Dina and Edith were standing together just outside Saint-Catherine’s, both still hurt and both feeling a bit lost – and more than a little furious – as they stood there huddled against the snow – which seemed to be falling harder now – waiting for Anton, Tracy, and the boy, Rolf.
“I have never felt so humiliated in all my life,” Edith snarled. “And to think my sister thought so little of me!”
“Were you close? The two of you, I mean?” Dina asked.
Edith shook her head as she looked at the snow gathering at their feet. “I thought we were, at least once upon a time I did, maybe. Now…I’m not so sure.”
“Did she have any reason to think you’d do something mean to Henry, even then?”
“No,” Edith sighed. “I can’t think of anything I ever did or even said that might have made her think something like that.”
“Interesting,” Dina said, looking through falling snow back towards the old port.
“She was expressing a strong emotion, almost a warning to you, yet she wrote that before she passed away, and when you were both still little more than children.”
“Yes? So?” Edith said.
“I’m sorry, but you were not around Henry this summer. SO many strange things were happening, so much so that almost every time I turned around I felt like I was confronting some new manner of existential crisis. And always a supernatural existential crisis…”
“Supernatural?” Edith said, clearly not understanding what Dina was getting at. “What do you mean by that?”
“You’ve met Pinky, I take it? And you know all about that stuff?”
“No, I really don’t understand, not any of it,” Edith said, distracted now and looking at the time on her phone. “We’ve been out here fifteen minutes. Should we go back to the restaurant and wait for them there?”
“Perhaps,” Dina said reflexively, “but we have no idea where Henry is, do we? And yet I have a feeling that goddamn priest knows exactly where he is. I want to…”
And just then the door to the church flew open and a hot breeze billowed from the nave, then out of nowhere Anton and the boy were standing just inside the doors, surrounded by hot, swirling mists…
“Dear God!” Dina cried as she turned and looked at her grandson. “What has happened to you? Where have you been?”
Their clothes were in tatters, and both were soaking wet. Worse still, they both looked badly sunburned – yet both seemed almost ecstatically happy…
Then the priest appeared, and even his somber demeanor was gone now – replaced by a heavily sunburned smile as he stepped out of the church and into the snowy evening.
Then Edith pushed her way through the three travelers. “Where’s Tracy!” she cried when she realized her daughter was absent. “What have you done with my…”
“She will return when she is ready,” Father Martin admonished.
“Where is Henry!” Dina shouted. “We’ve been gone from him for almost an hour…”
Only now, on hearing these words, did the old priest look down, and he seemed to be at a loss for words for the first time this evening. Then, looking pensive and almost reluctant to start down this path again, he looked at Dina. “Follow me,” he said as he turned and started for the park.
No one had yet shoveled or cleared the snow from the walkway beside the quay that led out to the point, so the going was slow – and now Anton and Rolf were wearing shorts and polo shirts and were ill prepared to make such a walk. Dina took off her jacket and wrapped it around Rolf’s shoulders, and then without quite knowing why she walked over to Anton and put an arm around his waist. Anton seemed embarrassed, and a little surprised, too, as they continued walking through the suddenly heavy snowfall.
“Look!” Rolf said. “Those are tracks made by a wheelchair, there, in the snow!” – and with that the boy took off at a sprint into the dark, and the snow.
“I go with,” Anton said, breaking free of Dina and taking off after Rolf.
The two women and the priest quickened their pace, and it wasn’t long before they gained the point. The air was warmer here by the water, the snow not as heavy, but Henry’s empty wheelchair was covered in white powder. His footprints leading to the rocks and the water were still just visible, however, and Rolf was standing with Anton down on the rocks looking out into the sea. Dina thought they looked deflated, almost wilted from the knowledge that Henry had taken things into his own hands and moved on in the night, his actions an echo of Claire’s.
“He’s gone to be with her,” she asked the priest, “hasn’t he? To rejoin her in the sea?”
“I fear for his soul if he has, physician, for that would be a mortal sin.”
She turned back to the water, nodding in agreement and very afraid now. “I…I don’t understand why he did this,” she added. “Do you?”
“In truth, physician, I do not understand, but I am no longer of this life.”
“What!?” Edith cried. “What do you mean…no longer of this life?”
“Perhaps one day you will understand,” the priest said – as his body began to shimmer in blue light, “but for some reason I doubt that will ever happen…”
Edith almost screamed when the old priest vanished, and when Dina turned to see what the commotion was all about she caught the last vestiges of the man’s form before he had completely disappeared – and at that point Dina began to feel the kind of fear she had convinced herself, through a lifetime of study, she knew to be irrational…and without really knowing why she began to walk to the rocks where Anton and Rolf stood.
The water was, of course, inky black as she stood there at the water’s edge, but almost reflexively she knelt and placed several fingers in the brine. ‘Cold,’ she said to herself as she pulled her hand away. ‘Too cold to survive for more than a few minutes…’
She stood and turned to Rolf, then she shook her head.
And maybe the boy knew what she meant, but for whatever reason he turned and ran from the rocks and out into the night…
Milos drove slowly along the Route de Rouen, taking the group back to Paris and the marina as the last snow fell in the middle of the night. The police had been summoned; they had taken notes and a few photographs but as no foul play was suspected they had released everyone. They would, one of the inspectors told Dina, keep an eye out for bodies washing up along the shore, but that was about all they could do – other than inform the U.S. embassy.
Anton had followed Rolf’s errant footsteps through the snow and he’d found the boy not too far away, sitting on a park bench and now completely covered with snow, shivering uncontrollably. He had picked up the boy and carried him back to the Mercedes, whispering what words of comfort he could think of as he walked through the park, but he had to admit to himself that he too was feeling a little lost.
“What good friend Genry was,” he said to the boy at one point. “Much love. Always much love.”
He felt Rolf’s grip tighten, heard the muffled sounds of inconsolable loss. “I don’t understand,” the boy whispered. “Why did he do this?”
“I not know, but maybe he want us not to see his suffer, his suffering, at end. Very hard to watch, Rolf. Maybe Genry think of you when he do this.”
Milos had turned the heater to MAX and the heated seats too, and it didn’t take Rolf long to warm up and shed Dina’s coat, and after just a few more minutes on the open road the boy was fast asleep.
And then Dina and Edith turned to Anton, cold fury in their eyes.
“So,” Edith hissed, “Where is my daughter? And just where the hell did the three of you go!?”
But Anton simply turned away and looked at the passing snow covered landscape, saying not one word to Edith…
Then Dina turned and looked at Rolf, then at Anton. “Isn’t there anything you can tell us, Anton?” she implored.
Anton nodded as he sighed. “We see Eva, see Britt. Both learning Greek, both very happy. Many little ones to take care of.”
“Greek?” Dina muttered. “What on earth for?”
“They live Greek village, Aristotle, Socrates neighbors, teachers. Raising babies, grow wheat and go fish too. Very busy.”
“What are you talking about, Anton?” Edith sputtered. “Aristotle? Socrates? What kind of nonsense is this?”
But Anton turned away again, shrugging away Edith’s idiotic apostasy.
“So you will not tell me what has become of my daughter?” Edith cried. “What kind of depraved creature are you!?”
But then Anton put his arm protectively around the boy, and that was his only reply.
“Fog, very heavy, just ahead,” Milos said. “Probably form over Seine, so may be heavy.” He slowed a bit more as they passed CDG, the main airport, then to a crawl as they entered the city proper. “Yes, very heavy now. Will take long time.”
And indeed it did, with the fog so thick the last five miles of the drive took more than an hour, and when they finally pulled up to the gates at the little Arsenal marina it was almost four in the morning.
Christmas Morning, Rolf said to himself as he climbed sleepily out of his seat and stepped onto the slushy cobbled street. ‘Only this is not how I imagined Christmas this year, is it…?’
The fog was so dense and the snow deep enough that even walking from the marina gates to Time Bandits proved tedious. Anton led the way but none of them had lived there long enough to really know the ins-and-outs of all the various criss-crossing pathways, so it took another ten-or-so minutes to find their way back to Bandits’ stern. Still, visibility was so compromised no one could see more than a few feet ahead, so after Anton hopped across to the swim platform he stood there with his hand extended and helped Dina and Edith across. He even kept his hand out for Rolf – who gladly grabbed hold before making the meter hop over the frigid water to the dew-slick platform.
And then Dina screamed. A real pulse stopping scream worthy of a B-grade slasher-flick, and Anton rushed up to the cockpit – only to find both Dina and Edith pointing to a man in the cockpit sitting behind the steering wheel. Anton hopped to the cockpit, placing himself between this stranger and the women…
…then he leaned over and looked at the stranger…
… “Shit damn fucker of mother,” he muttered. “Genry! You scare me!”
But Henry didn’t respond. Neither did he move.
“What?” Dina cried. “Is it Henry?”
“Da,” Anton whispered as the pieces of the puzzle began slipping into place, “Genry here now.”
Edith made it to him first, Dina not a second behind, and she grabbed his wrist and started looking for a pulse – but found none. He was sitting up with Clyde in his lap, and as he’d lost so much weight he’d been able to zip his parka around them both…
…and she saw Clyde was gone, too…
Then she saw the pup’s urine on the cockpit sole, presumably because he’d lost muscle control after his brain shut down, and she fell behind her physicians’ cloak and began analyzing the scene…
Henry was cold, ice cold, and his skin was cobalt blue in places, his lips and nail beds, too, though rigor mortis had yet to set-in fully, so he hadn’t been here all that long…
Then Dina saw Rolf by her side – staring at Henry with mute shock written all over his face – and she jumped to stand between them, to cut him off from the sight, but it mattered not a bit now. Not in the slightest. The damage had been done and the sight could not be undone.
Rolf walked forward, forward to the bow pulpit, and Anton followed the boy – not yet knowing what to say, only knowing he’d have to say something.
Then Anton saw the boy stumble and fall to his knees, pointing at something in the water while he tried to scream – but apparently the boy simply could not.
Anton dashed to his side and with his eyes he followed Rolf’s pointed finger…
…until he saw the big male orca resting there in the water, the orca’s huge, white belly facing the sky now, his massive body just resting there, though now very, very still.
“He’s dead too, isn’t he?” Rolf whispered as he joined Anton at the bow.
Anton nodded his head, and though he wanted to turn away he found he couldn’t. “Yes. Breathe through hole top of head, remember? Uh, but look belly. Many scars, fresh blood. I think orca carry Genry and Clyde upriver, jump up lock chambers to get here…”
“Do you mean to tell me,” Edith said, now standing up on the bow with them, “that Henry knew this goddam fish?”
Rolf turned and looked at this strange, offensive woman with pure malice in his eyes. “He’s not a fish, he’s a mammal, and he was Henry’s friend…!”
“Henry’s friend?” she said dismissively, tossing in a derisive flick of the wrist just for good measure. “Really? Do tell?”
But when Anton turned and faced Edith she had the good sense to remain silent.
“You, people like you,” Anton growled, “not understand things bigger than self. But yes. Genry and this other soul good friend. And you, go, before join other fishes in goddam water.”
But Anton stormed off, stomping back to the cockpit – and to Dina, who was sitting beside Henry just now, holding his hand. When he drew near she looked up at Anton and he saw something he hadn’t really considered possible. She looked lost. Lost, and alone. ‘Why?’ he wondered. He had only picked up little bits and pieces of their story, but Henry hadn’t thought much of this woman’s love. Was this an act, he wondered. Was she here to grab some of Henry’s money – while she still could?
‘Better die broke than die with vultures,’ Anton said to himself as he took in the woman. ‘At least can be sure what vulture want.’
Rolf returned to the cockpit and sat beside Henry, and after a pause he leaned on Henry’s shoulder one more time – while he looked at this grandmother’s last gasp of affection playing out before his eyes. ‘She is so confused,’ he thought, ‘so full of anger. How can you live in the moment if yesterday is all you feel?’
“Did you find everything?” Frank said to his daughter.
Elizabeth Bullitt nodded. “It’s all there, right where she said it would be.”
“What about the dog?” Harry Callahan said.
“Yup. That too.”
“Well then,” Callahan added, “we’d better get out of here – before someone sees us.”
“No one will see you,” the one called Pinky said, “but if you are ready we can leave now.”
“I don’t want to take any chances,” Frank Bullitt said. “Not now…”
“Then we should go,” Pinky said, but she stood there for a moment longer, looking in the general direction of Time Bandits, and to her friend Henry Taggart. She and her kind had forgotten how to cry eons ago, so she was more than a little surprised when she felt tears rolling down her cheeks.
© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.