Down we go into the rabbit hole, deeper and deeper…at least until the stars rise.
Time enough for jasmine tea?
I sure hope so…
(Stephen Stills, Do For The Others)
Part III: The House With No Windows
Beverly Hills, California June 1997
Debra found her father staring into nothingness more often than not these days, and this morning he had been standing in the kitchen – staring deep into the upper atrium koi-pond – his hands hanging limply at his side. The housekeeper had fixed his usual breakfast of scrambled eggs and nova-lox, but the food remained on the dining room table, uneaten and getting cold. Yesterday’s had remained untouched as well, as had the day before and the day before that. She came quietly to his side and stood beside him, waiting…
“Hello, little one,” he said some time later. “What are you up to today?”
“Oh, I thought I might go jump off a bridge. You know, do something constructive?”
“Oh? Well, have a good time.”
“It’s time to snap out of it, okay? It’s time to rejoin the human race.”
“The human race? What?”
“Well, that might be a better course of action than this self abuse, don’t you think?”
“Self abuse? What does that mean?”
“Standing here feeling sorry for yourself, maybe?”
“I’m not feeling sorry for myself, Deb. I’ve been thinking about that night in Haifa.”
“At the restaurant, with Leonidas.”
“You mean William?”
“Yes, just so.”
“What have you been thinking about?”
“About what happens when a king is deposed.”
“Deposed? What do you mean by that, Dad?”
He took a deep breath and held it in for a moment, then he let the stale air slide out slowly: “I’ve made that mistake too many times already, and I’m not going to let that happen again. Is Lucille around? I’d like some breakfast.”
“It’s on the table, Dad. Why don’t you go sit and I’ll get your coffee. What would you like?”
“An espresso, I think. Make it a double, would you?”
“Are you going to see Leonidas today?”
“If you mean William, then yes, I am. Remember? We’re going diving with Henry Taggart, down in Newport Beach.”
“The special effects guy from Seattle? You remember…he was with us in Tahiti last year.”
“Oh, him. I thought he moved north. Good riddance.”
“Oh, he’s harmless enough, Dad,” she said as she started the espresso maker. “We’re going to sail out to Catalina, to the Isthmus, and do some diving for our class.”
“Diving? You mean…with tanks and all that…?”
“Yup, he’s an instructor, but we’re going to meet the guys from our diving class out there; they’re coming over on a charter boat.”
“Is this something I need to be aware of? Is it dangerous?”
“Oh, not at all. We’ll be with dozens of people and a bunch of instructors. It’s no big deal, Dad. Really.”
“These eggs are cold,” Sorensen said, pushing the plate away.
“I’ll make you some fresh…”
“Oh, never mind. I’ll get something at the commissary.”
“Dad? It’s Saturday.”
“Dad? Why don’t you call Dina, maybe head down to PV and go for a ride with her.”
“Too many snakes down there, and besides, I don’t trust her anymore.”
“You don’t trust her? Since when?”
“There’s something in her eyes now. Something I don’t trust.”
She brought the coffee to her father and she thought he looked a little like a lost child; not really knowing what else to do she decided to go and call his mother. Maybe this last link to his father – and to that hollow past – could break him out of this latest funk. It was worth a try, anyway. Anything was, at this point – because his life had recently been lurching from one psychic crisis to the next, yet now he seemed to be growing almost paranoid.
She went to her suite and packed her dive bag then called Tilly. She filled her in and asked her to come by and check up on him this afternoon, then she drove down to campus to pick up William.
Taylor was on a “full ride” scholarship at USC, which meant his tuition, room and board were covered, but it also meant he had to participate in a work-study program in addition to playing football. He was taking two classes over the summer and working five evenings a week in the dining hall, mainly doing dishes but occasionally working the serving line, but at least he had weekends off and he was looking forward to finishing this diving class Deb had signed him up for. He’d never been a particularly good swimmer but like everything else he tried, it hadn’t taken him long to master the basics. He’d always been like that. If something required physical prowess he excelled at it; if overcoming fear was involved he was truly peerless, in a class all his own. Still, the ocean was different, foreign…
He was working out with the coaches and trainers in the mornings when he wasn’t in class, and strengthening his knee day by day, impressing even the head coach with his dedication and stamina, and he’d decided to give it his all in the classroom this year, too, which was why he decided to pack his calculus text with his other gear for this trip to Catalina with Deb. And math might keep his mind off…him…
He still didn’t know how he felt about Henry Taggart, only that there’d been something between him and Deb and he was really glad when Taggart moved north again, back to Seattle. But then Taggart had called and suggested they take a SCUBA class so that maybe they could all go on some dive trips together, and Deb had been kind of excited about doing that so he decided to go along with it and see what developed.
Deb came to the dorm in her new Land Rover, one of those chunky old school models that had been around since the fifties, because she’d thought it might be more practical for diving or skiing or whatever. She’d kept the canary yellow Porsche, of course, which had only humiliated him that much more, but in the end going out with a rich chick sure had its privileges, and he’d never been much for showing jealousy….
He tossed his dive bag in the back and came around to the passenger side and got in, and she slipped a Mini-disc in the Sony player and Boston’s More Than a Feeling came blaring through the new custom stereo he’d insisted she install, and he grinned along to the music as she made her way to the Interstate.
“You taking the Five to the Fifty Five?” he asked, demonstrating his growing command of the city.
“That’s right,” she said, smiling. “Alright! High five!” she said, holding up her hand.
“That’s the way to Disneyland, right?”
“We still haven’t been, ya know?”
“I know. I was thinking maybe we could do your birthday there. Sound good to you?”
He nodded. “You think maybe we could fly Frank down for that?”
“Your brother? Sure. What about your parents?”
“No. Just Frank,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest.
She caught this defensive reflex and wanted to ask about his folks again, but no, not yet. “Do we need to stop for anything before we get to Newport?”
“No, I think I got it all.”
“Weights for your weight belt?”
“Yup, got ‘em.”
“Your dive computer…”
“Charged and ready to go.”
“Left pocket of my BC, just where…”
“…they’re supposed to be,” she smiled. “You hungry?”
“Of course. There’s a Carl’s Jr at the next exit – if you don’t mind.”
She turned into the Balboa Bay Club and stopped at the main gate. She didn’t have a decal on her windshield so the attendant stopped her: “Name, please?” the man asked.
“Deb Sorensen, meeting Henry Taggart?”
“Okay, space T-17 right over there, by the red BMW,” he replied. “Good day.”
“Thanks,” Taylor said before Deb took off, driving right into the assigned space. “Man, this place is like some kind of armed citadel.”
“Welcome to Orange County, William. No blacks – and no poor people allowed.”
“No shit. And make sure your shirt is tucked in.”
He looked around and sure enough…
“Man, I thought you were kidding.”
“Nope. And no swearing,” she added.
“Man, we sho ain’t in Beverly Hills no moe, is we, Miss Scarlet?”
She burst out laughing at that; in fact she laughed until she cried. Orange County did that to her.
Henry came up to her window and knocked on the glass. “Sorry I missed that joke. Must’ve been a good one.”
“Oh, you have no idea,” Deb sighed, dabbing her eyes with a tissue.
“Nice Defender. Is it new? Your stuff in back?” Taggart asked in a rapid, staccato burst.
“Yeah,” Taylor said, “let me give you a hand.”
“I better go get a couple of carts,” Henry said. “Be right back, but hey, Bill, I could sure use a hand.”
“Right,” Taylor said, his hackles rising at being called Bill, but he took off after Henry.
“Oh, Lord,” Deb sighed inwardly, “what have I gone and done now…?”
“I thought we were taking a sailboat?” Deb asked when she saw Henry loading their gear on a huge blue trawler.
“No wind this weekend, big high pressure system moving in. Besides, this thing has a compressor.”
“Spree III? Is that the name?”
“Yeah, belongs to a friend of my dad. Used to belong to a Cadillac dealer from Dallas, and one of the Boeing brothers before that. They built it, or so I hear.”
“Not really. Eighty-something feet on deck, and it’s about as fast as molasses.”
“Do I need to go get some food?” Deb asked.
“Nope. We got a skipper and a cook along for the ride, so this’ll be more like a vacation. Anyway, we should get going now; two other dive boats are coming from San Pedro along with the two from here, so we need to get a move-on to get there in time to make the first dive.”
Taggart helped Deb up the steps to the main deck and then went forward to cast off lines, and with that the huge, navy-hulled yacht backed out of her slip and turned into the main channel, heading for the main jetty in Corona del Mar. Deb went below with one of the mates to find their stateroom, leaving William on the aft deck with Henry.
“Damn,” William said, “I can hardly hear the engine.”
“Engines, Slick,” Henry said.
“Yeah, and each one burns about a hundred gallons an hour, so at four bucks a gallon it adds up pretty quick.”
Taylor’s eyes went wide. “How many hours over and back?”
“Oh, twelve, maybe fifteen. Plus running generators while we’re there. Call it ten large, for fuel, anyway, maybe a little more. These little toys ain’t cheap, Bill.”
“I don’t mean to be rude, but who’s paying the freight for this, Henry? Not Debra?”
“No, no. I am, Bill.”
“You do know, like, that I don’t like being called Bill, right?”
“Oh yeah, I do indeed, Bill. But then again I’m paying for the privilege, okay? Unless you want to split the cost of the fuel?”
“You don’t need to be such an asshole about it, Taggart.”
“Why not, Bill?”
“You really didn’t strike me as the asshole type. Guess I was wrong, huh?”
“No, no you weren’t, but you bring out the worst in me, Bill. I can deal with stupid people all day long, but stupid people with no balls? People like you really bother me.”
“Excuse me?” Taylor said, standing now and bulling out his chest.
“You heard me, Slick.”
“You really looking to get your ass kicked?”
“Me? Hell no, but then again, I’m not your problem.”
Taggart shook his head and chuckled a little. “Man alive, but you really are a stupid son of a bitch.”
“What the fuck are you talking about, Taggart?”
“Ted Sorensen. He’s your fucking problem, Bill, and he will be until you grow stones big enough to stand up to a prick like him.” Now, while Taggart watched, it seemed like someone had come up from behind and popped the air out of a child’s balloon; William Taylor simply deflated, but then he turned away and walked to the stern rail, his massive shoulders now drooping low in complete despair. Henry shook his head and followed, but just then he knew his little weekend project was going to be much more difficult than he’d ever imagined it could possibly be.
He stood beside Taylor looking aft, and he pointed off to their left. “That’s Lido Isle,” he said gently, “where I grew up. Doris Day is our next door neighbor.”
“No shit?” Taylor sighed, but Taggart could tell the Kid was on the verge of tears.
“To the right, yeah, see the big house right there on the end. That’s John Wayne’s place, and across the way, by that steamboat looking thing, that’s Linda Isle. That’s where the big, new money lives, and closer to us, yeah, that one, that’s Harbor Isle, where the old money hangs out.”
“The really rich people, Slick. And on the left, that’s Bay Island, where the serious sailors and other like minded perverts live.”
“And you left all this behind?”
“Not my thing, Slick. Money never really was all that important to me, I guess.”
“Yeah? Maybe that’s because you’ve never had to worry about it, ya know?”
“Touché, Kid. So what about you? Where’d you grow up? Montana?”
“Yeah, on a ranch north of Billings.”
“What was that like?”
“Cold,” William Taylor said, suddenly inhaling sharply, like ‘cold’ was some sort of admission of guilt, something he could never really shake.
“You said a ranch? What, like cattle?”
“Yeah, but we have a lot of land dedicated to growing wheat, too.”
“Nitrogen cycle, crop rotation, right? Makes sense.”
“You worked a ranch before?” Taylor asked – maybe a little too hopefully.
“No, but I like a good ribeye. Does that count?” Taylor laughed at that – and Henry felt a small wave of relief wash over them, and just as Deb tip-toed out onto the deck. “So, who else lives on the ranch in Montana?”
“Lots of extended family. Aunts and uncles mainly. They each own smaller parcels, but my dad owns the biggest.”
“Oh? How big is big?”
Taylor looked aft and coughed. “Asking a rancher about the size of his spread is a little like asking him how big his pecker is, Hank.”
“Gotcha. So, your dad lives there. Who else?”
“My mom and my brother, Frank.”
“He play ball, too?”
“Yeah, but he’s not strong enough. I assume he’ll take over the ranch after my parents are gone.”
“You don’t want to?”
“Me? No, never.”
“What about your old man. What’s he like?”
Deb’s ears perked up now, and she paid close attention to William’s body language…
“He’s mean, Henry. I mean like deep down mean. Full of hate. Always has been.”
She watched William closely but he was wide open now, all his defenses down, and she wondered why, and how Henry had done it…
“What do you mean? Mean…how?”
“He talks down to everyone, and I can’t stand to be in the room when the news is on TV. It’s all ‘Niggers this, Spics that,’ and the world is being run by Kikes and liberals out to set up rule by One World Government and the UN is going to take all our rights away…”
“Kikes and liberals, huh? Well, he’s not the only that thinks that way, William. Is that why you want to get away from there?”
“There, and all the people there just like him…”
Henry shook his head and sighed. “Man, I hate to break it to you, but there are people just like your father every where you go. Even in those big, fancy houses over there,” he added, pointing at Balboa Island just then. “And you’ll even find ‘em in Beverly Hills, too, and even a few at ‘SC.”
“I know. I’m kinda figuring that out on my own these days.”
“Yeah? Well, all you can do is live your life on your own terms, and fuck all the rest of ‘em.”
Taylor nodded. “I’m ashamed of them, Hank,” Taylor mumbled, starting to cry now.
“Who? Your parents?”
“Yeah. I love my little brother, you know? But I’d be happy if I never saw the rest of them again.”
“So? Don’t go back.”
“I’d like to get Frank out of there, ya know?”
“Okay, so do it.”
“It’s not that easy, Hank…”
“Sure it is, Bill.”
Deb bristled when she heard Henry call him Bill, but she relaxed when William didn’t even flinch. ‘Now what the devil is going on here?’ she wondered.
“Right. Like all I’ve got to do is grow a pair, right?”
“Big brass ones, Bill.”
The boat made a hard right turn and accelerated a bit, and Taylor looked up at Taggart.
“We’re headed for the jetty now, then out to sea,” Henry said, perking up a bit. “Let’s go up front…better view up there now.”
And when they turned to head forward Deb was already back inside, in the galley with the ship’s cook, and Henry was glad she’d interpreted his hand signals correctly…
They had lunch up on the flying bridge, huge one pound burgers with bacon and guacamole and thick slices of beefy red tomato and thin slices of purple onion, and Henry even saw to it that the kid stayed away from the beer in the ‘fridge – because they’d be diving in just a few hours. And because the weather was so calm the surface of the sea was a bright, shiny mirror that the fierce sunlight reflected off, burning the undersides of unprotected noses and ears. But Henry saw to it that everyone had on plenty of sunscreen…
“See that fin over there?” Taggart said, pointing off to the right. “Blue shark, probably a twelve footer.”
“Man-eater?” Taylor asked, more scared than curious.
“Probably. Wanna go ask him and see?”
“No thanks. Are there Great Whites out here?”
“Whites? Oh yeah, lots, but usually immature males this time of year. Six footers, usually just curious, but always looking for rays and small seal pups – and linebackers from SC.”
“Thanks. But six footers could still hurt you, right?” Deb asked.
“Oh, sure. But again, they’re usually just curious about us. Don’t panic if you see one, but don’t try to run from one. They really love that.”
“Are there Whites around Catalina?” Taylor asked.
“Ain’t no fences out here, Bill. This is their ocean, not ours, and they pretty much go where they want, when they want – if you know what I mean, Jelly-bean.”
Debra looked at the lazily circling fin and shivered a little. “I read they hunt around dawn and dusk. Is that true?”
“Pretty much, but there are so many boats hanging around Catalina that most of the sharks keep away. Lots of divers with Shark-Darts out here…”
“Shark-Darts? What’s that?”
“Oh, think of it as a long pole with a really big, really strong hypodermic needle on the end, and the needle is hooked up to a fifteen pound air cylinder. Shark gets too close and you jab the Dart into its belly, and that causes the air cylinder to shoot a massive burst of air pressure into the body cavity, which causes all the shark’s internal organs to come spewing out its mouth. It ain’t pretty, but it works.”
“And that’s legal?” Deb asked, sounding a little shocked.
“Legal? Hell no they’re not legal. They used to make them up here, but once they were declared illegal production was moved down to Mexico, mainly because lots of fishermen keep them on their boats in case they need to go down and retrieve an anchor, stuff like that. Other people, well, they just like to kill sharks.”
“That’s sick,” Deb sighed.
“Maybe, maybe not,” Taggart replied with an offhand flip of the hand. “Unless you happen to run into a pissed off White while you’re down there. Then, who knows…maybe it won’t sound all that sick to you right about then. Well, that’s the isthmus,” he added, pointing out a notch in the island now dead ahead. We should be there in an hour or so, so we’d better get our gear ready to go…”
There were four chartered dive boats rafted together just outside of Isthmus Cove, and eighty divers were now bobbing on the surface listening to the Divemaster on deck calling out names and assigning each diver to a small group. Henry, Deb and William, as well as five other student divers and a Divemaster-trainee, were just one of the groups floating out there, and once groups were assigned Henry got his students together and wrote their names down on his dive-slate.
“Okay,” he began, “this is Dive 1, your first official open water dive, and don’t forget to get your log books to me after we finish up this evening. Remember, if I don’t sign it, it didn’t happen. Got it?”
Lots of serious looking nods and a few ‘Yessirs’ followed.
“The bottom is sixty to eighty feet here, and you’ll find a sandy surface with large scattered rock formations. Do not touch down on the sand or you’ll kick up a cloud and ruin the dive for everyone, so stay at least ten feet above the deck, okay? And stay with your buddy at all times.”
More nods. More ‘Yessirs’ again.
“Everyone zero out your dive computer now, and everyone make sure you have your interval slates and your pencils ready to go. We are going to snorkel over to the anchor line on that big blue yacht over there and follow the chain down to fifty feet. Once were down there gather on me, then we’ll go and see if we can find Waldo.”
William Taylor put his snorkel in his mouth and dipped his face into the water; he looked around nervously – expecting to see a dozen Great Whites circling just a few yards away – but he saw exactly – nothing. He could hear his breathing through the tube-like snorkel clearly, and lots of clicking sounds, and he could see Taggart’s fins dead ahead so he just followed along behind him until they got to the chain anchor rode.
Once everyone was gathered ‘round the chain, Taggart addressed them again.
“Okay, note the time on your slate now and start Dive 1 on your computer. When you finish entering that data, you’ll follow our Divemaster down the chain, and I’ll bring up the rear. William, you buddy-up with the Divemaster, and Deb…you stay with me.”
“What about me?” a teenaged girl said. “I don’t have a buddy?”
“Okay. You buddy-up with Deb here, and I’ll be right above you.”
Deb turned and looked at Henry, and he saw the edges of panic in her eyes so he swam to her. “Just grab hold of the chain and remember, let the air out of your vest slowly, control your rate of descent with air pressure. I’m only going to be a few feet away, so just keep your eyes on your buddy and it’ll be okay.”
She nodded understanding but she was wide-eyed and wide-awake now, and he wondered why she’d asked him about taking this class in the first place. Then it hit him…
That clinging hug in Bora-Bora, that infinite attraction he’d felt, and that she’d said she felt too.
‘How could I be so fucking stupid…’ he thought. ‘Oh well, that’s just one more layer of this puzzle. One at a time…one at a time…’
He ducked his head below the surface and counted heads, then he purged air from his vest and began his descent, checking his depth all the way down to the rally point. Once there he re-confirmed his count then pulled a can of cheese-whiz from his vest pocket and dropped down to the nearest large rocky outcropping. He tapped the can on the rock a few times and waved at the student divers to come in a little closer…
Moray eels are shy, and they aren’t half as mean as they look, either. They live in rocks and retreat from the world when anything even remotely threatening appears, but at Isthmus Cove if you really want to see a Moray you just need a little patience…and a lot of cheese whiz.
Who knows where the name Waldo came from, but for years all the eels at the Isthmus have come to be called Waldo, and because of the nature of the bottom more than a few Moray eels can easily to be found hiding within the rocky warrens there. And after the first few taps on the rock one appeared, then another.
Taggart took the pressurized can of cheese whiz and squirted an inch long dab of the goo onto the tip of his index finger and held it out; the closest eel slid out of his hiding place and gently took the offered cheese. He squeezed another dab out and offered it to the second eel, and this smaller, more shy one came out even more slowly but even more gently took the cheese. The Divemaster joined him and soon there were at least a half dozen eels feeding on Kraft’s finest, and then it was time to let the students who wanted to give it a try have a go at feeding one of them…
And Taggart watched as Debra took the can and fed three different eels…
But then he felt something was off…more than off, really. Something bad was about to happen – and he turned around in time to see two divers swim by about twenty feet overhead, and one of them had a speargun in hand. And he saw a Sheepshead on the end of the spear, a fairly large black and white and pinkish red fish, and a steady stream of blood from the speared fish was trailing in their wake.
“Goddamnit to fucking hell,” he screamed into his mouthpiece, and the sound was enough to attract his Divemaster-trainee who immediately came up to see what was wrong.
He pointed at the divers, and at the streaming blood as he pulled up his slate. “Get everyone circled around the anchor line, facing out for now…” he wrote, so she went down and gathered everyone into one group then pointed at the chain.
Debra turned and looked at Taggart, and when she saw the anguish in his eyes she began to panic.
He looked at William and jabbed his finger at him emphatically, then pointed at Debra.
And that was all it took. The boy became a man. He swam to her and took up a protective stance by her side, and Taggart shot him a ‘thumb’s up’ before he herded the group to the chain. The Divemaster had just placed everyone around the chain when the first Great White appeared, and it was right about then that Henry Taggart wished he’d brought along his Shark Dart…
Copenhagen, Denmark 11 September 1943
Aaron Schwarzwald rubbed his eyes, with a billowing cloud of smoke from the wood stove having caused them to water, and he steadied himself on the kitchen table, waiting for the stinging pain to ease. He felt older today than he had in months, the events of the past two weeks weighing heavily on his mind.
Ever since the German occupation of Denmark – in early April, 1940 – the official government policy had been one of non-resistance, a step just short of the total cooperation the Germans sought, but a step the crown and the government deemed necessary to avoid the unnecessary loss of life that full-on resistance would have provoked. And to Aaron Schwarzwald, as it was with the majority of the Danish people, the Ninth of April and this almost bloodless capitulation represented a low point in Danish history – yet the fiction of non-resistance, if not a modicum of cooperation to the occupying forces, had defined the next two years of the war in Denmark.
But by the autumn of 1942 things had started to change. The Danish resistance group Holger Danske began their insurgency in and around Copenhagen in earnest, killing collaborators and German soldiers alike, while committing acts of sabotage when opportunities presented, and while also helping to shepherd the few remaining Jews in Denmark to safety in neutral Sweden. Saul Rosenthal was a member of this group, and through his persuading he and Aaron Schwarzwald moved prominent faculty at the University to the basement of the Schwarzwald house on their first leg of the journey to Sweden.
Yet, and some would say predictably, by August 1943 the German occupying force in Denmark had had enough; the civilian government was dissolved and the country placed under martial law. Members of the German Gestapo moved into Copenhagen in force, and these high ranking members of the party, of course, needed places to live – homes to call their own, you might say.
So Aaron rubbed his eyes, tried to see a little more clearly, but this was getting and more more difficult to do these days. It wasn’t simply the cloudy cataracts that obscured his vision, nor even the hostilities of the recent German intervention. No, now the way ahead was obscured by heartbreak.
He and Saul had finally convinced Imogen to flee to Gothenburg, and the final arrangements of her escape were in the works when Avi Rosenthal, in effect, gave away these plans to collaborators. People he knew would get word to the Gestapo, and Avi had done so because he had finally figured out that once Imogen was in Sweden she would be forever beyond his grasp, and that his brother Saul would finally be in a position to claim her heart. And this he could not do. Avi was convinced by these same collaborators that they would be able to secure her release and from there Avi would secret her to Palestine. She was, after all was said and done, nominally his wife – even if she had never loved him. Once he had her in Palestine he would change that…because time was on his side.
And now Aaron sat in his kitchen, coming to term with the news Saul had carried to him only the night before. Imogen had in fact been released, but to Werner Heisenberg, and even now she was en route to an undisclosed location near Berlin…
…and that was that.
The one thing he’d hoped to accomplish through all this – to insure the safety of his daughter by keeping her out of German hands – was now just one more link in a chain of broken dreams, a shattered epilogue to the life that had come undone in 1940. The last person on earth he would ever love was now on her way into the whitest underbelly of the beast – so she was lost to him now, and one of the men he had most trusted to see to it this never happened was to blame.
“But only the impotent lay blame on others,” he said to the empty kitchen table. “A man never blames. Isn’t that what my father always told us. A man takes responsibility for his failures. If possible he tries to right his wrongs, but he never blames.”
And then, a knock on the door. A gentle tapping on the inset glass, and so he sighed, picked up his cane and made his way to the front door – an old oaken door that had guarded his family for more than two hundred years. He opened the door and looked down on a ferret-faced man in a black leather trench coat. A Nazi, perhaps, or one of their collaborators. Did it really matter what form Death might take?
Aaron Schwarzwald had never been a small man, but these days his appearance was like something out of the Old Testament. Clear blue eyes, a flowing white beard that would have put any Abrahamic vision of God to shame, and deep-set, nordic eyes under a heavily furrowed brow – so when the ferret addressed Aaron he did so now from a decidedly inferior position.
“Herr Doktor Schwarzwald?” the ferret said.
“That would be me.”
“I am August von Schellenberg, of the Reich’s Ministry of Civil Appropriations.”
“Is that so.”
“Yes, that is correct,” the ferret said, producing a bundle of papers out of his briefcase then attempting to hand them over to Aaron, who of course let them drop to the floor. “I am here to inform you that the Reich has been authorized to pay you five hundred kroner for your house and all the contents listed herein. You have twenty four hours to vacate this residence.”
“Should you not relinquish the residence by 0900 tomorrow morning you and any other residents will be forcibly removed.”
“Excuse me? Do you not understand what I have told you?”
“Of course I understand you, you stupid pig,” Aaron said, taking the tip of his cane and driving it with all his considerable might into the ferret’s larynx, crushing his windpipe and causing the human being within to slowly suffocate as he fell to the cobbled walk.
Automobile doors opened and closed, troops came rushing to von Schellenberg’s assistance – but too late, for the ferret-faced man died there right in front of his murderer. Then the troops on the walkway parted, making way for a full colonel in the SS – who now walked up to Aaron Schwarzwald.
“And who are you, little man?” Aaron said to the colonel, looking into the man’s coal-black eyes, studying the contours of the Hate he had been waiting to come for so many years.
“I am the man who will end your waste of a life, little Jew,” the colonel said as pulled a holstered pistol from his black leather belt and brought it up the Schwarzwald’s face.
“Curious. I thought you would be…taller.”
The colonel’s Luger barked once and Aaron fell to the cobbled walk, and he died beside the man he had just murdered.
“Clean up this shit,” the colonel said before he turned and walked back to his Mercedes…
…but he saw a beggar sitting on the sidewalk across the street, so – with his pistol still drawn – he walked to where the beggar was sitting. The colonel saw that the beggar was a blind man, and that he had an old tin cup extended, and there were even a few coins inside the rusted little cup.
“So, old man, tell me. Are you blind?”
“Excuse me, but yes – and who am I addressing?”
“Just a passerby. Did you hear something just now?”
“I thought I heard a motor backfiring. Did you hear it, as well?”
“Yes, but it was nothing,” the colonel said, holstering his Luger and tossing a coin into the beggars cup. “You be careful, old man.”
“Thank you, kind sir. Be well.”
The colonel watched the beggar for a moment, then turned and walked to his Mercedes and the driver closed the door behind him. A moment later his Mercedes drove off, and a few minutes after that an ambulance appeared and medics loaded von Schellenberg’s body inside and drove away, and a half hour after that, after the remaining troops had looted the inside of the Schwarzwald residence, they tossed Aaron’s body in the back of their lorry and headed to a barren field outside of the city, and they joked about crows having a nice meal that afternoon…
The blind beggar slipped into the shadows and took off his dark glasses, then he put his cup and the glasses in an old cigar box and put them back it their hiding place under a hedgerow, because, who knew? – maybe he would have to use them again. Then Saul Rosenthal wiped away a tear or two, but he really didn’t have the time to spare for such brief sorrows now. He needed to go to his safe house now and change, get his papers in order and begin the next part of his journey…to Berlin.
He turned once and looked at the old house, the house where he had spent so many joyous evenings with Imogen, and too many heated discussions with Aaron over the many years of his brief existence, yet he knew deep down inside all that was at an end now. He turned away and began making his way towards the docks, whistling a happy tune as he walked through the crowded streets of bustling Copenhagen.
The Isthmus, Santa Catalina Island, California June 1997
They were immature males, but there was a lot of blood in the water and Taggart simply wasn’t going to take any chances. Even an eight-footer could do a lot of damage, and two of them could seriously fuck-up someone’s weekend…
He looked at his air gauge then kicked over and looked at each student divers’ gauge, one by one.
“Breathe easy, slow down,” he wrote on his slate, then he went by each one again, shooting them the okay sign, trying to reassure them. He scanned the area where the two male Whites had disappeared and saw not a thing, so he popped some air into his vest and rose about fifteen feet and then did a slow 360 degree sweep. The sun was still up, though just barely, and he needed to get to the surface and see what was going on. He knew that he could get everyone up and onto Spree III if needs be, but that could prove problematic as the night wore on and it wasn’t the best option – yet it might prove the only option, so he wanted to get topside and get the skipper prepared in case it came down to that.
Taggart popped another short burst of compressed air into his BC and began to slowly rise, and he surfaced next to the aft swim ladder and called up to the skipper.
“Hey, it looks like there are a couple of Whites over there by that runabout!” the skipper said, pointing to the spearfishing idiots trying to get out of the water a hundred yards away.
“No shit, Sherlock,” Henry snarled. “Look, I got eight people on our anchor rode and I think there are two too many Whites between us and the dive boat…”
“Right. I’ll get the ladder ready.”
“Throw out about ten lines, okay? I want to at least tie-off BCs and weight belts. These kids will never make it up that ladder with all that fucking gear on.”
“Right! How about carabiners? Would those work?”
“Hell yes! The more the merrier!”
Taggart held his purge valve overhead and deflated his vest, sinking rapidly to the bottom, and he wrote out his plan to the Divemaster-trainee and then swam over to William and began writing on his slate again. “Come with me now. I want you up on deck to pull people up the ladder. Remember to breathe on the way up…ascend no faster than your bubbles…remember?”
The Kid shot him the okay sign and Taggart led him to the surface and showed him how to get his vest tied off and then got him up the ladder before he dove again. He passed the Divemaster on her way up with one of the students, and one by one he sent them up – until there was only one left down there with him.
Debra Sorensen looked at him, still wide-eyed but not breathing too hard now, but then he looked at her pressure gauge and that was all he really needed to know. She’d sucked down almost all her tank so he handed her his octopus and took her hand, then turned to check their surroundings before starting up one more time.
It way up looked clear enough but the sun’s light was now almost completely gone, but he could still see Spree’s stern in the last of the light as he started up.
And he saw her then.
A big female, a Great White – maybe an eighteen footer, and she was coming back from where those two spearfishing idiots were – and this one looked hungry.
And no Shark Dark.
He reached down to his ankle and freed the almost useless little dive knife there and held it out at the ready, but the White saw the motion and turned his way. Her mouth appeared to be almost a meter wide and all he could see was row upon row of jagged triangular teeth – and then he was looking into that singularly black eye as she swam past…now only about five feet away. She swam on lazily by, out to maybe fifty feet, then she turned again and started back their way, taking her time, judging the danger.
Taggart popped some air into his BC and continued their ascent, but he kept his eyes on the White, and on that all-seeing black eye, as she closed on them once again – only this time she came in close and roughly nudged Taggart with her snout, trying to see how he’d react – then she swam off again and he looked up, guessed they were still only about halfway to the surface…
The White’s bark arched a little, a sure sign she was getting ready to attack, then she turned to make her run, and Taggart pushed Debra towards the Divemaster waiting by the ladder then swam away from the boat, heading deeper as he sped away…
‘I can lose her if I make the rocks,’ he thought, pushing his fins through the water with everything he had…but no…they were too far away…so he turned to face her head on…
He saw the streaking black and white shadow of the orca just then, and he watched as the big male slammed into the White, right into her gills, and the shark wheeled and lashed out at…emptiness…yet seconds later the orca hit the White from underneath, ripping her belly open in the process and sending billowing clouds of blood and guts into the current…and then her body slowly slipped down to the seafloor.
The orca came up alongside and offered his pectoral, and Taggart knew, really knew this was the same one he’d met in the lagoon over Christmas, at Bora-Bora. The markings, the eyes, all the same…but how could that be…
He carried Taggart back to the ladder and left him there, but he circled around once and came back to Henry and they stared at one another for the longest time, each not wanting the moment to end, yet each now knowing that it never really could. Henry felt Debra by his side again, and she reached out and rubbed the orca’s warm skin under the eye – then the orca surfaced for air and disappeared into the night, smiling at a pulsing star overhead before he turned once again and continued his journey north.
© 2021-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.
(Oliver, Good Morning Starshine)
(The Pat Metheny Group//To The End Of The World)