Come Alive 25.3

[Coming down to the home stretch now. And yes, music matters, a lot…so give a listen…]

Chapter 25.3

‘This isn’t so bad…’

He flexed his fingers, then his toes – before he took a deep breath.

‘Kind of cold here, though. Wherever the Hell here is.’

“Henry? Can you hear me?”

‘That’s a familiar voice.’

“Henry, can you open your eyes?”

He opened his eyes and for a moment thought he was looking at Doris Day again, but no, not this time. Yet the voice was familiar, way too familiar, and the woman’s eyes were as well.

“Do I know you?” he asked, and the old woman smiled at the question.

“I’m not sure that you do,” she replied.

“You look so familiar…”

“Do I? How peculiar…” the woman said, her voice lost somewhere between irony and sarcasm.

He looked around the room now…at ancient stone walls and flickering torchlight, then his senses picked up the blue tint enveloping everything and he knew he was back in the village. And if this was the village then this woman had to be either Britt or Eva, but whoever it was had to now be almost a hundred years old. “Who are you?” he finally asked.

“Your daughter. Sara, in case you managed to forget. Again.”

“What? So, your mother is…?”

“Yes. Years ago.”

“And Britt? Has she passed, too?”

The woman nodded, yet when he saw Eva’s gentle expression in the woman’s eyes his own filled with tears. “Sorry. I wasn’t expecting this,” he said sullenly, looking past the present into memory.

“Expecting what, exactly?”

“For them…for your mother to be gone.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“I thought with the other residents being, well, pretty much immortal – that they would be too.”

“Well, Henry, this is your dream so dream it any way you like…”

“What?”

His head bounced – hard – and he was in the back of the ambulance, a paramedic adjusting the flow rate on an IV running into his port. 

“Tracy?” he asked the medic. “La femme qui était avec moi? Où est-elle?”

“Avec le chien. Elle a dit qu’elle allait appeler votre oncologue.”

He closed his eyes and felt himself drifting away, and soon all sound had left as well. 

Yet now he was afraid to even open his eyes.

He was on his back now, eyes open and looking at the vast ringed planet overhead.

Only Pinky was with him now; he could see concern in her eyes and on her face, and he felt disoriented by the sudden change.

“Is this the dream again?” he asked her.

“No, not this time.”

“Am I dying?”

And when she smiled he relaxed. “No, not at all.”

“My daughter. Sara. She told me that Eva and Britt are gone.”

“Gone? Do you mean – death?”

He nodded.

“No, that is most certainly not the case.”

“Pinky, tell me something, would you? And the truth this time, okay?”

“Of course.”

“Has all this been a dream?”

“What?”

“The trip on the Bandits, Eva and Dina and everything. Was all that just a dream?”

“Of course not.”

“It really happened? I mean, it wasn’t some kind of psychotic delusion?”

“No, Henry. Everything happened – just as you remember it happening.”

He heard a door opening and then he was jerked out into the daylight, and now it really was very cold. Nurses surrounded him as his gurney was pushed inside an unseen hospital, then he was in a room with a huge domed light overhead. Someone spread his legs and began shaving the insides of his thighs, then an unseen hand had his penis and he felt an electric razor cutting away decades of hair. More leads were attached to his chest and a mask was placed over his nose and mouth.

“Henry?” a kindly voice said, interrupting his fear, “try to stay with me. We are going to go up through a vessel in your leg to your heart and try to open up an artery. You’re going to feel a little pressure now…”

But no, it wasn’t pressure, and it sure wasn’t little. He felt a cold splash of Betadine then the hot pinch of a lidocaine injection. Next, sharp pain, then hideously hot and never-ending.

“Jesus, what are you shoving up there? A hot poker?”

“I’m sorry, Henry, I don’t want to use so much pain medication now. Just hang in there.”

He tried to drift off but the pain was simply too insistent, and he was all too aware that there were at least five or six people moving all around his gurney. Then he lifted his head and saw the screen – just a little – and the little wire probe winding its way through his heart to what the physician said was a really nasty looking blockage.

He put his head down after that, feeling more light-headed than he thought possible. Then at some point he simply closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. No dream, no Pinky, just the black nothingness of pure, uninterrupted sleep. Kind of like…

+++++

He opened his eyes again and saw Tracy standing by a window in a spare little room. A hospital room all decked out in beige and brown. And his leg hurt now, though he couldn’t quite remember why…

“Hi there,” he said – then Tracy wheeled around and dashed to the side of his bed. She kissed his forehead, then again, this time on the lips, and he felt good all over.

“Welcome back,” she said, more than a little tearfully.

“What happened?”

“You had a vapor lock.”

“Ah, so an oil change and a tire rotation too, I suppose?”

“Naw, they just put a new set of Michelins on. It was past time, ya know…?”

“So?”

“You had a heart attack. Basically, the paramedics saved your ass this time.”

“I see. And Clyde? I remember something about blood in his stool?”

“The vet came by and she took him to her clinic. He should be home Tuesday afternoon.”

“What about chemo? Can they…?”

“They want to wait a few days before…”

“Did you hear anything about the trial?”

“No opening. In fact, the trial is just about over – which is good news. The results go to the FDA after that.”

“No word yet on how the results skew?”

She shook her head. “No way they’d talk about that yet.”

“So, when can I get out of this lovely place?”

“It’s not the Crillon, is it?”

He tried to change position and grimaced as another wave of pain crossed his face. “Well, I do love the decor. I had no idea the French could do 1960s Howard Johnson’s so well.”

“I think you’ll head home on Tuesday, if that’s any comfort.”

“But no chemo, right?”

“Not ’til the end of the week.”

He sighed and looked across the room and out a little sliver of window, and he could see the city out there. “I don’t want to waste any more time in here than I have to.”

“I understand.”

“Okay.”

“Can I bring you anything?”

“Escargot and a roast duck would be nice.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Tracy said, grinning. “Anything else?”

“Let me know what Anton is up to, okay?”

“Yeah, will do. And, oh! – I brought your phone and laptop, and I found a charger. Want me to set it up while I’m here?”

“Sure. Have at it.”

“Henry? It’s going to get better…okay? Getting in a funk after a heart attack is pretty much the norm.”

He nodded. “Got it.”

“I’ll shut up now.”

“Don’t you dare. Just…don’t talk about me. There’s got to be a million more interesting things out there to talk about.”

“Not to me.”

“What about your mom. Still coming Tuesday?”

Tracy nodded, but she looked away this time. “Gonna be a rough day, Hank. You coming home, and Clyde too. Then her – on top of all that. I’m not sure I’ll be up for all the drama.”

“Well, she always was a decent drama queen. Glad some things haven’t changed.”

“Think you can handle her?”

“Edith? No problem.”

Tracy grinned. “You got kind of a shit-eatin’ grin thing going there, Hank. What are you going to do to her?”

“Do – to – her? Why…nothing, Tracy dearest.”

“Oh…God. What have I done?”

+++++

Tracy left a half hour later; Henry opened his laptop and waded through his email.

“Oh, crap-a-doodle-doo,” he moaned as he read through Dina’s missive concerning heart attacks and chemo outcomes. When he finished he replied with a curt ‘Thanks’ and then read through Rolf’s latest – asking yet again when he was going to be able to come down to Paris.

He left that one unanswered – for the time being – then read through letters from his lawyer and a short note from Hallberg-Rassy explaining what they wanted to do regarding possible hull damage after Rotterdam. He replied to that one, then saved a copy of the exchange in Rolf’s file.

A vampire came in and drew blood, then a nurse flitted in and checked his vitals – looking intensely cute as she pranced around his bed. ‘I guess when I stop looking at legs like that I’ll know I’m finally gone,’ he sighed as she jiggled and wiggled out the door.

Then his oncologist walked in – a dour frown etched in steel across her pale face.

“My, don’t we look happy today?” he said to her, smiling.

“Well, I am not, Mr. Taggart…but how are you feeling?”

“I’ve felt better.” She nodded – though he could tell something was distracting the woman. “So, is it good news or bad?”

“Bad, I’m afraid. The final report from the MRI is in and it shows metastases in the pancreas and liver.”

“That can’t be good.”

“No, it isn’t. We may be able to slow further spread but once in the pancreas our options narrow considerably.”

“So, we can stop all the miracle cure nonsense now?”

“Such an outcome looks unlikely now.”

And there is was, Henry thought. The point of no return. Beyond here there be dragons.

And he smiled. “Well, I’ve grown used to the idea of kicking the bucket soon, so the idea of changing all my plans knocked me for a loop. Guess I can go back to Plan One, eh?”

“You know, I was expecting tears, not a smile and a joke.”

“What good does crying do, Doc? I mean, really – I’m sixty-something years old!”

“Sometimes crying makes people feel better?”

Henry shook his head. “Nope. Not me. Any idea how long I’ve got?”

“I wouldn’t be making plans past New Years.”

“So, a month? Or thereabouts?”

She nodded. “About that. Give or take a few days.”

“And if a miracle mRNA cure comes along?”

“We start immediately and hope for the best.”

“What about chemo? Any need to try again?”

She shook her head. “No. Such a course of action is not really justified now. I would say, given your past history with such agents, you would fill your remaining time with serious discomfort with little chance of any gain.”

“Well then. That is, as they say, that.”

“I am so sorry, Mr. Taggart. I was hopeful…”

He nodded and smiled again. “C’est la vie, no?”

“I suppose so. May I pass this information along to Dina?”

“Please.”

“Very well. I will see you before discharge, if that’s alright with you.”

“Certainly.”

“I want to meet this dog of yours. His story seems most amazing.”

“Well then, you’ll have to drop by the marina. For dinner, perhaps?”

“Yes, perhaps. Well, I will talk with you tomorrow.”

After she was gone Henry called the nurse and asked if they could perhaps move his bed closer to the window. He wanted, he said, to look at the City of Lights spread out down there in the darkness.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Come Alive (25.2)

A short section today. And of course music matters…but yeah, after you listened to that one you started to think about this one too, didn’t you? No? You didn’t? Well then, you’d better try this one asap.

Oh well, enjoy the ride.

Chapter 25.2

Henry carried the pup below and laid him out on the berth in his cabin, then he covered the old boy with a blanket and held him close. “Stay with him, would you?” he asked Tracy a while later. “I’ve got to get his medicine, and his pants.”

“He’s sick too, I take it?”

“Yup.”

“Cancer?”

“Yes. Found it in July,” he said as he worked the pants around Clyde’s legs, positioning a pad and fastening the velcro while he talked, “but he probably was sick long before that. I don’t know if I told you, but he’d been abandoned and I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion someone dumped him in the park rather than deal with the expense of taking care of a sick dog.”

“That’s awful, Henry.”

He shook his head. “It’s economics 101, Tracy. A lot of families have pets even though they can barely afford to keep food on the table. It’s a reckless choice, one that usually leads to bad outcomes, but that’s why animal shelters are so overwhelmed.”

“He was lucky to find you, I guess.”

“Here, would you load the syringe for me, please? Ten units.”

“Got it. Where?”

“In the thigh. Here’s a swab,” he added, handing over an alcohol pad. “I need to get him to the vet on Monday.”

“Do you have one in Paris?”

He nodded. “I got a recommendation from the vet’s office in Kiel. They’re on stand-by for next week sometime.”

“I can take him while you get ready for chemo.”

“Okay. I’ll call their office tomorrow and set it up.”

“I’m just asking, but what if they think it’s time to put him down?”

“Nope. He stays with me.”

“Henry, is that fair to Clyde?”

“He’ll tell me when he’s ready, Tracy.”

“You really think that’s true?”

“As a matter of fact, yes, I do. Some dogs can, some can’t. Clyde can.”

“What about that whale?”

“Hmm? The orca? What about him?”

“Yeah, him. Do you and he…?”

“We…communicate, and I’m afraid I don’t really know another word to describe what it is we do.”

“I was kind of wigged-out by all that, Hank. Bad enough the whale follows you around like that, but he really seemed happy to see you.”

“Maybe because I was happy to see him, too. Clyde took off for a few days with him last week; scared the shit out of me.”

“What do you mean, took off…?”

“He jumped off the stern and swam over to the pod, then they all swam off somewhere. I like to think he went ashore to take a dump, but really, I have no idea where they went.”

“So…your dog is all wrapped up in this clusterfuck, too? Weird, Hank, this is really, really weird.”

“Yeah? Well, when I bumped into you at the restaurant in Honfleur he had been gone for two days, but then he just runs up to me and sits on my feet like nothing had happened. So go ahead, you tell me all about weird.”

“I think he’s sleeping now, Hank.”

Henry checked Clyde’s breathing, then rubbed the pup’s head for a long time. “Funny how close they let us get.”

“It’s called trust, Henry.”

“Maybe.”

“Can you imagine what the world would be like if we trusted one another like dogs trust us?”

He had to smile at that one. “Then I think about the prick that abandoned Clyde in the park – and my faith in the order of the universe is restored.”

“How about some tea?” she asked, shaking her head at his cynicism.

He kept rubbing Clyde’s head, but he shook his head. “We really need to get some sleep. Very long day ahead of us tomorrow.”

“Could I stay here tonight?”

Henry looked up and smiled. “I thought you’d never ask.”

+++++

After transiting the locks at Saint-Pierre-la-Garenne, Henry tied-off near an old timbered building – that housed a very nice hotel and restaurant, according to his river pilot – and the group went off in search of a big breakfast before the final push. About an hour later they cast off their lines and began the trip again, then Henry cut up some very fresh salmon for Clyde – and they both smiled for a while. 

The pup seemed a little tired, his eyes a little too glassy and red-rimmed that morning, and Henry assumed he’d had a rough night – despite the medicine. Still, after a few minutes on deck and with some sunlight and fresh air streaming through his golden ears, the pup picked up a bit and even wagged his tail a little. 

As their little convoy approached CDG, the big airport northeast of the city, they began to see a few commercial aircraft taking off and lining up to land – and that was a good sign, or at least Henry thought so. With air travel restored things would start to feel a little like normal once again, and Henry was feeling desperate for normal that morning. He was, he knew, so close…yet Christmas had never felt so far away.

They passed the Eiffel Tower late that afternoon on their way to the Isle St Louis, and he called the marina and confirmed their slips were ready and got the procedure to enter the marina proper under the railway bridge. Once they had an ETA, the attendant told him, he was to call again and someone would help them into their slips. He then called the animal hospital, as requested, and the vet there said she’d meet him at the boat later that evening. He thanked her more than once.

But once Notre Dame came into view that was it. Journey over. What had started as a daydream two years before had as suddenly come to an end, yet as these things so often tend to, every little detail became lost in a jagged blur as events sped by with nauseating speed…and it felt like one minute he was out on the river and the next he was tied off a few hundred meters from the where the old Bastille had once stood. He was shaken by the way this last day had unfolded, by the sheer speed of events, if only because time had felt so unexpectedly elastic…so easily compressed and twisted to shape an uncertain outcome…

Then there was nothing else to do. Clyde saw a wide expanse of green grass and howled – twice – and Henry almost managed to hook up his leash, too. But Clyde soared off the stern and landed at a gallop, making a beeline for a huge clump of barren bushes. Henry grabbed a pile of poop-bags and took off running, but after a few steps he was reminded of his once own limitations. Yet Tracy was there to save the day…and she trotted over to Clyde and hooked him up, then bent to pick up his salmon laced turds.

“Still a little blood,” she said as Henry walked up. “But not as much as last night.”

He nodded as he bent to look, but he stood up quickly – then simply passed out.

He came to for a moment and heard more than saw he was in the back of an ambulance rushing through traffic, then a blinding light came for him – pushing aside everything left – until not even memory could hold back the night.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Come Alive (25.1)

Chapter 25.1

He found her staring at the ancient ‘Egyptian’ obelisk in the center of the Place de la Concorde, and he came up from behind and gently placed his hands on her shoulders – yet he said not a word, if only because he knew he had to wait for her this time.

“I suppose you had a reason?” she said a few minutes later.

He pulled her a bit closer and wrapped his arms around her. “I’m not sure anything has happened that they haven’t orchestrated to the Nth degree – except perhaps you. You were the random variable, Tracy, the fly in their ointment, the thing they just couldn’t see coming…”

She turned and faced him, her eyes like the stars – full of a million unquestioned answers.

“The thing is,” he continued, “I didn’t expect you, either. In fact, I think I there was a point when I almost welcomed death – until you came, that is. Death was the only thing that made any sense to me, because death seemed like the only way out of the trap they’d set for me.”

“And now?”

“You’re the only thing that makes sense now.”

“Because I’m the fly in their ointment?”

He shook his head. “No. Because without you there’s no love, and without love everything else is meaningless.”

“But…you’re going to have children, Henry…”

He laughed a little as other images came and went, even as he shook his head. “They were born fifteen years ago, Tracy. And they were raised by others I’ll never know.”

“What are you talking about? I thought you said you met these girls six months ago?”

“I did, yes. That’s true enough.”

“Then you’ve lost me, Hank.”

“They are in a place where time is…different. At least, that’s the way it was explained to me. Eva and Britt are very old now.”

“What does that mean? Are you talking about a parallel universe, or some kind of multiverse?”

“I couldn’t say, Tracy. Not with any certainty. Yet they were alive when I saw them just a few days ago, the children and their mothers, living in a sort of village. Maybe a village of the damned, yet…they were alive.”

“You said they, the children, were raised by others. Do you know who raised them?”

He nodded. “Crito. He was their father.”

“Who?”

“Crito. He held Socrates as he passed from this life to the next.”

“Excuse me?”

“The Buddha is there, Tracy. Jesus too.”

“You’ve met them, I take it?”

He nodded, but he looked away from the memory, still afraid of the things he’d seen there.

“You do know how absolutely stark raving mad this sounds, right?” she said gently.

He shrugged.

“And all this is a part of some plan?” she added.

“We should get a room. It’ll be getting cold out soon.”

She smiled. “I love the way you change subjects. So – easily, I think. It’s exhilarating, really.”

“Would you like to go see it for yourself?”

“What? There?” she said, pointing at the sky.

“Would you?”

She shook her head. “No, I think all-in-all I’d rather like to stay on this side of crazy-town for a little bit longer.”

“I hope you have a say in the matter, Tracy. I really do.”

“Okay, me too. Now. Hotel? You know anything close?”

He pointed to the colonnaded place behind them and grinned. “The Crillon. I hear it’s decent.”

“Isn’t that supposed to be like the best place in the world?”

He nodded. “That’s the rumor.”

“Who’s paying?”

“Me,” he grinned.

“Then Hell yes, I’m in.”

+++++

The train pulled into the station in Rouen on time, and Milos, the taxi driver from their first snowy night, met them trackside and helped Henry back into the old Mercedes.

“How are you doing today?” Henry asked his new friend. “The children are well?”

“Well enough. Their mother is due to arrive late tonight, so all we be good soon enough.”

“Excellent.”

“You are looking better, Henry. Like a care has been lifted from your heart.”

“It feels that way, Milos, and thank you for saying so.”

“To the boat? Or do you need to make any stops on the way?”

“Did you take the boys out grocery shopping yesterday?”

“Yes, and that crazy Russian brought his girlfriend along. She’s mad as a hatter, like something right out of the looking glass. You have been warned, Henry.”

“Oh?” Tracy said, interested now. “How so?”

“I think all pilots are crazy,” Milos said, grinning, “but you will see for yourself. This one is beyond nuts, yet I think the whipped cream in the hair was the real giveaway…”

+++++

Henry was at the chart-plotter studying the weather overlay with Anton and Sophie, his friend; they were in the cockpit sitting on either side of him staring intently at the display while he flipped through various forecast models. “It looks like the storm has stalled-out up north,” Henry sighed.

“The Baron can’t fly into such heavy icing conditions,” Sophie said. “I am sorry, but it is too dangerous, and as it is not my airplane I can not take a chance like this.”

“I understand,” Henry said wistfully. “And anyway, I wouldn’t ask you to.”

“Need Antonov,” Anton said. “Could do in a -32. Easy.”

“If the storm has moved out by next weekend I think can arrange to get the Baron again,” Sophie added.

“I probably won’t be able to go with you next weekend,” Henry said, scowling a bit.

“I go with Sophie. Boy know me. Dina know me. She let him come with me.”

“I’m not so sure, Anton, and I don’t want you to make the trip for nothing.”

“Can I talk Dina?” Anton added. “Might change mind.”

Henry smiled, but in his heart he already knew the answer to that question. Dina wasn’t going to let go of the boy…not now…not after losing her daughter. And he couldn’t blame her, not really, yet he needed time with Rolf – in case things turned pear-shaped before he could write things down. “No. This is a problem that I will have to solve…”

‘And I know just how to do it, too.’

+++++

Mike cast off the lines early the next morning and Time Bandits backed out into the river, the current grabbing hold quickly, pushing the stern downriver; Henry engaged the throttle and nosed into the current, simply making way until Karma made it out into the main body of the Seine, then they both began the long slog up-current towards Paris…yet today was the day, the big day. Tracy’s first lock. Anton’s second, for that matter. They had eight miles to go to the Amfreville locks, and there was, as yet, still almost no barge traffic on the river so the passage looked to be an easy one.

Yet Mike seemed troubled. “What’s bugging you?” Henry asked when the intelligence officer appeared content to simply mope around as the little convoy passed charming little castles and imposing churches.

“You. You’re bugging me, Taggart.”

“Me…how so?”

“A lot of actions have been taken, or not taken – if you get my drift – based on the apparent assumption that you’d be out of the picture later this month. Now I’m a little worried what the seat-polishers in D.C. will do once they figure out that ain’t the operant condition any longer.”

Henry smiled. “Oh. That. Well, let’s just consider that me making it to the new year is still a long shot – at best…”

“You still think so? Really?”

Henry nodded. “Look, Tracy needed something to hang onto, a sense of hope, and it won’t cost me that much in the way of discomfort. To put it another way, I simply wasn’t willing to take that sense of a future away from her.”

“You two have grown really close, haven’t you? I mean, I know there’s a history, but even so this feels different.”

“It is, Mike, yet I’m not really sure I could point to the exact reason why. Still, the whole ‘future’ thing is seductive as Hell. What I wouldn’t do for a few more years.”

“Careful, Henry. Mephistopheles will hear you and he just might come calling. Feel like making a bargain for your soul?”

“Now there’s a thought. But no, Mike, I don’t think I’d do that, not even now. When I think back on my life and on the things I’ve done I have a few regrets, but certainly no regrets I’d bargain away with evil intent.”

“So, if you went into remission what would you do?”

“I want to get Rolf settled and on his way. Next, I’d like to start a new life – with Tracy.”

“What about Dina? Eva and Britt? All that wasn’t enough?”

“Nothing is ever enough, Mike.”

“So…Tracy isn’t enough…is that what you’re saying?”

“I don’t know how else to say it, Mike. Nothing will ever satisfy you when the only thing waiting for you out there is a pine box six feet under. It’s like we learn to walk on solid ground – yet the older we get we find we’re walking on quicksand.” He pointed to a little chapel on a hillside and nodded: “They’ve been selling an elegant solution to the problem for eons, and it works, too…as long as you don’t pay too much attention to the man behind the curtain pulling all the levers…”

“Okay…suppose all this doesn’t work. Suppose you die. What happens to Dina and the boy? And what happens to Tracy? For that matter, what happens to Anton?”

“That’s what lawyers are for, Mike.”

“So, you’re not going to tell me, are you?”

“I’ll tell everyone, Mike.”

“Okay.”

“So, tell me…when this is all over and done with what are you going to do? Back to D.C., get back into intelligence work?”

Lacy shook his head. “I know you don’t believe me, but I really did submit my papers. When this assignment is over I’m officially retired, out of the Navy and on my pension at that point.”

“Okay, but that doesn’t answer the question, does it? What are you going to do then.”

“If I had my druthers I’d stay with the boy.”

“With Rolf? Seriously? Now that I did not see coming.”

“Yeah. Funny, huh?”

“Interesting. Tell me more…”

+++++

There were no other boats waiting outside the locks; indeed, there wasn’t even a lock keeper waiting there, either. Henry called the various numbers posted on the office door – yet no one answered, and he felt a little miffed at that point. 

Then he heard a toilet flush in a nearby WC and the grizzled old lock keeper came out into the sun – wiping his hands on his trousers and almost startled to find two boats waiting to transit.

“Merde! You are the first boats I’ve seen in days!” the old man said as he ambled over. “There are two of you?”

“Yes.”

“You’ve paid your transit fees and have your license?”

“Yes, both skippers. Would you like to see them?”

“Not really, but I think I am supposed to so what the Hell…”

Henry smiled and led the old man over to Time Bandits, and he waited up on the quay while Henry and Tracy ducked below and got their papers. They went with the old man to his office and watched as he stamped various papers and returned them, and after all that was out of the way he guided Karma into the lock. When Anton had the lines sorted out and ready the old man signaled Henry, who motored in – slowly – until he was just astern of Karma. Mike was an old hand at all this by now, so he went forward and double checked Anton’s work. Henry signaled the lock keeper when they were ready and the lock chamber began flooding, the boats rising to the next level inside a rushing maelstrom of water – then it was over. Just like that. 

Tracy motored out of the lock chamber and waited for Time Bandits; Henry waved at the lock keeper as he motored out then quickly caught up with Tracy. 

“That was easy!” she shouted. “Why do people make such a big deal about that?”

“Wait til you’re in a small chamber that has a really big rise. You’ll know then.”

“So…this was an easy one? Is that what you’re tellin’ me?”

“Yup.”

“Figures.”

“You both did well, so don’t sweat it.”

“How far to the next one?” she added.

“Tomorrow morning, first thing.”

“How far lunch!” Anton snarled.

“About noon,” Henry smiled. “Hope you like oysters, Amigo.”

“Good. Very much.”

“I can hear your stomach from here, Anton,” Henry called across the gap between the two boats.

“No eat breakfast, Genry. Big mistake.”

“Maybe you had too much whipped cream?”

+++++

“I eat too much,” Anton groaned. “Need sleep now.”

“That’s what happens when you eat two dozen raw oysters, buddy,” Mike sighed.

“Don’t sit upwind of him,” Henry added. “It could get gruesome in a hurry.”

Anton stepped up on Karma’s deck and the first one sounded a little like ripping paper; Tracy pinched off her nose and pointed to the bow-sprit. “You. Go. Sit up there,” she said as she cast off her lines and fell into the main channel.

Anton stood on one leg and raised the other a few inches off the deck and shook it a little; that one was a sneaky bastard and started out as a high-pitched squealer before working its way down to a fluttering crescendo.

“Goddam!” Mike screeched – as the breeze had carried this one right over to Time Bandits. “What the Hell is that smell?”

“Man,” Henry sighed, “we all ate the same thing. This is going to be an afternoon to remember.”

“Assuming, that is, we all don’t die of food poisoning.”

“How many crayfish did you eat, Mike?”

“I lost count.”

“I didn’t,” Henry said. “This should be epic.”

Mike cast off the lines and Henry goosed the throttle, quickly catching up to Karma, and they both watched as Tracy began fanning in front of her face – with Anton grinning like a madman as he raised his leg again and again, firing off one right after another.

“Get upwind of him, would you?” Mike begged. “The air behind his ass is turning green.”

Then Tracy stood and began fanning the space behind her trousers.

“Come on, Taggart! We’re gonna get it in stereo if you don’t pass ‘em soon!”

Then Mike’s eyes went wide as the first spasm hit…

“Thar she blows!” Henry shouted, pinching off his nose as Anton fired off another…followed by Mike’s first…

He turned to Clyde and shook his head. “Hurts to finally have some real competition, don’t it, boy?”

Clyde turned away and fired one off in disgust.

+++++

They tied-off for the evening at an impressive old chateau that was now a hotel and restaurant, and as it was only a mile or so downstream from the locks at Saint-Pierre-la-Garenne they would be well positioned to transit early the next morning. And there was some traffic out on the water now, too. Commercial traffic, barges laden with grain headed to the port at LeHavre, so life was coming back – slowly but surely. 

And tomorrow they would make it into Paris.

‘So, this is it,’ Henry sighed as he shut down the engine and helped Mike with the lines. ‘The end of the day. And Rolf didn’t make the trip.’

More than anything, he blamed Dina for that – and it struck him then that he’d never really known what motivated her. Protect Britt? Sure, that was understandable, but why, when Rolf had so much to gain, had she stepped in to interfere? And…why had Pinky allowed her to?

Now…would she resist when he did what he knew he had to do? Would she contest a divorce? Still, he’d known he’d need to see to her financial needs, if not as a husband then as a friend. A friend, of sorts.

Then Anton came aboard and crawled down the companionway.

“Not having dinner tonight, old top?” Henry grinned.

Anton answered by firing off one more good one on his way to the head.

“Mike? Dinner?”

But Mike simply hoisted a one finger salute as he followed Anton below, so Henry hopped down to the dock and walked over to Karma. “Dinner?” he asked Tracy.

“You know, yes, but only because this place is supposed to be something special.”

“Thatagirl.”

“Do we need to change first?”

“I called. No need tonight. I think we’re the only guests on the docket.”

“Good. Not sure I have the strength for that BS tonight.”

+++++

“I’ve never eaten so many snails,” she said, groaning.

“Quite a day, I’ll give you that,” Henry said, smiling at the memory of their noxious green passage. 

“You know, I grew up on simple food. The Crab Cooker, maybe Five Crowns every now and then…”

“Remember that Del Taco up by the airport? Talk about fart-food…”

“Oh God, yes, I do. We used to run up there when pulling all-nighters during exams.”

“Some things never change, I guess,” he sighed.

“Chocolate covered frozen bananas on Balboa Island,” she added. “Remember those?”

“Yup. Those were the best. Get two and walk around the island…” he remembered.

“In January, when the bay is fogged-in.”

He tried to push back the memory but it was just too much. “Claire and I,” he said gently. “We did that every weekend, usually Saturday nights…”

“What?”

“We walked the island. Some nights we’d take the little ferry over to the peninsula and walk over to the beach.”

“Mom and I…we did too. We’d walk all the way down to the breakwater on the beach.”

“I know. Your mom used to follow us,” he said, smiling. “Claire thought she was spying on us, but I think I knew the score even then.”

“She had it bad, Henry. She always did where you were concerned.”

“I guess that’s why it just couldn’t work. Too many unrealistic expectations.”

“She called me this afternoon.”

“I see,” he sighed, rolling his eyes just a little. “When does her flight get in?”

“Tuesday morning.”

He shook his head even as he tried to deny this was really going to happen. “She’s remorseless, you know? Have you told her anything about what’s going on between us?”

“No way.”

“So, she’s coming here expecting the big, grand reunion, the final coming together, and…?”

“I don’t think so, Henry, not really. I think maybe what she wants is closure.”

He shook his head again. “You know you are way off base, don’t you?”

“Maybe I’m just hoping…?”

“And my first round of chemo is Monday. This is going to be fun. Real fun.”

“Do you want me to call her? Postpone this to later?”

“What? And miss all the mirth and merriment that only your mother can bring to Christmas? Just think, Tracy! She’ll nail a Christmas tree to the foredeck and deck the halls with balls of sugar-coated guilt! Who wouldn’t want all that for their Christmas in gay Par-ee!”

“You make her sound like some kind of psychopath, Henry.”

He looked down at his hands, and he could see those same fingers running through Edith’s hair once upon a time. “I know she’s not, Tracy. I know I’m projecting a lot of anxiety onto her, on the idea of meeting up with her one more time…”

“One more time? What’s this? Have you lost your optimism already?”

“I’m just trying not to get my hopes up, you know? Especially where something so new is involved.”

“I’m just curious, but why don’t your alien buddies take care of this?”

He looked at her, trying to see if she was pulling his leg, but no… “Well, for one, they haven’t offered. And I have to assume that’s because medicine is not something they’re especially good at.”

“But…you haven’t asked?”

“No, and I won’t. And no, Tracy, I don’t want someone else to ask for me. I’m not put together that way.”

“Alright. I’m not going to fight you, Hank, no matter what you decide. But promise me one thing, okay?”

“If I can, sure.”

“When you decide to do something, makes sure it’s what you want to do and not what you think I want you to do.”

He looked away for a moment, then he nodded understanding. “Yeah. I can do that.”

“Good. Now…you got room for dessert?”

+++++

They took Clyde for a long walk on a bicycle path along the river’s edge, and he managed to stink up the countryside here and there. The sun had long since slipped away and the night had grown cold; after two days with temps in the 70s now all of a sudden a humid 40 degrees F seemed almost arctic, and even Clyde seemed put out by the cold grass on his paws.

His phone chirped once and he ignored it, but when it chirped again he found it in a coat pocket and looked at the text. It was from Dina, but not in CAPS this time.

“Just got divorce papers from lawyers. I’ve signed them, not contesting. Thanks for your generosity; I do not deserve it.”

“You’re welcome. If possible, I’d like Rolf to come for Christmas.”

“I’ll see what the options are.”

“Thanks, Dina.”

“Would you mind if I came along with him?”

“No, not at all.”

“I’ll see what the airlines are offering now and let you know.”

“Okay. Later.”

He put the phone away and shook his head. “Well, it seems I’m a free man once again. Or at least I will be as soon as the ink is dry.”

She looked at him for a moment, almost like she was waiting for him to say something, but he had stopped and now he was looking at Clyde…

Who was hunched over trying to make poop…

Only a steady stream of blood was dribbling out onto the grass…

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

And a little music to sooth the savage beasties, because music matters. Oh…yes it does.

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 57.3

[A very short snippet today, just setting the stage for what comes next, the final dash to the end of Harry’s story.]

Chapter 57.3

She was different from the beginning, as different from Lloyd Callahan as two people could possibly be. Her life simply had not been framed by free-range alcoholics or important others possessed by overtly self-destructive impulses; rather, her life had been unbounded by music though still loosely contained by parents who were there, simply always there. And parents who cared intensely enough to let go when the time was right. 

After her father’s passing, Elizabeth Bullitt leaned heavily on Harry Callahan, yet more than a few people sensed that perhaps in an even quieter way Harry Callahan began leaning on the little girl too, and at about the same time. Perhaps because Elizabeth was, or so Cathy liked to say every now and then, an old soul. Elizabeth always seemed quietly wise beyond her years, an “old lady by the time she was on her way to kindergarten,” as Herry liked to say. It was frankly silly to think of her that way, Callahan thought every time the matter came up, yet even so it was manifestly true. She talked like an old lady, and she even held her hands in her lap as an old lady might. Yes, she was odd.

The most immediate consequence of Elizabeth’s preternatural wisdom – aside from the almost comical certitude she exuded – was the way she glommed onto Lloyd after the boy’s mother left. Or was it the other way around? To put it simply, the two might as well have been twins – aside from that troublesome seven year age difference, not to mention their diametrically opposed world-views. When they weren’t apart during school hours they were otherwise together, and this worked out well enough as the two simply never fought. They never disagreed. No arguments, ever. They looked each other too much for that.

And perhaps because the two were bound by another sort of covenant. Music. And as she was further along in her studies she became, naturally enough, a sort of teacher. The most important consequence of this covenant was an almost doting possessiveness that developed between them, because Lloyd passed through his early years worshipping Elizabeth. He was never jealous, rather he was simply an attentive student bound to his teacher through the most unusual bonds of attachment. For her part, Elizabeth seemed to understand the role she had assumed in his life was crucial to them both.

So, through music…and over the years, Elizabeth and Lloyd understood one another better than anyone else possibly could have. He experienced a rich emotional life through the filter of her musical interpretations of the world around them, and he learned this complex language as naturally as others picked up a native tongue. And she understood his rapidly shifting moods, and she did so because she cared not simply about him as a kind of brother, but about what he thought as a developing interpreter of this language. Yet she watched Lloyd constantly, almost fearfully, for she could hear in his music a grotesque impulsiveness that lay dormant just beneath the calm surface of his quiet genius. And never far from her thoughts was how she might protect her mother and Harry from the inevitable explosive eruption she knew was about to come.

+++++

Which was why she watched the transformation that occurred when Lloyd was around Todd Bright with quiet intensity. This was something different, she soon understood. Lloyd was stepping away from her her, gingerly at first but with no real hesitation – like the long dormant self-destructive impulses within had suddenly come alive. She watched him, then she watched the way Harry reacted to the change and she knew the real trouble was here.

When she was accepted at a college on the east coast she knew the world they had known together would come undone. That, too, was inevitable. Yet Harry was drifting away from his son, as if he had seen forces coming into play he knew he would never be able to control, and it made her wonder. Was he doing the right thing? Letting go – at exactly the time his boy would need the steady hand of a caring father the most?

She had no way of knowing this was Harry Callahan’s modus operandi, that the man she loved above all others was nothing more or less than the patron saint of lost causes. She knew nothing of Looney Junes or of his mother’s consumptive madness. Nothing of all the other women Harry Callahan had loved – women who had simply failed to understand the man before they discarded him – so she knew nothing at all of the fatalism that prowled deep within his heart.

She thought about college, about not going, but in the end it was Harry who insisted she leave home and step out into the world. And as is so often the case nothing would ever be the same ever again.

Within a year, life out on the cliffs would become totally unrecognizable – and for the rest of her life the little girl would hold it as a simple truth that she was to blame for everything that happened next.

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[but wait, there’s more…how about a last word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (i.e., Covid-19 and me generally growing somewhat old) waiting to list said sources might not be the best way to proceed, and this listing will grow over time – until the story is complete. To begin, the ‘primary source’ material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw. I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. The UH-1Y image used from Pt VI on taken by Jodson Graves. The snippets of lyrics from Lucy in the Sky are publicly available as ‘open-sourced.’ Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]

Come Alive (24.3)

Come alive c14 image small

(Of course it does.)

Chapter 24.3

“Do you have a snow shovel?” Tracy asked as she watched snow accumulating on the deck of her Westsail.

“I do, but only one. I think we’d better go grab a couple more,” Henry replied as he picked up a handful of the white stuff, rolling it over in his hands.

“It wet, heavy,” Anton added. “Heavy enough to hurt boat?” he wondered aloud.

“It won’t help anything, Anton,” Henry said as he went to the garage and got his shovel out from behind the Zodiac. “Keeping the decks clear will keep hundreds of pounds off the waterline, and keep deck fittings from getting ice under them.”

“I wasn’t expecting this,” Tracy sighed. “Somehow sailing and shoveling snow don’t go together.”

“Yeah, well,” Henry smirked as he handed the shovel to Tracy, “whipped cream and sex don’t really go together either, but that doesn’t stop some people from trying.”

“Leave it to you,” Mike snarked, “to think of that at a time like this.”

“Whipped cream? Really?” Anton said dreamily.

+++++

They found three sturdy plastic shovels at a BP station, and after that the group took a taxi into Rouen for dinner.

The city was empty, the streets looked like something out of a ghost town in an old western, but their taxi driver knew a place that was open and desperate for cash paying customers. The food was actually pretty good, too, and Henry asked their driver to join them when he said he hadn’t eaten in two days.

“What’s going on?” Tracy asked. “Why haven’t you eaten?”

“When the power went out everything closed; businesses, stores…everything. People and markets without ice lost all their meat, and even generators didn’t work so no one was spared. And of course nobody is getting paid now, which is just one part of the larger problem, because there’s also still no food in the markets, and the water treatment plant isn’t working so there’s no water. People are taking water from the river but they’re getting sick, and farmers are watching over their herds to keep people from poaching, but already several people have been hurt.”

“Jesus…” she sighed.

“The owner of this place is an old friend. His family has a farm near the coast so at least he has a supply of fresh food. And thank you so much for inviting me to join you. It is very much appreciated.”

“Do you have family here?” Nodding and his eyes now full of concern, Henry asked the driver while they looked over the meager, handwritten menus.

“My son and daughter, yes, they are at home. My wife was on business in Italy when the electricity went out. I finally talked to her today.”

“Have your kids eaten?”

The driver shook his head, then looked away.

“Order something for them,” Henry said. “We’ll drop it off on the way back to the boat.”

The driver, a man fast growing old before his time, wiped away a tear. “It is strange how fast things have come apart, at how inept our governments have been in their response to these things.”

“People like low taxes,” Mike said. “You can’t have low taxes and effective government.”

“Maybe not,” the Frenchman sighed. “Empty promises, I suppose.”

Dinner was a success with roast goose featured, served with a soufflé redolent of mushrooms and spinach. Everyone agreed the chocolate tart and coffee was the best they’d ever had.

Anton helped the driver carry meals up to a small apartment, and while standing there on the street a good three inches of snow coated the old Mercedes; by the time they made it back out to the marina several feet of snow had piled-up on both decks, and Henry just shook his head when he found Time Bandits’ cockpit literally awash with deep, sloppy slush.

“Let’s do Karma first, all of us together, then we can hit Bandit,” Henry said.

“You go take medicine,” Anton grinned. “Don’t worry. We wait for you before start.”

“Thanks,” Henry said. “I think.”

It took an hour to clear both boats, yet by the time they finished clearing off Time Bandits, Tracy’s Westsail already had another foot piled up. “That no good, Genry,” Anton sighed.

Henry looked at the adjacent parking lot and did a double take when he realized that the few cars still parked out there had disappeared – now buried under what looked like two meters of the heavy snow – then everyone flinched when what sounded like a rifle shot pierced the night.

Everyone turned toward the sound just in time to see an old oak falling into the river, and the rest of night was punctuated by an endless volley of falling trees. And the worst of the storm wasn’t supposed to hit until mid-morning.

+++++

Exhausted after two days – and nights – shoveling snow, Henry turned to the BBC World Service to see if there was any good news on the horizon.

There wasn’t.

The storm had pulverized the Iberian peninsula before winding up for the main event. Now most of central and northern France were buried, literally buried under meters of snow, but not content to simply inundate France, the storm had meandered slowly over Belgium and Holland, wrecking relief efforts underway in Amsterdam and Rotterdam before heading north and east towards Norway and the Baltic. Even southeast England had been hit, and hard, with London seeing over two meters of snow falling in two days. No one, the BBC announcer stated, had any records of a similar storm on file.

Yet the worst was, apparently, yet to come – because the forecast for the next several days included daytime temperatures reaching into the high-70sF, so the likelihood of life-threatening floods happening was increasing by the hour.

“So,” Henry said to everyone gathered in the cockpit, “the water level will most likely rise significantly, and with that the current will increase exponentially. Also, there will be a ton of debris in the water.”

“What you thinking, Genry?”

“Anton, I’d like you and Mike to stay here for a few days and let Tracy take me into Paris, to the oncologist Dina has lined up for me. I’ve called and she’ll see me the day after tomorrow, early in the morning. There’s a train running tomorrow morning, and a return train the day after the appointment, and I don’t want to put this off any longer.”

“What about airplane and Bergen,” Anton asked.

“Let me think about that,” Henry sighed. “Maybe by early next week the weather will cooperate?”

Anton nodded. “Pilot friend can come here while gone?”

“Sure, I don’t see why not…?”

“Okay, I stay. Anyway, she bring whipping cream.”

+++++

The oncologist, a woman about Tracy’s age, quickly ran through the latest lab reports with Henry, but they contained little in the way of good news. She wanted to put him in a room overnight and start him up on chemo again, but he simply refused.

“Can’t we just do another transfusion?” he asked. “I’m not looking for a cure.”

“You do know that with these new mRNA therapies, a cure is not out of reach?”

“What?”

“Yes. The same technology that enabled the rapid response to the pandemic is being used to make new therapies for oncology. It is a very hopeful development, but we may not see an agent for a year. Putting you on chemo now could buy enough time to get you there. Interested?”

“I don’t know what to think,” Henry sighed. “Maybe this, maybe that, and maybe I could go through extended chemo and perhaps nothing would come of all the waiting.”

“But,” Tracy said, “what if it does? How does twenty years of extra life added to the clock sound?”

“Mr. Taggart,” the oncologist said, “everyone understands there are no guarantees where these things are concerned, but at least there is a chance. Why not take it?”

“Because I tried a brief course of chemo in Norway and I was not responding well. My counts went crazy…”

“I have seen these reports,” Dr. Montard replied. “I would not use the same agents, and with you here in the city I could very closely monitor your progress. I see this as a win-win situation, and I hope you do too.”

Henry Taggart knew this was one of those moments. A split second when the universe kind of stopped and all kinds of unexpected impulses might run through his mind, so he took a deep breath and stood, then walked over to a window with an impressive view of the city beyond the glass. He had never seen her with so much snow…

“God, I love this city,” he sighed as he scanned the streets below.  ‘Maybe this is what drew me here,’ he thought as he struggled to understand the moment. “Maybe all along I was meant to come here, right to this office, to this moment…’

He turned and looked at Tracy, at all the possibilities waiting out there on the far side of the torture this new physician proposed. Tracy and Rolf, making a run for the South Pacific on Time Bandits? Isn’t that what he’d do with time like that? With Dina writing herself out of the equation, didn’t coming full circle mean the way ahead would include a journey with Tracy and Rolf by his side? 

He turned to look at Montard. At her eyes, her face, and at her soul.

“Realistically, doctor, what are the chances this mRNA technology will come to the rescue?”

“Realistically? There is a trial underway at Philadelphia Children’s and the initial results are so far very promising. So, and I hate to say this, but we may be able to answer this question within weeks. If their results…”

“Dr. Montard,” Tracy said, “what about getting Henry into the trial? Is it too late?”

Montard looked at her laptop, then she shrugged. “I can see. At least I can try…”

Something swelled in Henry’s soul, something akin to hope, something he hadn’t felt in months, and he turned back to the glass. And there was the snow covered city again, only this time his reflection was there too, and he could see the hope in the stranger’s eyes.

“I have to move the boat from Rouen to the Arsenal,” Henry said. “I’ll also need to go to Norway for a few hours, but I’ll start chemo after I return.”

Tracy burst into tears and ran to him, fell into his arms.

“I didn’t expect tears,” he whispered into her ear, “but…”

“No buts, Henry. I love you, and that’s all I can say right now.”

Montard let them have their moment, then she interrupted Henry. “Before you go, I think we should give you some platelets.”

“Alright.”

“Come with me, please.”

+++++

The power was back in Paris, lights were on and businesses open for customers, and as it was Friday crowds were surging in the late afternoon – life returning to normal once again.

“I feel alive, Tracy. Maybe for the first time in months. Like when spring comes and trees start to bud…that kind of alive.”

“I can’t even imagine what you must be feeling.”

“Tahiti. That was the first thing I thought of. With you and Rolf, maybe even with Anton. Sailing from here to Tahiti.”

“Okay.”

“What do mean you, okay?”

“Okay. Sounds fun. Let’s do it. How about that?”

He took her hand in his. He felt like skipping down the sidewalk. He was hungry – and he was in Paris!

His first night back, and it was the first of December. He had made it, he thought, and despite the odds, too. 

“You feel light,” Tracy said, beaming.

“I feel like light,” he sighed. “Like photons unbound, free to race across the universe!”

“And where would you go, Henry?”

“To that patisserie across the street! For something sweet!”

“I’m sweet, aren’t I?”

“You are indeed, but I have a feeling some people might not understand if I eat you out here on the street.”

“True.”

He charged into the pastry shop and picked out a few random bits of goodness, and he asked for a couple of cups of coffee too, then they sat by a window and waited while people strolled by in the pink afternoon sunlight.

“If I’d just come from the sun,” he said…

“Speaking as a photon, you mean?”

“Yes, of course. If I’d just arrived I’d want it to be right here, right here in the heart of Paris. I can’t imagine traveling all that way and landing in the sea or, heaven forbid, Iowa.”

Their coffee came and he picked at something loaded with chocolate, then he sipped coffee lost in thought. “Why does everything taste better here?” he asked, looking about the place and at the people queuing up to buy their daily bread.

“Maybe it’s the light!” she said, smiling.

“Exactly!”

“I hate to bring this up, but we’re going to need to find a room.”

“Yeah,” Henry said, grinning, “I reckon so.”

“I’m surprised you haven’t already booked one.”

“What makes you so sure I haven’t?”

She nodded – slowly. “One room, or two?”

“I’ll never tell.”

His phone chirped and he fished the thing out of his pocket and looked at the display: an incoming text from Dina – again in ALL CAPS.

“JUST HEARD FROM MONTARD. GOOD NEWS!”

He put the phone back in his pocket, involuntarily shivering as he did.

“You feeling cold?” Tracy asked.

“Suddenly, yes. Like a stalker just reappeared. Holding a pair of scissors overhead, about to strike.”

“Dina?” Tracy asked with a sigh, and when he nodded she shrugged. “Well, so much for privacy laws in France.”

“Dina was my original oncologist.”

“What?”

He nodded. “I think she moved in on me once she figured out I was screwing her daughter.”

“What?”

“Things really got weird after her daughter turned out to be pregnant.”

“What?”

“Which really made things ticklish when I knocked up another girl a few weeks later.”

Tracy said not a word; she simply stood and walked out of the shop. Once out on the sidewalk she looked towards les Invalides and stomped off in that direction, yet for some reason Taggart thought of Napoleon’s tomb – and he smiled at the thought, like he had smiled at the idea of the sun’s photons striking Paris. Then he burst out laughing before he noticed clouds moving in again.

“And now it looks like rain,” he sighed, then he stood and walked off after her.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

(and you know its true, too)