Beware of Darkness, VI

BEWARE OF DARKNESS TITLE IMAGE 1 SM

So yeah, the beat goes on, and the drums keep pounding that rhythm to the brain. Oh, lot of ground to cover in this chapter, so grab a cup of (insert your choice of frosty beverage here) and settle in for a quiet read…

Music? Start here, ’cause I did too, and as an aside, Graeme Edge, the Moody Blues drummer from, well, yeah, from the beginning, passed away last week. Just thought you should know as it kinda bothered me here and there as these words found their way to the page.

Part VI

Black Light

Cold hearted orb that rules the night

Removes the colors from our sight

Red is gray and yellow white

But we decide which is right

And which is an illusion

Graeme Edge & Justin Hayward      Nights in White Satin

How strange, he thought as he looked at the passing landscape sliding by in the darkness below. Strange, because he could see Yosemite down there through the clouds, and for a moment he was sure he’d just seen Half Dome in the twilight. Strange, because his father had always wanted to climb that one. Funny, too, as he’d mentioned wanting to climb the Matterhorn one day. Strange now because his father had asked that his ashes be spread from Clouds Rest – “so I can can spend eternity watching over my favorite place on earth.” And he’d said so often enough, too, at least he had whenever the subject came up.

Strange, indeed. Because even now, descending over the Sierra Nevada, Sherman found he had two more mountains to climb. The first with his father would be a kind of goodbye, a last walk together. So first he had to come full circle with that distant past, then he had to get back to Boston and be there when Betty and Beth’s remains arrived from Zermatt. At least, if everything went according to their contingency plans, their ashes would arrive and, as they’d discussed together a few months before their planned return to Zermatt, Betty and Beth wanted their ashes spread from the summit of Long’s Peak, in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park.

“Now that’s an odd choice,” he recalled saying to them at the time, but as is so often the case, the choice was rooted in their past as well as their future.

“We both went to summer camp in Estes Park, Gene, at Cheley, and we both climbed Long’s when we there. I guess you could say that’s where it all began for us. Only about thirty years separated my experience from Beth’s…”

Sherman had heard about Long’s Peak, of course. About the so called Diamond Face and the more accessible Keyhole route, but he’d never seen it and his father had had no interest in climbing there so they’d never made the trip.

“And now I guess I finally will,” he sighed to the passing clouds under his Swiss A-340. “Lucky me,” he added wistfully, just as a flight attendant came on the speaker and advised they’d be landing in ten minutes…

“Yes, lucky me.”

+++++

His mother met him at the airport but she insisted he drive home,

“I can barely see now, Gene.”

“It’s just cataract surgery, Mom. It takes ten minutes and doesn’t hurt, but you know all that so why don’t you tell me what the real problem is…?”

But she’d simply shrugged and hugged him again. “It is so good to see you again, to feel you in my arms. Even under these awful circumstances.”

Sherman looked away. “Circumstances?” he sighed.

“What an awful thing,” she added, “but let’s not talk about all that, not this trip. We have other things to take care of concerning your father.”

“Concerning Dad? Really?”

“Oh, yes, and I mean beyond the trip to Yosemite. How long can you stay?”

“I have to be back in Boston on the tenth, so call it eight days.”

“Good, that will be enough, and by then you will be quite tired of me…as you have always been,” she said happily, though a little carefully.

“I never get tired of you, Mom.”

“But I was never a part of your life, either,” she sighed. “You were your father’s son, and I know that. In fact I cherished that about him most of all.” He also noticed she had trouble walking now, and he was glad her old Porsche wasn’t parked too far away.

He looked at her as he put his carry-on onto the shelf behind his seat and sat down behind the wheel, and he wasn’t sure where she was going with this conversation, but he knew her well enough to be on guard now. She slapped her seatbelt on and sighed, and again he got the distinct impression she was hiding something.

“What is it, Mom? What are you not telling me?”

“I have a glioblastoma, and it is metastasizing aggressively,” she said as she slammed her door shut.

He nodded as he fully understood the implications. “How long? Six months?” he asked.

“Maybe, but I am foregoing treatment, so probably a little less.”

“Okay. I think I understand.”

She shrugged again. “Surgery, chemo, then radiation and go through all that and possibly add two months to the balance sheet? No thanks. I have seen the outcomes of these treatments and at my age I have no interest in such things.”

“Okay. What do I need to do to help?”

“You need to start the car, Gene, because I haven’t had anything to eat today, so please, head straight to the Oasis. I feel a strong need to have an extended coming to terms with a hot pastrami sandwich!”

A half hour later they were in the same booth they’d always tried to get, and he could still find where he and his father had carved their initials into the old wood table – now almost forty years ago – then he looked at his mother looking at his hand on the initials carved down there in the old varnished wood.

“You remember those days too, don’t you?” she asked fondly.

“I’ll never forget. You were perfect parents, you know?”

She smiled at that. “Hardly perfect, Gene, but we always tried to do the right by you, to lead…”

“…by example. And you did, Mom. You taught me the value of being committed to your work while at the same time loving your family. You two were always so much in love, too…”

“And that eluded you, until Betty came along? Yet there were other things, too…”

He nodded. “That’s right,” he sighed. “Until Betty came along.”

“I’m sorry I never met her daughter. What was she like?”

“Mom…ya know, I think she was a survivor, at least she had to have been to get through that childhood.”

“Was it a mixed marriage?”

“I guess. Markus Cohen, Betty’s husband, is from a prominent manhattan family, investment bankers one and all…”

“So, a Jewish family?”

“I assume so, but I never asked. They met at Dartmouth and she went to med school at Columbia, did all her post-grad work in New York City…”

“Where was she from?”

“Charleston.”

“Do you think you would have married her?”

He nodded. “She wanted to, I think very much, and I think Beth wanted that to happen, too.”

“But…what about you? What did you want?”

“I guess, well, I’m not sure, Mom. Everything is confused right now.”

His mother’s right eyebrow arched, a sure sign she was growing a little perturbed. “You’ll never be sure, will you, Gene? I feel this is the one place we let you down. You say you saw how much your father and I loved one another yet I am left to wonder. If this is indeed what you say you experienced why have you never felt this way too?”

He resettled in his seat, felt uncomfortable in his skin as he tried to formulate an answer, then he gave up and looked down. “I’m not sure I’m capable of feeling love, Mom. At least I pretty sure I haven’t, not yet, anyway, and at my age if it hasn’t happened I don’t think it ever will.”

“Well, at last we finally have the truth!” his mother said. “So much for setting a fine example!”

“Don’t say that, Mom. It isn’t true and you know it.”

“Oh? I do? So tell me, Mr. Genius Astronomer, just what did we teach you about life?”

“You taught me humility and determination. You taught me self-respect and empathy. Dad taught me the value of curiosity, and I think he developed in me the patience to explore. All in all, Mom, those aren’t bad things.”

“No, surely not. Those are each good things, noble things, at least they are in and of themselves – yet, I wonder what these things are worth in a life without love. I mean a deep, abiding love. A love worth living your life for. Ah…they are calling our number! Would you go get our sandwiches?”

“Sure, Mom.”

They ate in silence, Sherman marveling at the consistency of the memories this place engendered. The table: the same. Their sandwiches: the same they had been for the past forty five years. Even the air smelled the same, and the memories that followed were echoes bouncing off the same walls, the only thing missing now – his father and the giant shadow he’d cast over all their lives.

“Two of your father’s friends will join us to Yosemite, if that is alright with you, and of course Beverly will join us, as well,” his mother said when she finished half her sandwich – and as she had for the past forty five years, she wrapped the other half in a couple of napkins to take home and eat a few hours from now.

“Of course I don’t mind. Who’s coming?”

“Neal and Patricia, as well as Beverly – and her son,” she said.

“Her son? Have I met him?” Beverly had been his father’s secretary for the past twenty years, maybe more, and a more dedicated soul he’d never known. Still, he had his own secret history with Beverly that went a little deeper than infatuation.

“No…no you haven’t, but now I think it is time that you did.”

“Oh?”

“Well, he is almost your brother, after all.”

Sherman felt an icy claw grip his chest as his mind stammered through the implications. “What does that mean?” he just managed to say.

But his mother smiled evasively at his question. “Yes, perhaps a brother. Because, or so it seems, your father was indeed just a man after all, and perhaps he was not the paragon of virtue you might have imagined he was.”

“Well…I be damned.”

“You? Saint Gene? Oh, surely not. But your father? Well, the jury is still out on that one, oh son and heir to the throne, but be careful. Things are rarely what they seem.”

+++++

And now, eight days later and here he was, sitting in yet another airliner – this time a Delta 757 headed to Boston. He looked out over the city as it slid by a few miles below, the TransAmerica Pyramid still the most easily identifiable icon within the ever growing skyline, and he had to admit that, once you scraped away a little surface paint, things hadn’t changed all that much down there. Silicon Valley had changed the nature of the game just a little, but San Francisco had always been about making money, and a lot of it, usually as fast and with as little risk as possible. San Francisco was the “sure thing” city, where West Coast new money went after the easy money, and Sherman scoffed when he recalled that when the “right coast” mob decided to move out west, the first stop on their easy money train was Frisco. 

Yet the other side of this equation was dark. Real dark.

Because San Francisco was the West Coast’s version of Manhattan, she had quickly become another ‘City of Broken Dreams,’ and now there were a lot of desperate people living down there in an exceptionally small city, with all the usual, and predictable results. But that was California now, too. Sinking under the weight of too much and too many. Too many people chasing the dream.

And who knows, maybe Beverly Bishop had been one of the good ones, one of the good girls that had gotten swooped-up in all the drama that swirled around the whole Silicon Valley thing. She wasn’t really bright, after all, and with just (barely) a high school diploma in hand, she hadn’t really been considered well educated, but she sure was cute as hell and she’d had really nice legs – and for a young girl just striking out on her own and trying to find work as a secretary, in the late-70s those were her most valuable assets. And it goes without saying she knew how to exploit those assets to her greatest advantage. Her high school education had certainly taught her that much.

Then again, Neal Sherman had proven to be the antithesis of who or what she had expected. As a ‘boss’ and more importantly as a human being.

True, he was a physics professor and there was usually a pocket protector tucked neatly inside his shirt pocket. True, an HP-41 graphing calculator always hung from his belt. And, yes, true, his trousers were hemmed about two inches too high. He was also nice. He never ‘bossed’ her around. He was always empathetic, always let her have some time off when her ‘little friend’ hit too hard and the cramps became almost unendurable. And on the rare occasions when the Sherman’s went out to dinner in The City, or when they went to academic conferences of some sort, Beverly Bishop stayed at the Sherman house in Menlo Park, ‘babysitting’ for Gene, making sure he didn’t get into too much trouble.

The trouble with this arrangement was simple enough to understand. Gene Sherman was, by the time Beverly entered the picture, already a teenager. He was a little nerdy, too, but he was a good looking kid, AND he was the quarterback over at Palo Alto High, which made him a real BMOC, or Big Man On Campus, and not a Pretender. And Beverly was cute. And if anything, Beverly was a little oversexed, which is a polite way of saying that when she met Gene Sherman she got a little moist down there where the sun don’t shine. And one night, when the Shermans were up in The City, she taught Gene all about kissing, and all the other little ins-and-outs that usually attend such studies. And as he was in everything else he did, Gene Sherman was a quick study and he began to look forward to his parents heading out to dinner.

And then he was gone. Off to college, to some place called Annapolis, and all Beverly Bishop really understood about all that was that Gene Sherman was on the opposite side of a very big country and that she was now very, very pregnant.

+++++

And of course Gene Sherman was good at arithmetic. He could add and subtract, and he could count months and years and the passage of time and the numbers tended to work out neatly. Yet the sums he arrived at now were inescapable.

So when Neal and Patricia Hefti and Beverly and Jordan Bishop met up at the Sherman house on Arbor Road, Gene Sherman was a little on edge, maybe even a little bent out of shape. Nervous might even be a better descriptor. Because, while he knew on a visceral level he was headed to Yosemite to spread his father’s ashes on the wind, he also understood he had reached one of those turning points in life, a point that had been concealed and too long denied by all parties.

He understood, in other words, that he was, quite probably, about to meet his son. And he was scared shitless, too.

The boy wasn’t really a boy, not now. He was a young man in his thirties and he worked at H-P designing circuit boards and chips. And Jordan Bishop was, for all intents and purposes, a knock-off of Gene Shepard, and standing side by side that interesting fact became instantly, and embarrassingly clear to everyone standing out there on Arbor Road. They were the same height. Their hair color was identical, eye color too. And it was the eyes that gave it all away, because Jordan and Gene looked exactly like father and son. Probably because…well, you know…

Yet if this was some kind of revelation it seemed that Gene Sherman was the only one who really hadn’t been keeping score over the intervening decades. The Heftis certainly knew, and when he looked at his mother he realized that she too had known all along. So, what was going on?

And so, when it came time to divide up into cars for the drive over to the park, Gene asked if Beverly could ride with him for a while. Beverly graciously consented, because of course she had been waiting for just this exact moment for, uh, well, for thirty two years.

+++++

“Your father was worried that, well, that if it came out it might wreck the whole Annapolis thing, and then everything just sort of spun out of control from there. Your mom and dad took care of me, Gene. And they have ever since.”

“This is kind of hard to believe, Bev,” Gene growled. “I mean…that’s my son, my boy, and I might have died last week on that mountain and never known a thing about him…”

“I know. When you came back last year, well, once we learned about Betty we decided to put it off again. It wasn’t some kind of grand conspiracy, Gene. It all just kind of happened, and everything developed a momentum…”

“Now you’re talking like Dad.”

“Maybe because I’ve been around him all my life, Gene. I loved him, too, ya know. Like a father, because in the best way possible that’s exactly what he was to me…”

“And a grandfather…?”

“Yes,” she whispered, “that too.”

“So…I have a son.”

“You do.”

“A son I don’t know. Now, ain’t that ducky…”

“Look, I know how bitter you must…”

“No, you don’t, because I’m not, Beverly. Not really. Shocked? Hell yeah, but not bitter. I can see my old man, ya know? Was he there for the delivery?”

She nodded. “He held my hand, Gene. He even took pictures, because he knew that one day you’d want to see…”

“Jesus H Christ on a motorbike. Yeah, I got it. Hell, I can almost see it all happening…”

“Of course you can. Because he was decent and honorable, and he did everything so that you could stay focused…”

“Stay focused?” Sherman cried. “Focused on what? Playing football? Looking at the stars? Is all that supposed to be more important than being a father? For being there, for my kid?”

She looked at him and shook her head. “You still don’t get it, do you?”

“Get what?”

“You’d just left home, Gene, and now they were alone, but then all of a sudden along came Jordan and all that magic came back into their lives. Do you realize we spent the first three years of Jordan’s life living with your parents, and you never came home, not once. Your dad went out to your graduation at Annapolis, and again he went to Pensacola, but you never once came home…”

Sherman’s eyes filled with tears and he started to pull over to the side of the road but managed to wipe them dry.

“Then the thing with your leg and you came home after that. You came home when you needed them and they were there for you, weren’t they?”

“And where were you?”

“Oh, we’d moved out by then. Your dad took out a second and bought us a little cottage over by Menlo College.”

“So…he kept you close?”

“Wouldn’t you have done the same thing, Gene? The most important thing was always protecting you and your career, but taking care of us became a real focus for them once you were gone.”

“I assume he knows I’m his father?”

“Of course. You’ve been like some kind of God to him, Gene. He’s terrified right now; I don’t think I’ve ever seen him more upset. Afraid of being rejected, afraid you’ll push him away, push all of us away…”

And that was it. All Gene Sherman could take. First Betty and Beth, then his father, and now this. He pulled over to the side of the road and their little convoy pulled over, too.

“Are you okay, Gene?”

“No,” he said, staring off into space. “No, not really.”

“You come on over and sit in this seat,” she said, opening the Porsche’s right door and stepping out onto the road’s shoulder. But he hadn’t moved, not even a little, so she went and got Jordan and together they moved him, and got him buckled in.

And then Jordan got behind the wheel, and once his mother was in the Hefti’s station wagon off they went, onward to Yosemite.

+++++

“You know how to drive this thing?” Gene asked the stranger by his side.

“I learned to drive in this car, Dad. I even took my driving test in it.”

“Of course you did.” Sherman sighed, sitting there in a state of shock, hearing but not quite realizing that this kid had just called him Dad, and that this otherwise unknown human being sitting behind the wheel of his mother’s Porsche was in fact his son.

“I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult all this must be for you,” Jordan said.

“Really?”

“Really. What happened over there, Dad?”

“Over where?”

“On the Matterhorn?”

“Strong wind out of nowhere, just like this.”

“Like this? You mean, oh…as in meeting me?”

“Unexpected,” Gene Sherman whispered. “Everything has been so unexpected. So, losing my dad must be like…”

“Yeah,” Jordan sighed, and that was all he said.

“I’m sorry. That was insensitive of me.”

“Doesn’t matter, Dad. Like I said, I don’t know how you’re able to process all this?”

“Process? What does that mean?”

“So many conflicting emotions coming at you so fast.”

“Oh. So, did you and my father come up here a lot?”

“Yosemite? Oh yeah, sometimes every weekend.”

“He taught you to climb?”

“Yeah, and to ski, up at Tahoe usually.”

Sherman nodded, the picture becoming much more clear. “Did you play football?”

“Yup, but I was nowhere near as good as you. I played two years at Berkeley then blew out my knee.”

“Quarterback?”

“Yeah.”

“Which knee?”

“My left, why?”

“Oh, just wondering. Does it bother you much?”

“Not too much these days,” Jordan added. “Why? What’s on your mind?”

“Betty and Beth are coming back next week and they asked that I spread their ashes from a mountain in Colorado. If you have some time you could take off, I’d appreciate the help.”

“Really? I’d love that, Dad.”

Sherman ignored the incongruity of the boy’s response, wondering if the tacit selfishness was innate, or something a little more…peculiar…? But then again, he said to himself, how would it be to grow up with a web of deceit and evasion right outside your door?

+++++

Another Delta 757. Coming into Logan about an hour after sunset, Jordan in the seat next to his. And now, after almost a week together, he had to admit the boy was good company. They got on easily enough, too, at least once all the tiptoeing around hidden landmines was over and done with. Or maybe that was the point. There’d never be enough time to skirt all the inherent drama, because now it seemed as if both their lives, the entirety of both their lives, had been and was nothing less than a living tissue of lies.

And how did you overcome something so pernicious? Sherman had no idea.

Was something so intricately woven into the fabric of time subject to such understanding and empathy? He found himself looking at this stranger, his son, not really able to put the context of life as he’d known and understood it into the ever expanding subterfuge of Jordan’s day-to-day existence.

But was it really fair to look at the boy’s life under that kind of lens? Parsing meaning out of emotions he’d never witnessed, let alone experienced?

The 757 was circling out over the bay, lining up to land with the downtown skyline glittering behind the airport, and he realized that almost all his memories of Beth and Betty were tied up in and around that island of glittering history. Like a gayly wrapped Christmas present, complete with festive bows and ribbons…to: Gene – from: Santa Claus – they’d all come together here, like atoms pulled by an uncertain gravity into the nucleus of life in just this one particular city. Then again, flying over the United States at night was kind of like looking down on a series of globular clusters spread out across an unseen landscape, and Boston was just the end of one chain…

“I wanted to apply to a couple of schools back here,” Jordan said.

“Why didn’t you?” – but he already knew the answer, didn’t he?

“No scholarship money. Wasn’t good enough, I guess.”

Which, Sherman knew, was just a part of his ever expanding fabric of lies, the private tapestry built up around his life. I’d probably just moved to Boston around that time, Sherman thought, and had just started teaching at MIT, so Jordan’s sudden emergence might have interfered with all that, too. Because once the lie began it had developed a momentum all its own, and like some kind of hideous runaway fission reaction the lie consumed truth as easily as it devoured fuel rods, or even the Cheerios both of them had eaten for breakfast all their lives. They were living in a hall of mirrors, their lives a series of distortions, even the one basic truth they shared had withered under the sheer weight of this tapestry.

“You seem to have done well enough at Berkeley,” he replied, continuing the charade.

“It’s a good school.”

“You got your Masters, right?”

“Stanford. Double-E.”

Now here was another minefield best avoided. ‘Did Dad pull a few strings to get him in?’ But no, don’t go there, “Lot of good connections, good networking opportunities. Is that how you got hooked up at H-P?”

It was all so easy, like all you had to do was hitch up your trousers and follow the good old yellow brick road, so yeah baby, just Sing, Dorothy! Sing! – ’cause there’s no place like home!

The jet touched down and he was pulled into his seatbelt as reverse thrust kicked in, then they were spit out of the belly of the beast and into the beating heart of his memory. Beth and Betty had been his truth for almost a year, yet all that waited for him now was Dorothy and her red slippers – in the shape and form of this stranger by his side.

“You live over by MIT?” Jordan asked as they took the escalator down to the T.

“Yeah. It’s not a bad walk from the Red Line, so it’s convenient.”

“Any good places to eat around here?”

“You hungry?”

“Always.”

“Steak sound okay?”

“You bet.”

So yeah, of course the yellow brick road goes right by the Chart House, doesn’t it? I can get two birds with one stone tonight, so on to the Blue Line we go, and off at Long Wharf and yeah, maybe I’ll have a Mai Tai with my salad, and make mine a double, would you? 

‘He’s a good kid, ya know?’ he said to himself as he polished off drink number one.

“So Dad, I have to ask. What was it like to fly off a carrier?”

And Gene Sherman didn’t really know how to respond to that question anymore. That was the first question just about everyone asked once they learned he’d been a Naval Aviator, but he’d found that, more and more often recently, that his leg got in the way of any answer that came to mind…but then again this was his son and his son deserved an honest answer, especially given the circumstances…

“I hate to say it, Jordan, but carrier aviation and mountain climbing have an awful lot in common. You have to balance the equations, that’s all. In the beginning, when you’re learning and still a nugget, the equation is fear versus confidence. Later on, say after you’ve got a couple hundred hours logged, the equation changes on you little by little. It becomes arrogance versus self confidence. The word is that the most dangerous person in the world is a naval aviator with 200 hours of flight time, because by that point he’s sure he’s God’s gift to the aviation world and can therefore make no mistakes…”

“What did you fly?”

“The A-6.”

“That’s the Intruder, right?”

“Yup.”

“What’s the deal with flying the A-6?”

“Something called DIANE, which means Digital Integrated Attack/Navigation Equipment, which all-in-all is nothing but a convoluted way of saying the aircraft could take off and land from a carrier in zero visibility and then fly to a target in the middle of the night, and in the worst weather imaginable, and put bombs on targets no larger than a mouse’s ass.”

“No shit? But I thought the Intruder was designed back in the 50s?”

“Yup, it was. And one of the guys working on the original design also developed the F-14 and the lunar descent module, so those guys knew a little something about computers, even way back then in the stone age.”

“Could you, I mean, did you ever carry nukes?”

Sherman shrugged. “The Intruder was capable of that, yes.”

“How’d you get shot down?”

Sherman tried to maintain eye contact but somehow he knew the kid was going to ask the one question he just didn’t want to answer – and yet now there was nothing to it but to answer him. “An Iranian F-14, well, there were four known F-14s ahead of us but another came in low and got past our Hawkeye. That one launched from down on the deck, from my six, and we never had a chance. Funny, ya know, because we trained their pilots. They knew our doctrine, our ROEs, and man…did they catch us with out pants down.”

“That happened during the hostage thing, right?”

Sherman nodded as he took a long pull from his second Mai Tai. “Yeah, that’s right.”

“So…landing at night on a carrier? Is that as hard as it sounds?”

“Remember that equation? Arrogance versus self confidence?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, there are very few arrogant Naval Aviators, Jordan, and yet there are none that are afraid of landing at night in a storm on a carrier. The training is all about getting you to the point where you’re confident in your skills. If you don’t get there you don’t get your wings, simple as that. Now, how’s your steak?”

“Good. GrandPa said you wanted to try for the astronaut program?”

He nodded. “Yeah. I lost that when I lost my leg.”

“I’m sorry, Dad. I mean, I’m sorry about everything that’s happened this summer…”

“You learn to roll with the punches, and if you go down you have to get back up on your feet and get going again.”

“Is it really that simple, Dad?”

Sherman looked away for a moment, lost inside the easy sounding bullshit the question implied. “I’m not sure yet, Jordan. I’m still down on the ground, still trying to figure out when I’m going to find the strength…”

+++++

He wasn’t sure about the what or the who or the how of Betty’s and Beth’s return, only that someone from Switzerland was accompanying their remains and that they’d be on the noon-thirty flight from Zurich, so both he and Jordan were waiting outside of the main Customs exit at noon two days later when he saw Hans walk out into the concourse. He waved and Hans smiled as he walked over.

“Professor, you look surprised to see me?”

“Actually, I think that’s because I am. Hans, good to see you, and how are you doing?”

“Better. Still not one hundred percent, but better. Now, who is this with you?”

“Hans, this is Jordan Bishop. Jordan, this is Hans Castorp.”

“A friend or a student?” Hans said as he held out his right hand.

“My son.”

“Indeed. Well, Jordan, nice to meet you.”

“You too, sir.”

“Did you eat on the plane, or would you like to grab a little something to eat? And what are your plans, Hans?”

“Maybe we could find someplace quiet to talk? I am curious about some things.”

So, one more time…follow the yellow brick road…like maybe this was getting to be a little too easy?

+++++

“So, this is a Mai Tai? It is somewhat strong? Rum, I think?”

“Yup, rum. And a lot of it, too.”

“I think I like it,” Hans said after he downed the glass – in one long pull. “Yes, I think I like this very much.”

“So, what’s on your mind, Hans?”

“You are going to Colorado. To Long’s Peak. This is correct?”

“This is correct.”

“I want to go with you.”

Sherman inhaled sharply. “Really?”

“Is this a problem?”

“No, not at all. I’m just curious, that’s all.”

“Well, I have brought Father Pete with me, as well. I think he would have liked this, no? To be with Beth and Betty up there on this mountain. You see, he climbed the Diamond Face twice, and I think this was a special place for him.”

“I’m not really familiar with it, Hans, only that Betty wanted me to take a trail called the Keyhole. Something to do with how both she and Beth made the climb when they were kids.”

Hans shrugged. “The way to the summit is irrelevant, only that we gain it together. And I must tell you, Professor, that I have set aside some of the, well, you know…”

“Please tell me you’re kidding?”

“No, no, not at all. I have set a little of each one aside, in case you might care to return to Zermatt next summer and carry them to the summit again.”

Sherman tried to pretend he hadn’t heard the remark and casually turned to signal their waiter. “I think we’re going to need a shitload of these,” he said once the kid made it to their table, and then, pointing to their empty Mai Tai glasses with a grin, he added: “so keep ‘em coming ’til one of us either pukes or cries uncle.”

“Gee Dad, that sounds like fun,” Jordan said, grinning a little too madly.

“What does? Puking?”

“No, doing the Matterhorn together.”

“Fun? Gee, you know what, kid? You and me, we got real different opinions about what constitutes fun. Know what I mean?”

“But wait! Does this mean,” Hans cried, apparently lost in reveries all his own, “that we are going to get to take a road trip? Like, maybe, the Great American Road Trip?”

“Maybe,” Sherman sighed. “But first, well, I don’t quite know how to say this, but, well, first thing is we’re gonna need a car.”

“Alright!” Hans cried, slapping the table. “Fuckin’ A! The professor doesn’t own a car!”

“And what’s the next thing, Dad?” Jordan asked as he watched his father down his second drink.

“I’m gonna need another fuckin’ Mai Tai,” Gene Sherman said – just before he started giggling. “Holy Mother of God. A road trip. Well Betty, looks like you get the last laugh after all…”

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple. All rights reserved.

One stop left on this train:

Hasta later, y’all…

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