invited him into the water and his ancestors had introduced her to their future, and then they had left him with her. She swam and he held on, and when she dove he listened to the infinite within her beating heart, and once, when he thought she went too deep he learned the truest meaning of trust. Once, in a place that looked like a field of stars she showed him the fires of creation and he knew after that whoever this creature was he loved her as much as his fathers ever had.

Now he gathered bones and ash from his wife’s pyre and joined his friend in the sea. They watched as he let her earthly remains go – and as his wife settled toward the sand so far below they sang a song of life together, and they sang with the stars.

+++++

He had two small urns when he left the funeral home, and when he got home he wondered what you did with dead people in jars. Put them on the mantle, perhaps? Or over on the Steinway that had been his wife’s pride and joy. Or…why not in a shoebox? In his wife’s closet? Or his daughter’s? He was numb, all the more so as no one he was close to had died before.

Many of his friends from work had come to the service, and of course Sharon’s family was there. His father was, of course, somewhere over there, doing whatever it was he thought he did, and that was that – though his mother came. Later that day he called an estate agent and made arrangements to get rid of all their belongings, then he called a realtor and made arrangements to list the house. He packed a suitcase and put the thing in his car, then went back inside for the urns. He looked at them for a while, not quite knowing what to do with them but resisting the urge to leave them where they sat – and run from them as fast as he could.

In the end he put the two urns in a box and wrapped them in hand towels, and then he carried them out to the car – and he stopped and looked up, thought he heard singing…

“There, on the wind…I know that voice, that song…”

“Sassy!” 

He stopped, looked at his next door neighbor. 

“Sassy! Where are you?”

His neighbor turned and looked at him, started jogging his way.

“Denton, have you seen Sassy?”

“No, Bruce, I sure haven’t.”

“She’s pregnant, due to give birth today and now she’s bolted. Bet she’s holed up under a bush somewhere.”

“Need a hand?”

“You bet.”

“Okay, let me put Sharon and Jenn in the car.”

His neighbor, his friend, looked at the urns in the box: “What?”

He pointed at the two urns and scowled. “There they are. My family.”

“Jesus, Denny. I, uh, well…Jesus…”

“Yeah. I don’t know what to say either.” They looked around the front of their houses, then he looked up at the sky again. “It’s getting dark…I’ll get a flashlight,” but he still heard music on a dying breeze. He shook his head, popped the garage door opener and came back with two big Mag-Lites. “I have an idea,” he said as he handed a light to his neighbor. “Follow me.”

They went around the side of his house and into his back yard, and he led them to a thick hedge-row that lined the back of his property, a thick bramble just this side of a tall, wooden fence.

He stopped about five feet from the first clump of bushes and held up a hand.

“I hear it,” he said, yet the singing only seemed more insistent now.

“Hear what?”

“A bunch of pups.”

He had been feeding Sassy doggie treats for years, and on his days off the little Springer had been known to come to his yard and jump in the swimming pool when he was in the water, so he had a pretty good relationship with the old girl – enough to know where she might be, anyway.

He got down on the thick St Augustine grass and crawled to the edge and looked between two thick clumps – and there she was, licking the placenta from a squirming bundle of life.

“Howya doin’, girl?” he asked in quiet, even tones, and Sassy looked up, startled – but more than a little relieved.

He crawled into the bushes and looked at the scene: two pups out already and squirming in the undergrowth, and another just coming out the chute.

“Bruce, we’re gonna need some towels, maybe some warm water to wash off these guys. I can see two out already and another’s on the way.”

“Right…” 

He heard his neighbor taking off as he crawled deeper into the undergrowth, and then… 

“Oh-sweet-Jesus…”

He saw another pup just then, this one impossibly small, pushed away from the others – like it had been discarded. Hadn’t he read somewhere that mothers often pushed ‘the runt’ away? This one couldn’t have been three inches long and already it was shivering…glistening wet with placental fluid and cold as hell.

He scooped the little creature up in a cupped hand, felt it respond to his touch as he backed out of the bramble, and after he stood he took off for his kitchen – leaving his flashlight to mark the position.

“What’s wrong?” Bruce shouted.

“Got one in distress,” he said as he ran through his open garage door and into the house

“Now…where does Sharon keep that humidifier? And her heating pad…?” He took off for their bathroom and started rummaging through her things, knowing she would understand why he’d just made such a mess…then it hit him. 

She’d never care again.

But this little pup needed him. Now.

Now. Right now – and then suddenly, just when that little creature became the most important thing in his life, the singing stopped.

Within minutes he had Sharon’s heating pad set up inside a little plastic crate. He folded washcloths over the pad and made a tent over the top of the crate, filled the humidifier and set it to make a warm mist – venting inside the little tent-crate – then he ran back out to help Bruce.

“Oh, thank goodness you’re back! I can’t get down on my knees yet – the hip replacement, remember?”

“Oh. Right.” He dove for the undergrowth and started handing pups up to Bruce, and after he had the situation in hand he coaxed Sassy out of the bushes – just as another pup’s head crowned.

She looked frantic as she turned and looked at him, and he helped her to the ground again just as another little contraction hit. He watched the girl’s muscles pulse, watched the glistening head appear, then the shoulders…

“It’s alright, Sassy-girl,” he said, stroking the bridge of her nose – just the way she always liked him to. “Just a little more and I’ve got her.”

The next pup slid out of girl’s vulva and into his waiting hands, and he peeled open the placental sac and massaged the pup’s back and stomach until it coughed and took a breath, then he held out the cord and let Sassy nip the pup free just as a red mass of afterbirth slid out of her vagina – only he saw yet another head crowning… 

“Jesus, Sassy, you sure have been sleeping around. How many is this now, Bruce?” 

“With the one you have inside, this is number six,” Bruce said, holding the latest up to the flashlight. “Another Girl. Odd…”

“Number seven is in the chute. Odd? Why odd?”

“All girls so far. What was the one you took?”

“No idea. Didn’t get that far.”

He heard someone else walking up, saw Ellen Green, the policewoman – still with her ever-present rookie in-tow.

“What’s going…oh-my-God…” she managed to say as she got her flashlight trained on Sassy’s vulva.

“Come on, girl,” King sighed. “One more time. This has got to be it…”

“There’s usually one more about an hour after you think they’re done,” Ellen said.

“Swell. I need to go check on that little one.”

“I think I’ve got it for now,” Bruce sighed. “Thanks, Denton. I mean it.”

“Not a problem. I’ve got the little one in a makeshift tent on a heating pad and with a humidifier running…”

“A runt?” Ellen asked.

“Yup…think so.”

“Can I see?” she added.

“Come on.”

She turned to her rookie. “Stay here with this man. See if you can help without fucking things up, alright?” She turned and followed King through the garage. “You leavin’?”

“I am.”

“Where you headed?”

“I have no fucking idea.”

“Quit your job?”

“Not yet, but I’m leaning that way.”

“Not happy flying anymore?” she asked as they walked through the house.

He stopped. “No, that’s not it.”

“The nightmares?”

“Yeah, I guess,” he said as he resumed walking to his bathroom.

“Wow,” Green said when she caught sight of King’s makeshift incubator. “You better take a patent out on this thing. Denton, this is amazing.”

“If I haven’t cooked the pup, you mean.” He pulled open the tent and peered down into the mist, Green looking over his shoulders.

“Damn, looks like she’s in good shape. What did you do?”

“Rinsed her in warm water…trimmed the umbilical cord back some. Then made this tent.”

“You better pick her up, stimulate her a little.”

He took a deep breath and reached down, picked up the little thing. “The eyes seem so prominent…and geesh…her ribs feel almost, well, transparent is the only word that comes to mind.”

“She’s fragile, probably always will be. Most breeders just put these things down.”

“Over my dead fucking body,” he growled.

She looked at him, at the ferocity – and the love – in his eyes. “Have a name for her yet?”

“Jenn.”

“Nice,” Green said, understanding all too well what had happened. “She’ll need to start nursing soon.”

“How soon?”

“As soon as you can get her over to her mom.”

“She pushed her away. Tried to kill her.”

“That’s nature’s way, Dennie. The mother only has so much milk, and she only puts it out for so long. Strong instinct…she doesn’t want to waste a precious resource.”

“God, look at her. She’s precious.”

“Her head has a good shape, big brain pan. She might be a real smart one.”

“You been around dogs?”

“My dad raised Setters. I probably helped with a dozen litters growing up.”

“What should I do next?”

“Make sure she’s dry, keep her warm, take her over to her mother. These first few hours are critical feedings.”

He grabbed a bunch of microfiber towels and wrapped up the pup, then he marched over to Bruce’s place and walked right-in through the sliding glass door off the kitchen. “Bruce! Where are you!”

“In the laundry room!”

He followed the sound of the voice, found Sassy curled up on a bunch of towels with six pups nursing on the floor, then he presented the runt to her, let her sniff the tiny creature a few times – and she looked up at him like he was mad, then she let him put the tiny thing on a nipple. 

He looked up a minute or so later and saw Green standing there, looking down at the pups and once he saw the runt was taking to the nipple he stood and walked over to her.

“What time do you get off tonight,” he asked – somewhat directly.

“Midnight, unless we have a late call.”

“I’ll be on the porch.”

“Okay.”

He turned back to Sassy and her brood, lay down beside the runt and made sure she was getting through the scrum to a nipple – and he stayed there until it look like she was about to explode.

“Denny, I’ve got to go into work first thing…I have a procedure at six…”

“You want me to come over, or bring them over before you leave?”

“You’ll, I mean, you can take care of them?”

“Of course. I’m on six weeks survivors leave. They won’t let me in the cockpit until I pass a psychiatric review, so I’m home for the next month. Besides, I’d love to take care of them.”

“Have you named the little one yet?”

“Yup.”

“Good. Well, she’s yours if you want her.”

He looked at Bruce, then down at the mass of puppies – and his eyes filled with tears as he nodded his head. “Thanks, Bruce. Yeah, I’d love that.”

“Well, you know where the key is. Just come in and get them if you want, or stay here with them.”

“Yeah. We’ll stay here ‘til you get back.”

“I have rounds at noon, so I should be home by around two or so.”

He nodded, amazed how his little pup was filling up – and out. “She looks like she’s about to explode,” he whispered.

“She is. Better take her off now. You still have the little tent set up?”

“Yup.”

“May be best to keep her there tonight. Keep her warm, let her lungs take in that humidified air. I can’t believe how small he is, Denny. If she was human she’d be in the neo-nate unit.”

“I’ll handle it, Bruce. I won’t let anything to happen to her.”

The physician looked at the pilot and nodded his head in understanding.

+++++

She parked in the drive and walked around the side of the house, found him on the porch with the humidifier rigged on a rolling cart, the little pup sound asleep within. He had two glasses on the little glass-topped table set between the chairs, and a bottle of Scotch there, too.

“Did you start without me?” she asked, noting that he was still looking up into the night sky.

“No. Pour me one, would you?”

She sat, poured two drinks and handed one to him. “Here you go. How’s Jenn.”

“Her breathing sounds good, but when she tries to move, well, her head wobbles and she gets, well, it looks like tremors.”

“She’s got a lot to overcome.”

“We will.”

“She’s lucky to have you, Denton.”

“I’m lucky to have her,” he said, still looking up into the dome of the sky.

“What are you looking at?”

“Hmm – what? Oh, hell, I don’t know. Just a feeling, I guess.”

“A feeling?”

He shrugged, and she just caught the motion in the darkness. “I lookup there sometimes and I wonder what’s out there, maybe beyond all that nothingness…”

“I always thought it was just infinite space, on and on, forever.”

“Yeah,” he sighed, “maybe it is. I went to a Jesuit school and it was odd, you know? Most of the Jesuit Fathers hovered along the razor’s edge, some almost atheists, others pretending to be True Believers, in the classroom, at least…”

“I grew up in Hope, Arkansas,” Green whispered. “Most of the people there were True Believers, especially in the classroom.”

“Where’d you go to college?”

“Texas Christian.”

“History, right?”

“Yes. Where’d you go to school?”

“Annapolis, then ten years in the Navy.”

“Wow. And you flew…in the Navy?”

“Yup.”

“Carriers? All that stuff?”

“All that stuff.”

“Maybe it’s been glamorized into a cliche, but that seems like a pretty cool way to make a living.”

“What? Flying from a boat? Or killing people while flying from a boat.”

“Did you kill people?”

“I suppose so, but like most of us I tried not to think about it.”

“Where?”

“Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, even Somalia. You know…what I remember most was a mission there, in Somalia. Some warlord we were trying to get on “our side” wanted a village bombed and so someone in Washington decided we’d bomb this shithole in the middle of nowhere. Four of us made the OP, four aircraft with a combined worth of almost 200 million dollars, and we put almost 20,000 pound of high explosives on target. We’d been told it was a terrorist stronghold, but of course it wasn’t. Turned out the warlord knew one of his opponent’s families was hiding out there, somewhere in that little village. Maybe two hundred people lived there, but after the four of us visited that evening not one soul was left alive. Turned out something like ninety percent of the people there were women and children, and sometimes I get lost in the idea that the four of us in our hundreds of millions of dollars worth of hardware killed a couple thousand women and kids on the whim of some warlord.”

“Jesus…”

“I’m pretty sure Jesus had nothing to do with that one, Ellen. Matter of fact, I think Jesus turned his back on our country back in the sixties. Something went wrong with us, ya know? Something inside us broke, as a people, and whatever it was that made us special just went away.”

She heard it in his voice then. Profound despair. Despair that would never be excused by a just God. Despair that wouldn’t go away, no matter how many well-intentioned platitudes were hurled his way. Despair that lingered in the night, in the far side of nothingness – in a place even God didn’t go anymore.

“Are you angry?”

“Angry? I don’t know why I would be? I’ve done everything I set out to do; I did what I was told to do. I was promised that ours was a just cause…”

“And now you’re staring into the night, asking questions that don’t have answers.”

“Oh, I think that’s the real problem, Ellen. We’ll never find answers when we aren’t even asking the right questions.”

“Is that why you’ve grown so attached to that pup?”

“That little girl has the most pure soul I’ve ever felt…”

“Because she’s so helpless?”

“Helpless?”

“She would have died out there if you hadn’t…”

“But I did. I was the one there when she needed help the most, I balanced the equation. The universe will make sense of the how and the why if and when it wants to. All I know is for some reason I was there when she needed me. For some reason we’re connected,” he said, pointing at the heavens. “For some unknown reason, that little girl is meant to be the most important thing in my little universe.”

“That dog?”

“Yes, that dog.”

“Do you think it’s possible you’re reading too much into this?”

He shrugged. “I think it’s possible I might never know why this happened.”

“What are you going to do now?”

“I wanted to talk to you about that.”

“Me?”

“I taught a cop to fly once, here in the city, and he ended up moving to the South Pacific somewhere and flying for a little airline down there. He called me a few weeks ago and told me the airline is looking for a new chief pilot…”

“You?”

“I’ve talked to them.”

“Okay. So, why do you need to talk to me?”

“I don’t know, really. What would you do?”

“What? You mean…if I was you?”

“Something like that.”

“It sounds impulsive. Dangerously so.”

He nodded his head again, slowly. “That’s kind of what I thought, too.”

“And you’re thinking of going, aren’t you?”

“For some reason impulsive sounds good right now,” he said as he leaned back and resumed staring at the stars.

“Denny? Why’d you want me to come here tonight?”

“What are your plans?”

“My plans? For what?”

“The future.”

“I don’t have any.”

“Oh? None? Like not even work twenty years, retire and buy an avocado farm?”

She laughed, the pup stirred – and he leapt to the tented enclosure, felt it’s heartbeat and rubbed the little girl’s forehead. She watched, fascinated, as the little thing turned it’s head and licked his fingers before falling back into a deep sleep. “You know,” she said, “you’ll never be able to leave that pup alone. Not ever.”

He was staring at the little girl’s breathing now, counting her respirations, and he stopped a minute later and started writing in a logbook. “I’d as soon she never left my side. Not ever. So you…no plans?”

“Nothing…beyond retiring someday. Why?”

“Boyfriend?”

“No.”

“Girlfriend?”

“Geez…no. What makes you say that?”

“Hey…it’s a brave new world, and you never know.”

“Well, no, no relationships, just work.”

He nodded his head while he secured the little tent over the pup. “Work get in the way?”

“Sometimes. Other times, I think it’s an excuse.”

He turned and looked at her. “Oh?”

“Being a cop isn’t exactly a surefire way to meet the man of your dreams, Denny. Most men don’t like the idea of dating a cop, in case the idea slipped your mind.”

“Have you ever met the man of your dreams?”

“You mean – besides my grandfather?”

He chuckled at that, then turned to look her in the eye. “Yeah, besides him.”

She looked away, then up at the stars. “You, maybe,” she whispered.

“Maybe?”

“It’s too soon for you, and I don’t want to get hurt when you finally figure that one out.”

“No one does.”

“So? Did that come as a surprise?”

“Surprise? I guess so; I can’t imagine why, however. You probably know more about my life than anyone left on earth.”

“Is that such a bad thing?”

He shook his head. “No, not really. But maybe part of getting to know someone is finding out all those things over time – and not in one morning.”

“And maybe it’s finding out all those things in one morning.”

“Ah, yes. Doris Goldstein. The thing we never mention. The things you two talked about.”

She looked down at her hands, shook her head. “You know something, Denton. Something weird. The more she described you the more I wanted to get to know you.”

“Is that why you came back that night?”

“You needed someone.”

“You were very sweet. Very gentle.”

“So were you.”

“Sharon and I…we hadn’t been together in a long time. I think because I knew. About Doris. I tried once, but I moved in to my study after, started sleeping on the sofa after Jenn left for school…”

“She didn’t know?”

He shrugged. “I hope not, but she was pretty smart about people.”

“You miss her, don’t you? I mean, really, really miss her.”

He didn’t answer that question, but neither did he look away. He just held her in his eyes, and yet she had the feeling he’d just come to a decision.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked you that.”

“Okay,” he said, an air of tired finality in his voice.

“So? The South Pacific?”

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have dragged you into all this. I need to get Jenn’s tent inside. Condensation’s forming now…getting too cool out.”

He stood and unplugged the rig from the extension cord, then rolled the cart into his study. He made polite noises about sleep and a long day after that, and she didn’t need to be told what those words meant.

“Too soon,” she sighed – after he saw her to the front door.

Once she was behind the wheel of her car, once she was beyond the moment, she closed her eyes, then she cried for a very long time.

+++++

‘This water is too clear,’ King thought as he steered the canoe through the last ragged remnants of the storm. He was counting intervals between swells while looking at colors within the sea, and at certain times that morning he measured the angle of the sun above the horizon – but by then he knew the island was close. Maybe two more days, he told himself, perhaps a little less.

Still, the colors he saw in the sea troubled him, enough to make him doubt his position.

So he was not surprised when he first saw the island’s jagged spires on the horizon later that afternoon. The tops were one fist over the horizon line, and with that one vital piece of information he knew he was almost close enough to make the island before the sun disappeared.

He felt a shimmer in the air just then and he turned, saw towering storm clouds gathering in the midday heat. He looked deep into the clouds, listened to the wind, even analyzed the colors of the sky around the base of the storm, then he frowned – because suddenly he felt a new danger in the air, and this one was closing-in fast.

If he did not make the island before nightfall he would have to fall off the wind and wait until the large star up came again, for he dare not attempt the reef at night – not in a storm of this size – and not without the moon to show the way. There were too many black-tips in this passage to risk falling into the sea, especially in a storm.

He let-out the densely woven sail, fell off the wind just a little, and he felt the canoe pick up speed. He sighed, relaxed, knew he had done all that he could for now, so he concentrated on the spires – and only so often did he turn and look at the massive storm coming up from behind. By the time he saw the line of surf just off the reef’s edge he knew it would be close; the sky behind was now almost black while thunder and lightning rippled the wind all around him.

So close! Oh, so close! He stood with his feet wide and felt the canoe rise as a large wave overtook him, then he steadied his track as the canoe surfed down the face of the wave.

Soon, waves as high as his mast crashed on either side of his canoe as he slid into the narrow channel between coral canyons, then a large wave came up from behind and lifted the canoe’s stern again. As his little ship lifted the sail caught the clear air above the wave, and he steered away from the closest rocks towards an inlet in the sandy beach. The wave fell away as he entered the lagoon, and then he saw it just ahead…

He saw the town first, only a few rooftops visible in the fading light, then at last the flashing lights at the new airport, with the control tower illuminated by long, uneven flashes of lightning.

At last he sailed past the rooftops to the old long wharf and tied off.

The thunder and lightning were worse now than he’d ever seen it before, but then he saw them standing above him on the wharf and he felt a new fear. The old man looked like King – the crazy American pilot, and so did the little girl.

They watched as he climbed up the oil-stained, time-splintered rungs to the landing by the Harbormaster’s Office.

And the little dog was with them, and yet that made a strange kind of sense. The little girl was holding the dog, yet still holding onto the old man’s hand, and he knew the only thing that could come of this was heartbreak.

Part II

King had not seen his friend in many months, and he had a favor to ask so decided to go see him. One of his older sons wanted to learn to fly, to go to America and become a pilot, and Denton was the only person he knew who might help with such knowledge, and it would only take a few days to sail to the island where he lived.

+++++

She used to drove by his house from time to time, but never when she had a rookie with her. She’d noted the For Sale sign one day and had felt gut-punched; she had parked her patrol car in the drive that evening and gotten out to check the house. The neighbor – Bruce? – came out just then, apparently when he saw her police car, and he walked up to her just before she let herself in the gate to the back yard.

“Officer Green, isn’t it?”

“That’s right. I’m sorry, but I don’t think I ever caught your name?”

“Bruce Goldstein,” he said, extending his right hand.

“You’re the doc, right? With the pups. Nice to meet you.”

“You’re not looking for Denton, are you?”

She looked down, nodded her head slowly. “Did he leave – take the position overseas?”

Goldstein nodded in silence, prodding her to make eye contact. She looked up and he could see she was upset. More than upset, really.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Did he leave a way to get in touch?”

“Yes. Do you really need too?”

“What does that mean?”

“I think what I’m trying to say is that Denton left everything behind. Literally everything. I think he took some underwear and socks, probably a toothbrush, but for all I know that’s about it.”

“What about the pup? The little girl?”

“Jenn? Yeah, he took her too. In his shirt pocket, as a matter of fact. I think the only reason he hung around as long as he did was to see her weaned and to get her first shots, then that was it.”

“How did she do?”

“Jenn? Healthy, strong, but very, very small. Always will be. Look, I don’t mean to stick my nose in your business, but was there something going on between you two?”

“I’m pregnant.”

The physician nodded; he’d already seen the signs and had only wondered who the father was. “Do you think Denton is…”

“I know he is.”

“Does he know?”

“No, there’s no way he could. I’m not even sure I want him to.”

“Are you going to have the baby?”

She looked away for a while, then turned to the physician: “Yes, I think so.”

“He was a good father, you know. Doted on that girl. Hell, he doted on Sharon…”

“She was having an affair, with a woman.”

“Doris. Yes.”

“You knew?”

Goldstein nodded. “You could say that. Dennie was locked into the DFW to Manchester run for years, so he was gone all the time, until the…”

“The accident?”

“He told you?”

“A little. Enough, really.”

“It changed him. Three-hundred-sum-odd people in those apartments – gone – in a heartbeat. His first officer, too. A good friend. That changes a man.”

“Wasn’t it something mechanical?”

“Yes. Nothing anyone could’ve done, totally exonerated, but he had a hard time even going inside a cockpit for about a year. I think he still has a hard time.”

“Did he retire – from American, I mean?”

Goldstein nodded. “Early retirement. He’ll be able to fly commercially for a while longer, more where he went…almost five years more if he wants.”

“So, you have a way to get in touch with him?”

“In an emergency, yes. Mainly because of his father…he was worried about his father when he left…how his father would take his leaving, what he might do.”

“Do?”

“Maybe get his passport revoked, or his licenses. Something like that.”

“And?”

“So far not a peep.”

“Then he’s gone, isn’t he? I mean, really gone, as in – never coming back?”

“Dennie was always a fragile soul. Losing Sharon and Jennifer like that was the last straw, I think…”

“What about that woman…Doris…?”

“My ex-wife, you mean?”

“What?”

“I take it you didn’t know that?”

Green stood there in mute disbelief, then she looked at the physician. “If you don’t mind me asking, what happened?”

The physician shrugged. “Bits and pieces…that’s all I know…all I guess I want to know.”

“Were you two close?”

“Dennie and me? Yeah, I guess so, especially after he and Doris had a go at it, then after we learned about the thing with Sharon. We went out a few times, shot some tequila, that kind of thing. He’s a strange soul, ya know. Kind of hard on the outside…but very simpatico once you get past all that.”

“You forgave him, then?”

“Doris has always been formidable, a real seductress. No, I couldn’t blame him for her appetites.”

“You like him, huh?”

“Like? He’s probably the last best friend I’ll ever have, and nothing will ever change that. Fact of the matter is, Officer, I love the guy. I ain’t gay, and yet I love him.” 

Suddenly she felt like she was going to throw up – and it must’ve shown. 

“You know…you really have no business being out on there on the street…” the physician said as he put his arm around the police officer’s shoulder and helped her inside his house.

+++++

The name on the back of the black-hulled sailboat was, he saw, Chimera, and he wondered why. He saw an older couple lounging in the cockpit, feet up on the coaming like they were hiding from the late afternoon sun. He sailed past the Chimera and dropped anchor on the far side of the inlet, then carried another rode ashore and tied it off to a palm tree, and only then did he pick up the tiny dog in the inflatable and carry her over to a patch of grass in the shade of a stately tree. 

He liked this harbor almost as much as Cook’s Inlet on Moorea, but this time of year Cook’s was overrun with tourists; still, he’d half expected to find Fa’anui empty, but no, there was Bellerophon, complete with British ensign flying off her red stern rail. He turned and watched Jenn skipping across the sand, looking for just the right bush, or coconut husk, to make her deposit on, and when she finished he picked her up and carried her back to the Zodiac and pushed-off the beach. He paddled back out to his boat and put her on the swim platform before tying-off and climbing aboard – but by that time the Brits were staring at Jenn, one of them using binoculars and pointing.

He knew what would come next, and sure enough he heard their outboard sputter to life and saw them puttering across the harbor, so he stood and watched their progress while Jenn made her way up into the enclosed cockpit.

“I say,” the older man began as he pulled alongside amidships, “what sort of creature is that? It almost looks like a Springer puppy, but it runs too well.”

“That’s Jenn, and yes, she’s a Springer. Four years old last month.”

“Oh, I see,” the wild-haired woman said. “I thought she looked like an otter of some sort.”

“Nope. She can’t swim at all, no fat on her anywhere. Sinks like a stone as soon as she hits the water.”

“May we?”

“Sure, come on up,” he said, taking the offered line and tying it off on an midships cleat. He helped the woman up, admiring her practiced form as she nimbly climbed over the life-lines, while the old man made it up on his own with no need of assistance. The woman had on a sun hat that must’ve had a brim a half yard wide, and big square sunglasses to fill out the jet-setting tourist look, and he tried not to shake his head as she hopped over the coaming and down into the cockpit. The old man followed him up into the cockpit – where they found Jenn in the woman’s hands, licking her on the chin.

Which kind of surprised him. Jenn was normally shy and tended to stand back from strangers – at least until he sounded the all-clear – but here she was, licking away – like she was trying to take the woman’s measure.

“How old is she?” the woman behind the square sunglasses asked.

“Four – years,” he answered. “I’ve had her since birth.”

“Really?”

“Found her in some bushes, pushed away by her mother.”

“They do that,” the old man said, “to keep the gene pool strong. As soon as you start taking care of the weak evolution is stopped dead in its tracks. Civilizations, too. Look at America. Look at Europe. Coming apart at the seams as we try to take care of humanity’s garbage.”

“Duncan, really?” the woman sighed, clearly exasperated. “Must we have this conversation everywhere we go?”

Jenn was looking up at him now and he held out his hands; as if on-cue she leapt from the woman’s hands into his, and he pulled her close, held her as if sheltering her from the evils of another world. “You know, I rather like this little girl,” he said to the old man. “No matter what she represents – to you, or anyone.”

“Of course. I meant no disrespect.”

The woman chimed in at that point: “We wondered if you’d like to join us for dinner tonight, but I suppose that’s out of the question now.”

“Actually, the two of us come over here to get away from the world for a day or two,” he replied, adding, “so we usually stick to ourselves.”

“The two of you?” the old man asked, his voice on the edge of incredulity. “You don’t mean you and that…dog?”

“I find her company infinity more civil than even you could possibly imagine, sir. Now, is there anything else you’d care to share?” He said as he walked to the gate in the lifelines just above their little inflatable, his meaning clear.

The old man returned, scowling: “My, aren’t we an irascible sort?”

“You have no fucking idea,” he whispered, and it was all he could do not to shove the old bastard overboard – then he saw the woman, and the thought passed that she knew exactly what was going through his mind.

And then she lifted her sunglasses and winked at him.

They motored away in silence and he climbed back into the cockpit, then down the companionway steps, and there he waited for the pup. She came to the edge and looked for him, waiting for his hands, and when they appeared she stepped into them. He carried her to his face and let her lick the tip of his nose, then he put the little pup in her nest above the chart table.

She watched as he made their dinner, and they ate together, as they always did, with her on the table beside his plate. He cut little pieces of fish and steak for her, rolled them in a protein supplement, then fed her – piece by piece until she was full – while he ate his own dinner. He read in his bunk after that, as he did every night, and she curled up on his pillow when he turned out the lights. She fell asleep, as she did every night, with her chin resting on his neck.

But something was wrong. Some disturbance in the night. A scream, a human scream, and she leapt out of the way just before he bolted upright in the dark.

Another scream, followed by a woman’s fearful voice shouting in the night.

“Help! Somebody…help!”

He ran to the chart table and flipped on the spreader lights and turned on the generator, then he dashed topsides.

The woman on Chimera was shouting again. “Help, quickly – please!”

He pulled the crank on his outboard and motored across the harbor to the other boat and tied off on the stern platform, then he hopped aboard – only now the woman was nowhere to be found.

He slid over to the companionway and looked down into the brightly lighted saloon, and there he was – the old man from earlier yesterday – his lips dark blue, his eyes a lifeless void, and he climbed down, took the old man’s wrist and checked for a pulse…

But his skin was already quite cool, his fingernails as blue as his lips.

He pulled open an eyelid and looked at the blown pupils and he knew there was nothing left to be done. He looked up at the woman, saw dawning realization in her eyes, then abject fear in her quivering expression.

He went to Chimera’s chart table and turned on the breaker for the radio, then called the  Joint Rescue Coordination Center on channel 16.

+++++

They had departed Britain two years earlier, sailed to Gibraltar, then the Azores before sailing direct to the Panama Canal. From there, Devlin Wood and April Raines had spent a year and a half sailing – slowly – through the Marquesas and Tuamotus Islands, and they had only reached Papeete three weeks ago. They had planned to spend a few weeks on Moorea, then Bora-Bora, before sailing on to New Zealand – but now all that was over. Leaving when he was almost seventy years old, Devlin had simply waited too long to chase his last dreams.

April Raines was something of an odd choice to take on a slow, round-the-world sailing trip. She’d had a somewhat illustrious career in the adult entertainment industry, more specifically staring in a series of films that would never be eligible for any mainstream awards. She’d met Devlin through work on one of her last films, and as he’d been both decent looking – and more than a little wealthy – she’d signed onto the Chimera’s crew.

She’d never been able to convince Devlin to tie the knot and so was now, quite literally, stranded in French Polynesia with barely enough money to survive on while his affairs were sorted out. And she had no one to turn to for help – no one, it turned out,  but Denton King.

+++++

She was an attractive woman, he thought, in a way. In a very certain way. Once you cut through the pseudo Euro-posh thing, anyway. The floppy faux-silk hats and the white-rimmed sunglasses, the strappy, high-heeled sandals and the orange lip-gloss. She put on, all-in-all, quite a show. Did she really think him so naïve?

Yet…he hadn’t been with a woman since Sharon. Not one. Because not one woman had seemed attractive enough to bother with.

So, he wondered, why this one? Was it the almost overt sexuality she wore like lip-gloss? What was that all about? Was that all she had to offer?

And the funny thing was…that was the least attractive thing about her.

No, she was vulnerable, and alone, and he wondered if that’s what he found attractive about her. After all, wasn’t that what had impelled him to rescue little Jenn? Did he still really think he’d somehow let Sharon down? Did he have to over-compensate now? Would he always – to atone for the sin of fucking Doris once-upon-a-time? But hadn’t she, in the end, broken down too, cast aside their vows to one another? And…with another woman – like the affair grew from some kind of vapid, post-feminist cliché?

He was looking at her, ignoring the constant stream of noise coming from her mouth – while he concentrated on the curves of her lips. Then he was looking past the shadows cast by those dark lenses onto her eyes – when she became evasive and turned away. Why wouldn’t she talk about her past? What had she done?

He pulled out his iPhone and made a cursory search and there it was, all of it. A stream of lurid x-rated videos beginning in the 90s. Drugs, lots of drugs. And parties on the Med. Big parties. Ibiza, Mallorca, Cannes…all off season, of course. He looked up, took in the orange lips and figured she was about as far away from Sharon as he could get. Maybe she just wanted a revenge fuck.

Like Sharon.

The thought made him laugh and she looked at him.

“You think that was funny?” she snarled, taking on the role of sudden inquisitor.

“Sorry. A passing memory.”

“Oh?”

“The way you spoke just then. It reminded me of someone I knew once. What did you find out from the consul’s office?”

“There’s no Will, nothing on record. He has two children, so they’ll inherit unless I can make a case that we were somehow more than just lovers.”

“Seventy years old? How did that work?”

“Poorly. And this last year he had no interest at all, so…” 

He watched her movements – something like a shrug, yet somehow even more dismissive – like the last year had been a barely endurable nightmare. Then again, he felt like he was being measured for a suit. Sized-up, categorized. Like: would he be a good fuck, a worthwhile diversion?

Did he even care anymore?

Then he thought of Jenn, out there waiting for him on the boat.

“The look in your eyes just now? What were you thinking about?”

“Jenn.”

“That little dog?”

“Yes, that little dog.”

“What is it about that thing? Why does it have such a hold on you?”

“I don’t know, April. Perhaps the purity of her soul. No machinations, no ulterior motives. She looks at me and I know I’m loved. I look at her and I understand why love is such an important part of our lives.”

“But Denton, it’s a dog. Doesn’t that bother you?”

“What?”

“What people say, or what they think about you?”

“No. Not in the least. You’re assuming something lurid, yet all I can say is my relationship with that little pup is the exact opposite of lurid. Besides, what people think is not my business, and the people I do know, the people who do know me, understand what she means to me. Simple as that.”

“I think it’s a little unusual.”

“Okay. So, tell me, what can I do for you?”

“I need to get back to the U.K.”

“Yes, I’d imagine you should.”

“I haven’t any money.”

“I see.”

“Could you buy me a ticket home?”

“I thought you had to post a bond on arrival here? What happened to that?”

“They’ve impounded the funds until the boat is removed from France.”

“Ah, Brexit. The gift that keeps on giving.”

“Yes, exactly.”

“No one at home to lend a hand?”

“No one,” she said…her eyes misting.

“Please, no tears – okay? So? Heathrow?”

“If possible, yes.”

“Alright. When?”

“I was hoping you and I might…”

He shook his head.

“No room in your life, eh?” she sighed.

“Something like that.”

“Lucky dog.”

“I’m the lucky one, April.”

“Oh? How so?”

“To know love of such purity is a gift. Perhaps the most important gift we can receive.”

“You sound like some kind of monk.”

The thought made him smile. “Maybe I am now.”

“I’ll send you an orange robe.”

“Are you packed?” he said – ignoring her, looking down at his phone, checking the time.

“What?”

“There’s an Air France to CDG this evening, or we fly to Honolulu tonight, then on to LAX later in the morning. Or Air New Zealand in the morning. Cost is the same, so your choice. You can hook up with BA in LAX either way.”

“Maybe the morning, if I could convince you to join me for the evening.”

“Sorry, no, I have to work tonight. I’d be happy to drop you at the airport for the direct to Paris flight. You have time to make it if we leave now.”

She seemed confused now, confused because no man had ever walked away from such an offer before, and it made her doubt herself. But no, this wasn’t really a man, was he? He was a lost, wretched soul – in love with a fucking dog – so this was no great loss. And besides, she’d just suckered the loser out of a one-way fare to London.

She smiled. “I can be ready to go in a half hour.”

+++++

He watched her walk away, and in a way she seemed almost almost agitated – while he felt an odd mix of regret and elation. She was pretty, in a sun-bleached way, and he thought of Sharon as he looked at the deliberately exaggerated sway of her hips. 

“Now why do you think she thinks she needs to do that?” he asked Jenn. She was, as she always was when in his little car, in her padded carrier and now perched on the front seat of his old Austin-Healy 300. It was blissfully cool out and he had the top down for the short drive to the airport, and now that Miss April Raines had blown through it seemed like the air had once and truly cleared – if only because now he knew precisely why he stayed away from such women…

And then an old Alan Parsons song popped up on his phone’s random sifting of memory. Siren’s Song…an old favorite. He picked up Jenn from her carrier and held her close, looked into her eyes while he listened to the lyrics, and when he saw his reflection in her eyes…he wondered…was that all he’d ever seen in there? Or did this little girl really, truly feel love for him?

Had he truly been a fool all this time? To lavish such fidelity on this poor creature?

Or had he stumbled onto the most important secret of the universe?

Could he escape? Did he even want to now?

The sun was just setting, the color in her eyes shading through black now – almost to purple – and apricot colored clouds danced inside these sudden reflections. He held her up to his face and she kissed the tip of his nose, only he closed his eyes just then, awash inside her perfect love, and he felt like crying. His face on her chest, he felt her beating heart under his skin, through her impossibly frail ribs, and he drifted back to the moment of her birth. Squirming in the dirt, alone, her need desperate – and complete. 

“Did you choose me then,” he whispered. “Did your soul reach out to me?”

He felt her pull away and he opened his eyes and for a moment he saw Sharon’s eyes in Jenn’s…then a shimmering inside that left him breathless. He shook his head, saw Jenn again –looking at him now, smiling the way she smiled when she was content.

“I love you, little friend,” he sighed, and of course she licked his nose again…but then she touched her nose to his lips…something she rarely did.

He nodded his head. “I know you do, girl.”

He kissed her forehead, put her back in the carrier on her seat and he put the old car in gear and drove around the airport to the dispatch office, pulled the top up and picked-up her carrier. He looked at the sunset one last time, then carried her inside… 

“You’re taking 501 tonight,” the dispatcher began, without even looking up, “but there’s a change in service now. She’s going out of service in Honolulu, and after your eight hours you’re taking her to LAX. You’ll have two days on the ground there, then you’ll fly the direct back here.”

He nodded understanding though inwardly he groaned with displeasure. He hated this run, hated going back to the states, if only because he knew his father would already know he was coming – and he’d probably be waiting at the airport – for one more showdown.

“What’s the weather like tonight?”

“Remnants of Typhoon Doris southwest of Hawaii, tracking west now so it shouldn’t be a problem. Nothing else.”

“Anything on the squawk sheet?”

“A minor hydraulic leak on two, a bad start on the APU in Auckland, some smoke in the aft galley.”

“Anyone check it out?”

“Yup. Oil leak. Fixed.”

“How many pax?”

“Light. Five in first, forty in the back.”

“Geesh.”

“Yup. We won’t break even tonight, so go easy on the gas.”

He laughed at the dispatchers dry humor, but nevertheless he was glad government subsidies were helping offset these wild, constantly rising fuel prices – even as tourist revenue continued its free-fall. “What are they doing to her in LA?”

“Swap-out the hot section, do a firmware update on the FMCs, a couple of deep electrical squawks,” the dispatcher added as he handed over the night’s manifest and his fuel load-out and chit for LAX. “Have a good one.”

“Yup.” He picked up Jenn’s case and rode over to ‘501’ – a twenty-five year old 757-200 “ETOPs” model – and after he found his usual patch of grass for Jenn they walked up the air-stairs and into the cockpit. It was hot and stuffy and he reached to the overhead, flipped on the bus and hit the GPU button, then turned on the climate control system for the cockpit. Footsteps in the galley turned out to be his FO for the trip, a kid from Amsterdam who wanted nothing more out of life that to fly old 757s.

“Good evening, Captain, Miss Jenn – how are you tonight?” the kid said to the carrier.

Jenn yapped once, and they could hear her tail whomping away inside the soft nylon carrier.

“Light load tonight, eh Skipper?”

“Yeah. Let’s do a high-perf takeoff, put on a little airshow.”

Pers Andersen laughed at the thought, yet he knew his captain better. King was a “strictly-by-the-book” type, not one to put on an airshow in a twenty-plus year old airframe, though the thought was worth a smile or two.

They settled into their routine and woke up the bird as flight attendants started filing onboard, and after they finished their walk-around down below the first class cabin passengers started boarding. Catering and fuel trucks pulled away, then, after engine one began turning, all the ground power carts withdrew. When the ship’s IRS sequencing was complete they confirmed their initial waypoint was entered correctly, then switched all three NAV systems to active. He checked waypoints and flight-levels while Andersen finished off the pre-taxi checklist.

“Clear to start two,” the chief on the ground advised.

“Starting two,” he replied, then he checked in with ground control, got their clearance and waved at the chief down on the apron. “Okay, looks like no inbound traffic,” he added, looking out the left side of the cockpit. “Jenn? Are we nominal?”

Two yaps.

“Got it.”

“What did she say?” Andersen asked, incredulous as ever.

“No champagne tonight. Just caviar.”

“Ah.”

They laughed as they taxied out to the end of runway 22, and after the tower cleared them for takeoff he eased on the power and steadied the ship on the centerline, then applied full takeoff thrust.

“V-one…and rotate!” Andersen advised thirty seconds later, and he gently brought the nose up to eight degrees pitch until a positive rate of climb indicated.

“Positive rate, gear up,” he said moments later – as he watched their speed build. “Flaps two.”

“Two.”

“Clean the wing.”

“Clean, three red.”

He started a slow turn to the right for their initial heading, then he turned on the autopilot and flight director, watched as headings and rates of climb steadied on assigned values. Andersen started on the next checklist and he looked out the windshield as Moorea slipped away to port, then Bora-Bora. At twenty thousand he spotted the Little Dipper, then Polaris almost dead ahead – then the thought struck him: what had drawn him to these islands? He could’ve stayed in Dallas with Jenn, kept flying for American, maybe even taken up with that cop…?

He could see her in his mind’s eye just then, in that uniform. She’d been a good lover, an attentive listener. Why had he run from her? What pulled him away?

An arc of lightning pulled him back to the present…

There were big thunderstorms ahead and to their left, and the lightning on display out there was, as always, fascinating. “Bad night to be on a boat down there,” he said, then he leaned forward and set the range on the weather radar to MAX and watched the first returns come in.

“That’s doesn’t look right,” Andersen sighed.

“Welcome to the South Pacific,” he added as he changed frequencies and contacted Papeete. He asked for a course around the storm and copied the information as it came back, then he entered the new figures on the course and heading displays, and he watched, satisfied, as the ship settled on her new course around the storm – then he got on the PA and made an announcement:

“Ladies and Gents, we’re on our way up to thirty eight thousand, and we anticipate arriving Honolulu about ten minutes early. If you happen to be sitting on the left side of the aircraft look out your window in about five minutes and you’ll see some spectacular lighting. Other than that it looks like a quiet ride up to the city tonight… 

+++++

King looked at the storm behind his canoe, then up at the flying machine headed north – and he felt a troubled shimmer in the air. Without thinking he adjusted his sail, tried to pick up more speed…

+++++

After landing at Honolulu, and after securing the aircraft at a ramp well away from the main terminal, he and Andersen went to the Marriott and checked-in, grabbed a lite dinner – and he went to bed after Jenn hosed down a few bushes by the pool. They were back out at “501” at a little before ten the next morning, seeing that the aircraft was fully fueled as they made their pre-flight walk-around. The belly was loaded with freight and dozens of bags of “priority mail” were unceremoniously dumped in the main cabin before their only passengers, a half dozen or so pilots from other airlines deadheading back to the mainland, climbed up the air-stairs and sprawled out on seats in the first class cabin.

He recognized a few of them and they exchanged nods, then he went to the cockpit and woke up the bird. Thirty minutes later they were wheels up, headed for Los Angeles… 

+++++

“Are you sure you want to do this, Ellen?”

She had her carry-on bag in one hand, her daughter Jennifer in the other, and she just smiled at Bruce for the hundredth time. There was no point beating this dead horse, was there? No, it was time for decisive action – time for her to take decisive action. Now. Today.

“Walk us to security?” she asked, ignoring his scowl.

“Sure.”

They walked slowly so Jenn could keep up, and he took her carry-on while she got their tickets and passports ready for inspection. She hugged him once they made their way to the snaking queue, and she turned and looked at him standing where she’d left him before walking out the concourse to their flight, and even from that distance she saw the old physician’s tears. She nodded and he smiled again, then he shook his head and hurried away.

“Mommy? Why is Uncle Bruce crying?”

“Because he doesn’t want us to go, Sweetie.”

“He doesn’t want us to go see Daddy?”

“No, Sweetheart, he’s just sad because we won’t see him for awhile.”

“Oh. Mommie, do you really know where Daddy is?”

“Yes, Sweetie, I do.”

“Then why haven’t we gone to see him before?”

“He’s been busy, Jennifer.”

“Oh.”

There were only a few people at the gate and they let her board early, and once they were buckled-in she looked out the window at the old terminal. It had once been so busy, she thought, but not after fuel skyrocketed, not after the war in Europe. Almost overnight the low-cost airlines shut down, then even the big carriers began to wobble and fall, and that’s when governments stepped in. With almost no trains and with travel by air impossibly expensive, everything felt like it was contracting, turning in on itself. It wasn’t the world she remembered. Nothing was as she remembered.

She thought about Bruce again, wondered why he had taken her in, helped her raise another  man’s daughter. She knew he loved them both, that he would have cared for them both as any good husband and father would, but he wasn’t Jenn’s father and a few weeks ago she’d suddenly felt compelled to make the journey to Polynesia to find Denton, to find her daughter’s rightful future, and maybe her’s, too.

Maybe it was the wrong thing to do. Maybe she should have stayed with Bruce. In four years Denton had never once asked about her…but then again he had no idea about Jennifer, so who was right and who was wrong? 

Then it hit her. Right and wrong didn’t matter now. The world seemed to be spiraling out of control; all the conventions and norms of prior experience were dissolving before her eyes, and now, she thought, was the time to find Denton. He’d know what to do…if there was still time. 

+++++

With almost forty-eight hours to kill in LA he’d been at a loss, at least until Pers chimed-in.

“Have you ever been to Disneyland?”

He’d had to stop and think about that one. “Once, I think, when Jennifer was about five or six. We usually went to Disney World those days.” And, he didn’t have to say, Florida was still recovering from the colossal hurricane that had swept the state – now more than a year ago. Word was it would take Disney years to rebuild, but he knew he wouldn’t go there again and he doubted Disney would invest in Florida again. It was just too risky now.

“I think we should go,” Andersen said, and he could see the eyes of a child light up when he agreed. “But, how do we get there?”

“I’ll rent a car.”

Anderson’s eyes went wide; after all, he’d seen the prices at the rental kiosks.

“Come on…we’re burning daylight…”

And then he saw his father walking across the lobby – directly for them.

“Oh, God no,” he whispered.

“What is it?” Andersen said.

“My father.”

“Ah, the prodigal son returns,” Bennett King said as he walked up.

“Well, well, there he is, ladies and gentlemen. Mars, Bringer of War.”

“You know, you can’t blame everything on me.”

“Sorry Dad, we’re off to Disneyland. Maybe after your next war…”

“There won’t be a next war, son. Not for me, anyway.”

That brought him up short. “Oh?”

“Look, can we go somewhere and talk?”

“Bring a car?”

“Yes, of course.”

“To Anaheim, then. We can talk on the way.”

His father’s motorcade and security detail were waiting curbside when they all came out of the Marriott, and Andersen’s eyes went wide as the senator told his head-of-detail where they were off to. Soon the group of black Chevrolet Suburbans was on the 405 headed south.

“So, are you ill, or just going into hiding. Perhaps in a bunker somewhere?”

“The former, son.”

“I see.”

“I’d like you to come home with me. We need to settle our differences while there’s still…”

“What? Time? You know something, Dad. You always framed things in such Homeric detail, like you were on some kind of…”

“Odyssey?”

“Yeah, maybe. Only guess what? I’m the only Odysseus in this story, pops.”

“Is that dog still with you?”

“Right here, Dad,” he said, holding the nylon carrier up so he could see. “Why? Want to kill this one, too?”

“Will you never forgive me for that?”

“She was my dog, Dad. She was the only thing in life that truly loved me, and you killed her. You killed her…!”

“She had cancer, son. As do I.”

“What?”

“That pup had cancer, Denton. The vet advised we put her down before her suffering grew too severe.”

He look at his father, then looked away. “Why didn’t you tell me, Dad?” he whispered.

Bennett King shrugged. “I think I wanted you to grow up, son.”

“So you told me you killed my dog? You thought that would make me grow up?”

“I…”

“Dad, do you see a pattern here? Always manipulating, never dealing in truths? And now look where we are…”

“And look at you,” Bennett shouted. “Off to a goddamn amusement park. Still awash in juvenile fantasies, just like your whole goddamned generation!”

“What did you expect, Father. Did you really think people wanted to embrace one war after another? That one day, maybe, you’d start a war we’d lose? A big one? Not against one of those two-bit Asian dictators you love to set up, but a real war?”

“You have a child’s worldview, son.”

“Thank God.”

Bennett King looked out the car at the passing cityscape, then he simply sighed. “I guess it had to end this way. We tried to make things so easy for you, for your generation, but in the end you had no stomach for the hard work that has to be done from time to time.”

“No, I guess not, Father. What did you expect? How can endless war compete against the likes of Disneyland?”

“You’re correct, of course. You always were.”

“What’s wrong with you, Dad?”

“Glioblastoma.”

“How far along?”

“Too far, I’m afraid.”

“So, what are you going to do?”

“Go home, read a few books, maybe putter in the garden. I’m afraid you’ll have to finish your odyssey without me.”

“That doesn’t sound like you, father.”

“I don’t feel like me, son. For the first time in my life I feel like I’m on the outside looking in.”

“Maybe because you are.”

“I know that must fill you with a kind of wild glee, but try not to rub it in.”

He ignored his old man, could see the sprawling parking lot just ahead. “Ever been to Tomorrowland, Dad?”

“No, son, I can’t say that I have.”

“Well, you know what, Dad, I hear it’s never too late…”

+++++

For some reason 501 looked like a brand new aircraft. She even smelled new.

The ground crew had the GPU up and running when he walked aboard, and Andersen was already in his seat, programming the FMS for their flight home.

“And how is Miss Jenn this morning?” Andersen asked, turning to look at Jenn in her carrier.

“Still miffed about getting soaked on Splash Mountain.”

“I have never seen a pup sulk like that. Your father, too.”

“She takes things personally,” he said, grinning. Jenn yapped once, scolding him. 

“He did not look well.”

“He isn’t. I read up on glioblastoma last night. He’s got eight good months left, and that’s with or without treatment.”

“I think he enjoyed himself, even so.”

“Yeah? I hope so.”

“I never pictured you having a father like him. He seems very tough.”

“That’s my old man. Tough. Tough, to the core.”

“Why did he keep calling you Odysseus?”

“It’s an old joke. From high school, I think.”

“He thinks you are a wanderer, but I think he loves you. Maybe very much.”

He looked at Andersen, and the look in his eyes must’ve been enough because Pers turned back to his FMS and resumed entering waypoints and altitudes.

“I forget to pick up some stuff in the terminal. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

“Yeah, sure.”

He walked through the galley and up the Jetway into the departure lounge, then down the long corridor to the newsstand. He browsed the magazines for a minute or two then picked up a couple of bottles of water, then walked across to a restaurant and ordered two pastrami sandwiches – to-go – and when they were ready he walked back to the gate.

Ellen Green was waiting for him there. Smiling.

And when he saw the little girl by her side, holding her hand, he felt that same shimmer inside… 

“Hello, Denton.”

“Ellen. And who have we here,” he asked, not able to take his eyes off the little girl.

“My daughter. Her name is Jennifer.”

He knelt, looked into the girls eyes and yes, he knew beyond question the girl was his.

“Jennifer? Are you going from an airplane ride today?”

“You’re my father, aren’t you?” the girl said.

He looked up at Ellen – who only nodded now – and he turned to this little girl and smiled. “Would that make you happy? If I was your father?”

The girl looked into his eyes for the longest time, then she backed away from him, hid behind her mother’s legs, so he stood and looked into Ellen’s eyes. 

“I think she’s a little scared,” she said, looking into his eyes too.

“Understandable. Where are you two headed?”

She pointed to the gate, to his airplane.

“I see. Going on vacation?”

“My daughter needs her father.”

“Don’t we all,” he whispered, then he looked down at the girl again, and this time he held out his hand. “You’d better come with me,” he said. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”

He picked her up, carried her to the gate agent’s desk and explained what was going on, and Ellen handed over their tickets then followed Denton down the Jetway and into the cockpit.

The girl’s eyes went wide when she saw the crowded space. “What’s this?” she whispered.

“This is where I work, Jennifer, and this is my other Jennifer,” he said as he pulled the pup from her carrier.

“I’ve heard about you,” his daughter said.

He knelt again, held the pup out and then watched these two souls collide, come to terms with one another, then his little Jenn leaned forward a little and licked his little girl on the tip of her nose – then, gently, on her lips.

“I think you two are going to be friends,” he said.

“I think so too.”

He stood, put the pup in her carrier then picked up this other brave soul and looked her in the eye again. “I think you and I are going to be okay now, don’t you?”

She nodded her head and smiled, then she put her arms around her father’s neck and held him close, and when he looked up he saw the world through a veil of tears. Ellen stood there, crying a little too as she took it all in, and even as he led them to their seats he felt something he never expected.

Complete. Whole. Where he was supposed to be, at last.

“I wish you could sit up front with me today but it’s against the rules. I tell you what, though. I’ll see if I can come back and talk to you in a little bit.”

“We have a lot to talk about, don’t we, Daddy?”

He looked in her eyes again, then held her close. She seemed to wrap herself around his soul in a way that seemed so familiar, so right, and he closed his burning eyes while he cupped the girl’s head in his hands, feeling another little girl’s head once again – like an echo.

He put his little girl in the window seat and buckled her in, then hugged Ellen once before turning quickly and walking to the front of the plane.

“Who was that?” Andersen asked.

“An old friend.”

“Jenn seems very quiet.”

He knelt and lifted his friend from her carrier and she looked into his eyes, licked the tears from his face.

“I know, I know,” he whispered, “but nothing will ever change how I feel about you.”

He kissed her nose, looked into her eyes, then she kissed his lips before he put her gently into the carrier. He strapped it down, made sure she was comfortable, then slipped into his seat…

+++++

King is sailing now. The storm was colossal, bigger than any he had been in before, yet the shimmer in the air was insistent now, as was the voice coming from the far side of the sky.

Hurry.

His grandfather’s voice. He was sure of it now.

Hurry. Hurry – now.

+++++

There were two active hurricanes south of Baja making their way towards Hawaii, so the flight’s course had been adjusted much further west than usual for this time of year. As a result, this added more than a hundred miles to their flight time, and stretched the 757s fuel reserves to the limit. To compensate, King planned to get the aircraft up to flight-level 3-9-0 much sooner than usual, and he could only do this because the Boeing was, as was the norm these days, carrying only a few passengers. By noon he could just make out the tops of the closest storm, still far to the east, and the flight management system predicted they would arrive with fifty minutes of fuel still in the tanks, so with almost half the flight complete he was happy.

“I’m going to go take a walk aft,” he said to Andersen, but as per procedure he waited until his FO had donned his mask before leaving the flight deck. He stopped off in the galley for a bottle of water, then walked all the way to the aft galley and checked-in with the flight attendants back there. 

Then he made his way forward to Ellen and Jenn’s seats.

“How’s it going so far?” he asked the little girl as he knelt in the aisle by her mother. “Can you see out the window okay?”

“There sure is a lot of ocean down there,” Jenn sighed. “I think it’s scary.”

“It sure can be.”

“How can you tell where you’re going?”

“Remember all those screens and buttons up front? All those things help us figure out where we are, and where we’re going. They even tell us when we’ll get there…”

He felt an unusual vibration just then, and a moment later the cabin turned to cold fog about the same time the explosion registered in his mind. He leaned over his daughter and saw the containment shroud on the number one engine was in tatters, and then he looked aft, saw a gaping hole just ahead of the first over-wing emergency exit door… 

Oxygen masks blew down from their overhead compartments and dangled over his daughter’s head, so he grabbed one and slipped it over her face and pulled to activate it, then he put one over his own face and took several deep huffs before dashing to the cockpit…

“What happened!” Andersen yelled, trying to make himself heard over all the alarms and the last rushing noises of the explosive decompression.

“Looks like we threw a fan blade, went into the main cabin,” he said, struggling to breathe and reaching for his mask. “My airplane!” he said as he tightened his harness.

“Captain’s aircraft!”

He scanned the engine instruments, checked hydraulic pressures – and so far everything was holding steady, then he trimmed the aircraft for a rapid descent while he countered the asymmetric thrust with heavy pressure on the rudder. “Okay,” he said as he continued scanning his instruments, “looks like we’re losing fuel. Isolate the tank.”

“Got it.”

“Deploy the RAT…we’re going to get a bus one undervolt…”

“Want me to start the APU?”

“Not yet. Lets get our fuel stabilized first, see what the numbers look like.” He reached around and pulled Jenn’s carrier to his lap, pulled out a small oxygen cannister he kept in one of the pouches and popped the lever, let oxygen flow over her nose for a moment, then he put her carrier down by his feet and worked the rate of descent out in his head. “Five more minutes,” he said, thinking out loud. “Atuona has about four thousand feet paved…”

“Fuel’s still leaking…and fast,” Andersen said.

He thought about what his daughter had just said – ‘There sure is a lot of ocean down there’ –  and her words brought a smile to his face. 

“See if you can get on to Ocean Rescue. If not, send a mayday through ACARS and an sms by wifi.” Andersen dialed 121.5 on COMM 1 and transmitted their position and situation, and Ocean Rescue came back, faint and scratchy, but they weren’t alone and that felt good. He cued his mic and spoke next. “Uh, Tahiti, relay to Atuona we’re headed their way. I don’t think we’re going to make it, but it’s gonna be close so they might want to get their boats and helos ready. With our current rate of loss we’re right on the line.”

He checked altitude and threw off his mask, then he reached down and pulled Jenn’s carrier up and had a look; she looked perturbed but her tail was whomping the sides of the bag and she woofed once just for good measure.

“Looks like we might have to go for a swim today, girl. You up for that?”

Two yaps.

“Well, don’t worry. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

One yap.

“I love you too, girl.”

Andersen shook his head. “She’s your soulmate, isn’t she?”

“That she is.”

“Didn’t you tell me once she can’t swim?”

“Yup.”

“Oh.”

“Look, if anything happens to me, get her to King, would you?”

“I will.”

“You’re a good man, Andersen. How far out are we now?”

“One-fifteen. Thank you, Captain.”

“Well Hell, it’s gonna be closer than I’d like. You remember what the north coast looks like?”

“Reefs are in close, then a steep wall right after the last ring – and it gets real deep, real fast.”

He looked out his side of the aircraft, saw whitecaps and large, breaking waves on the surface and shook his head. “Must be blowing thirty-plus down there. Put me on the intercom, would you?”

“Yessir.”

“Uh, flight attendants, prepare for a rough landing, get ready for a possible water evac if our approach doesn’t work out. Everyone listen up, we’re trying for one of the Marquesas Islands, a little airport outside the town of Atuona, but we’re losing fuel a little too fast so we may end up in the water. Remember, the emergency exit slides convert to large rafts and odds are we’ll have boats on the scene even before we get over the island, so keep calm and listen to your flight attendants. Hopefully we’ll be on the ground in about ten to fifteen minutes, but lets get your life-preservers situated now.”

“How’s your leg holding out on the rudder?” Andersen asked.

“Manageable. How many minutes left?”

“Less than fifteen at current rate of burn.”

“That’s not gonna work. Tell the girls we’re going in the water.” He looked down at the sea again, saw the wind and waves were not as bad as before and he thought at least that was working in their favor…then he saw the mountains of Hiva Oa in the distance and remembered the airport was almost fifteen hundred feet above sea level. Even with the wind hard out of the north he just didn’t see a good approach without their circling the island to land into the wind…and that would take time they just didn’t have.

He peered ahead, could now just make out the crenelated coastline, and he saw a village just to the left – and the pulsing strobes of one rescue helicopter making for the coast.

“Have you ever ditched before, Captain?”

“No. You?”

“Only in nightmares.”

He laughed at that, and so did Andersen. “We’ll be okay,” he added. 

“We are officially burning fumes now, Captain.”

“Okay, tell Center, then the girls,” he said, then he decided to head for the only village visible. “Isn’t that Nahoe right there,” he asked, taking a hand off the yoke long enough to point.

“Yes, I think so, Captain.”

“I wonder…maybe we could almost beach this thing…or get close enough so people could wade ashore…”

“It’s possible, but a risk, too.”

“Everything’s a risk now, Pers,” he said – and then the cockpit fell to silence as their number two engine ran out of fuel. “Glad we didn’t try for the airport.”

He watched his airspeed now, looking up at the coastline, and the tiny village just ahead – gauging distances, trading airspeed for altitude when he thought it safe. The village looked to be about two miles ahead and already the rescue helo was circling overhead. Wave height looked perilous but manageable, but with the strong wind on his tail he knew he’d have to carry a lot of airspeed until the last possible moment.

“Look!” Andersen said, pointing. “There are already several boats headed our way.”

“Give me some leading edge, would you?”

“One or two?”

“Go direct two, get ready to give me flaps five at about fifty feet.”

“Got it.”

“Tell the girls…brace now.”

The water was incredibly blue down here, the water still thousands of feet deep, and he could see wind-driven spume cresting off the wave-tops…then he thought he saw the yellow helicopter off to his left as he bled off as much speed as possible…

“Flaps now,” he said softly.

“Coming down.”

“Brace now, Amigo.” He took his feet off the pedals and tried to hold Jenn’s carrier in place, then he saw the breaking waves – and the rocks –

The aircraft skimmed off the tops of the waves for a few hundred feet, then the left wingtip hit the rocks and she spun wildly out of control, the fuselage breaking into two segments at first, then a third after the tail caught a breaking wave and broke free. He was aware of some of this as the forward part of the fuselage, now almost free of the wings, began to roll to the right as his ship stopped and settled in the water.

He looked at Andersen, saw he was moving but bleeding from a deep scalp laceration.

“Can you move?” he asked.

“Yes, Captain.”

“Okay, let’s head aft…”

The motion was violent, the breaking waves pushing the hull towards the surf line a few hundred yards ahead, but all he could think of now was Ellen and his daughter. He fought his way out of his seat and out the cockpit door…

No flight attendants in the galley, he saw, then he spotted one of the girls helping an elderly couple out of their seats. The hull righted for a moment and he went to the main door and forced it open, deploying the slide just as Andersen arrived.

“You stand-by here,” he said, “and get ready to detach the raft when she’s loaded. And grab that first aid kit!” he added, pointing to the box hanging in the galley, and as he started aft he felt his feet. 

His daughter was wide-eyed but unhurt, while Ellen appeared dazed. Yes, he saw a welt under her right eye, and she was squinting but otherwise unhurt as he got to their seat.

“Let’s get you two moving,” he said, this time more calmly than he felt. The water was up to his knees and rising fast, the hull settling fast now. He grabbed his daughter when Ellen passed her over, then he took Ellen’s hand and pulled her up, then forward…

“Captain, you must hurry!” Andersen shouted. 

He noted the hull was settling by the cockpit as he passed his daughter to Andersen, then he helped Ellen into the raft… 

“Where’s Jenn?” he yelled. “Did you get her carrier?”

Andersen looked at him. “No, sorry. I thought you had her…”

He pulled his body through the waist-deep water into the cockpit, saw her carrier floating near the overhead panel. “Damn, girl, we’re going down fast,” he said as he grabbed her carrier by the strap and pulled her close – as his head slipped underwater.

Her carrier floated free for a moment and when he tried to pull it under it got caught on the ceiling so he stood on the seat-back and unzipped her case, pulled her free.

“Sorry about this, girl,” he said as she licked the tip of his nose. “We’re going to get wet today, but hang on tight…”

He held her to his chest as he made his way through the cockpit door, then after his head emerged from the swirling water he saw the raft was gone, the main door almost completely awash. There was still daylight ahead, where the sundered, open hull lay, and he saw a breaking wave hit the opening and push the hull into another roll. He pulled them along, walking on the overhead bins and seat-backs, until he was at the opening. He pulled himself free with one hand, the other holding Jenn securely to his chest…

“There they are!” he heard Andersen shout. “Paddle that way!”

Another wave broke over the hull and he felt a piecing pain in his gut, looked down and saw a long shard on metal sticking out of his belly.

“That can’t be good,” he said, and Jenn was looking at him now, and he thought he saw sorrow in her eyes. Or was he looking at a reflection of his own feelings?

He tried to pull free but couldn’t, and as his face slipped under the sea he held the last love of his life to the light, and he felt grasping hands take her. He could see her as the wing began to sink and pull away from the hull, and then he could see he had been impaled by a fragment of the wing, but that didn’t matter now. He watched her now, saw her looking at him as he fell away from her, then he turned his face to the stars and soon all was lost in their blinding light.

+++++

King watched embers flicker and lift on a passing current, and as one settled his eyes went to the point, and he fought back a tear as he looked at them sitting by the sea. 

“What is it, Grandfather,” one of his girls asked.

“I was thinking of him.”

“Who? The airplane man?”

“Yes, the airplane man.”

“Is he still out there?” his little girl asked.

“Yes. Still. The people from far away found his airplane, most of it, anyway. But they never found him. They looked and looked, but he had left by then. I think he sailed away, maybe to the stars.”

“Was he your friend, Grandfather?”

“Yes, he is.”

“Where is he? I mean, where did it happen?”

King stood and pointed. “Look past the girls, just past the waves breaking over the rocks. He went down there, or so they say.”

“Is that why they look at the rocks, Grandfather?”

King looked at the two girls, at these two Jenns down on the point overlooking the sea, but it was always the same – it had been for years. So many years. They watched, and they waited.

“Yes,” King said. “That is why.”

People told him from time to time it wasn’t natural for a little dog to have lived so many years, but what did they know? What did people really know about a love like hers?

She watched as the big star fell from the sky, and when her King failed to walk out of the sea and come back to her, the little pup turned to face the stars once again and she sang her song to the wind.

(C) 2018 Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com

6 thoughts on “Beyond and Within

  1. The terrors of modern life are hard to take, but very good, albeit depressing story. I can see why you love springers so much. You managed to work the porpoise in, too, I see. Your totem? Have you read David Brin’s Startide Rising, one of his Uplift series of novels? It’s very good, and about the first porpoises to crew a starship. Got major awards when it came out about 1980.

    Share the despair:
    they say many hands lighten the load.
    Those hands may be paws
    or even a tongue to lick your nose
    or a furry head on your leg or in your lap.
    We take our comforts where we find them.

    Further doggerel, from before:

    I’d like to roll trump up
    like a tube of toothpaste,
    and discard him
    when he’s done.
    I promise to brush my dog’s teeth
    at least six times a day.

    This future trump epic minicycle I’ve been serializing in your comment threads (please tell me to get lost if you tire of them or they embarrass you being there) was occasioned by a clever comment in WaPo a while back, posing as a news story from 2038 reporting the death of trump in prison. Great, but not quite enough. I wanted to rub it in, trump-in-penury living on. Vengeance is mine saith me to myself. BWAHAHAHA! (Recovering, I adjust my clothing and finger comb my hair where the horns had momentarily emerged).
    The thing will now be called, overall, ‘Trump on the Beach’. Here’s another installment, but I don’t think I’ll take it much further.

    Trump’s birthday on the beach

    It’s your birthday today, daddy!
    Steak for dinner tonight.
    I got that kind you like
    that cooks up nice and chewy.
    Make sure it’s gray inside, he says.
    Gotta make sure it’s dead.
    I’ll cut it up real small for you,
    and cut off all the fat,
    she says, and help you thump the ketchup.
    [She buys the cheapest brand
    at the big box store, in gallons,
    and decants it into that Heinz bottle
    she’d saved. Hard work.
    She worries he’ll find it
    hard to chew that meat soon.
    Maybe switch to hot dogs and hamburgs
    for these family celebrations.]
    Some tater tots in the oven.
    Sara Lee chocolate cake for afters,
    or a little jar of lumpfish caviar
    to be served in a taco shell, to start.
    Napkins instead of paper towels.
    The diet cola in glass glasses:
    Gotta keep up appearances.

    When are the kids getting here,
    Trumps asks.
    Really sorry dad, Ivanka
    has to say, they can’t make it here
    again this year, too busy
    and too far away.
    Oh, he says, haven’t seen them
    for at least ten years.
    Where do they live now, again?

    [She can’t quite bring herself to say
    she doesn’t know.
    They’d changed their names
    to Anderson,
    a good stout Swedish name,
    eleventh most common
    in all America,
    all the harder to track down.
    And left no forwarding address
    when they last had moved.]

    Well, he finally responds,
    I’ve got you, babe.
    Now don’t get all hands-y
    daddy, you know I don’t like that.
    He sulks.
    Ivanka suddenly points
    out the window.
    Look daddy, a squirrel!
    He gets up, goes to the door
    to see, but way too late
    [not that there really was one
    outside this time. Never was.]
    Now go to your room and take a nap;
    I’ll wake you when dinner’s getting ready.
    .:.
    Ivanka cries;
    he’s wet the bed, again.
    He has been fighting the whole idea
    of Depends,
    but she’ll have to put her
    foot down real damn soon.
    The laundry in the condo complex
    has palmetto bugs and mold,
    and most of the machines don’t work.
    She complains, but the landlord
    is no better than daddy used to be.
    Have to lug the bedding
    down the street
    in her well-worn schlepper
    once again.
    Now that she’s Jewish,
    she’s allowed to say, ‘Oy!’

    Like

    • Perhaps to be considered truly epic, might’n you weave Faustian undertones throughout? Sort of an underlying, unifying theme? Then send it in the New York Times, and, of course, Fox News, and see what happens?

      Like

      • I was thinking the White House direct, and then go change my name and hide in the cellar. In the hole hugging my sump pump. Till it’s over, O Gawd! Make it stop! Wake me when November 6th rolls around, though there’s a primary in August I have to be awake for.

        But hey! You’re the one who said epic first, didn’t you? I was just goin’ along, bein’ polite and all. Right? I just write these intimate little vignettes of family life. It’s really just for me. Perhaps I overshare. Going from verse to worse. But I find it to be therapeutic, at least. In lieu of pups.

        Like

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