A little music, perhaps? Beware of…?
Rupert was deep into The Godfather, Part III, his eyes glued to Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone as he held onto Mary, his dying daughter – Michael’s silent howl of pure anguish a furious echo of all the infidelity and murder he has just celebrated inside Palermo’s Teatro Massimo. Maybe, Henry thought, Rupert was unaware of the converging arcs Coppola had presented in the final moments of his trilogy; if so…too bad. He watched the coda with an eye on Rupert’s reaction, with Michael sitting in a chair and passing away in utter loneliness, and again he wondered if Rupert made the connection – to Don Vito Corleone’s passing in the quiet loneliness of the garden in the backyard of his home. If so, Rupert gave no outward sign…he simply picked up the remote and turned the television off before the credits began rolling.
“You know, that’s the first time I’ve seen Part III,” Rupert said.
“Yeah. You know, the first one made sense to me. Even the second I could see, well, I don’t know, maybe what the writers were trying to get at. But not this one.”
“Well, yeah, I mean the point of the first story is to establish the hierarchy of the Family in Sicilian life, and how that structure spread to Little Italy…you know, after the whole Ellis Island thing. To me the point of the whole thing is when Michael tells Kay she’s being naive, you know? That the Family is just another form of government, I guess, with a system of justice all its own. What more is there to say, I guess? To me, Part II was almost unnecessary.”
Henry nodded. “Ever read Buddenbrooks?”
Henry shrugged. “Another novel about the decline of a family. A patrician merchant-banking family in Lübeck, Germany. A lot of stories like The Godfather and Buddenbrooks focus on the path of a family’s decline, usually as a metaphor of civilizational or cultural decay or collapse.”
“And you think that’s what’s going on in The Godfather?”
Henry nodded. “Yup.”
“What about your family, Henry? You never talk about them much…”
“Not a whole lot to say, Rupert. I’m the end of the line, which – as metaphors go – pretty much sums up this point in time…for me, at least.”
“No cousins, aunts or uncles or that kind of thing?”
“Oh, there might be someone in France, but if so they’re a complete unknown – at least as far as I know.”
“France? What’s the connection?”
“Oh, the usual, almost a cliché. My dad flew B-17s in the war. His aircraft got shot up pretty bad but he nursed it back to French airspace; he was the last to bail-out and resistance fighters picked him up and hid him for a while. He met my mom then and went back after the war and found her, and that was that.”
“Jesus, Henry! And you haven’t kept in touch with all that family?”
“My mom was an orphan, Rupert. The story she passed on, that she lived with, was that her dad was a physician and her mom a nurse. She had no trouble getting into med school, by the by. Guess that was in her DNA too,.”
“Too? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“She was dutiful, a good mom I guess you could say, but all I remember is she was never around when I needed her. Always at the hospital, nights, weekends. I have to struggle to remember her, ya know?”
“Your dad didn’t have family anywhere?”
“Nope. Only child, no known relatives, so I am what I am…the end of the line.”
Rupert sighed. “You know, I might as well be. My son is little more than a proverbial dilettante – like right out of the Old Testament, so I’m pretty much guaranteed there are no kids in my future. That’s the end of my line, too, I suppose?”
Henry shrugged. “You never can tell, Rupert. Anyway…you look like you’re feeling a little better today.”
“I am. A lot better, actually. Do you know what happened?”
“What happened? What do you mean?”
“Well, weren’t they having trouble coming up with some kind of treatment?”
Henry nodded. “Yeah, well, turns out they’ve been having trouble synthesizing certain types of proteins they needed to work out a treatment. Another scientist who’s been studying us told them where they could find a supply of the stuff…”
“Which is?” Rupert asked.
“Yup. Pinky and I went back to Friday Harbor and harvested some. Brought it back and here you are, feeling fit as a fiddle.”
“You…harvested some? Just what exactly does that mean…you harvested some…what?”
“It’s a liver protein found in their digestive system, in their bile, gall bladders, that kind of shit.”
“So, you mean you killed an orca?”
“No, no, not at all. Remember the one I swam with off the back of the Swan, that night we were anchored south of Friday Harbor, in North Bay?”
“You mean…you found the same whale?”
“Not exactly. Pinky asked him to meet us there.”
Rupert shook his head. “Shit, man, you gotta stop pullin’ my leg like…”
“Yeah? Well, anyway, she made me ask him, ya know, for permission to give it an injection, and that made him sick. One of the Blues with me, a guy called Bob, collected the specimens and we brought it back to their lab.”
“Wait one. You’re sayin’ you asked this whale for permission?”
“So…now you can talk to whales?”
“Not whales in general, but to this pod of orcas, yes.”
“Taggart…you’re so full of shit your eyes are turning brown.”
“Well guess what, Rupert…you’re alive right now. And here’s another news flash for you… without that whale’s help you’d be in an urn over your son’s fireplace.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?”
Henry nodded. “Yup. As a heart attack.”
“You’ll pardon me if I don’t believe you?”
“No skin off my nose, Rupert. I know the score, I know what happened, because I was there, and I saw it go down. And you weren’t, which is fun, ’cause basically whale vomit saved our asses.”
Rupert turned away and thought about that for a few minutes, then he turned back to Henry. “So…this cure? It works – in general, I take it?”
“Yup, they’ve already started distributing this new protein via domestic water supplies in Siberia and northeast China. Pinky thinks within a few years the mutation will burn itself out.”
“So…end of problem?”
“Probably. But not for us.”
“The radiation exposure? Alpha particles?”
“Yup. There’s nothing Pinky and her team can do about that.”
Rupert sighed. “You said ‘probably?’ What the hell does that mean?”
“It means there are some bad apples out there, Rupert. Other – beings – that aren’t so benevolent where things like us are concerned.”
“You mean…beings other than Pinky’s people?”
“Henry, you’ll excuse the fuck out of me, but all this is getting a little…”
“Complicated, Rupert, is the word you’re looking for.”
“Not really, but it’ll do…for now.”
“If I make a big enough scene they won’t let me on the airplane,” Edith snarled – just after the Air France announcer made the final call for boarding the flight to LAX.
Mike looked at her, taking the measure of the moment, before he spoke. “You know, I don’t know you from Adam but I’m here right now because this is something Henry asked me to do. And guess what? Here you are claiming to be one of Henry’s closest friends yet you’ve been acting like anything but…so tell me? Just what am I supposed to make of someone like you?”
“Frankly, I don’t care what you make of me.”
“Okay. Fair enough. So, let me be equally clear. If you fuck this up, if you make a scene or make a run for it, let me tell you what I’m going to do…”
“Again,” Edith growled, “I don’t give a flying fuck what you do…”
“Oh? Okay, well, just for the sake of clarity then, here’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to get you in a taxi and head out into the countryside, and in a few weeks the police will find your body face down in a ditch somewhere out there. Got it? We clear enough for a flying fuck, maybe?”
Edith looked at this Captain Lacy for a moment, then she pulled out her boarding pass and walked to the gate.
Anton didn’t know what to think right about then, not after his own less than friendly encounter with Mike’s friends in the local intelligence services, so he walked along quietly and boarded the flight, not quite sure if this was the right thing to do, or not.…
‘But anyway,’ he thought, ‘I’ve never been to America, and California has always like a kind of dream to me.’ Then he thought of Disneyland and smiled as he walked out the Jetway.
Pinky came in their room with several Blues and a Green. Henry thought she looked a little upset.
“Hey!” Henry said, with a little more enthusiasm than he felt. “It’s the Mod Squad! What’s up, guys?”
The Blue called Bob came closer and spoke first. “Protein synthesis is complicated but our distribution models are accurate, yet simulations indicate that we will simply slow progression of the mutagen…by perhaps two hundred years.”
“Okay. So…maybe we’ll teach the horse to sing by then.”
“What?” Bob cried, bug-eyed again. Pinky leaned over and whispered in Bob’s ear, and he nodded understanding. “Oh, really? Okay,” he said.
“Well, Bob, you look like you just took a bite out of a shit sandwich, so why don’t you tell us the good news now.”
Bob looked at Pinky – who simply shrugged – before he resumed. “We estimate the development of fatal tumors within two years.”
Rupert looked at Bob when he heard that: “Come again?”
“Three years,” Bob repeated. “You have a life expectancy of two years before onset, so a normative life span of, again, possibly three years. Our modeling indicates a 98 percent certainty for that figure, and a less than one percent chance of longer duration. I am sorry.”
Henry Taggart looked at Bob, then at Pinky, his eyes blinking like semaphores. “Well fuck me in the ass,” he said at last, perhaps a bit more merrily than he felt. “Ain’t you full of all kinds of good news this morning?”
“This is good news?” Bob asked.
“Hell, yes, it’s good news!” Henry grinned. “That’s twenty, maybe thirty years I’m not going to have to deal with my fucking hemorrhoids – or buy Christmas cards, for that matter! Hallelujah Jesus!”
Rupert Collins was not, however, as amused, so he picked up the little black Sony remote and found his way back into The Godfather, Part I – and there he disappeared inside the snuggly warmth of the moral relativism it offered.
Rolf watched Anton and Mike escort Edith away from Time Bandits from behind the wheel, sitting in the cockpit while his grandmother cleared away the remains of the day down in the galley. Tracy had kept to herself most of the day, yet everyone had noticed how out of it she seemed. She’d lost Henry, and while that obviously had a lot to do with her growing funk there was more to it than that, and even Rolf could see that much – despite his youth.
The chartplotter started chirping, and because Henry’s phone was still synced to it Rolf wasn’t too surprised to see it was Henry’s phone ringing. Not knowing what else to do, he leaned over and answered the call…
“Hello?” Rolf said, yet the first thing he heard was music playing in the background.
“Yes. Hello. Is Henry there?”
“No, he’s not. May I ask who’s calling, please?”
“Is this Rolf?”
“Yes it is. And you are?”
“An old friend. Rupert Collins, over in America. I just wanted to wish Henry a Merry Christmas.”
“Tell me, Rolf, is he gone?”
“He passed last night, sir.”
“Yes. I think I knew that. Some kind of disturbance while I was asleep last night. Are you doing alright, young man?”
“Well okay. I’m sure you have a lot on your mind, but Henry and I became somewhat close over the last few years and I was just hoping to speak to him one more time.”
“I understand, sir.”
“There’s a lesson there, son. Don’t put the important things off, because time gets away from us in the end. We leave too many things undone, and important things left unsaid.”
“Well, goodbye Rolf. Take care.”
“Yessir. Goodbye to you as well.”
He broke the connection, but Rolf smiled when he finally recognized the music he’d heard playing in the background. Henry’s old friend had been watching The Godfather – and he thought that was a strange film to watch on Christmas Day. And it was then that he saw an Old Man in a Cape, along with a boy, walking up to the boat. The Old Man had a very strange looking cane, too…
© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.