Come Alive (28)

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A long one today so fetch some tea. And just because it matters more and more…

Chapter 28

The shaking grew violent and everything around him began spinning, then feeling nausea and vertigo coming on he closed his eyes, reaching out with his hands to let his senses reassert some semblance of control, until he felt Pinky’s huge, rough hand on his arm. And only then did he open his eyes and look up at her.

She was working rapidly now and had just finished wrapping a new tape around his arm, but he could see concern in her eyes now – for the first time – and suddenly he felt scared. She leaned back then and he knew she was reaching out – but for who?

A shimmering blue sphere appeared, then a green one, but before their appearance really had a chance to register in his mind they were gone, replaced seconds later by first dozens, then literally hundreds of golden bubble-like spheres that quickly drifted down onto the bed, in milliseconds completely covering both Clyde and Taggart. He tried to keep his eyes open but they burned now, like his eyes had filled with soapy water, then it became hard to breathe. He felt the inward panic of looming suffocation and reached out with his hand…

Pinky took it, but then he felt a hot pinch on his forearm, just like the pain of an injection – and then he remembered the Old Man’s gentle laughter. He struggled to hold onto consciousness but he felt everything falling beyond and within a white hot veil, and the last thing he was aware of was swallowing hard and, for some reason, of wanting to cry.

+++++

When Tracy came into Henry’s stateroom she found him lifeless on his bed and began CPR, then she remembered he had an auto-defib unit on the wall in his head and dashed for it. She opened the unit and attached the leads then fired the unit…

+++++

He opened his eyes, tried to make sense of his surroundings.

Everything looked and felt so familiar, impossibly so, and he pinched his eyes and shook his head, trying to knock the spinning cobwebs from his mind.

“It’s my old bedroom,” he said, “and I’m back on the island.” He sat up and felt the cool breeze coming in off the Pacific and realized he’d slept with his window open again, but then he saw his physics homework on the desk and groaned in defeat. 

“Damn, I forgot…I didn’t finish it,” he said as he walked over and looked at a problem on the conservation of linear momentum that had stumped him for hours the night before. He looked at his alarm clock and sighed, then picked up his textbooks and the rest of his homework and put them in his book bag – before he realized he hadn’t showered and went off to his bathroom. He stood under the hot water trying to wash the remnants of the dream from his mind, something about his grandson living on a distant planet, and he laughed at the absurdity of the images that came to mind.

He dried off and dressed, then remembered they had a game that afternoon and that he was supposed to wear his practice jersey to classes today. ‘The pep-rally, Dufus! Remember?’ he said to himself for the umpteenth time. He shook off the ritual pre-game jitters that always came for him while he dressed for school on game days, then he heard his mother in the kitchen and his father down the hall in their bathroom, an ancient electric razor mowing the stubble on the old man’s face again. He picked up his book bag and headed downstairs, lingering scents of hot pancakes and crisp bacon pushing aside all his worries about botched homework and the teams’ rivalry with Huntington Beach High. 

“Hi, Mom,” he said as he bounced into her kitchen.

“Good morning, Bright-eyes. How’d you sleep?”

“Oh, you know, up-tight – as always.”

She put a plate of pancakes down on the table in front of him and he smiled as his dad came in and sat at the head of the table.

“Have a rough night, Sport?” his father said.

He shrugged.

“I could hear you tossing and turning all night, at least until I finally dropped off.”

“Sorry, Pops. Big day today?”

“No, nothing out of the ordinary. Finish that problem?”

He shook his head. “No, but I got Benson for study hall this morning. I’ll get it before class.”

“Well, okay, but you know the deal…bad report card and you stay home for Christmas.”

“I know, I know,” Henry sighed.

“Speaking of,” his mother interrupted. “Did you go ahead with the airline reservations yesterday?”

“I did indeed, and reservations at the Crillon, too.”

Which caused her to smile as she set a platter of scrambled eggs and bacon on the table. Henry waited for his father to take some, then he put some on his mother’s plate before he finished off the rest.

“Got your books ready?” his father asked as he stood and put on his jacket.

“Yessir.”

“We picking up Claire?”

“Yes, if that’s not a problem?”

“Well, it hasn’t been for the last ten years, so let’s get going…”

He kissed his mom and headed for the door, then he turned around: “You coming to the game tonight?”

“You know it!” she said enthusiastically. “I hear scouts from SC and Berkeley are going to be there tonight!”

He rolled his eyes as another wave of acid roiled his gut. “Thanks. I needed that.”

“I’ll see you there!” she said, blowing his father a kiss as they walked out the door.

It was just a few blocks to Claire’s house, but true-to-form Edith was out there waiting with her sister and he groaned. His father pulled up in front of their house on Via Barcelona and Claire hopped in and slid across the back seat, making room for her sister but keeping a wall of books between them – as a barricade. Henry turned around and looked at Claire, at her beauty – and as it always did – it took his breath away.

She’d started to look more and more like Olivia de Havilland this year – which wasn’t so surprising as the actress was some kind of second aunt once removed, or something like that – and like de Havilland Claire was as brainy as she was beautiful. She’d taken the full SATs her sophomore year and aced them – a  solid 1600 – and already Princeton and Yale had sent offers her way, so things were looking up on her end. 

But his score hadn’t even been close. With 1480 on his first try he might make it into Berkeley or USC, but his first choice, Stanford, would probably remain out of reach – and no one had to remind him that the Ivy Leagues would sneer at his 3.8 GPA. But football might make the difference, or so his father liked to say, and though there was some truth to the notion it left a bitter trace in his mind.

“I’ve got to hit study hall this morning,” he said to Claire – doing his level best to ignore Edith. “I just kept messing up the order of operations and the results don’t look right.”

“Oh? Let me take a look,” Claire said, and after he dug the papers out of his bag he handed them over. She scanned his work and smiled. “Nope, you got it.”

“What?”

“You’ve just to erase what you have there now and put what you had originally, then you’re there.”

“Always go with your first answer, Hank,” his dad admonished. “And don’t forget this little lesson when you retake your SATs.”

He took the homework back and looked at what he’d erased. “So, the answer is 93.7?”

She nodded. “Just don’t forget to put FPS down. You know how Benson loves to zing you for little goofs like that.”

“And they do on the SATs, right Hank?” his father added, nailing him one more time before they got to school.

He opened her door and helped her out, taking both their book bags, then he went to the front door and leaned in. “You going to be there this afternoon?” Henry asked his father.

“I might miss the first quarter, but I’ll try to be there for the kickoff. Coach say anymore about letting you have a go at fullback?”

Henry nodded. “I memorized all the runs, so I’m ready.”

“Well, son, this would be a good night to strut your stuff. I’ll seeya there.”

“Okay, Dad. Later.”

He took Claire’s hand and they walked in and put books in their lockers, Henry still doing his best to ignore Edith, then the first bell rang and they headed off to their classes.

+++++

Henry stood by the window, Claire’s hand in his, looking at the TWA 707 waiting for them out there on the ramp, the huge Trans World maintenance hanger just across the north-south taxiway framing their view. He turned and looked around for his father – and couldn’t find him in the crowd – until he spotted him coming out of the head and walking over to Claire’s father. 

Then the gate agents called their flight and boarded the first class cabin first, so their parents waved then boarded the aircraft. When coach was called Henry made sure Edith went first, then hand-in-hand he and Claire walked out the Jetway and up to the forward boarding door, and he smiled at the stewardesses as they stepped into the cabin. Their parents were in the last row of first class, and the three of them were in the bulkhead seat literally right behind his mom and dad. Boarding didn’t take long and soon enough the doors were closed and the engines on the left wing began spooling up.

Edith had been pestering him for days about taking the window seat and he’d gladly given it up so long as she promised to keep to herself during the flight, and Claire had, thankfully, taken the middle seat – so a flight in relative peace was a real possibility. Still, no sooner had The Pest taken her seat did the nonstop blather start…

“All I can see is engines,” she snorted.

“Good reason to close the shade and go to sleep,” Henry snarled.

“I’m not sleepy!” The Pest screeched, her whining chant easily drowning out the Pratt & Whitney turbofans idling on the other side of the thin layers of metal fuselage.

“Why am I not surprised?” Henry growled, but Claire gently squeezed his hand, in effect asking him to lay off and to not be so mean to her little sister.

He tapped her fingers with his, letting her know “message received” – and while he rarely thought about such things he marveled at how fundamentally attuned they were to each other.

“I don’t like this,” Edith wailed.

“What don’t you like?” Claire asked.

“The window. I don’t want to sit here.”

“Where do you want to sit?” Henry asked.

“Your seat. Now!”

As they hadn’t started their pushback yet, Henry opened his seatbelt and stood, then he helped Edith into the seat before switching, one of the stewardesses immediately getting on the PA and asking him to take his seat – which caused more than a little grumbling from the first class section. 

“I can’t get this thingy fastened,” Edith cried, her hands flailing about now, and Henry leaned over Claire and just managed to get her strapped in as the jet began pushing back.

“Anything else, Edith?” he growled.

“I want a Pepsi!”

“Edith, they serve Coke on TWA, not Pepsi,” Claire sighed.

“I want a Pepsi!”

“Well,” Claire added, “I hope you brought one with you.” And with that Claire took her little airline pillow and placed it on Henry’s shoulder, then she leaned into him, placing her head on the pillow with a deep sigh.

“You sleepy?” he asked.

“Yeah, I have been all day.”

“Want to skip dinner?”

“I don’t know. Depends on what they have, I guess.”

“Okay. go ahead and rest. I’ll wake you when they come around.”

“You know what I like. Just get me something easy to handle.”

The brakes squealed loudly every time the jet stopped, which was often as they were in a long line of aircraft waiting to take off, but then their turn came and he looked out the window as the Boeing turned onto the runway. The engines ran up a little then cut back to idle for a second, then they began to roar as the pilot applied full takeoff power – and Claire squeezed his hand again, only this time…hard.

Then the rush down the pavement and they were in the air, flying over a bunch of abandoned streets then the beach, and a minute later the jet made a smooth turn to the right, to the northeast, and steadied up on the new heading as they climbed high into the fading light of day. Claire soon eased up on his hand, and a few minutes later he heard her breathing deeply, apparently sound asleep. She twitched a couple of times, then came a violent spasm of some kind, and that one worried him, enough so that he went forward and asked his mother about it.

+++++

Seven in the morning on Christmas Eve found them at the Gare Saint-Lazare waiting for the train to Le Havre and Henry had wrapped himself around Claire, trying to ward off the penetrating dampness of this cold December morning. His father had gone for coffee, leaving his mother to sit there beside them, and he could feel a gently rising tension in his mother’s presence beside her, too.

His mother was, of course, an internist, so she had picked up on all the signs even before Claire had. The wayward wince here and there. Sitting in a chair at dinner and grimacing. Then she and Claire had disappeared yesterday afternoon…with no warning at all…just gone. And when they’d come back from – wherever – his mother had put Claire to bed and told him to let her sleep, and he knew better than to challenge his mom when something like this was afoot.

Yet Claire had insisted on joining their traditional excursion to Honfleur, because, she’d said, that making it to the Christmas Eve service at the little chapel off the harbor was something she had to do this trip. And then she’d told him it was important.

“Important? What do you mean?”

“I can’t explain it, Hank. It’s something I feel, maybe like a shadow that shouldn’t be there? Or maybe I’m standing in a shadow? Sorry…I just can’t put a finger on it.”

“That’s okay, baby. You don’t have to explain yourself to me.” Now she was by his side trying to stay warm, and each time she trembled he held her a little closer. And each time he felt her slipping farther and farther away.

Their train pulled up to the platform – apparently direct from the yard and freshly cleaned – and when the doors slid open he helped her into a window seat and slipped his jacket over her shoulders…

…and all the while Edith stood back watching his every move…

Because she knew something important had happened. Important…and bad.

+++++

She knelt in the chapel after the service concluded and he remained there by her side, not at all sure what was going on but certain of his place in their evolving little universe. She was praying, her head down and her eyes closed, and he looked at her – suddenly feeling more than a little amused. Claire had always said she was an agnostic, yet the few times she’d spoken about religion he’d kind of figured out she was really more an atheist. God was, she’d always maintained, the real villain in this movie – and she wasn’t going to let Him get away with shit. “If there’s a God,” she’d told him more than once, “me and Him are going to have a few choice words when I get up there.”

Presupposing things like heaven and hell exist, he’d always wanted to add – yet he never did. He couldn’t. He loved her too much to rock the boat. Hell, he knew he loved her too much, period. His love for her was all consuming, so much so that the idea of her heading off to some Ivy League college was becoming a source of real angst.

She finished her prayer – at least he assumed that’s what she’d been doing – but then she took his hand in hers and turned to look in his eyes.

“I want you to bring me here next year, okay Hank?”

“Yeah, sure,” he’d said then – not knowing what was going down and what the next year was going to bring to all their lives. 

“No, I mean it, Hank. You’ve got to promise me.”

“Okay Claire, I promise.”

She’d stood then, but before they left she’d walked up to a wooden sculpture of the crucifixion behind the little alter and there she’d simply looked up at the man there and stared into the gaping maw of his sacrifice. He’d stood behind her a little and it hit him then…the meaning of his promise to her…and then he felt his world bending and twisting out of shape for the last time in his life…

+++++

But the year passed.

And the next thing he knew he was in the very same chapel, only this time with a small urn in his hands – instead of Claire’s hand. She’d told him what to do, what she wanted, and all he could do was agree with her because she’d become a pure force of nature the last few months of her life.

She’d written to the parish priest about her wishes and he was ready for her, and for him, and after their traditional Christmas Eve service Henry had waited for the chapel to clear, then the priest had joined him.

“Are you ready?” the priest said as their families gathered ’round Henry.

“I think so, yes.”

+++++

“Hank, I want you to take me down to the point, to the Jardin des Personnalités. Take me to the sea by the point and spread my ashes out there.”

“Okay.”

“Not on the rocks. I want you to take me out into the sea…”

“But, Claire…why?”

She’d looked at him for the longest time, then put her hand on the side of his face. “Because if I’m in the sea then I’ll always be close to you.”

+++++

It was December and the water was ice-cold, so of course he’d brought along a shorty wet-suit and had changed in a public restroom near the park, and only then did he and the priest and both his families walk out to the point.

The priest said a few things then took out a piece of paper and when he spoke now he addressed all of them in turn…

“Claire sent me a letter before she left us,” the priest began, “and though addressed to me there are things said that need to be shared, so if you will excuse me I will try to convey to you what she passed along to me…”

Henry hadn’t known this was coming and suddenly felt very unsure of himself, and he felt his eyes filling with tears…

“She told me that Henry will be an explorer, a very lonely explorer, and that all of you must accept that about him…

“Edith, she wanted me to tell you that you should try to respect what Henry meant to your sister…

“And Henry, while you should be prepared for anything, please remember that her love for you will always by with you, and that she will be there to protect you when you need her most…”

“What?”

“That is what she told me, Henry. You should go now, take her now and let her rest…”

+++++

He carried her – and the little urn that held her now – out into the sea, and as water filled the space between his skin and the neoprene it warmed a little, at least enough to make this whole thing a little less jarring, or so he thought. Stones underfoot fell away sharply and a gentle current tugged at him, pulling him away from land, but he had always been a good swimmer so he didn’t think too much about it. Holding the urn just out of the water he side-stroked away from the rocks, keeping his eyes fixed on the lights of Le Havre a couple of miles across the river, until a few minutes later he was well away from shore.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what to say right now, Claire,” he said after he stopped swimming and began treading along with the current. “I feel empty inside, like my life without you has no meaning anymore. Is that wrong of me?”

He struggled to remove the top from the urn and then held it high over his head, then he began shaking her ashes into the sea. He could hardly see now, his eyes filling with tears too long repressed, but then he saw her remains floating on the inky surface and he moved his hands through the chalky stillness until she finally began to drift away from him. 

He held his hand up in the moonlight and saw remnants of her on his skin and overcome by the sight of her like this he spread her ashes across his forehead and then through his hair, all the while crying and wanting nothing more than to just let go and drift out to sea with her…

+++++

“Can you see him? I’ve lost sight of him,” his mother said to Claire’s father.

“I think I see him, but I’m not sure anymore. He’s got to be a half mile out there now, maybe more.”

Edith was standing there, close to the edge of the water, and she understood exactly what was going on. “He wants to stay with her,” she whispered.

“What?”Henry’s mother said. “What did you say, Edith?”

“He wants to stay with her. He’s not coming back…” Edith said, but right then she threw off her coat and dove into the river, and she began swimming in the direction she’d last seen Henry…

“Claire!” Edith’s father called out, then he realized his mistake and called out Edith’s name, but that mistake had played out hundreds of times before and it was a part of who the little girl was. “Come back here!”

She was on the swim team and the water didn’t bother her in the least, at least not for a few minutes, but when she felt the first ragged waves of hypothermia settling in the muscles of her thighs she stopped swimming and turned around, looking at her parents waving at her from the shore.

She pushed up, tried to see any sign of Henry on the sparkling, moon-dappled water, but when she saw nothing out there she turned back to the comfort of all the knowns in her life…

+++++

The wetsuit provided all the buoyancy he needed, so the only real danger now was hypothermia, yet laying out there in the sea his core still felt reasonably warm. With his head half submerged the cool water was lapping against his eardrums, but his eyes were commanding all his attention now.

Almost due south and now quite high in the sky, Orion was hanging around up there, drawing his bow and getting ready to let slip his arrow once again. He forgot who or what the archer was aiming at, then realized even that really didn’t matter anymore…

He had to be three miles out now and the current was pushing him with real force – and still he just didn’t care anymore. He watched as a freighter, surrounded by a covey of tugs, began pushing back from a wharf and turned for the breakwater, and while he – on one level, at least – knew what was going on, all that now felt like it belonged to another life, one he’d abandoned…

Then the water suddenly grew warm, startlingly warm, and he reached down with his feet half expecting to feel a sandbar or some other shallow formation – and then a shiny black face slipped from beneath the surface of the sea. It was an orca, he saw. A very young male – and they were looking at one another, each taking a measure of the other.

But when water splashed into his eyes just then, Henry saw Claire in the darkness and tears came to him once again.

Then the young male came close and brushed against him and instinct took hold.

Henry hugged the orca, his face against the side of the orca’s face, and then he cried and cried –

– until he heard a gentle clicking coming from the sea –

– then a moaning sound from deep within the orca –

– and he felt the protective embrace of the orca’s pectoral, almost as if the young male was shielding him from something…

“Thanks, buddy,” Henry said, pushing back a little so he could look into the orca’s eye, but now the clicking sound was a fierce presence now, coming from everywhere – and he turned and was stunned to see several orcas staring at him, all of them very quiet as he floated there in the young male’s embrace.

Then Claire’s words from the priest came to him. “‘My love will be there to protect you…’” he said to the young male, then he pointed to Honfleur. “Would you mind taking me over there?”

The male seemed to nod once and gently presented his dorsal fin, and when the two of them took off for the shoreline the rest of the pod followed…

+++++

March. Spring break. High school graduation less than three months off.

Friends from the football team are heading up to Mammoth for a week. Hotel rooms reserved, hot tubs and Boone’s Farm Apple Wine all lined up, and they want me to go up with them. Two station wagons all lined up and packed, ready to go. Skis waxed, new boots fitted because, ‘Hey mom, my feet are still growing, ya know?’

Through the smog to Claremont then up to the high desert before getting on 395, then the long slog to Lone Pone and Bishop before the final sprint into Mammoth Lakes and then to find the hotel. And while he’s unpacking the Ford another wagon pulls into the lot and there are a bunch of girls from Newport Beach inside. And when he realizes one of them is Edith he feels betrayed, then like running into the forest behind the hotel…

His friends get him up early because there’s been a dump overnight and everyone wants to make first tracks on the Cornice Run off the upper gondola. They dash to the base lodge and grab something hot for breakfast then pick up their lift tickets and head for the gondola. Edith gets into the gondola just ahead of his and he wonders how she’s been managing to hide herself so well…

She is waiting for him in the midway station and gets into the next gondola with him.

He turns away from her when she sits next to him.

“You can’t hide from me forever, Hank.”

“I can try,” he snarled. “What are you doing here, Pest?”

“I just wanted to talk, you know?”

“Talk? About what?”

“Claire.”

“What? Why me?”

“Mom and dad won’t talk about her anymore, not even a little bit, but there are so many things I want to talk about, to know about, and so many things about her I feel are already slipping away, but Hank, you know all the answers. You’re carrying all that stuff around inside your head and I need to talk with you about all those things…”

She didn’t leave his side after that, and one day he saw a picture someone had taken of the two of them over at the Bay Club and he’d had a hard time understanding the picture was taken with Edith, not Claire. Even some of his best friends told him it was hard to tell the sisters apart now, and though it was a little spooky everyone seemed to understand. Maybe, they said, this was the way things were supposed to be now, ya know?

+++++

Berkeley. He was in the jocks dorm because he was on a half ride scholarship, playing middle linebacker his freshman year, and even though he was just a freshman he was varsity so the older guys left him pretty much alone and didn’t beat him up too much.

His dad called, wanted to know about Christmas that year.

“I don’t think I can do it, Dad.”

“I understand, but I had to ask.”

“You and mom should go. Don’t let me stop you guys having fun.”

“You going to do something with Edith?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. I was thinking about Park City.”

“Yeah? Look, I’ve done some work for the Bass brothers, so why don’t you let me see if I can swing a deal up at Snowbird…”

+++++

She flew up to SFO and they drove across to Salt Lake City together – and just like that a family tradition disappeared, never to be rekindled. But the Cliff Lodge was something else…a modest skyscraper hewn of concrete, glass, and steel perched on a small rise at the bottom of the mountain. And everything about the place was magnificent.

She was a good skier, too. Better than Claire, not quite as good as he was but good enough to be fun. She loved him and reminded him of that several times a day, and while nights together had been tough at first they were really great now.

And then…Christmas Eve.

His first ever away from his parents. His first with Edith, with Claire’s shadow never really far away.

Sitting in the elegant dining room at the Cliff Lodge, the fireplace roaring and a heavy snow falling beyond curtains of tinted glass. A roast goose with all the trimmings, holding hands and all kinds of talk about the life they planned to share in some kind of golden future stretching out ahead. All of a sudden everything was serious and yet she felt so right. Echoes are like that, right?

Yet when they made love now they were creating something all their own. Claire wasn’t a part of this new thing.

Was she? Or would she really never leave him?

+++++

He flew down for a weekend a few weeks later, in late January. Something was different. She was distant. Aloof. He took her to The Crab Cooker for lunch on Saturday and she wouldn’t even look him in the eye. Walking back to her car after lunch he reached for her hand and she pulled away.

He didn’t push. He didn’t even ask any questions. And when she stopped calling he stopped too because it hurt too much when he thought about it. The funny thing about it? He was losing Claire all over again and he didn’t even know what the fuck was going down.

He dated a few girls later that year but when those fizzled his studies seemed to take precedence and that was that. He began to hate Berkeley, thought about transferring to SC or Stanford then spring training came around and some kid put a helmet to his knee and then football became a sore sort of memory, too.

His knee was still in a brace when the Mazatlan race started, but his dad surrendered the wheel and let him take it. He steered almost the whole trip and Bandit did pretty good, taking third in class – which wasn’t bad for a heavy boat like a Swan. The crew, a bunch of his father’s friends who made-up the same ragtag crew every summer, went out busting down bottles of tequila their first night down there and it was the first time he’d ever seen his father get seriously drunk. Then his father got even more drunk the next night and fucked some kind of Mexican hooker, and Henry looked away and looked away until he couldn’t even look at his father anymore…

+++++

He’d been working for a startup that was developing a so-called digital darkroom, mainly taking slides and negatives and scanning them so deeper manipulations could take place in their software. The owner of the company had just bought a sailboat he planned to keep on Lake Union and he wanted to know if Henry could help bring the boat from Vancouver, BC back down to the lake.

“I hear you’ve done some real sailing,” Dean Collins said.

“Real sailing? What’s that?”

“Overnight, stuff like that. You know, real stuff.”

Henry had scowled at that bit of obtuse circumlocution and hoped Dean was kidding.

“Thing is, I got this new boat but I think it’s too big for me.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. You ever heard of Swans?”

Henry had nodded, curious now because if there was one thing he knew it was that newbies shouldn’t try to cut their teeth on boats like Swans. “Yeah, I’ve heard of ‘em. What did you pick up?”

“A sixty-five footer,” Collins said, now intently watching Henry for some kind of reaction.

“You bought a Swan 65? And you don’t know how to sail?”

“Oh, I can sail. Lasers, Hobie Cats, that stuff. I mean…I did once at summer camp…”

“Uh-huh.”

“So, you think you can handle a Swan?”

“Let’s see, is this an S&S version, or Frers, new or used?”

“New, the latest and greatest, the 651.”

“You gonna campaign it, or what?” Henry asked, now seriously entertaining the idea that his friend and the owner of this company was a total idiot.

“No, no. I just wanted something to watch fireworks from. You know, something that grabs peoples’ attention and keeps it.”

“Oh? Well, I reckon a 651 ought to do that reasonably well. I guess you’re talking about the fireworks on Lake Union, right?”

“Yeah, right.”

“So…you’re probably not thinking about taking it out on the Sound very much?”

“Man, I don’t know about that. Not yet, anyway. Say, have you done any racing?”

“A little.”

“Like what?”

“Five PORCs and three transpacs.”

“PORCs? What’s that?”

“Pacific Ocean Racing Conference. Races down the Pacific coast, like LA down to Mexico, things like that.”

“No shit? How many of those have you done?”

Taggart shrugged. “I don’t know. Thirty I guess, maybe a few more than that.”

“And three transpacs?”

“Yup.”

“So…you’re coming with me, right?”

“Yeah, I reckon I probably better, because if I don’t you’ll probably sink a reef or something. Anyone else coming?”

“Yeah, my dad.”

“Oh, I take it he’s a sailor?”

“Nope. Never been.”

“Uh-huh. What’s he do?”

“Retired air force, but he works for Boeing these days, in some kind of special projects division.”

+++++

The Swan was tied off at a broker’s dock near the airport, and Dean introduced Henry to General Rupert Collins in the broker’s office, before they went down to check out the boat. The Swan had been ordered by a banker from Hong Kong who wanted to keep it here in Vancouver, but the banker had vapor locked and dropped dead a month before delivery. The Swan had just been delivered, riding on the deck of a large ocean going freighter all the way from Finland, and Dean had negotiated a better than good price and now owned one of the best ocean racing sailboats in the world. That he wanted to use for watching fireworks on a lake in the middle of downtown Seattle, presumably so he could impress a few girls, or boys, or whatever it was that floated his boat. So to speak.

Henry and the General walked down to the dock admiring the gleaming navy blue hull as they approached her.

“Dean tells me you’ve done some sailing?”

“A little, yes. Mainly racing.”

“Didn’t that broker say this is a racing boat. Is that about the size of things?”

“Yessir. These are among the best, and by that I mean the toughest long distance racing boats in the world. Two of ‘em have won the Whitbread.”

“Whitbread? What’s that?”

“A round the world race. Lots of national teams with crews drawn from special forces.”

“You mean, like Rangers and SEALs?”

“British SAS is more to the point, but yeah. The race is grueling, and people die.”

“And these boats win?”

“Yessir.”

“And my boy wants to use this thing as a goddam party barge?”

“Yessir.”

“Isn’t there a race from around here to Hawaii?”

“Yessir, the Vic-Maui, and then there’s the Swiftsure Series.”

“What’s that, the Vic-Maui?”

“Victoria, BC to Lahaina, Maui. It’s a little longer than the LA-Diamond Head transpac and the routing is notoriously fickle because of shifting weather patterns, but I hear it’s a fun race.”

“Okay. What about this boat? Would it be competitive?”

“Uh, if you don’t mind me asking, sir, what are you driving at?”

“Well, to my mind this is kind of like buying a Kentucky Derby race horse and then using it to plow fields, and that ain’t gonna happen on my watch, Mr. Taggart. So my question to you is this? You want to help me campaign this tub, or do I go back up to that office and tell that suede-shoe hot-shot ‘no deal.’

“Sir? I thought this was supposed to be Dean’s boat.”

“Piffle. That boy ain’t earned a dime in his life. And by the way, this will end up being my purchase, just like that company you’re working for was my purchase. I’m just hoping that jackass doesn’t fuck things up again, and that maybe, just maybe he makes some money this time.”

“I see.”

“So? What’ll it be?”

+++++

Two days later. Tied off along the outer mole at the port in Friday Harbor, a de Havilland Beaver on floats idling nearby, probably getting ready to leave for Seattle, but who knew, right?

Dean shut-in down below in his ‘owners cabin’ – lost inside a never-ending pout. And because daddy had taken over everything to do with his new toy he’d decided the first thing he was going to do when he got back to Seattle was fire Taggart. 

The General and Henry were in town picking up an inflatable boat and an outboard, because it would be a pain to have to rely on marinas for overnight stops and inflatables were like station wagons for boats. You couldn’t have one without the other, Henry said – and by this point, after two days of Dean’s nonstop bullshit, when Henry spoke the General listened.

They picked up an Avon and a British Seagull motor and the store told them they’d deliver it dockside later that afternoon, so Henry and Rupert went off in search of breakfast because, naturally enough, there still wasn’t any real food on board. After Dean went off in search of groceries in Vancouver he returned with a few bags of potato chips and a case of Coke, so their trip south had been a quest to find restaurants with docks – and enough draft to accommodate the Swan’s deep racing keel. Hence…the inflatable boat had become an overnight priority.

“Henry, I don’t know what I’m going to do with that boy of mine…”

“He seems like a challenge.”

“You shoulda gone to work for State. Don’t you ever say what you feel?”

Henry shook his head. “It’s a nasty habit I’m trying to quit, sir.”

That was good for a chuckle. “So, this whole digital darkroom shit? Is there anything to it, or am I sinking his mother’s money in another bottomless pit?”

So Taggart had given the General a rundown on the transformation about to transform the photographic industry, and the role software would play in the shift. Henry had to backtrack more than once, too, and get Rupert up to speed on the whole special effects revolution shaking up the motion picture biz down in LA, but by the time he’d wrapped up his lecture the General was a fascinated convert.

“I’ve read your CV, by the way. What are you doing working for someone like my son?”

“He’s actually kind of a good kid, sir, he just never grew up and now he’s paying the price. People like him because he’s been easy to take advantage of, at least so far he has been…”

“And then you came along. Yeah, I saw that too.”

“Yeah? Well, when we were at Stanford I got to know him, and probably better than most people ever will. He’s actually kind of brilliant, but he’s a misfit too. Anyway, when I heard what he was running up against up here I wanted to get involved before he lost his shirt.”

“Why’s that?”

“Well, the reason was simple enough really. Greed. There’s going to be a shitload of money made in this area and I wouldn’t mind being in on the haul. The best way for me to do that right now is to see to it that Dean gets this thing off the ground and then running at full speed…”

“And then what, Henry?”

“In this biz the best thing that can happen to someone in Dean’s position is to build up your company and make the operation so attractive that one of the big fish just has to swim by and snap you up, buy you out…”

“And that’s your aim with Dean?”

“Kind of, sir. Like I said, I really don’t want to see him get hurt, but at the same time it’s a good opportunity for me. This is my area, and I have some ideas I want to work with. I have the freedom to do that where I am right now…then…who knows. I’d like to move back to LA at some point, but I’m not in a rush.”

They made it back to the Swan in time to meet the delivery crew, and after they got the Avon inflated and the motor mounted Henry took Dean and the General out for a spin around the little harbor. Dean was still pouting but the fresh air appeared to help some…

The next night they anchored out not far from Oak Harbor, and now fully provisioned Henry whipped up a spicy clam chowder and served it up in little bowls made from sourdough bread. After that Dean and the General retired for the evening, leaving Henry to clean up his mess and generally tidy up the deck before hitting the sack himself…

And a few hours later the General sat up in bed, confused. He’d heard splashing nearby and some other noises that just made no sense to him, so he got up and walked forward to fetch Henry…

…but Henry wasn’t in his cabin, so he went aft to his son’s…

…but no, Dean was asleep…then he heard more splashing…but coming from outside…

He went back to his cabin and dressed then went topsides, but Henry wasn’t out here either.

Then he heard more splashing, and laughter too. 

He turned and looked behind the boat and finally saw that Henry was out there – but he was surrounded by several killer whales – and when he realized that they all appeared to be playing with each other he stiffened a little, until he noticed the gathering of little gold spheres hovering about a hundred feet above the water…then he dashed below to grab his Nikon…where he ran into something even more outrageous.

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates. Or…you can click here.

Sorry, I just had to…

Come Alive (27.5)

Come alive image twilight lg

Chapter 27.5

((Maybe listen while you read?))

The Old Man cradled Clyde’s head in his hands and then looked into the old pup’s eyes. “Your pain will be at an end soon enough, old friend.” He put a finger on the forehead right between Clyde’s eyes, then he rubbed in small concentric circles… “Why don’t you take a rest now,” he added, as he gently rubbed the spot. Clyde put his head down and was soon snoring away.

“Who are you?” Henry asked, feeling a little paranoid.

“Oh, probably not who you think I am, Henry.”

“Well then, it’s certainly reassuring to know that you know what I’m thinking.”

Which made the Old Man laugh, but now he didn’t take his eyes off Taggart. “I have been watching you for a few months now, trying to come to an understanding of the relationship you have with the Others. Tell me about the one you call Pinky?”

“Go fuck yourself.”

And this only made the Old Man laugh harder, and this time he laughed so hard his eyes began to water, then he coughed a few times before he settled down again. 

“Are you human?” Taggart asked. “Because, frankly, I’ve never seen one of the Others laugh so hard they pissed their pants.”

The Old Man stopped laughing and looked down…

“Gotcha,” Taggart said, grinning.

And this time the Old Man did piss his pants.

+++++

“Yes, of course I’m human,” the Old Man said.

“But…”

“I know what Pinky told you, but I am not from another world…”

“Well hell, Paco, you sure ain’t from this one, so just what the hell you are?”

“You could think of me as a time traveler, sort of, but that wouldn’t really be accurate, either. But Henry…”

“…is not really interested, Old Man. So why don’t you just tell me where you’re from?”

“Originally?”

“Yes dammit, originally.”

“Oh, I grew up on a small farm. At least what you would have called a farm, but all that is unimportant now.”

“A farmer, huh? So, let me guess…you know your way around with a tractor, right?”

“A tractor?” the Old Man asked, clearly confused.

“So, you’re full of shit…and that’s okay, I get it. Yeah, well, so tell me, what do you want with me?”

“When the time comes I need you to trust me. I’ll need you to come with me, and to not ask any questions.”

“Man-oh-man, but you really are full of it…”

“Henry, it’s important or I wouldn’t ask, so until then you’ll just have to trust me.”

“Okay…but…tell me just one thing,” Henry sighed, grinning. “Why should I?”

The Old Man smiled. “Well, Clyde trusts me. Will that do?”

Henry shook his head. “No, sorry…but I don’t think that’s gonna cut it, Slick.”

The Old Man nodded and reached into an interior pocket and produced a leather wallet, then he pulled what looked like a hollow glass container – not quite the size and shape of a deck of cards – from inside the wallet, and this he handed to Taggart.

“What’s this?”

“A photograph. Hold it by the sides, and place your right thumb here,” the Old Man said, pointing to a spot on the side of the container.

Henry took the glass and held it as indicated; he felt the gentlest electric shock – more like a static discharge – when he placed his thumb on the side of the container, then a dazzling high resolution image appeared on the glass surface. He saw an older woman, a middle aged woman, and a young boy standing on a beach. “Okay. Nice family photo. What about it…?”

“Look close, Henry.”

Taggart looked at the old woman and his heart froze. She was in her late sixties, maybe even a little older, but it was Britt. He could see the nervous kindness in her eyes and she still had the same smile, and now he looked up at the Old Man with wonder in his eyes. “Is it…Britt?”

The Old Man nodded. “It is indeed, and the other woman is Britt’s daughter, the firstborn twin.”

Henry fought back an urge to cry. “And who’s the boy?”

“That would be Britt’s grandson, who just so happens to be, well, me.”

“What?” Henry said, though he’d heard everything his great-grandson just said.

“You can pinch to zoom in or out if you like, kind of like the original phones did.”

Henry pinched the image and he examined Britt’s face, then he zoomed in closer – until her eyes took up the entire display. It was her…no doubt about it…and now he didn’t know what to say.

“Zoom out if you want to see the farm.”

Henry zoomed out and wanted to scream when he saw the image. There was the sandy road, the white house in the distance – and overhead…the ringed blue planet – and then Henry’s hand began to shake.

The Old Man reached out and took the glass container and slipped it back in its protective wallet, then he put it back inside his loden cape.

Henry’s hands began twitching, then shaking violently, and the Old Man took Henry’s hand and examined the skin where he’d felt the static discharge – then it seemed to Henry that the Old Man smiled for a moment…just before he disappeared again…

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

The Eighty-eighth Key (58.5)

88th key cover image

Can quiet be consequential? Of course it can, when the music matters.

Chapter 58.5

Ida watched Todd and Lloyd while they worked together – side by side, you might say – and she saw the contours of a real working relationship developing. Lloyd, because he was still genuinely impressed by Todd Bright and all his billowing fame; and Todd, because Lloyd was a better musician than anyone he’d ever known, and he knew the kid had an immense future waiting just ahead. A future he wanted to be a part of, to watch unfold.

But something else was going on, too, she saw. Something Ida was powerless to stop.

Since the incident at the bridge Todd had stepped up and taken on a more positive role when he was around Lloyd, and the boy was soaking up all the attention. DD had even mentioned it to Ida, and while she readily acknowledged what was happening she had no workable solution to offer – other than to separate the two and hope for the best…

Yet Ida saw something else in this budding relationship, one that troubled her even more. 

When Todd spoke about Harry it was almost always a glowing diatribe of some sort or another, a reflection, Ida thought, of Todd’s growing infatuation with Harry Callahan. And yet when Todd first learned that Callahan was still, nominally, at least, a detective with the San Francisco PD, he’d been impressed and depressed at the same time. He grew deeply paranoid for a while, until he remembered that Harry was basically a cool cat, but then came the news of the ambush at the Golden Gate Bridge and Harry’s tenuous hold on life. And in that cascade of troubling events something changed within the musician.

He’d always been a polyamorous sort, though all his relationships had been, generally speaking, of the heterosexual variety. And while he’d never had homosexual, or even bisexual affairs, he’d found himself attracted to Callahan. Now, on finding that Callahan was some kind of legendary homicide cop and that he’d flown helicopters over in ‘Nam, he found his feelings for Harry intensifying. And these new feelings were as confusing as they were troublesome.

Because he’d never thought of himself as gay. He’d never been attracted to men, not in a physical sense, anyway. But there was a very real connection now, something he felt on a visceral level, and the feeling was as uncomfortable as it was undeniable. Maybe, Todd thought, I need a father, or a brother in my life now. Maybe this is what I’m feeling?

And now Lloyd was foundering. His real mother long dead, his de facto mother gone for just weeks now, and suddenly his father’s life was almost at an end. Todd had Ida drive them into the city, to the hospital, so Lloyd could see his dad – but that hadn’t gone as expected.

Lloyd had grown pale and started shaking violently when he first saw his father in that bed; hooked up to a ventilator as row upon row of blinking monitors kept track of Harry’s faltering grip on life, the boy had fallen to his knees and begun crying, until nurses were called and a physician summoned. Ida called DD and a few hours later she and the doc arrived, and everyone gathered around the boy and buoyed him up before the drive back out to the cliffs, yet Lloyd had sat and stared off into nothingness through the entire drive.

And then he didn’t speak for days.

But then he walked over to the studio one afternoon and, finding it empty, he began working on a song about what felt like the meaninglessness of life – his life. About despair and letting go. About falling and falling until there was nothing left beyond the emptiness he felt. No words. Just music in the darkness.

He started on an acoustic guitar, a Martin D-45S his father had locked away in a climate controlled storeroom, but he found the experience limiting. He went to the Yamaha and stared at the keys before he started, then he easily found only the most melancholy chords, and he began piecing together the chapters of the song he had found in his mind.

He looked up once and saw Todd sitting in shadows well away from the piano, staring at him.

“What are you doing here?” Lloyd asked. “I though you were headed back to Seattle.”

“Thought I’d stay here for a while. Do you mind? I mean, will it bother you if I do?”

Lloyd shook his head. “Do what you want, man. I don’t care.”

“What are you working on?”

“I have no idea,” the boy said.

“It’s powerful. I’ve never heard anything like it.”

Lloyd shrugged.

“It kind of feels like grief. Is that where you’re going with it?”

Again, Lloyd shrugged – but Todd came over and sat beside the boy. “Play that last section again, would you?”

And Lloyd did.

“Are you thinking instrumental, or could I work up some lyrics?”

“I haven’t thought this through that much, Todd. I got sick of staring at the ceiling, ya know? I’m just searching for phrases inside tones, trying to work out the puzzle.”

“We need to get this down on paper, Lloyd. We can’t lose this, whatever we do.”

And so they worked. For days. Then a week passed, and then another.

So when the foundering boy reached out for a life preserver his hands found a willing substitute for his father. And yet this substitute was dealing with unwanted feelings of his own, for the boy’s father, feelings that were certain to impact the boy when and if they became known.

Everything was inevitable now, every moment ahead scripted by actions unseen and unheard.

Until, it seemed, this new little world was destined to fall away in clouds of dust.

+++++

Deep in the coldest part of the morning paramedics came into Harry Callahan’s room and loaded him onto a gurney. Everything hurt as they lifted his sheets and moved him across, his right arm most of all, yet most concerning to Callahan – suddenly his legs felt like they were on fire. Even so, Callahan felt real concern…for another, less apparent reason. The department was paying the bills, he had just been told, and someone downtown had decided it was time to move Callahan to a rehab hospital, one supposedly dedicated to advanced orthopedic care and better able to handle Callahan’s more problematic injuries. The trouble, Callahan knew, was that not one of his physicians or nurses had been advised of the move until a few hours before these paramedics arrived, and while it appeared that department bean counters had taken over his care, the first thing that popped into Callahan’s mind was more paranoid.

No…this smacked of a hastily planned attempt to take him out, to finish the job the snipers at the bridge had started. And he had no way of communicating with anyone…not a soul…and that was the most nerve-wracking realization of the whole thing.

Rolling down the long corridor to the elevator, the jerking ride down to the ground level, then being pushed through the emergency room to a waiting ambulance. A private ambulance, he saw, not a fire department ambulance – and that was odd.

His gurney was lifted into the box, then the rear doors slammed shut and were locked – and a moment later he felt the truck ease out into traffic, probably making for the Bayshore…

But from there?

Where?

+++++

DD and the doc put Lloyd to bed, then Ida and Didi began packing Lloyd’s clothing, then they moved to Harry’s room and did the same, while the doc went to the piano and looked out over the patio where they’d all spent so many evenings together. He looked down on the stone terrace and wanted to weep, if only because Callahan had done nothing to deserve losing all he’d built.

“Never again,” he sighed. “This is the end of an era. A changing of the guard. What comes next for him – and that poor kid?”

Three sedans arrived a little before midnight and Lloyd was carried out to one of the cars, his head resting on Ida’s lap during the drive back into the city.

+++++

Callahan relaxed when he saw the ambulance turning into the air cargo facilities at SFO, but no Jetstar waited on the ramps this time. A mechanized cargo loader lifted Callahan’s gurney into what looked like an old El Al 707-320c, only this particular unit had the QC mod, the so-called Quick Change modification that allowed for rapid conversion between passenger and freighter configurations. Once aboard, Callahan was transferred to a more substantial gurney and strapped down for the flight, but at least his head was level with the windows so he could see outside…

And a few minutes later the rest of his so-called family arrived…

A sleepy-eyed Lloyd came up the air stairs and did a double take when he saw his father already there, and Ida followed a moment later, carrying a couple of small, but apparently very heavy bags as she huffed up the stairs and into the cabin. DD and the doc followed, and then Callahan saw another series of cars pull up on the ramp below, followed by a half dozen FBI agents, each with a gun drawn, that came running up the stairs.

+++++

Yet the agents turned and watched traffic down on the ramp, their pistols fanning outward.

Until another sedan approached.

Didi and Colonel Goodman got out of this car and walked up the air stairs, and the aircraft’s flight engineer closed the door and armed the escape slide before he went into the cockpit. The engines began spooling up and the Mossad agents stripped off their FBI windbreakers and walked aft to take their seats. A minute later the 707 taxied to the runway and took off, heading for Toronto.

+++++

“Dad? What’s going on?” Lloyd asked his father about an hour later.

Harry was in extreme pain and the morphine was barely cutting it now; his skin was waxy and pale and the nausea was coming back again. A medic of some kind was standing over him again, injecting something into his IV, then wiping his forehead with a cool washcloth.

Then Didi was standing by Lloyd and Harry looked at her. “Maybe you’d better have a little talk with my boy now. I’m not sure I can just yet.”

+++++

“What do you mean I’m not going to be an American anymore?” Lloyd cried. “What if I don’t want to live in Switzerland?”

“In that case,” Colonel Goodman sighed, “you’d be most welcome in Israel.”

“Israel?” the boy muttered, his eyes full of questions.

“Yes,” the colonel added, “but tonight is not a good night to think of such things. First we get you back to the house in Davos, and do you know what? I hear there is still snow on the mountains there, so perhaps we can go skiing once we get you settled? How would you like that?”

“My music!” Lloyd shouted angrily. “What about my music?”

Didi fielded this question: “We are building a new studio at the house, but this one will be even better. And guess who’s coming in two weeks?”

“Todd? Is Todd coming?”

And when Didi nodded the boy flew into her arms.

The colonel watched the story in her eyes unfold, and then and there he knew any sort of happy ending would prove elusive. ‘The boy has asked not a single question about his father. Not one,’ he thought as he scowled at the reflections he saw in the aircraft’s window. ‘What would I do with such a creature? Spare the rod and spoil the child?’

Harry woke briefly when the old Boeing touched down in Toronto to refuel, but by the time they took off for Zurich he was already asleep again.

© 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 before 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 (27.4)

Come Alive image 3

Images…ghosts…what matters most? Music, perhaps?

Chapter 27.4

Five dark gray Land Rovers waited in the shadows beside a hanger at Le Bourget’s Jetex Flight Support Center, monitoring air traffic control and tower communications on their radios. The teams gathered there were watching, and waiting, for a Beech Baron inbound from Bergen via Köln. When the Baron radioed and checked in with Approach Control, Captain Mike Lacy made a hand signal and all the drivers started their engines, while team members in the rear of each Rover readied their weapons.

Lacy went over the plan again over his COMMs circuit: wait for the aircraft to taxi in and cut engines, then move in and cut off the exits with two units while the remaining team members surrounded the Baron. Take all the occupants into custody then move them to HQ Military Intelligence, and from there to interrogation centers around Europe. Simple. Quick and clean, and as the airport was almost entirely closed these days there was little reason to suspect witnesses might call the media with any concerning reports.

“Baron 23Bravo, RNAV approach for Runway 07 approved. Wind 09 degrees at 10, gusts to 15, altimeter 29.91, visibility one mile and we have a lite rain falling, contact tower 119.3.”

“23Bravo, RNAV 07 and nineteen point three.”

“Is that her voice?” one of the French policemen asked.

“Hard to tell,” Lacy replied. “I think so…”

“23Bravo, we have the localizer.”

“23 received, clear to land.”

“23 clear to land.”

Lacy brought a pair of Steiner binoculars to his eyes and scanned the skies west of the airport – until he spotted landing lights coming out of the clouds. “Okay,” he said. “Got ‘em.”

The Baron landed without incident and began the long taxi to the Jetex facility, Lacy not taking his eyes off the aircraft as it turned into the ramp area. When he heard the engines shutting down he shouted “Move!” into his hand radio and all five Rovers started for the Baron.

After Lacy’s teams surrounded the Beechcraft, men in black fatigues carrying assault rifles approached the little airplane, shouting instructions to the occupants…

“Get out of the aircraft! Keep your hands where we can see them!”

The door over the right wing opened and a female exited the aircraft; she seemed genuinely confused and more than a little upset as she walked down and jumped off the trailing edge of the wing.

“Everyone else! Out! Now!” one of the policemen shouted.

“There’s no one else on board,” the pilot said, trying not to smile and give up the game too soon.

“What?” Lacy screamed. “Where are they? What did you do with them?”

+++++

An old Mitsubishi MU-2G – U.S. registered and owned by a tech company in Seattle – landed at the Aérodrome de Toussus-le-Noble a few minutes after the Baron touched-down at Le Bourget. Anton and Sophie led Rolf and Dina to a waiting car, a new E-class Mercedes, for the ride to their first planned ‘safe house’ – a hotel suite near Orly airport. They would stay there until Tracy sent the ‘all clear’ signal, and then the group would move to a hotel right by the marina.

Henry was going on the assumption that Mike and the people from McLean were going to interfere with his Christmas plans, yet he still couldn’t figure out why they’d try again – beyond simple spite. It just made no sense…not now, when the game was played. Obviously they’d long-since figured out the files taken from his laptop were bogus dead-end traps that sent them off to a bunch of Thai lady-boy sites, and while he’d have loved to see the expressions on their faces when they realized they’d been had, he’d had to assume that they were now genuinely pissed off at him. Pissed off and ready for some real-time payback.

So Henry was sitting in the cockpit at midnight when Lacy and a handful of goons from Central Casting came through the marina gates. There was no pussy-footing around this time, either; no, they walked straight to the rear of the boat and were getting ready to jump across when Henry flipped a switch and turned on all the courtesy lights on the platform.

Lacy knew the way and led his men up and into the cockpit – where they shuddered to a stop…

“What the fuck is that?” Lacy asked, pointing to the shimmering translucent orb hovering beside Henry. One of the goons drew a Sig and pointed it at the orb.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Henry said. “This one is kind of unpredictable.”

“This one what, Taggart?”

“Mike, honestly, I have no idea. It showed up a few days ago and now it never really seems to be too far away.”

“It’s not Winky, or one of…”

“Pinky says it’s not. In fact, she told me these pricks are mean as hell…”

“And you’ve got one sitting on you now?”

“Seems that way. So, I take it your friends in Virginia weren’t properly amused?”

“You could say that, yeah. By the way, you’re looking pretty damn good for someone about to kick the bucket.”

Henry held up his arm and showed off Pinky’s magic tape. “A gift. To fight off something these idiots did to me and the pup.”

“Did? What did they do to you?”

“Some kind of genetic attack. This thing is Pinky’s remedy. I feel pretty good, too.”

Lacy nodded. “Okay, so where are Anton and Dina?”

“Safe.”

Lacy shook his head. “No, they’re not, and I wish you hadn’t interfered tonight. We were trying to protect them…”

Henry smiled. “Try again, sport.”

Lacy frowned. “Look, there’s a group in Switzerland trying to get at them…”

“Okay. If you say so.”

“Henry, you’ve got to give me something.”

“Or else they’re going to have your head on a pike, right?”

“Something like that,” Lacy said, looking down and slowly shaking his head.

“Leave us alone til the 26th and I’ll see what I can do.”

Mike looked at Taggart, trying to get a read on the offer, then he nodded. “Okay. We’ll lay off for four more days, then you’re going to give me what I need. Is that the offer, Henry?”

“I’ll let your team have enough information to find a solution.”

Mike leaned forward and offered his right hand, and Henry took it. “You’re welcome to drop by on Christmas morning if you like, Mike,” Henry added.

Mike nodded. “I’ll think about it.”

“Rolf would like it, I think you know.”

There came a faraway look in Lacy’s eyes, and then the faintest hint of a smile. “Yeah. I’d like that, too.”

“Well, we’ll set a place for you. Come by around ten. We’re going to open presents then.”

“Presents?”

“Yes, presents.”

“Should I bring something?”

“Hey, Mike…it’s Christmas. Ya do what you got to do.”

The companionway hatch slid open and Tracy came up carrying four glasses of cognac on a tray. She placed this on the cockpit table then went back down the steps and disappeared.

The two goons put down their carbines and took a snifter, and Mike handed Henry one before raising his glass. “Well,” Mike said, “Merry Christmas, Henry.”

“Merry Christmas, Mike.”

The translucent orb shimmered brightly then blinked out of existence – again.

“And you really have no idea…”

“None. Seems to be harmless enough, so far at least.”

“But isn’t this the one that did the genetic attack?”

“It is.”

“That doesn’t really strike me as harmless, Henry.”

Taggart smiled. “Things are seldom what they seem these days, Mike.”

+++++

He watched the men walk out the marina gates then knocked on the companionway hatch. Tracy and Clyde came up a moment later and Henry hooked up the leash and took the pup out for a strafing run, then they retired to his cabin. Tracy went to Karma to talk with her mother so Henry showered and then slipped under the covers…hoping she wouldn’t be too long.

…and then the orb reappeared…

It shimmered once again, brightly this time, and in the next instant the Old Man in the Cape was standing at the foot of his bed. Clyde looked up, his tail started brushing the blanket covering the bed and he seemed to smile – then the Old Man sat on the edge of the bed and Clyde came to him…

“Hello again, old friend,” the Old Man said to the dog. “You’re looking well enough this evening.” Clyde licked the Old Man’s hand, then the Old Man rubbed the top of Clyde’s head – and Henry recognized the bond. “He was always such a good friend,” the Old Man said to Henry. “I was gratified to learn you had taken such good care of him.”

“Gratified?”

“Yes.”

“So you attack us both with some kind of genetic…”

“Is that what they told you?”

“What do you mean?” Henry said, surprised.

“That was no attack, Henry. It was preparation. For what comes next.”

“Preparation? Next?”

“Yes, Henry. For your death.”

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.