Another quick trip down the rabbit hole, perhaps a good time for some cardamom tea?
Part III: The House With No Windows
Beverly Hills, California May 1997
Debra Sorensen’s baby never materialized, except, perhaps, in the unsettled dreams that followed long after her return from the sea. She remembered giving birth – on some kind of ship – yet she never saw the baby. She’d been surrounded by feathered creatures who all seemed most excited about…something…yet she considered all these memories suspect. There had never been a time since Henry Taggart brought her up from the sea that any of those experiences had felt real, and how could they have? She’d been gone for – what? A half hour? Not even that long? And yet she’d felt as if she’d been on some sort of space ship, for months? How was any of that even possible – except, perhaps, within the soft, womblike confines of her dreams…?
Or – worse. For she soon wondered if these were the opening delusions of an onrushing madness?
Because even William seemed different after that trip. Fully caught up in all the trappings of wealth now, he absolutely loved driving around West LA in her Porsche, the bright yellow Cabriolet as flashy as a peacock, and that seemed to suit his needs completely. He loved showing up at Spring Training in her car, his teammates drooling in jealous envy as he got out from behind the wheel and jogged into the clubhouse before practice. There were times now when Debra felt like the real patsy, like she was being used – yet hadn’t she once used William for something quite similar? Hadn’t he become her very own declaration of independence, from her father? Wasn’t she just getting her comeuppance now?
One thing was becoming clear, however. William was getting more and more interested in making movies, of getting into the film school at USC, and her father had proven more than willing to help make that happen. Her father had actually encouraged this interest, but Debra could see this development for what it really was: a means to an end, a way to control William…and so, in effect, yet another way to control her.
Yet there were two other sides to William, two facets of the same obdurate stone. He loved playing football more than anything else in the world, and she knew that included her, too. And the other part of the stone wall standing between them? It was that one part of his life he seemed most willing to obscure – his other, earlier life in Montana. He could talk about his kid brother, Frank – and when he did it was always in glowing terms – yet he only rarely talked about his parents. Not even to her father. Especially not to her father.
So of course Ted had sent private investigators to Montana to find out what he could.
The reports had been disquieting. William’s father belonged to several questionable groups that maintained ties to national white supremacist organizations, including one neo-Nazi organization, and once that discovery was digested and under wraps Sorensen decided that William Taylor would never marry his daughter. He might help the boy with his career because, hey, you never knew, right? If the Kid did in fact make it into the Pros he might become useful, very useful indeed, so why not keep it simple for now, let Debra have her college fling and get all that out of her system, because right now Ted had other worries.
Ever since his father’s marriage to Deborah Eisenstadt, Ted Sorensen had made the trip to Israel at least a couple of times a year, and to simply visit with them both. She’d settled into teaching physics in Haifa, at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, so with his son’s help Anders Sorensen had purchased a house overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in the Shambur Hills, not far from campus, and the elder Sorensen had aged gracefully for a time, until Alzheimer’s came calling, anyway.
His father’s decline had been merciless and swift, and just months after Ted’s return from French Polynesia it was becoming clear that the end was near.
William sat across from Debra, in the middle row of the limo facing aft, and he watched her as she looked out the window. She’d insisted William come with them and Ted had reluctantly agreed; classes were out for the year now and she wanted William to know more about her family, to at least meet her grandfather and perhaps develop an understanding of that part of her life. She waxed and waned these days, vacillated between knowing that William was her ‘One and Only’ one day and not really knowing where they stood the next, but in the end she couldn’t see a life for herself that didn’t include him – so here he was. Ted was not happy about it, but…
William looked at Ted, now talking on some kind of telephone to the studio, then talking to the pilot of his new business jet about customs and immigration problems, then to one of his secretaries back at the studio, and to William it seemed like the man was simply little more than a juggler. Ted seemed to accumulate problems the way a steer attracts hordes of flying insects, naturally and inevitably, and yet Ted never, ever seemed to be even remotely happy, just like a steer. And for some reason William found that odd, yet comforting – like a familiar echo…
But comforting because all his work resulted in so much obvious wealth, and that wealth was an intoxicating attractant. ‘I could live like this,’ he told himself as they drove out Sepulveda to Imperial, and as men came out to meet their limo and carry their bags out to Teds new Gulfstream IV. Everyone was deferential, everyone’s eyes were full of respect. And why? Because Ted Sorensen had accumulated so much wealth, and so quickly, he had come to be considered something like a force of nature. Almost like a hurricane, he was considered something fierce and deadly. And in Los Angeles, as it was in much of the world at that time, such men were revered. Such men were envied, and perhaps they always have been – because wealth is power. Wealth is the ability to bend people to your Will, to twist truth and reason to a purpose, and William Taylor could literally feel all these things as he watched Ted Sorensen.
And he wanted to be just like him.
Yet a most curious thing was going on. William Taylor was beginning to think more and more of becoming someone just like Ted Sorensen, just as he was beginning to think less and less about Debra, and everything felt like an echo. Like it had all happened before.
But not Debra, who hadn’t seen that coming. No, not in the least.
After refueling in Geneva, Sorensen’s Gulfstream flew directly to Haifa and made a straight-in approach to runway 16, the pilot struggling to set the jet down on the numbers and quickly into full reverse thrust, as the runway was just long enough to accommodate the G-IV and not one inch more. A limo was waiting for them on the ramp and took them directly to the elder Sorensen’s residence on Margalit Street – just as the sun seemed to settle into the sea.
Deborah Eisenstadt-Sorensen took them to the patio, to where Anders sat in pooling confusion, and the old man was wrapped in blankets to ward off the looming chill coming in with the evening’s breezes. He did not recognize his son, yet for some reason he did see Debra for who she really was, and he patted the seat next to his own and bade her to sit and talk with him…
“Hello, Pa-pa,” she said, as she always did around him speaking in babyish coos, because he had always been her favorite person in the world. “How are you feeling today?”
“Better, now that you are here. Tell me, how is that school? Are you learning anything useful?”
“No, Pa-pa, nothing in the least useful.”
And he beamed at that. “Ah, that is good, because that is as it should be. You look happy, too.”
“Oh, I am, Pa-pa. I have brought me boyfriend, William. I wanted you to meet him.”
“The football player?” Anders said, turning to look at Taylor. “My God, but you are as big as a mountain!”
Ted watched all this quietly amazed. The last two times he’d visited Anders, he had barely been lucid, yet now, here he was as bright and open as he’d ever been. Yet his mother had cautioned him there would be days like this, only to be followed by days of foggy recollections – and an inevitable failing of physical functioning. But now, watching Debra, he realized he was witnessing something of a minor miracle…
“It’s nice to meet you, sir,” Taylor said, taking the old man’s frail hand in his own. “Debra has told me so much about you…”
“So much, indeed. There isn’t so much to tell, now is there, Debra?”
“Oh, Pa-pa, you know that’s not true.”
Anders inhaled deeply and turned to look at the last rays of the sun reaching for the stars. “Can you smell the cedars? And the lavender? Deborah planted lavender on the hillside last autumn. Is that not better than heaven?”
Debra leaned on her grandfather and hugged him. “It certainly is, Pa-pa. Better than heaven!”
“So, tell me about football, young Leonidas. What position do you play? Linebacker?”
“Excuse me?” William said, astonished. “Did you call me Leonidas?”
“But of course I did! And why wouldn’t I? That’s always been your name, has it not?”
Debra gave William a cautious nod, warning him to play along, to not rock the boat…
“Oh, it’s just that not many people call me that these days.”
“Ah, I understand. It wouldn’t do for everyone to understand, not yet, anyway.”
“So, you play linebacker, is that correct?”
“Middle, or outside?”
“Indeed. I am most unsure of this thing called a ‘Flex defense’…do you think you could explain it to me?”
“I’ll try, sir.”
“Thank you, my Leonidas. It was so good to see you once again, even after so much time has come between us…”
“What the hell was that Leonidas shit all about?” Ted Sorensen snarled once they were in the limo headed to their hotel.
“Yeah, that was weird,” Debra said, leaning into William as the Mercedes rounded a sharp curve.
Yet Taylor simply looked out the window and shrugged.
“Anyone ever call you that before?” Sorensen asked, only now a little less passive-aggressively.
But once again Taylor shrugged, adding: “Who’s Leonidas, anyway?”
It was a nice deflection and it might have worked, too, but Sorensen was good at reading people, especially when they were lying or even simply evading a question, and he saw all the telltale body language on the Kid just then – yet he decided to drop the matter…for the time being, anyway.
“Where are we staying, Dad?” asked Debra.
“Shit, I don’t know. Someplace downtown. Schumacher, I think is the name. We’ve stayed there before, I think.”
“Why didn’t we stay at the house?” she added.
Now it was Sorensen’s turn to evade the question, and though he simply shrugged if he’d wanted to tell his daughter the real reason she might not have understood. The real reason, he knew, was that the house smelled of Death now, his father’s death, and even though he’d first tried to confront his fear about losing his Old Man a few years ago he’d never really succeeded. When he’d last visited his father, and that had been about six months ago, he’d noticed the smell and it had unnerved him horribly. It wasn’t just the smell of urine, or even the ferocious halitosis, it was something more wicked than that, like something lurking in a dark forest, something just out of sight. Death had always been something easily rationalized away, something he knew happened to everyone sooner or later, yet he was the first to admit that the death of someone truly close to him had not happened to him…not yet.
And he had a hard time thinking of his father not being around. Of not being able to pick up the ‘phone and talk to his Old Man, even if only to talk about the weather or, yes, even about football – which for some reason Anders now watched all the time. What would he do, how would he feel when that voice grew still and unreachable?
“Anyone hungry?” Sorensen deflected, knowing full well the Kid was Always Hungry, and that Taylor could seemingly never eat enough.
“I could eat,” Taylor said, looking hopeful that an all-you-can-eat buffet might spring up around the next bend in the road.
“I remember a good place down by the water, Lebanese, I think,” Debra said, recalling her last trip here a year ago.
“Oh, right, the Ein ElWadi. It’s one of Dad’s favorite spots, too. Let’s go now before it gets too late,” he said to the driver, who made a couple of turns and headed for the old quarter along the north beach.
The neighborhood felt almost ancient – yet curiously rundown, too, and even the tiny restaurant seemed like a place lost in time, like the echo of an afterthought. The main room was little more than a vast stone vault, and several tables sat under flickering torchlight, yet Debra beamed as they walked inside and she quickly found an open table. The proprietor came over and dropped off menus – and for some reason he seemed to remember Debra from her last visit…
“Meez Debra?” he asked, smiling when he was sure it was her.
And when Deb turned to the old man she smiled again and then jumped up and gave him a huge, heartfelt hug. “Kali?” she cried. “Oh, I am so happy to see you!”
And while Taylor was of course clueless, Ted remembered that night, and he was only too happy to have the day’s somber mood washed away by such a trifling memory, so he too stood and shook the old man’s hand. A carafe of wine appeared, then plates and bowls of hummus and tabouli and lamb and then even Taylor seemed to get into the swing of things – after a few glasses of wine, anyway – and before too long the old man pulled out something that looked and sounded something like a mandolin and he started playing simple, soulful music that did indeed seem to make time stand still.
When the kid began to look well and truly snockered, Ted turned and looked William Taylor in the eye: “So tell me, Leonidas, in this other world of yours, just who is my father to you?”
“Your father?” Leonidas said bitterly. “He is our father, as if you did not know that!”
“And what is his name?”
“Drink your wine, Brother. This game ill suits you!”
“Leonidas, perhaps it is the wine, but please, tell me our father’s name…”
“Anaxandridas, Brother, as if you could forget the man, or even his name…”
And when he heard the name of Anaxandridas Ted Sorensen felt caught inside a vortex, everything in sight disappearing under a cloak of piercing starlight, so he closed his eyes – hoping the spinning would stop…
“Dad? Are you okay?”
He looked up, saw Debra in the torchlight and he felt the unashamed look of concern in her eyes, so he took a deep breath and nodded. “This is indeed potent wine. I haven’t felt like this since…”
And the flickering torchlight flared and once again he was trapped in the spinning vortex, once again he felt his understanding of the world slip into something like molten quicksand, and overhead fields of stars streaked by as he realized he was sinking deeper and deeper into the porous sands of an hourglass…
“There, there, brother!” he heard the Kid say from someplace far away. “Come, come, Cleomenes, surely you do not expect me to carry you all the way to your quarters?”
Sorensen opened an eye and the spinning vertigo eased a bit…
“Leonidas? Is it you? Truly?” Sorensen asked when he eyed the Kid.
“Yes, Brother, and you are indeed very, very drunk once again, so let us get you to bed before you make an even bigger ass of yourself!”
He felt himself falling after that, falling through a series of endlessly impossible dreams. For he realized he was indeed a king again, and he was in fact a Spartan king, and yet through the tattered remnants of his night he came to realize that he was, like another father, oh-so-slowly losing his mind…if not going insane…
When he crawled out of bed the next morning he realized he was in a hotel room. The Schumacher Hotel, he remembered, and he was, therefore, in Haifa, and then, suddenly, he heard an incessant knocking on the door.
“Mr. Sorensen! Mr. Sorensen!” came a steely yet almost hysterical voice. “Are you awake?!”
“Coming,” he growled – as he found a bathrobe hanging in the closet and slipped it on, almost forgetting to tie it closed as he stumbled to the door. “What is it?” he said as he unlatched the door and opened it…
He thought he saw echoes of a Spartan hoplite standing there, but then he recognized the hotel manager. “Yes? What is it?” he asked.
“It is your father. They are taking him to the hospital.”
Suddenly wide awake, he nodded and looked around, still not sure of his surroundings.
“Can you get my driver, have him pick us up…?”
“It is already arranged, Mr. Sorensen, and my brother is getting your daughter as we speak.”
“Thank you, Nabil. I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
The hospital was nearby and the mid-morning traffic was light’ – and they were at the emergency room entrance within minutes. Deborah met them just as they walked in.
“What’s happened?” Ted asked.
“He just stopped breathing, Ted. I’m so sorry. I tried CPR until the medics arrived, but I think he’s gone…”
He felt light-headed, preternaturally weak as his tears came, and William Taylor came and put an arm protectively around him.
Ted looked up at the Kid and he was surprised to see that his eyes, too, were full of tears. “Thank you, brother,” he said to Taylor.
And still Debra had no idea what was going on between her father and her boyfriend, but they were still both acting a little weird. Last night at the restaurant had quickly turned surreal, especially after the music began, and she had herself felt a little out of sorts for a while. Now, looking at William and her father, she wondered why…
© 2021-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.