The Eighty-eighth key, Chapter 62.1

88keykobenhaben

First, a little housekeeping. Please note that the previously posted chapter 62 (actually 62.1thru 62.3) was actually supposed to be chapter 61 etc., so unless I’m totally lost now, with this post we’re actually up to the real chapter 62. Actually speaking, anyway, this is the actual 62.1, and the last 62.1 was actually supposed to be 61.1, and if you’re not actually confused yet, don’t worry because I’m actually confused enough for both of us.

Is it just me, or does it seem like Prince Vlad has a really bad case of projectile dysfunction? Maybe he should take lessons from Will Smith?

Okay…I’ll shut up now.

But, alas, if not for music matters, I’d have nothing else to say.

(King Crimson\\ I Talk To The Wind – Duo Version)

Chapter 62.1 (actually…)

It is four in the morning and Callahan can’t sleep. Everything he tries to think about, every distraction he comes upon always takes him back to the same point in time – to what caused his mother to die – because she had – obviously – chosen death. And now that Liz and Deborah Eisenstadt were here – and picking at all the old scabs covering this wound – he was beginning to feel very uneasy about all the other unknown events surrounding her passing.

His mother had been fighting what he’d always regarded a rearguard action against encroaching dementia, but what if he’d been wrong about that all along? ‘And not just me,’ he thought, ‘all of us. But me and Dad most of all.’  

The single most important manifestation of her dementia, of her presumed psychosis, had been the repeated appearance of the “Old Man,” only now Callahan knew the Old Man was real. And not just real, but more than likely a time traveler. And if that was the case just what had the Old Man been doing to her? What outcome had he been trying to shape?

So…he’d realized that she hadn’t been some kind of garden variety schizophrenic after all? Maybe the Old Man had become more like her own personal tormenter, and maybe as his appearances became more and more frequent she’d grown depressed and felt undermined by his constant, unwanted intrusions? ‘I mean…who wouldn’t,’ he sighed as he sat at the piano, his fingers playing random notes in the deeper registers. “I know I wouldn’t be able to handle something insidious like…” he grumbled.

“What couldn’t you handle,” Eisenstadt said, padding into the living room in her bathrobe and fuzzy pink slippers.

“The things my mother had to put up with,” he replied, his hands never leaving the keyboard.

“What are you playing? It’s beautiful.”

“Playing? I wasn’t…I’m not – playing anything.”

“You could have fooled me. There was structure and melody, and an almost melancholic longing in these notes.”

He closed his eyes and started playing again, only now he was very much aware that specific notes were coming to him. He straightened up and addressed the keyboard and opened his mind and time seemed to dissolve as he played now, and he could just hear the crashing surf below and then a cool breeze flowing through the room…

“Harald?”

“Mom? Is that you?”

Another passing breeze and then faint laughter, like children on a distant playground.

“What are you trying to tell me?”

His eyes closed, he reached out through the music, the notes pulling them together through space and time.

“I can…I think I can hear you now…”

He could hear her grand old Bösendorfer now, hear her playing and he knew he was hearing her in the compound, at Avi’s house.

He opened his eyes and it was like he was flying through cloud, his eyes watering as he crossed gulfs of cold hard time…

…and then… she was there…and she was…

…playing the Fourth. And yes, there was von Karajan, staring in disbelief as she played, and von Karajan wept in astonished understanding as her music was carried along on the breeze… 

Callahan was behind and above his mother now, looking down on her as she scored this crucial last fragment of her final concerto, at the music he now know so well, and he watched as she made her way into the final passage. 

But no, this was different. She…no…this wasn’t the music von Karajan had given him.

He moved closer, looked at her penciled notes on the sheet music and he could see the harmonic interplay take shape in the air above the piano. 

He moved closer still and she turned and looked into his eyes. “Do you understand now, Harald?” she said to him. “Do you see where I am taking this?”

“I think so, Mom.”

“We can never do this again, so you must understand the harmonic structure, now, before you leave…”

He pointed to a section of notes. “I’ve never seen anything like this, Mom. What is it?”

“This is the key, Harald. This is the gateway, and you must now become the keeper. Sit beside me now and play the notes with me, form the chord in your mind. Do you see it now?”

“Yes. Yes, I do,” he said as he played.

“Then go now. Go, but Harald, you must never come back here. Promise me, now, that you will never…!”

“But Mom, I…”

“I know, I know. But Harald, you must guard what you have learned here because this will become very dangerous for you. Now…promise me…before they come for us!”

“Alright Mom, I promise,” he cried as he reached out for her…

…but she was receding now, disappearing inside the cold embrace of the same dense white cloud, yet even now she was reaching out for him and he saw her calling out a name. He strained to hear what she was saying then he recoiled in disbelief as he found himself tumbling through a black void, surrounded by shimmering blue fingers of dancing electricity…

And when he landed in a dazed heap he looked around he felt a damp wooden floor underhand and this place was very cold. Very, very cold. And when he raised his head and looked around it looked like he was laying inside a wooden bucket of some sort, and he felt ice cold condensation rolling down the planked walls of the bucket…

Then he felt a small hand on his shoulder, and he heard a little girl’s voice whispering close to his ear.

“You’d better stand up now,” the ticklish little voice said. “This is the bad part.”

He looked up, saw a little girl standing beside him and he took her offered hand and tried to stand – and suddenly he realized he was standing on two legs now.

But there were two men standing in the bucket too, and one of them was rubbing his hands as if to ward off the cold…

Then the little girl tugged at his shirtsleeve. “Could you pick me up, please. I want to watch.”

“Watch? Watch what?” he said as he lifted her up to his waist, and she pointed out into the mist.

“There. If you look real hard you can just about see it now.”

He turned and realized he was high above the foredeck of a large ship steaming through the night, but just then one of the men by his side crossed himself…

“Sweet Jesus,” the man said as he picked up the cold brass growler by his hand. 

Harry turned and looked at the little girl as sudden understanding turned to panic. “Where are we?” he muttered.

“Iceberg!” the lookout cried into the growler. “Iceberg, dead ahead!”

“Don’t worry,” the little girl sighed, “it only hurts for just a little bit, but it’ll be over soon.”

Callahan watched as the iceberg came out of the mist and he knew there wasn’t anything he could do so he simply gave way to the moment and held on. The Titanic grazed the spur just beneath the waterline and shattered fragments of ice rained down on the deck, and he turned in time to see officers running into the wheelhouse to close the watertight bulkheads and now everything felt just like a nightmare.

“But it’s not,” the little girl said.

“It’s not what?” 

“A nightmare. But don’t worry. No one will believe you, so it doesn’t matter.”

He swallowed hard but in the next instant he started falling again, and a billion years later – or was it just a second? – he was on the floor in the living room of his house and he felt like he was drowning in freezing water.

He heard screaming and when he looked up he saw a blinking owl, then the owl was by his side, helping him into his wheelchair and that’s when he realized his house was awash in seawater, and that the floor of his living room was covered in shattered fragments of ice…

“My God, Harry!” Eisenstadt cried. “What has happened? Where were you?”

“What do you mean…where was I? I was right here!”

“No! No, you’ve been gone for several minutes?”

“Gone?”

“Oh God! Harry! Do you know what this means?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Harry! You left this time! You…traveled in time – just like the Old Man Liz mentioned!”

“No…no way…”

“The music, Harry! This music! The Fourth is the key!”

“Where did all this ice come from?” Callahan asked as he surveyed the wreckage around his chair.

“It must come from your movement through time…”

“I was on the Titanic. With a little girl.”

Eisenstadt stepped back from him as she stared at the ice in disbelief. “The Shift. You experienced the Shift.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The Aubuchon Shift, Harry. You’ve found the gateway…to the Shift!”

“The…gateway,” he repeated – but his eye had been drawn to a shimmering blue sphere that at first appeared to be smaller than a golf ball hovering near the ceiling. “What is that?” Callahan said, pointing at the ceiling.

Eisenstadt turned and looked up at the sphere. “Have you seen anything like this before,” she whispered.

“No Ma’am, I can’t say that I have.”

“Do you have any idea what…?”

“No Ma’am, I sure don’t, but I think I’m going to a gun store first thing in the morning.”

“You know, I’m not sure that will help matters.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right…but I’ll sure feel a lot better than I do right now.”

Another sphere appeared, then another. The first sphere started spinning rapidly, and it grew brighter the faster it moved.

“Harald? Is it my imagination, or does that one seem angry?”

“It’s your imagination,” Callahan growled – as two more spheres arrived. “Definitely your imagination.”

Another sphere arrived, but this one a subdued pink color, and the spinning blue sphere simply disappeared. Moments later the the other spheres began leaving, and soon only Harry and Eisenstadt remained in the room – facing the pink sphere and not at all sure what to do next.

“I’d do just about anything to have my leg back right now,” Callahan whispered to Eisenstadt. “You think we should offer it a glass of scotch?”

Which caused the pink sphere to silently drift across the room towards Callahan. He guessed it was about a foot in diameter – yet as it came closer it also seemed to be growing in size – but then the sphere drifted by his face and moved across the living room, finally settling above the Bösendorfer. It hovered there, then began – apparently – to examine the instrument in minute detail. 

Callahan turned to Eisenstadt. “I think I could use another scotch. How ‘bout you? And maybe a towel?”

She shook her head, her eyes focused on the sphere as it drifted around and then settled under the piano. It moved to the keyboard a minute later and it appeared to take great interest here, lingering over the keyboard for several minutes, then the sphere drifted across the room and it spun up for a few seconds – then disappeared.

“Well…fuck,” Callahan muttered. 

“Harry, you are a man of few words, but at least they are well considered.”

“Right, if you say so, Doc. Now, if you don’t mind…? I need a really big scotch, so if you wouldn’t mind…?”

She turned to Harry and grew quite serious: “Harry? You mentioned the Titanic. Where else did you go? Did you talk to anyone else?”

“No scotch, huh?”

“Oh, alright, alright, I see I have created a monster. Now…start talking, and leave nothing out!”

He looked at his piano while Eisenstadt went to refill his tumbler and grab a towel, and after she returned he looked at the last dying embers in the fireplace…

“I talked with my mother…”

“You spoke to her? You actually interacted?”

He nodded. “And she told me not to come back again. Made me promise, as a matter of fact.”

“Did she say anything else?”

“When I was leaving,” he nodded, “she said ‘Dana Goodman.’”

“That’s all?”

“Yup. I couldn’t hear her real good, but I’m pretty sure that’s what she said.”

“Goodman…Goodman…?” Eisenstadt repeated. “Where have I…”

“You mentioned her earlier, Doc. When you were talking about Claire…”

“Yes! Claire Aubuchon! She was a passenger on the Titanic, just a little girl at the time, but she was there…”

Callahan grinned. “Yup. I met her.”

“You what?”

“I met her, up in the, oh, hell, what do you call it…like a crow’s nest…where the guys standing watch were stationed…”

“And Claire was there? With you?”

Callahan nodded. “Yeah, and I got the impression this wasn’t her first time there.”

“You were a detective, correct? Can you find this Dana Goodman?”

Callahan shrugged. “I’m not sure how much access to information I still have right now. I’m retired, but actually retired cops have a fair amount of residual power. I can still carry the badge and the gun but I’m not sure how much computer access I have.”

“This might be a good time to find out, Harald.”

“Call me Harry, okay Doc? My mom called me that, and I never really liked it.”

“Okay, Harry. Tell me…do you have a computer?”

“No…well, there might still be a couple up in the studio.”

“Internet?”

Callahan shrugged. “I don’t know if everything is still hooked up.”

“Would Liz know?”

Harry shook his head. “My, uh, my son hooked all that stuff up.”

“Oh. I see. Well, perhaps we should go see…”

They heard someone in the kitchen…opening a cabinet door and taking a glass down from a shelf. Then the refrigerator door opening, followed by the hissing sound of a large bottle of Coke being opened. Then they heard the sound of liquid pouring into a glass – and Harry looked at Eisenstadt and both shrugged.

And then the Old Man walked out of the kitchen, and Callahan saw he was still wearing the same loden cape, still carrying the same ornately carved cane as the other times he’d seen him, only now he walked with an easy familiarity over to the sofa and sat down heavily.

“I do miss Coca-Cola,” the Old Man sighed after he took a long pull from his glass.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Callahan growled.

“Oh, nothing, Pops. Just a sign of the times. So, how’s the leg?”

“It sucks. Why?”

“You ever figure out who shot you?”

Callahan shook his head.

“Wanna know?” the Old Man asked.

“Not really.”

“Okay, Pops…”

“Why do you keep calling me that?”

The Old Man smiled. “Oh, no reason. Just a sign of the times.”

“What the Hell does that mean?”

The Old Man shrugged. “So, tell me about the sphere?”

“The sphere?” Callahan snarled. “What are you talking about?”

“The sphere that just left. What color was it?”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Pops, listen. Just take my word for it…I need to know.”

“There were several blue ones,” Eisenstadt cried in exasperation, “and then a pink one appeared.”

“What did she do?”

“She?” Callahan growled. “What the fuck do you mean by that?”

“It seemed to study the piano,” Eisenstadt replied calmly, ignoring Harry’s sudden, inexplicable reticence.

“That’s all?”

“Yes. Then it left,” Eisenstadt added.

The Old Man put his glass on the cocktail table and sighed. “Well then,” he said, “as much as I’d really like to stay and shoot the shit, I must be going.”

“Of course,” Harry said, almost baring his teeth, “please…go.”

The Old Man stood and then he looked at Harry’s missing leg and shook his head. “Sorry the leg is still bothering you,” he said, then he tapped his cane on the floor twice and disappeared.

Eisenstadt looked at the spot where the Old Man had just been sitting, then she looked over at Callahan. “What was that all about?”

“I’m not sure,” he sighed as he toweled his face dry, then he wheeled over to the cocktail table and looked at the glass. “Could you see if there are any plastic bags in the kitchen? Like maybe a baggie or something like that? And a paper towel?”

“Alright.”

She came back a moment later with both and he took the paper towel and picked up the glass, obviously checking for fingerprints as he held it up to the light. After rotating the glass and holding it up at various angles he carefully placed the glass into the plastic bag and sealed it.

“Are you going to check for fingerprints?” She asked.

“I am, yes, but I think I know who he is now.”

“Pops? He called you Pops, did he not…?”

“Yup. And Lloyd used to call me that, at least when he was happy he did.”

“That is your son?”

Callahan nodded.

“What happened to him, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Oh, not much. He killed a musician and then disappeared.”

“Ah. A nice, well adjusted boy…”

“He was indeed. He was his mother’s son.” Callahan grimaced and then looked away, out into the night. “Could you push me out onto the deck, please?”

“Of course.”

He looked at his watch and nodded. “It’s about time, I reckon,” he said as she pushed him out into the wind.

He locked the wheels and stood up, holding onto the rail to steady up for a moment, then he searched the southern horizon for Sagittarius…

“There it is,” Callahan said, pointing to the steam coming from the teapot, then he looked at Eisenstadt…who was shivering now as cool breezes off the sea settled over her. Without thinking he put his arm around her and pulled her close – just as the first burst of light pierced the night. 

The blue sphere stopped spinning just then – as it moved in slowly towards Callahan.

© 2021-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[but wait, there’s more…how about a word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need before work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (i.e., Covid-19 and me generally growing somewhat old) waiting to list said sources might not be the best way to proceed, and this listing will grow over time – until the story is complete. To begin, the ‘primary source’ material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw. I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. The UH-1Y image used from Pt VI on taken by Jodson Graves. The snippets of lyrics from Lucy in the Sky are publicly available as ‘open-sourced.’ Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]

Questions, comments, or tips and tricks on how to make authentic Texas chili: adrianleverkuhnwrites7@gmail.com

(King Crimson \\ I Talk To The Wind)

The Eighty-eighth Key, Chapter 61.3

88Kvenom image SMALL

So…anyone wanna talk about Will Smith at the Oscars? Good, nor do I. Music, however, always matters.

(Sting \\ Russians v.2022)

Chapter 62.3

Callahan and Eisenstadt were sitting in the living room; the fireplace in the heart of his house was blazing away – sending flickering shadows of amber ghosts in desperate flight all around the room. Callahan was nursing his second Diet Coke of the evening, yet after taking one last sip he shuddered and put the glass down. “This stuff tastes like pure unadulterated panther piss,” he growled.

She smiled. “Do you have any single malt?”

“Doubtful. I used to keep some here for guests, so if there is any it’ll be over in the cabinet above the ‘fridge.”

Deborah went over and checked the cabinet, and he heard her gasp as she took in the choice. “Oh my. Someone very interesting has been stocking your liquor cabinet, Harry.”

“Doc likes his scotch. Probably him, if you get my drift. You into that stuff?”

“I am. Would you like to have a snort?”

“Sure. What the hell…anything beats this stuff.”

She came back a moment later with two glasses of caramel colored liquor and handed one to Callahan. He took a tentative sniff then a sip, and he nodded. “Pretty good. What is it?”

“Aberlour. A decent 16 year old. Very smooth, don’t you think.”

He shrugged. “If you say so. Never been into it.”

“Oh, it’s just something to take the edge off, I think. Sit in front of the fireplace and think about the day, kind of look back…”

“Look back. Yeah, I like that.”

“I know you don’t want to do it, Mr. Callahan…”

“Oh, come on, it’s been what? – four days now…so you can call me Harry, and I promise I won’t bite.”

“Alright…Harry. What is that? Short for Harold?”

“Harald, with an ‘a’.”

“So, so the Danish spelling…from your mother’s side, I assume?”

“Yup.”

“Did her mother, your grandmother, play the piano?”

“Yes. I think she played at the concert level. Quite accomplished, at least that’s what Mom told me, but she passed away when my mother was still pretty young.”

“Do you think your mother, well, that she traveled when she played?”

“I’m not sure, Doc. She’d play and there were times I just saw her sitting there, almost like she was catatonic. All I can remember is that it really scared my dad and me when she got like that. It was spooky, but, well, have you been around many mental cases?”

“Only in faculty meetings,” Eisenstadt said, smiling wistfully. “Sorry. No, but please, do go on…”

Callahan nodded absent-mindedly. “I’ve seen a few. Jumpers. People in emotional shock. But in a way most people who set out to murder someone, well, they’re usually emotional basket cases, in one way or another…”

“That’s right. You were a homicide detective, were you not?”

“Yeah, for most of my time in the department I was in CID…uh, that’s the Criminal Investigations Division. When most cops first go into the division they usually get assigned to the  bunko, or the theft and fraud division, but some go to vice. You do well there and you get assigned to homicide. It’s supposed to be a big deal but looking back on it I kind of wish I’d stayed on the street…”

“Oh? Why is that?”

Callahan sighed and looked into the fireplace, at glowing embers under burning logs. “Being a cop…well…it’s like living in a sewer. People who do stuff, commit crimes, they’re like all the people who just don’t fit in, ya know? They’re the people on the outside looking in. Usually not real bright, some just plain broken…”

“Makes sense. If you’re reasonably intelligent you find it’s rather easy to make a good living…”

Callahan smiled, then he nodded. “Until you run into a stockbroker or a physician with tons of money and then you realize he committed the murder. Or the well-off old lady who takes in and kills an old man for his Social Security checks. There’s just a screw loose, Doc. I don’t know how else to say it. You can look ‘em in the eye and see it. Something wrong, something off way down deep, maybe something that happened to ‘em a long time ago, but they really just don’t fit in…”

“You saw a lot of bad things, didn’t you?”

He nodded, but for a while he couldn’t take his eyes off the embers. Then he held up his glass of scotch and looked at the fire through the liquid…

“Do you have nightmares about such things?”

Callahan nodded again, more slowly now, and he found himself back in San Paulo. Looking into Jennifer Spencer’s demon-haunted eyes. “Painting a carousel,” he muttered, his mind going round and round…

“What? What did you say?”

Harry shook himself back into the moment. “Oh, nothing. I was just thinking about a case.” He chuckled as an ember snapped and popped and he watched as a fragment arced through the air, landing on the slate floor. “A nut case, as a matter of fact. I have a self-portrait of her hanging in the bedroom.”

“The one with the eyes?” Eisenstadt asked.

And then Callahan frowned. “I have a hard time getting her out of my mind.”

“Why her?”

“She was broken, ya know? Damaged goods. But in a way she was so easy to love.”

“And you loved her?”

He nodded. “For a while.” He looked at the ember on the floor, a soft glowing red thing that was about to fade away, and he took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “We were just too far apart, I guess. Close, but not touching.”

“Sounds painful.”

He shook his head again and smiled. “It’s amazing how many cops end up marrying people they meet on a call. You know, like a girl comes home from work and finds her place has been broken into and here comes the cop, and there it is. Something sparks. Or someone is in an accident and the cop pulls them from the wreckage, and some kind of connection is made. A good connection. We’re there when people are at their most exposed, their most vulnerable, and we’re often the only ones around that don’t take advantage of them. Not like all the repair shops or contractors and insurance agents they have to deal with in the aftermath, let alone all the other scammers. Sometimes we’re the only one there who’ll tell ‘em with a straight face what’s going on and what comes next. I liked to think that what I did was to simply go out and find the truth, and that maybe the truth would be some kind of comfort, or that maybe the truth would actually turn out to help someone.”

“And…was it?”

“As I said, I liked to think that…”

“But now you’re not sure?”

Callahan leaned back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling. “There’s something going on out there, something happening. Frank and I, well, more like a bunch of us, I think, uh, we stumbled on something. At first we thought it was like some kind of rot eating away inside…”

“Inside? What are you talking about, Harry?”

But Callahan shook his head again. “Frank and I, we couldn’t be sure, but it was like maybe police departments were being undermined, maybe even compromised, but from the inside out. Penetrated, at least in the beginning? Then…subverted?”

“By whom?”

“That’s the problem, Deborah. Whenever it was like we were getting close to…hell…that’s not right. We never got close to an answer. I don’t think we even got close to asking the right questions, and whenever we tried it’s like we were attacked from every angle. Drug dealers. Low life scum. Then from the inside, by rogue cops. And then cops working with dealers. So we gave up, and I mean we publicly gave up and yet…no one seemed to care in the least, especially no one in city government…”

“And so you think they were in on it, right?”

“Maybe, maybe not. The thing is, it felt pervasive. Like it was everywhere, like law enforcement at every level was being compromised.”

“Was?”

Callahan shrugged. “Yeah. And I assume it still is.”

“So, why were you in Israel?”

“I used to think I knew the answer to that one, but now I’m not so sure.”

“Oh?”

“Did you know Avi Rosenthal?”

She shook her head. “Was he related to Saul?”

“Yeah, his brother. I still don’t know the whole story, but he was – apparently – married to my mom before the war, but I think that was a marriage of convenience. Then about twenty, twenty-five years ago he basically took Mom back to Israel. They lived in a government compound outside of Tel Aviv; that’s where Mom was when she died.”

“What did this Avi Rosenthal do?”

“I’m not real sure, but I think it had something to do with their version of the CIA.”

“The Mossad? Really?”

Callahan shrugged. “Maybe. He was a physicist but got involved in planning. War plans. At least he let on once that was what he was working on.”

Eisenstadt sighed, her mind working overtime now: “Do you think there’s any possibility that he knew about this thing your mother did? This manipulation of time?”

“If he knew he didn’t let on.”

“If he worked with Mossad he wouldn’t.”

Callahan looked at her carefully then, trying to get a read on where she was going with this line of questioning: “So, what are you thinking?” he finally asked.

“Harry, I am at heart a physicist. I look at complex systems and try to understand why they behave the way they do…”

“Okay. So, you look worried right now. Why?”

“I have two fears, really. The first concerns this thing that you taught Liz. This remote viewing thing you do. It is a curiosity, yet one with an immense potential to wreak havoc. Yet what most concerns me is that we somehow extend this ability and that we actually are able to travel back in time. Now…what if this Avi Rosenthal knew of your mother’s ability? Then what? Well, if he worked for Mossad we have to assume that the Israelis know of this generally and have since been working to extend your mother’s ability to utilize remote viewing into actual time travel. Yet I lived and taught there for almost twenty years and never heard even a whisper about such a project.”

“Okay. That’s one fear. What’s the other?”

“This I have a more difficult time understanding. It is little more than a feeling right now, a feeling with no basis in reason.”

“Alright. So, fire away.”

“It concerns this thing in the sky. This pulsing light. And to me it is a question of timing, and because of what we were just talking about at dinner. What did you say to your friend, the doctor? That this pulsing might not be a natural phenomenon, that it might be a signal? And if this is so, it might quite possibly be a warning of some kind? And here we are, the three of us – and quite possibly the Israelis too – working on some kind of practical ability to move through time. So, my second fear is exactly this: what if this warning is no coincidence?”

“Swell…”

“Yes. Just so. But there is another point to consider. If your mother knew of this ability before the war, what if others learned of her ability? Perhaps very unscrupulous people, perhaps, for instance, scientists working for or inside the Third Reich…?”

Callahan shuddered. “That would explain Israel’s interest, wouldn’t it? The Nazis could manipulate time, and…”

She nodded: “Just so, yes. And now let me add one more piece to the puzzle…”

“Oh, no…”

“Oh, yes. There was talk, before the outbreak of the war, of a kind of “shift” that had to do with time displacement. It was, and by rumor only, called the Aubuchon Shift. From what I have been able to uncover, there was a Claire Aubuchon involved with the Manhattan Project. She lived in Los Alamos, New Mexico during the war, and she worked with a physicist at Berkeley named Ted Sealy. They were working on how the blast waves from atomic bomb detonations would impact the wings of the delivery aircraft, the B-29; in other words, they were working on both the physical effects and the acoustic dynamics of a large blast wave. And Harry, this is the crucial point here, she was working on harmonic properties and their impact on structures and then she supposedly came upon some kind of “shift” and then she quite literally dropped out of sight. Years later she marries a man named Ben E Goodman with all kinds of degrees in medicine and physics yet I cannot find out anything about this Dr. Goodman. No academic records, no work records, nothing…”

“Goodman? Did you say Ben Goodman?”

“Yes? Why?”

“My contact within the Mossad these days is Colonel Benjamin Goodman.”

“Interesting. Does he, by any chance, have a daughter?”

“Yup. Didi. Didi Goodman.”

Eisenstadt shook her head. “This Claire Aubuchon had a daughter. Dana Goodman is her name. She lives in Los Angeles.”

“You think they’re related, don’t you?”

“Possibly. Or…something worse.”

“Worse? What could be worse?”

“That they are copies. Copies of this Claire Aubuchon. And this is what troubles me, Harry. This Aubuchon was a passenger on the Titanic yet she had a child in the 1950s? Is that so? Is that even possible?”

“So…you think she was actually traveling?”

“I have no idea, but this husband of hers, this man with no discernible background, has a baby with her when she is far too old to do such a thing? No, Harald, there are far too many unanswered questions here, questions that make no sense, and then you tell me of this other Goodman in Israel…”

“She’s been handling my finances for a long time.”

“What?”

“His daughter knows where everything is. Everything.”

“You must act now to secure what you have. And Harald. There is something else I must tell you.”

“Yes? Well, fire away…”

“My father, in Copenhagen, was your grandfather’s best friend.”

“My grandfather?”

“Aaron. Aaron Schwarzwald.”

“Seriously? Now isn’t that…”

“A coincidence?”

“A coincidence, yes.”

“I am not so sure I believe in such things anymore, Harald. The odds that Liz would look me up in Cambridge and then bring me to your house defies statistical interpretation…”

“Meaning what?”

“I have no idea, only that something most unusual is taking place.”

“Unusual, how?”

“It is like we are being guided…”

“Funny, I didn’t take you as the religious type…”

“And I am not, Harald. Yet perhaps there are people guiding us, or shaping events so that we come together…”

“So, people with god-like powers?”

“Perhaps it seems that way to us, but to me this implies people who have mastered the observation of people across lifetimes…”

“You mean time travelers, don’t you?”

She nodded. “Yes, I suppose I do. This also means that you and I may hold some sort of special place in this scheme, that you and I coming together is part of a plan.”

Callahan sighed and held up his glass. “I think I’m going to need another one of these,” he said.

“Ah, you see? This is a most useful creation, this scotch. Sit back and go over the day, or perhaps even a lifetime…”

“Lifetimes.”

“Just so, yes. We must start with your mother, Harald. That is the first road we must take.”

“You know Robert Frost?”

“The poet? No, not really. Why?”  

Callahan looked at his empty glass and twirled the last remaining drops in slow circles, looking at one drop as it collided and reformed in ways both unpredictable and reassuringly familiar. “I shall be telling this with a sigh, Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

“And this means what, Harry?”

“That we have been acting in very predictable ways, and if we’re going to survive this thing then we’re going to have to start taking the road less traveled.”

“We need to be unpredictable? Is that what you’re saying?”

He nodded, and then he tossed the last remaining drops of scotch onto the fire. “Yes. Just so.”

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[but wait, there’s more…how about a word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need before work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (i.e., Covid-19 and me generally growing somewhat old) waiting to list said sources might not be the best way to proceed, and this listing will grow over time – until the story is complete. To begin, the ‘primary source’ material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw. I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry.  The snippets of lyrics from Lucy in the Sky are publicly available as ‘open-sourced.’ Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]

(Genesis \\ Dodo-Lurker Suite)

The Eighty-eighth Key, Chapter 61.2

88th key cover image

Back to Harry. Again. Sorry about The Otter and The Fox, but sometimes stories just come and they beg to be put to the page and who am I to resist? So…I spent a day putting pen to paper (well, you know what I mean, right?) while tinkering with this next segment of 88.

So, a little music to go along with your tea? Aber natürlich, meine Damen und Herren! Vielleicht ein bisschen Nachtmusik?

(Where Do The Children Play \\ Cat Stevens)

Chapter 62.2

Callahan had approved of Cathy Bullitt’s final architectural renderings for Harry’s rambling Sea Ranch Studios well before her passing, though construction had been delayed pending final approval by the dreaded and reviled California Coastal Commission. Harry’s property holdings at Sea Ranch included four residential lots; the original lot he purchased overlooking the sea at the end of a cul-de-sac, where the main house was built, and this was the house conceived to take in sweeping views of the sea and the rocks below. Because Sea Ranch was a residential community, turning the main house into a large recording studio had proven a legal impossibility, yet Cathy’s work-around was simplicity itself. She designed three new residences, each with a dedicated recording studio attached, and each new residence was only casually linked to the others by discreet walkways that wound around and through the rocks and scrubby pines on the sloping site. 

Her original plans for the Callahan House looked, in plan view, or from overhead, like a series of irregularly sized hexagons, each drifting down the gently sloping hill towards the cliffs overlooking the sea. She chose her building materials with great care, executing the design with extensive use western red cedar and redwood inside and out. Each hexagonal roof gently sloped seaward, and each roof was clad in standing seamed copper. Walkways and patios around the main house were originally fashioned from flagstone and discrete exterior moonlighting bathed the walks and patios and even the surrounding trees with a cool blue-green ambiance at night. 

And the new residence-studios followed these simple motifs. Copper roofs, redwood and cedar construction mimicking the hexagonal original, sweeping walls of glass to absorb the views and to bring a sense of their surroundings inside each structure. And the same lighted flagstone walkways linked each studio into a semi-inclusive whole, with the routes of their meandering ways dictated by existing trees and rock outcroppings. The residences varied in size, ranging from a single very simple two bedroom affair to an extremely large six bedroom residence with a music studio large enough to handle large ensemble groups, including a small orchestra, in the same session.

Harry had been using the first studio, the one built into his original residence, for years. Lloyd and Tod Bright had both used this studio, so had the grunge rock band Bright, and this before Harry was shot and lost his leg. Cathy had designed this original studio with modest additional accommodations, enough to handle a small entourage, but this soon proved a hindrance. Construction had already begun on the first residence/studio before Harry fled to Switzerland, and DD had seen this project through to completion. She’d put work off work on the remaining residence/studios until uncertainty surrounding Harry’s future began to resolve, but one of her first actions after Harry returned was to get these additional projects moving again. Harry wanted his Sea Ranch Studios to fully come alive, and he envisioned summer music camps taking shape and somehow turning the area into a haven for artists, but particularly for young musicians. DD had her marching orders and construction was soon in full swing.

The final paperwork consummating Callahan’s retirement from the Police Department was officially tendered after his departure for Davos, and with that accomplished Callahan officially consigned that part of his life to the past. Captain Sam Bennett was still living in Santa Cruz and Callahan had long made it a point to visit with his oldest friend at least a couple of times a year, but after his return DD informed Harry that Bennett was residing in an assisted living facility after his wife passed. Harry called Delgetti and Carl Stanton when he learned of that, and they vowed to get together with their captain soon.

Liz temporarily opened her house after she returned from Boston; this was Frank and Cathy’s original place located next door to Harry’s. Curiously, Deborah Eisenstadt stayed in Lloyd’s old bedroom for the rest of her week there – while the three of them gathered around Harry – and his ornate Bösendorfer – in the piano room that was perched above the rocks and the breaking surf below. She was entranced by the sea everywhere she looked and made it clear she never wanted to leave. And it was around Harry’s piano that they gathered and began to play with time, and while blissfully unaware of the consequences, they began playing with the very fabric of the universe, with the music of the spheres that Imogen Schwarzwald had only glimpsed within her Fourth Piano Concerto. 

+++++

“You say you have von Karajan’s notes?” Eisenstadt said after Harry finished playing the first movement. 

“I do, yes,” Callahan said – reluctantly.

“What do they…?” she started to ask, but then she stopped and collected her thoughts for a moment. “You mentioned you received these notes, and the score, directly from von Karajan, did you not?”

“Yes. I visited him in Salzburg not long before he passed. That was several years ago, but I still remember the afternoon quite well.”

“And you spoke of the Fourth Concerto with him?”

“Yes, of course.”

“You said your mother had just finished playing this piece when she passed. Did he tell you about the circumstances surrounding her passing?”

Harry thought back to the afternoon and sighed. “You know, I’m not sure whether he did, or if it was Avi who told me about that.”

“Did von Karajan seem evasive at all? When he talked to you about the Fourth?”

“Hard to say. He was in a lot of pain, but yes, he seemed, well, it felt like he was leaving something out, something like a painful memory.”

“I am not so sure I would trust what he said, Harry,” Eisenstadt sighed. “Many accused him of being active in party politics during the war…”

“Party? What, uh, and which war?”

 “You don’t know?” Eisenstadt replied. “Harry, von Karajan registered as a Nazi, though he was declared a mitläufer during the denazification hearings after the war.”

“A…what?”

“A mitläufer, a fellow traveler, or perhaps simply an opportunist; yes, that is the better choice here. He chose not simply to stay in Germany during the war, but to actively work there. He conducted the official state orchestra and at all manner of state functions. He profited from the Nazi regime, Harry.”

“Okay. So he was declared an opportunist. Does that disqualify the importance of his work on the Fourth?”

“No, of course not. I am, however saying we might take his recollections as a place to start our investigations, and that we need to look into this matter further.”

“What…matter?” Harry asked, now feeling a little uncomfortable about where this talk was headed. 

Liz Bullitt, just then sitting beside Deborah, wanted to warn the Old Owl to go easy on Callahan, that any talk of his mother was to go down a trail fraught with all manner of hidden dangers.

“Your mother’s death, Harry,” Eisenstadt continued, looking him hard in the eye. “We must consider this an open question.”

“What do you mean?” Harry said.

“Right now? Only that we, the three of us, need to go back and examine this moment.”

“You mean…?”

“I do. And I think I understand how difficult this will be for you, but Harry – I have a feeling. What do you call the word? A hunch? Isn’t that what you Americans say? A nagging suspicion – that all is not as it should be.”

“With what?” Harry growled.

“With the very last movement of her Fourth, with the last moments of her life. What if your mother stumbled upon something, something dangerous, and what if van Karajan saw and understood that? Perhaps he changed something before the work was performed? To protect her, perhaps…”

“Or to protect all of us,” Liz whispered.

“Just so,” Eisenstadt sighed. “That is what I am most afraid of, Harry. I think that there is a harmonic structure within everything, and quite possibly your mother came upon a key to our understanding of this structure.”

“There’s only one way we can find out, Harry,” Liz added. “You know where all this happened, who was there and even when. You’re the only person who can take us back to the moment – to the moment she originally played those final parts of her original score.”

Harry was sitting quietly behind the Bösendorfer’s keyboard, and now he looked down and took a deep breath, but his hands remained crossed on his lap. Lost in thought, he knew what was being asked of him, and even knew how to get there, but there was something else bothering him.

“Have you ever considered,” he mumbled, “that if playing that music killed her, that it might, no…that’s not quite right, is it? If we find our way into that music, and if we play that music as you suggest, that it will – not might, but will – kill us all?”

“If she played the music and it killed her,” Eisenstadt thought out loud, “why wasn’t von Karajan also killed?”

“Maybe proximity?” Liz said. “Proximity to the vibrations of the chord? When it was played?”

“If that’s true,” Callahan sighed, “then won’t whoever plays the music, well, you know, die?”

Eisenstadt shrugged. “We have too many questions as it is, Harry. Now we must have answers. Answers that only your mother can provide.”

The doorbell rang and Harry heard a key in the door…

“That’s got to be DD,” he said. “Liz, can you give me a hand here?” he said as pulled himself closer to his wheelchair. 

“Yeah, got it,” she said, and she helped Harry get settled in his chair just as DD and the Doc came in.

“Hope we didn’t interrupt anything important,” DD said, now carrying bags of groceries into the kitchen. “And Harry, I’ve got a list of people that are coming tomorrow. Just a few old hands from the Cathouse and a few cops you might remember.”

“You have friends…from a cathouse?” Eisenstadt asked with an arched eyebrow. “Really?”

“Oh yeah,” Callahan grinned, “we go way back. Free mustache rides guaranteed, too.”

Liz shook her head. “Oh, Harry…really?” she said as she pushed him into the living room.

“Oh,” DD added, “I’ve got one of those motorized wheelchairs coming first thing in the morning, so be here. They’ll go over charging the batteries and all that while they set it up.”

“Any word from the prosthetics lab?”

“Appointment on Monday, in Palo Alto,” the Doc said. “First I could get, and I had to pull some strings, too.”

“Thanks, Doc,” Harry nodded.

“You been watching that shit in Sagittarius?” Doc asked.

“Yeah. Same thing four nights running.”

“Spooky, man. Heard some talking heads last night yakking on and on about it. Calling it some kind of periodic pulsar. Some astronomer in Japan is calling it a magneto-star.” The Doc put his bags of groceries in the kitchen then came out to the living room. “Oh, excuse me. I didn’t know you two were over here,” he said to Liz and the Owl. “Sorry for the expletives.”

“You must be kidding,” the Owl hooted. “After an a few hours with Harry my vocabulary is wilting under the load.”

The Doc chuckled at that. “You should hear us in the OR. The scrub nurses tell the smuttiest jokes…”

“Oh sure they do, Doc,” Harry sighed. “Like the one about…”

“No, Harry, not here!” Doc cried.

Everyone laughed.

“So,” Harry asked DD as she came into the living room with a bowl of freshly peeled shrimp, “who on earth did you find from the department to come out here?”

“Oh, that’s a surprise,” she shot back. “So, Professor Eisenstadt, are you still returning Sunday?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so. I must earn a living, one way or another.”

“Well, unless you’ve made other plans, we’ll get you down to the airport,” DD added.

“Oh, I can not ask you to do that. There must be…”

“No, there’s not,” the Doc countered. “It’s either us or you’ll have to use your thumb.”

“I see. Well, in that case, I’m most grateful.”

“What time’s your flight?”

“Noon, I think.”

“Okay, we’ll pick you up at 0630. Harry? Wanna ride in with us?”

“Sure, Doc.”

DD then came back with plates for everyone and bowls full of cocktail and remoulade sauces. “Okay everyone…dig in. Harry? Want an Oly?”

“No, I want you to sit down and relax. You’re making me tired just watching you run around!”

“I’ve got to go fix a Diet Coke. You wanna beer or not?”

“Diet Coke for me too, then.”

A hush fell over the house.

“Did you say Diet Coke, Harry?” the Doc asked.

“I did. Yes.”

The Doc then came over and felt Callahan’s forehead. “You feeling okay, Harry?”

“And the horse you rode in on, Doc,” Callahan muttered. “DD…this is a good remoulade. How’d you make it?”

“Oh, you like it?”

“Yeah, better than the cocktail sauce.”

“Cup of mayonnaise, two tablespoons of coarse French mustard, equal parts finely diced celery and onion. Oh, and a dash of Tabasco, too.”

“Damn, Harry,” the Doc groaned, “and now you’re asking for recipes? And drinking Diet Coke? We better check your testosterone levels, and pretty fucking soon…”

Liz laughed at that. “Yeah, Doc, you fuckin’ tell ‘em!”

“Oh, shit. There I go with the expletives again.”

“I hate to ask,” the Owl said, “but could one of you start a fire? I’m getting chilly now…”

“I’ll get it,” Liz said. “What was that you used to say, Harry? The coldest winter I ever endured was the summer I spent in San Francisco?”

“Ain’t that the truth?” DD sighed. “Beginning to feel like we’re gonna have another foggy night.”

“I hope not,” Eisenstadt said. “I’d finally like to see that pulsing star.”

“You haven’t seen it yet?” the Doc asked.

“I have great difficulty staying up so late these days, and when I get back to Boston I will have to contend with light pollution as well.”

“Perfect night for tomato bisque and grilled cheese sammies,” Liz said.

“Yeah,” Harry added. “Sounds good.”

“So,” the Doc asked Harry, “you working on a new piece?” 

“Who…me? No, no, I was just trying to play Tom Lehrer’s Vatican Rag.”

“No shit? Man, I haven’t heard that one in ages. Can you play it?”

“No, no…I couldn’t remember the words, so really, what’s the point?”

“True. So, what do you make of this pulsing star theory, Harry?”

“Me? Hell, I got no idea, Doc. It seems pretty regular, ya know? Like you could almost set your watch by it, and that’s the weird thing, at least to me.”

“Yeah,” the Doc sighed. “One of the gas-passers I work with in the OR is an amateur astronomer. He thinks it’s a signal of some sort.”

Eisenstadt looked up at that. “Possible, but not likely, though that would depend on the possible trajectory of the light path.”

“What do you mean?” the Doc asked.

“If it is indeed a natural phenomenon associated, say with a pulsar or other magneto-star, the light would be omnidirectional. If, on the other hand, it is a signal of one kind or another that would assume a more focused beam of light directed along a path with a known recipient, or recipients. The implications of this, needless to say, would be staggering.”

“Oh, I agree. It would be staggering, alright…but that alone doesn’t mean it’s not possible.”

“Of course not. The problem,” Eisenstadt added, “will be trying to figure out if the light is omnidirectional or a more focused beam…”

“What about the type of light, say try a spectroscopic analysis? What that prove or disprove one hypothesis or the other?”

“If it was coherent light, possibly, yes,” she replied. “And by that I mean a singular correlation between packets of energy.”

The Doc shrugged. “You lost me, Dr. Eisenstadt.”

“The light would need to come from a non-variable light source, such as you might find emitted by laser, or possibly even a phased maser. But the energy required to emit such a signal over astronomical distances is not insignificant, Doctor. As a frame of reference, I doubt if all the power generated on this planet would be sufficient.”

“Shit,” the Doc sighed.

“Just so. Shit,” Eisenstadt smiled. “You might tap into or somehow focus the light of a star, but the resources involved to construct such a device again implies energy technologies several orders of magnitude greater than what we have envisioned here. Of more immediate and practical interest is how far away this light source is from our solar system; only then should we consider the type of light.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“If the source is local, say within 100 parsecs, that might be grounds for further inquiry. If, on the other hand, the light comes from a globular cluster in the Sagittarius Group that implies the light is ancient, say eight to fifteen thousand years old. For an artificial light source to be focused on our planet, and to arrive just now…well, the odds defy the need for further comment or investigation.” 

“If it was somehow, what would that imply?”

“That this alleged civilization knew enough about the complex gravitational and tidal interactions within planetary groups in the entire galaxy to make precise predictions of stellar drift. In other words, their scientists would have had to take into account not only where we were thousands of years ago, but where we would be when the signal arrived. Such computational power in inconceivable, Doctor.”

Callahan had been listening to this exchange but just then something occurred to him: “Unless of course they were time travelers,” he said.

And Eisenstadt turned her owl’s eyes to Callahan and they blinked rapidly as another set of confounding thoughts cascaded through her mind. “If so, why not just come and tell us? Why bother with signaling us?”

“I can think of at least two reasons,” the Doc sighed. “The first is the simplest. We’d need to be technologically advanced enough to give a damn, to act on what we found.”

“And the second?” Eisenstadt said, her eyes narrowing a bit.

“That there’s an internal conflict within that civilization.”

“What do you mean?” she replied.

“Well, that perhaps there are factional differences. One group wants to send the signal and the other doesn’t…”

“Or,” Callahan said, “that this civilization wants to signal us but they don’t want another group to know that they’ve done so.”

“Another group?” the Doc posited. “Or another civilization?”

“And if that was the case,” Callahan said as he looked down and studied his hands, “then the signal is a warning.”

Eisenstadt smiled – yet inside she was torn. “All of this is of course assuming that your little green men are behind sending such a telegram to us in the first place.”

But Callahan looked at Liz, and both nodded.

Because the means to get to an answer might be waiting for them just a few feet away, in notes on sheets of music penned by his mother thirty years ago.

© 2021-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[but wait, there’s more…how about a word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need before work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (i.e., Covid-19 and me generally growing somewhat old) waiting to list said sources might not be the best way to proceed, and this listing will grow over time – until the story is complete. To begin, the ‘primary source’ material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw. I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. The UH-1Y image used from Pt VI on taken by Jodson Graves. The snippets of lyrics from Lucy in the Sky are publicly available as ‘open-sourced.’ Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]

(Learn to Fly \\ Foo Fighters \\  RIP Taylor)

The Otter and the Fox

otter fox

A wee tale for the change of seasons, maybe a little bit of allegory tossed into the mix.

(Ripples \\ Genesis)

The Otter and The Fox

Looking back on the events of the past summer, as the old man was wont to do from time to time these days, he found himself wandering down among the stacks in the deeper recesses of memory. Such musings were not at all uncommon and in a way he took a simple but curious comfort from these outings, and while many of these excursions were good for a smile others were not so pleasant. And as is true enough for us all, there were more than a few that brought a tear to his eye.

He was a meticulous old man and this was no doubt due to his upbringing. His father had been an aviator in the Great War, as the first big war of the twentieth-century was called, which was the one that happened before historians came up with the clever idea of numbering our wars. By the time the second big war rolled around his father was an admiral in the American Navy and he was still, nominally at least, an aviator. When the old man thought about his father it was usually when he folded his laundry or brushed his teeth, because his father had been very meticulous when teaching his son how to do those two most important things. Briefs had to be folded just so, socks in another manner altogether. Shirts were never folded; no, they were picked up from the laundry and immediately placed on wooden hangers and hung in the appropriate closet, and with an inch between hangers. The rod in his father’s various closets had always been marked at one inch intervals but, his father added when he passed along such wisdom his son, if you didn’t have a ruler you could use two fingers placed side by side to approximate the distance. Slacks needed three inches – or four fingers when you had small finger – like the father’s son had in those days. 

His father never explained why these things were so. No explanations were necessary where his father was concerned.

The old man’s mother was an even more curious creature. Her father had some modest successes as an Episcopal priest, her mother much more success as a poet who also taught literature at a woman’s college in Western Massachusetts, which was, coincidentally and speaking in approximate terms, where her father and mother met. His mother seemed to exist on another plane, at least as far as this marriage was concerned. Her father seemed to wrestle with his demons during every waking moment, these demons coming to him in the form of bourbon whiskey and very young prostitutes. Her mother, on the other hand, was a saintly wraith who spent her every waking moment either preparing lectures for her students or writing poetry. This might explain her success as a teacher and a poet, and perhaps her father’s demonic proclivities as well, but suffice to say that the old man’s mother passed along a somewhat eclectic crop of incidental talents. She was, after all, an artiste.

By the time the old man graduated from high school he had lived in Manila, Honolulu, Annapolis, Honolulu again, and finally San Diego. He went to college in 1960 at the University of California Los Angeles and he studied both architecture and engineering. While there he learned to sail and he learned to fly small single engine airplanes, and on a dare once he went sky-diving. He did not repeat that mistake. He finally learned to ski and loved the snow and the mountains all of which in no way accounted for his decision to attend the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin. He rented a room in a little house a block off the drag owned by two women who spent a lot of time together, usually around a potter’s wheel or at their kiln off the little one car garage out back. Among other things, they taught him about the joys of making guacamole, and their cheese enchiladas were beyond heavenly. He finally figured out what their secret ingredient was, too. Love. pure and simple – with maybe just a pinch of cilantro.

He was doing an internship over summer vacation in ’66; he was picking up a book at the architecture library and had just started back for his car when the gunshots started raining down on the South Mall. He saw a girl running for the door he had just entered to and when he turned to open the door for her he watched as the side of her head exploded into a misty rain of blood and bone. He pulled her in, pulled her to cover and he held her while she died in his arms.

He called his father a few hours later and he cried.

And his father told him to be a man, that real men didn’t cry at times like this.

The girls made him cheese enchiladas and fresh guacamole later that evening, and they helped him keep it together by teaching him all about the medicinal properties of Jose Cuervo tequila, thick wedges of juicy green limes and a whole shitload of salt. He had to admit sometime during the night that tequila was really very evil stuff and best left to others.

He graduated from the school a year later and moved to Seattle – because he missed the sea and wanted to live close to the mountains. He figured it was either Seattle or somewhere in Norway, and at least Seattle was close to La Jolla, where his parents were bunking out now that his old man had retired his flag.

The late-60s was an interesting period on the West Coast generally and while Seattle was no different it wasn’t exactly Berkeley or Haight-Ashbury, either. The “wood-butcher” school of incoherent architecture was taking off about that time, with untrained urban-anarchists retreating to the Cascades to build houses in the woods that more often than not looked like a cross between a submarine and a pile of melted candles. Maybe this period was a revolt against the revolting ranch-style houses of the period, and maybe that was a good thing, too. It got people thinking outside of the box for once, and maybe it all had something to do with Tolkien and Middle Earth, or maybe it was all the talk about Don Juan and his “magic mushrooms” which were floating around the edges of the scene just then. Well, hell, psychedelics were all the rage around Portland and Seattle in those days, so what harm could a few mushrooms be…?

He didn’t have a job lined up but that didn’t stop him. He went from firm to firm, talking to partners and dropping off copies of his portfolio and it didn’t take all that long; within a couple of weeks he had several interviews lined-up. He’d always wanted to concentrate on residential architecture and that proved a point in his favor. Most firms like to work on big projects, and for all the obvious reasons, but they usually keep a couple of Birkenstock-wearing creative types in a dark corner to work on residential commissions, and that’s exactly where C. Llewelyn Sumner found himself working in the fall of 1967. He rented a little two bedroom bungalow in the North Queen Anne neighborhood because it was an easy bus ride to work, and he set up a drafting table in the spare bedroom and bought just enough cookware to make cheese enchiladas and guacamole because, really, what else did you need?

C. Llewelyn Sumner wasn’t an ugly specimen, he was in fact fairly representative of genus Homo Americanus. Neither tall nor short, skinny or fat, his mother had always bought his clothes “off the rack” – and most frequently from the nearest JCPenney – and this was by the late 60s a habit fairly well ingrained in Sumner. He typically wore Perma-Pressed slacks the color of peat-moss, neither brown nor maroon but trapped someplace in between, and he invariably wore madras shirt sleeved shirts, once again of the ‘never needs ironing’ variety. And yes, he wore Hush-Puppies, though he never wore them with white socks – because his father had him taught proper sock etiquette from a very early age. When Sumner went to work he always slipped on a tan corduroy sport coat before he left his little bungalow – just because. Once at his drafting table the coat disappeared until it was time to return home.

Perhaps because of his mother’s contributions to his being, he possessed a rather florid artistic sensibility. His first designs were intricately rendered prairie-ranch style houses, sprawling hipped-roof affairs with four foot roof overhangs and vast expanses of glass the defining characteristics of this early period of his work, and as they were unusual yet very attractive he gained a following. The firm was therefore happy with his work, too, if only because nothing breeds success quite like a steady cash flow.

After a year at the firm one of the senior partners asked him to join a group the coming weekend on a kind of client interview. About all he knew going into the weekend was that the client (and his wife) were fabulously wealthy and that they wanted a very serious new house to be the focal point on a little island in the San Juans they’d just bought. They would be departing from Bellingham early on Saturday morning, and this presented a minor problem for C. Llewelyn Sumner, as he had no car, and actually had very little interest in them.

Yet the only automobile that did interest him was the little Porsche 911, but the prices were just a little out of his reach. Still, he went to a local dealer and kicked a few tires until a salesman approached. Sumner told the salesman what his proposed budget was and the salesman took him over to look at one of newer versions of the model, the 911E. It wasn’t an “S” model but it was a Porsche, and the price was right on the bleeding edge of doable, so the next day after work he picked up a tangerine colored 911 and drove home with a big, fat smile on his face. His neighbors were envious. Girls started looking at him as he drove to work. He found he was happy, or at least happier than he had been in quite a while, and he thought it odd that purchasing a car could do that to a person.

So he woke up extra early that Saturday and made the hours long drive up to Bellingham; everyone hopped on the client’s sailboat and they took off for the Sucia Island group. The client was a bigger than life character who was considered something “big in the timber biz” and he had a bunch of money, too, and mentioned that more than once that morning. His wife was charming, articulate, and obviously loved her husband – in fact she doted on him constantly. When they arrived at the client’s island a small but very substantial pier had already been put in place, and power had already been run to the island – “at great expense!” added the rich man – and two wells for water were up and running. A small bulldozer was working on clearing a roadway from the pier to the proposed building site, and as this was a Saturday, Sumner knew with overtime rates being paid to the operator that the client was obviously in a hurry to get things done.

So, the four of them walked the quarter mile to the site and Sumner looked at all the various views – of Mount Baker to the east and the Olympics to the southwest and it was hard to say which was the more dramatic. From a designers perspective the setup was almost surreal…unobstructed views…and not a single neighbor…just the sea and a few other islands sprinkled in the area, and most of those were wilderness preserves. Sumner pulled out a compass and a notepad and got to work taking notes, and an hour later the group was on the way back to Bellingham.

And it was kind of funny. On the trip back, Sumner had the impression that Mrs. Client was hitting on him just a little and besides feeling a little awkward  he just carried on trimming sails and thinking about the island site. He drove back to his bungalow full of ideas and so jazzed was he that he went straight to his drafting table and got to work, drawing all through the night and into Sunday morning. When he arrived at work on Monday morning the partner involved asked Sumner if he had any ideas and Sumner just unrolled the floor plan and several elevations and let his drawings answer the question. The partner involved was flabbergasted at Sumner’s productive capacity and immediately called the Client and his Wife and they rushed down to the office. Sumner set about producing a rendering of the house sitting among the pines on the island, and he had that ready to go just before the Clients arrived.

Client was thunderstruck, almost speechless when he saw the first rendering, and Mrs. Client was moved to tears. She proclaimed Sumner a genius, and with that accomplished the Clients signed on the dotted line, turning over the design and construction oversight to the firm for a more than generous commission. And by all appearances every one of the firm’s partners was more than pleased with Sumner’s work to date and by unanimous decision he was made a junior partner on the spot.

C. Llewelyn Sumner decided he needed a house of his own, but he had run into a problem by choosing to live in Seattle. Seattle is itself a fairly diffuse concept, with the major suburbs spreading across the sound to Bainbridge Island and Bremerton, inland to Bellevue and Redmond, and north to Everett and even as far north as Bellingham. Boeing was the beating heart of the area, the aircraft manufacturer having facilities spread all over the area, and new companies were relocating to Seattle as the commercial aviation sector boomed with the success of the 707 and 747 models.

So while Sumner was now confronted with the very simple problem of where to live, he had to admit he liked living close to downtown. He liked living in a city that felt like a community, and the Queen Anne neighborhood fit the bill. But he was going to have to work on the island site several days a week and for weeks at a time and that meant three hours a day in the car just to get the Bellingham and back, and he’d need to rent a launch to run out to the island and back… And that didn’t sound all that good or even fun.

So he mentioned the problem at work, and one of the other new hires chimed in with an oddball suggestion.

“Buy a boat,” a girl named Tracy said. “Take it up there and anchor off the island, and drive home when you need a change of clothes.”

“A boat?” said C. Llewelyn Sumner.

“Sure. I do. I keep mine down at Shilshole,” she added.

“You live on a boat?” he repeated, incredulous now and with his arms crossed over his chest.

“Yeah. Why don’t you come down after work and I’ll show you around.”

“You live on a boat?” he said again, mystified and now shaking his head.

“Chuck, just stop it, okay?”

His face was a blank until he realized she’d called him ‘Chuck.’ “What did you call me?” he growled.

“Chuck. You know, your first name is Charles, so I just thought…”

“Don’t you dare call me that ever again,” he snarled, now red-faced and trembling.

“Sure thing, Charles.”

“My name is Llewelyn.”

“Sorry, but I can’t say that one with a straight face,” Tracy said, breaking into an impish little smile.

“Try!” Llewelyn said as he turned and stormed back to his table.

He worked on the foundation plans for the rest of the day and as he was packing up to leave Tracy came over to his table and blocked him in.

“Hey, what’s up, Chuck.”

He ignored her as he rolled up his drawings.

“I’m just curious, Chuck, but have you ever been, you know, like…laid?”

He turned and looked at this red-hair-freckle-faced girl like she was a contagion, but he decided against a reply and just shook his head, then he pushed his way past her and made for the parking lot. She, of course, followed. She was having too much fun to realize she was poking at a sleeping bear with a sharp stick.

“Come on, Chuck! Buy me dinner and I’ll show you my…boat…”

When he got to his car he stepped inside and put his things away then drove home, and she did not follow him, though he’d halfway expected she might. When he was getting out of his car his next door neighbor said hello, and that they were headed to the boat show, and that piqued Sumner’s interest. “Where’s it at?”

“Oh, down at Lake Union. Mainly sailboats this time of year. You wanna go with us?”

He made up his mind right then and there. “Would you mind?”

“No, no, hop on in. Plenty of room.”

It was only a few minutes away and soon enough he was walking around amongst a few dozen manufacturers displays, including an interesting boat from Finland, a chunky double ender with a huge pilot house, and he’d never seen anything like it down in LA.

“What is this?” he asked the representative.

“Well, it’s not really in production yet, but the people back in Finland are trying to put together a consortium to build this design as a production boat.”

“Mind if I take a look down below?”

“No, no, that’s why we’re here. Help yourself, and I’ll be right here if you have any questions.”

“Thanks,” he said as he climbed aboard. Teak decks, huge airy pilot house, easy to get on and off – he thought as he walked around the deck. Then he went below…

“Oh sweet Jesus,” he said as he went from the pilot house down to the galley, and he turned right around and walked back over to the rep. “Is this boat for sale?” he asked.

“Yes, of course.”

“How much?”

The rep handed over a flyer with the vessel’s details and drawings on it, and a price was listed down at the bottom of the page.

“How much do you want for a deposit?” Sumner asked.

“You want to buy it now? You haven’t even been out on her?”

Sumner shook his head. “Would ten percent down be alright,” he asked as he pulled out his checkbook.

“Suits me,” the rep said, shaking his head. “Let’s get started on the paperwork.”

Sumner would take delivery after the show ended, in ten days. He bought some basic gear for cooking and cleaning, including a little inflatable boat called a Zodiac that he’d seen on a Jacques Cousteau TV special. And it was at this point he realized he was going to need some help moving the boat off Lake Union through the locks, before he could even think about the trip north to Bellingham. The next morning he talked to the firm’s partner he’d sailed with on the Client’s yacht and of course he recommended that he talk to…Tracy.

So, when he picked up the boat from the dealer on Lake Union he did so with a little red-headed fire-plug of a girl by his side, and the funniest part of that whole thing was she hung around off and on for a few years, more like a kid sister than a girlfriend, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying on her part. But, oh yes, they moved the boat up to Bellingham and he put the boat in a marina there and her big brother came up to drive them back down to Seattle. She’d come around from time to time after that and sometimes they’d go out to dinner or to a movie and whenever her friends asked if the tall guy was her boyfriend she’d just shrug and dance coyly around the edges of their assumptions, you know, like a ‘…wouldn’t you like to know?…’ kind of coy.

A few years later Boeing discontinued their SST project and it seemed, taken with the ongoing social miasma of Vietnam and all the other breathless disappointments of the late sixties, that the world was coming to an end…and who knows, maybe it was. Boeing laid off thousands and shit always rolls downhill. Other businesses either drastically cut back their payrolls or simply shuttered their doors and closed up shop, including the firm where C. Llewelyn Sumner worked. So, he thought, maybe just one world was ending, and another was beginning?

But by the time Sumner packed up his things and left the firm he had several important commissions to his credit, and while it was a risky move he decided to strike out on his own. Tracy asked to come with him but he just couldn’t afford a partner yet and he told her so. The best he could do, he told her, was to let her set up as an independent in his office until things improved, but instead she chose to head down to San Francisco and check out conditions there. They left on friendly terms but both were a little disconcerted by the change.

He’d not been allowed to make copies of the works he had produced while at the firm, and that was a blow – yet in a way those designs resided in the most secure space imaginable, in his mind. But then the old firm went into receivership and the assets liquidated. He purchased his originals from the administrator for a song, and he felt a little better about matters.

He opened his office in a tiny house on Seaview Avenue, out near Shilshole marina, and the tiny house sat in what was now in a commercially zoned district and had, for a while, been a bicycle shop. The office was cold and damp, sitting as it was just yards from the rocky shoreline, of he kept a wood stove going almost year round, and he loved the juxtaposition of the damp and the dry.  On on the strength of all his earlier commissions at the firm he’d built a following, and a cult like following blossomed after an article about his work appeared in a nationally circulated magazine dedicated to architecture and interior design. A local photographer who expressed a deep admiration for his work asked to shoot his favorite projects and to co-produce a book with him if he’d write a bit about each. After the book came out, clients came to him from as far away as Montana and Colorado, and as the economy improved after the war wound down his business took off.

It wasn’t too many years later that one of the partners at the old firm came by looking for work, but by then Tracy was back and she was on his payroll, who along with a secretary-bookkeeper was all he could afford. But that was the nature of the business, and everyone knew it. Business was cyclical and architects lived to prosper during good times but had to be ready to hunker down when things inevitably slowed.

He still lived on a boat, but he had upgraded to a 43 foot Nauticat, having a small office with a drafting table installed as she was being built in Finland. There was more room now for people and things but he continued to lead a spare life on his own, and he was really a rather frugal person.Tracy lived a few slips away but she understood that C. Llewelyn Sumner had decided long ago that his would be a celibate’s life. He saw life through his parent’s eyes, his father’s most of all, and what he saw was endless cycles of violence and suffering. And then one night he told Tracy he couldn’t stand the idea of bringing children into such a world, and he told her about all those murders under the noonday sun in Austin and how there really weren’t any answers to be had for those who sought comfort in knowledge. Human beings could be lovely people, he said, but there was pointless savagery lurking just under the skin.

“What about you?” she asked him one night as they took their long evening walk on a nearby beach. “Would you wish now that your parents had never conceived you? That you’d never been born or lived to take a single breath?”

And he had to think about that one for a minute.

“You know…I’m here. I’m alive, and I can appreciate that for what it is. The universe came together in a moment and made me, and one day I’ll go back into the universe. What’s different is that somehow, for some reason I’m aware of the universe, aware of existing, and it’s a beautiful thing to be alive, to be cognizant of beauty and to create beautiful things, but when I look around I see so many terrible things. It’s hard to find a balance between the two. So hard that sometimes I feel any kind of balance is impossible.”

“And you do know you didn’t answer my question, right?”

“I’m here. I like being alive. So no, I wouldn’t wish that. I’m glad they decided to have a child.”

“And you don’t think a child of your own would feel the same way?”

“That’s hard to say, Tracy. The world I see coming doesn’t look like this one.”

“Because you’re a pessimist?”

“No, I’m not sure that I am, not here in this moment, anyway. But the future looks grim to me.”

“What do you think the future looked like to your parents?”

“Limitless,” C. Llewelyn Sumner said. “Endless, bright possibilities.”

“Chuck, you’re so full of shit.”

He chuckled at her sarcasm. “I learned it all from you, kid.”

“Gee, thanks,” she sighed. They walked further from the marina on drying sand, and as the tide went out more and more sand appeared. “Maybe you should get a dog. Just go down to the pound and pick one, maybe one they’re getting ready to put down. You know, save a life, make a new friend?”

“What brought that on?”

“Oh, just look at this beach! Imagine throwing a tennis ball and letting a dog run after it. Imagine the joy, the companionship.”

“But you’re not talking about a dog, Tracy. You’re talking about having a baby, about the joy and companionship having a baby would bring to your life.”

She nodded. “I know,” she whispered. “I’ve always wanted to have a baby with you. From the first time I laid eyes on you.”

“That explains it!” he snarked.

“Yup, sure does.”

“So? Where do we stand?” he sighed.

“Give me a baby, Chuck. Marry me if you want, or don’t. I won’t make any demands on you one way or the other. I’d just like to have a part of you, ya know?”

“It’s not right to bring a kid into the world without a father.”

“What’s right or wrong about it, Chuck? If you want to be a father let’s do it that way. If you don’t, let me do it the other way, the right way or the wrong.”

“Could I at least think about it, or did you just want to drop trou right here and do it right here on the beach?”

So of course she had to sing a few bars of Why Don’t We Do It In The Road and that made him smile a little, but he was kind of being serious, too.

“Right now, you mean?” she asked. “Right here, right now?”

“Isn’t that what you want, Trace?”

She nodded. “Yeah, but what about you?”

“I’d like you to be happy, Trace. Maybe more than anything else in the world.”

She took his hand and they turned to walk back to the marina, but it was the way he said it that hit home. The whole ‘I’d like you to be happy’ thing meant there was nothing in the world that could make him happy, but that didn’t matter, not really.

She’d been right all the time about him, too. He didn’t know the first thing about making love. No one had ever taught him a thing about it and he’d never done anything about it. Maybe he’d been with someone before and maybe he hadn’t; she didn’t want to know because that didn’t matter at all. Not now.

She continued to work at his office for a month or so, but then one day she came in and said she was off to Arkansas to work for a firm there, and almost without a word she packed up her things and she came up to him after her little car was loaded and she kissed him once, rubbed his cheek with her open hand while she looked him in the eye, and then she was gone.

Well and truly gone. And he knew it just then, that he’d never see her again. He could feel it, a dull pain somewhere smack dab in the middle of nowhere. When he went down to the marina that night after work her little sailboat was still there, but now there was a For Sale sign on it, and a broker’s number to call if interested. He sighed as he walked over to his boat and once he was inside he looked around and for the first time in his life he couldn’t hear a thing. He was surrounded by pure silence for the first time in forever and he couldn’t even hear his beating heart and everything was suddenly so unnerving and he didn’t know what to do now.

And it was like that after she left. Silence, everywhere. 

Clients came and he listened. He sat at his drafting table and he turned out one miracle of design after another. Architects came from Germany and Holland and Japan to study his designs, and two more monographs dedicated to his work were published – one in German and the other in Japanese. He started to dress better, better suited to his station in life, anyway, and as the years passed draftsmen came and studied with him for a year or two and then they moved on but there was never another Tracy.

He went to his father’s funeral, then his mother’s, and he inherited some money after the dust settled and he decided to build a house of his own across the sound near Port Townsend. He was beginning to slow down now, and his hands were bothering him more and more. He decided to keep his little office down by the water going for another year or two, but time had taken a toll. He was tired of the grind. Of selling his work, of trying to convince people that he was the best architect for their needs.

And one morning he looked in the mirror and he saw his father looking back at him. Or someone who looked like his father. “But that someone is me,” he realized, and for some reason that made him uncomfortable.

Because he knew his father had been incapable of love. And once he’d as much as said so. He didn’t believe in it, he said. It was all about the heat of the moment, just like war, but this thing called love was about creation, not destruction, and so we’d simply dressed up our animal instincts along the way, dressed them to suit the heat of the moment. And as he looked at the old men in his mirror he thought then that his father had probably been right all along. There was no such thing as love…there couldn’t be, because love just didn’t make any sense at all.

‘But,’ he wondered just then, ‘did life really make sense without love?’

‘What about that girl in Austin?’ he recalled. ‘I watched her die. I saw her death. I reached out that door and pulled her to safety, and I held her while she died. Did she ever love anyone? Did she even get the chance to love anyone?’

And he reached into the mirror, pulled the old man he saw there closer until he could really look into his eyes.

“Who are you, old man? Do I know you? Did I ever really know you?”

They turned away from each other just then, and they walked away in callous disregard – one for the other.

Soon enough he was spending more and more time across the sound over in Port Townsend. His new house had been a success, a complete statement of everything he’d ever considered important as an architect. He loved the spaces within, loved the way he managed to bring the outside inside. He loved the way the house blended in to the surrounding forests and mountains. He loved everything about his design, and about the reality his vision had brought to life.

And one day, when he was over at his tiny old office he was sitting at his drafting table after talking to a new, well a prospectively new client, when two teenagers came in the door, the two teenagers followed by an older gentleman – who somehow, for some reason, seemed a bit familiar.

Then he recognized the older man. He was Tracy’s older brother.

And then he looked at the teenagers. Twins, a boy and a girl.

And as they walked up to him his mouth began to feel dry, his heart to beat a little faster.

“May I help you?” he asked them.

“We need your help,” the older man said. 

“Indeed? How may I help you?”

“You designed a house years ago for my parents, a very large place out on one of the Sucia Islands.”

“Oh yes, the Clarendon house. Of course.”

But then he realized something he’d missed once upon a time. Something important.

Tracy. Her name. Was Tracy Clarendon.

“The house burned down over the winter. No one was out there, no one was hurt, but my dad is gone now and my mother wants to rebuild the house.”

“I see,” C. Llewelyn Sumner said. “So, how can I be of service?”

“Mother would like you to come up and see if the site needs work, if the foundation can be reused, and the contractor we’ll be using needs several sets of the original plans. She’d like you to supervise the work again, if that’s alright with you.”

“You’re Tracy’s brother, aren’t you?” C. Llewelyn Sumner said, out of the blue.

The man looked away for a moment, then he stepped forward and held out his hand. “Yes. Yes I am. I didn’t think you’d remember me. I’m Forbes, by the way.”

“Yes, yes, of course I remember,” C. Llewelyn Sumner said as he shook the man’s hand. “How nice to see you again.”

“Yes. Nice.”

“And these are your children, I take it?”

And Forbes Clarendon shook his head just a little as he searched for the words he’d rehearsed on the drive down. “No, sir. They’re yours.”

And yes, there was some kind of recognition between all concerned inside this moment. C. Llewelyn Sumner knew that what Tracy’s brother had said was true. When he looked at the boy he saw the same eyes he’d seen in a mirror not so long ago.

“Yes, I think I knew that,” he said to the boy. “And how is your mother?”

Forbes cleared his throat then, and he looked away once again before he decided to answer the question. “She passed away last year. Cancer. The kids have been staying with me the past year and a half.” He paused for a moment, then continued. “It’s what she wanted.”

“Understandable,” C. Llewelyn Sumner said, and to him perhaps it really was. “The last I heard she’d moved to Arkansas.”

Forbes Clarendon shook his head. “No. She went out to the island.”

“So she…never left?”

Again, Forbes simply shook his head.

“Then I’m a little confused,” Sumner said. “Why now?”

“I wanted to meet you,” the teenaged boy said. “I wanted to know you, who my father was.”

“Alright. So, what would you like to know?”

“Why didn’t you want us?” his daughter asked.

And C. Llewelyn Sumner looked away, looked for just the right words he needed to address the moment. “When your mother left,” he began, “she didn’t tell me she was pregnant. She simply told me she’d found a better job in Arkansas and then, well, she just left…”

“So…you never knew?”

“About you?” Sumner said to his children. “No, I’m afraid today is the first I’ve heard about you.”

“That’s not exactly what Mom said,” the girl, his daughter, said. “She…”

“I think your mother probably wanted to protect me,” C. Llewelyn Sumner said, “from you. From what she thought was my indifference. And I suppose, in a way, she may have been thinking about protecting you.”

“So…what do you feel right now?” his daughter asked.

“Confused. Maybe a little hollow inside, like I’ve missed out on so many things, and, well, I think I’ve lost my bearings a little. And I’m afraid I feel a little sorry for your mother. She never trusted my feelings, never trusted me enough to come and tell me what she had done.”

“I understand,” Forbes said, his voice gentle and full of understanding, “this must all come as quite a surprise…”

“Again, I’m simply confused. If Tracy wanted you isolated from me,” he said to his children, “why the change of heart?”

“Because I can’t take care of them any longer,” Forbes said, “and Mother is no longer in a position to help?”

C. Llewelyn Sumner shook his head. “Okay. So. What are you asking?”

“We wanted to ask and see if you could take them now,” Forbes said.

“I see. What about the house on the island?”

“As I said, Mother would like you to rebuild it.”

“Is she not well?”

“Alzheimer’s,” Forbes whispered. “But it’s early stage.”

“I see,” Sumner sighed, now knowing the house was probably a ruse. “Well then, perhaps the four of us should go have a bite to eat and talk about all this.”

“Talk about what?” his son said. “Either you want us or you don’t!”

“I think I know how you feel,” C. Llewelyn Sumner nodded. “And, well, maybe it’s as simple as you say, but first I’d like to know what you want. I’d like to know how both of you feel about all this, because if moving in with me is the last thing in the world you want…”

“This isn’t their decision,” Forbes stated, interrupting Sumner. “Look. I’ve lost my job. I’m about to lose my house – and I simply won’t be able to take care of them any longer. And with the house on the island gone…?”

“So, if you’ll pardon my asking,” Sumner said to Forbes, “what are your plans?”

Tracy’s brother shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m kind of at the end of my rope, if you know what I mean.”

“Well then, as I’ve not eaten since breakfast I’m rather hungry, so I hope you’ll be able to join me,” Sumner said as he moved towards the front door. “I usually just hop across the street to the Boathouse, if that’s alright with you?”

After the short walk they were all were taken out to the skinny little patio right over the water and it was still rather sunny and warm, so after everyone was seated he looked over at the marina and he could just about see the slip where these two children had been conceived, and in his mind’s eye he felt Tracy walking beside him on the beach. Then he felt the moment when things had turned serious between them, and he remembered their moment with a smile.

He shook himself back into the present and turned his smile at Forbes. “So, what have you been doing to make a living?”

“I worked at Boeing,” he said – and that was really all he needed to say. Working at Boeing was like living on the flanks of an active volcano…you just never knew when…only that it would.

“So no retirement, just severance?”

“That’s right.”

“Can you do electrical work?”

Forbes nodded. “Yeah, sure.”

“I know a couple of contractors that’re hiring, if you’re interested.”

“I appreciate it, but I couldn’t commute from Bellingham…”

“Of course not.” Sumner turned to his children then. “You know, someone is going to have to make some introductions. Assuming, of course, you have names…”

“I’m Charles,” the boy said grumpily.

“Elizabeth,” the girl said, extending her right hand with a smile.

Sumner sighed. “Okay, so a handshake it is. And I’m assuming you’re 17 years old now? And that makes you, what, getting ready to start your senior year?”

“Yeah,” Charles said. “And that means I’m not going to be able to play football this year…”

“Oh?” Sumner said. “Why’s that?”

“Weren’t you listening? Newsflash, pops, but we’re losing our home.”

Sumner looked at Forbes. “What’s the situation with the house?”

“I’m underwater on three months, and back taxes. About fifteen large, I reckon.”

“And your mom can’t help?”

“She can’t, and her guardian won’t authorize it.”

“So, Charles, I think I know where you stand, but Elizabeth, what about you? Where would like to stay?”

She shook her head. “Uh, I must’ve missed something, but, well, what’s the choice here?”

Sumner shrugged. “Seems pretty simple to me. You guys can either come and stay with me at my place over in Port Townsend or I can see if your Uncle’s situation is reparable. If it is then I assume you could stay there and finish out high school where you’re at.”

“Look,” Forbes interrupted, “I can’t ask you to do that…”

“And you haven’t, have you? As far as I can tell, I’ve contributed exactly nothing to my children’s lives…”

“What would you like?” Elizabeth blurted out.

“Well, thank you for asking, Elizabeth. Frankly, I’d like to get to know you both, and also I’d be more than happy to do what I can to help you along your way. If that means helping out your uncle then so be it. But right now I’m most concerned about what would make you happiest.”

And Elizabeth turned to her brother then. “See. I told you he’d be like this,” she whispered.

“Charles?” Sumner asked. “What about you? What about next year?”

“I’m trying for a scholarship at UW.”

“Football? What, wide receiver or DB?”

“Both, I think.”

“Forbes, what do you think? Has he got a shot?”

“Yes, he’s pretty good, and his coaches think so too.”

“Okay, so football is a priority,” Sumner said, and Charles visibly relaxed. “Elizabeth? That leaves you? What do you want to do?”

She looked at her brother then, and her uncle, then she sighed. “I’d like to know you better. I’d like to live with you next year.”

Charles stiffened again.

Sumner leaned back in his chair and nodded. “Forbes? Scribble down the address of the house, would you? I’ve got to go make a call, if you’ll excuse me for a moment.” When he had the address he went to the desk and called his attorney, told her what he had in mind and to work out the numbers, then he went back to the table – just as their meals came.

“So, Elizabeth, what about you? College in the cards for you?”

She nodded. “Yes, then veterinary medicine.”

“Oh?”

“She’s been into animals her whole life,” Forbes added. “She’s been…”

“I can talk to, ya know?” she growled, leaning away from her uncle.

“You remind me of your grandmother, my mom,” Sumner smiled.

“Oh, is she…”

“No, I’m sorry, but she passed a couple of years ago, but you would’ve like her.”

“That’s just so unfair,” she said, settling back in her chair. “So many…”

“Yes, but we can’t live back there, can we?” Sumner said. “All we can do is face tomorrow head on, and let’s live it like we mean it.”

“Okay,” she said, “you’re right.”

“So, vet school?”

“I’ve been working as a vet tech after school, Saturdays and summers, too…”

“Have a dog yet?”

“We did, when we were little, but not the past couple of years. Besides, I want a horse – no, really, I want a bunch of horses…”

“Interesting. I’ve got about eleven acres out at my place. No barn, but those aren’t hard to do.”

“You mean it, really?”

“Why not? As long as I don’t have to take care of them…”

She almost flew into his arms then, and when she whispered “Oh, Daddy,” into his neck a couple of times he felt his world spinning round and round and out of control. About the time they were finishing up their desserts the hostess brought him a note and he nodded. “Well, okay Forbes, we just have a few papers to sign at the office then you can head back to your house.”

“What did you do?” Tracy’s brother asked.

“You’re caught up now, Forbes, through the end of the year, anyway. Charles, the choice is yours, but this is pretty good Bread Pudding, and I’m not leavin’ ’til I finish!”

+++++

Elizabeth moved in with him a few weeks later. He designed a barn and fenced in some pasture and bought her a mare, and while all this was going on he returned to the island to survey the damage to the original house. The concrete foundation had been damaged and neglected since fire crews left the scene, and Mrs. Clarendon moved to an assisted living facility, so she’d never move back to the island. The decision was made to clear out the remnants of the old house and sell the island, and Sumner was sorry to see the house end up like it had.

He made one last trip to the island after the remaining demolition was complete, and he took Elizabeth with him – if only to listen to her memories about growing up on the island, with Tracy. He realized he’d made a tremendous mistake by not committing to Tracy, and the sense of loss had, at times, begun to feel a little like a personal calamity. Elizabeth came to him kind of like a little miracle, yet he couldn’t help but think of her as a kind of consolation prize. He’d missed out on the Grand Prize when he’d shuffled away from marriage and commitment and all that, but Elizabeth was his daughter. He moved quickly from the realm of obligatory feelings to knowing real love when he saw her, and he hoped in time she would feel that way too. 

When football season rolled around he made it a point to go to all of his son’s games and yes, he was talented. Maybe something would become of it, but love came harder between the two of them. His son approached warily, not quite sure who his father was. Charles decided later that year he wanted to go to Michigan State and when he was awarded a football scholarship back there that all but cemented their future relationship. Distance would take care of that.

Elizabeth went to the University of California at Davis, and just like that, after a whirlwind year of indecipherable emotions and roller coaster turmoils, they were gone. And so as quickly as they came to him they disappeared. Now, however, he had a horse to deal with.

And one afternoon he rode the horse down to the shore, more just to watch the water than anything else, and to wonder about the nature of such things. Husbands and wives, sons and daughters, all the predictably unpredictable things that went along with those four words. How almost all of them had escaped him, how close he came to never knowing what that life was all about.

He heard a commotion down on the rocky beach and he tied off the horse then picked his way down through the brushy scree to the water’s edge and he saw an otter and a fox locked in mortal combat, their bodies intertwined in a whirling dance of death, and he watched them, fascinated. Why? Why do this? Why fight like this, knowing it might only lead to your own demise?

And he watched in awe of whatever had compelled this struggle.

And soon it was over. The otter emerged victorious – yet as it pulled itself away from the dead fox Sumner could see that its wounds were severe, indeed, the otter had been mortally wounded. She limped off a few feet and then fell over into nothingness, and he walked down to their bodies if for no other reason than to bury them. When that was done he heard a gentle mewing and went to investigate, and he found what he assumed was the dead fox’s pup curled up amongst the rocks. He stood tall and looked around, hoping to find signs of the other parent…

And then he heard distant cries up the beach and went to investigate, and he found that the otter had left a pup behind.

So…they had fought to protect their young, and they had…had what? How senseless, he thought, was this outcome? Yet…how inevitable.

C. Llewelyn Sumner didn’t really know what else to do, so he gathered some grass and lay the pups side by side on this little makeshift bed and he clambered up through the scree to Elizabeth’s horse and he carried them back to his house. He made sure they were warm and he heated some milk in a saucepan and he helped them along by dipping the tip of his little finger into the milk and letting them lick away, and it worked.

“Now what do I do?”

And she came to him then, as she did from time to time. Tracy came and they spoke for a while. About what he must do now, because everything was there, everything he needed to know. Later that evening he rubbed the little pups when they cried. “It’s alright,” he told them, “I’m here now. Everything will be fine so just go to sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Admirers of his work still came calling, and even long after his practice wound down people still came to see the builder and his dreams. He had always worked to bring the outside inside, so these visitors weren’t exactly surprised when they found C. Llewelyn Sumner sitting in the sun on his deck – with a fox curled up on his lap or an otter sleeping on his shoulder. They found, in fact, that it rather suited such a lonely man.

This work © 2022 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this was a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s (twisted) imagination or coincidentally referenced entities are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. In other words and as is always the case, this was just a little bit of storytelling, pure and simple.

(You Are \\ Pat Metheny)

The Deep End of Your Dreams

Deep End 2

A few revisions needed to bring this story up to date, and I think you’ll soon see the reason why. About 120 pages typed so not especially short, and perhaps worth a fresh spot of tea. Enjoy.

(The Hollies \\ On A Carousel)

The Deep End of Your Dreams

I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.

Albert Einstein

17 April, 1912

She stood at the rail, looking down into the sea.

New York lay somewhere ahead, not quite another day ahead, and now the ship of dreams lay somewhere down there, down there in the belly of the beast. Dead and gone now for a day, gone to a past drifting from her reach. Her father was, she assumed, still aboard, still down there in the darkness. Waiting for her, she just had to think.

She was alone now. Seven years old and all alone in the world. And yet, for some reason she was not frightened. Maybe because little things like death had never bothered her. How do you fear that which you do not know? How do you see past the moment when the moment never passes?

No, her ship of dreams had grazed ice and then the sea had risen up and taken everything she thought she understood – and only then did the moment pass. Only then did time exceed her reach. And now that the moment had passed she looked around at her new world and what she thought she saw only frightened her. Everything was gone, her father chief among those things – and she had watched it all slip beneath the sea. Gone, everything she had ever known slipped away, disappeared in an instant as the ship pointed to the heavens before she broke in half and just slipped away. Nothing remained but the panic of getting to the boats, of the voices calling out in the misty night and how they had slowly grown silent. And maybe she listened to her father’s voice calling out, but she would never know. Maybe then, as the moment finally passed and time began for her, maybe she finally understood her father wasn’t going to be by her side.

She’d watched him standing behind that other rail, their eyes locked-on one another’s as the distance between them grew ever wider, and she’d tried to follow him as he moved aft – as the great ship settled by the bow. Amidst all the moaning and tears of the women around her, she’d watched in silence as the Titanic began her final journey, yet even then she’d turned inward, tried to cling to the moment, tried to keep time standing still.

Adrift in a lifeboat watching the black eye of the sea she settled on the reflection of a star overhead. ‘Nothing lasts,’ she heard, and then she realized the star sing was singing to her. 

‘Nothing lasts forever.’

‘Not even love.’

+++++

“Not even love,” she said to the black water now – far below and racing from the moment.

“What was that you said?” she heard a man ask, and she turned to look but was afraid to look into a star.

She shrugged at the voice but she didn’t know what to say.

“Are you alone, child?” a kindly old man asked. He seemed short and fat, but then she realized it was his topcoat. Yet as she stared at the man’s face she smiled, for she had never seen such a colossal mustache in her life and the man looked like a blubbery walrus. 

She nodded to his question, and she tried not to laugh.

“Marie! Come here this instant!”

A maid of some sort scurried to the old man’s side. “Sir?”

“Find Mrs Wilkinson, would you? And bring a blanket from our stateroom.”

“Yes, sir,” the cowed girl said, before curtsying and scurrying away.

The old man turned back to the little girl, his face now a contorted grimace of concern. “Were your parents aboard the Titanic?”

She nodded her head again. “My father was.”

“Where’s your mother?”

“She died, two years ago.”

“You have no other family?”

She shook her head.

“Well, confound it all,” the old man said, his eyes watering. “What’s to become of you?”

That did it. Something inside her broke and she started to cry – and the sight tore into the old man like nothing he’d ever experienced before. He knelt and held on to her as if she was his own daughter…and he did so until Marie, the maid, returned with a blanket.

“The Missus will be here shortly, sir,” the girl said, frowning at the sight of the old man down on his knees like that. It was all, she thought, just so – undignified!

And when Emily Wilkinson twaddled up, blathering on about the chill in the air, Rupert Wilkinson stood and turned to his wife: “See here, Emily…it’s April, and this is the North Atlantic. It’s supposed to be chilly out here!”

“This is not chilly, Rupert. It’s positively arctic and what are you doing on your knees!”

“Blast you, woman!” he said, pointing off the starboard rail. “That’s Long Island over there, not the North Pole! Pull yourself together, woman!”

And so, of course, Emily huffed up. “You wanted to see me about something?”

So Rupert huffed up too. “Yes. This girl is off the Titanic and she’s all alone. I mean, all alone in the world. What are we going to do about that?”

The old woman looked at the girl – and then her heart melted too. “Oh, you poor dear,” she said, then one eyebrow arched up and she looked at her husband of thirty years. “And just what do you have in mind now, Rupert Wilkinson?”

“If she’s alone is it not our duty to help.”

“OUR duty? How did you come to THAT conclusion?”

“Do you see anyone stepping forward to help the girl right now?”

“Surely there will be someone for her in New York?” Emily said, her voice on edge now. She was used to her husband’s larkish misadventures, but this was altogether something else again. “Darling, what’s your name?”

“Claire. Claire Aubuchon.”

“Are you from France?” Rupert asked.

Claire shook her head. “No, but Daddy worked there.”

“And what did your father do?”

“I don’t know exactly, but he worked in the embassy. We live so close he can walk.”

“Well, I know Phil Knox, so we’ll get to the bottom of this in short order.”

“Who’s Phil Knox?” Emily asked.

“He’s the Secretary of State,” Claire replied, though her chiding tone was perhaps a little condescending.

“He sure is,” Rupert said, and not a little impressed. “And do you know what your father did in Paris?”

“No, not exactly,” Claire said. “It was a secret.”

“Oh, indeed,” Rupert sighed, “I see. Well, we need to find you some new clothes. Emily? Would you and Marie be so kind as to take Miss Claire to the dressmaker’s? Perhaps they could find something more becoming for her arrival? I think I’ll head up to the wireless office, see if I have any new messages…”

+++++

After a night at the Waldorf, the Wilkinson entourage boarded the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Fast Express – after receiving assurances from Cunard that they would indeed have space on the Lusitania’s next sailing for Cherbourg. And Rupert had decided to carry little Claire to Washington, if only to guarantee her well-being while he sorted things out.

Claire had reverted to type in the absence of her father; she had, in other words, pulled out a book and opened it to the page where she had last left off, and Rupert watched her every movement now, fascinated by the little creature’s intellectual dexterity. At times she appeared listlessly dull and flat, but then he would watch her eyes. They were full of curiosity, sweeping here and there and always taking everything in, and as he’d seen her reading last night he wondered what interested her.

“I don’t recognize that script,” he said, looking at the book’s cover. “What are you reading.”

“It’s called Resurrection. It’s in Russian.”

“You read Russian?”

“Yes.”

“English, too, I assume? Anything else?”

“French and German. I learned French first.”

“You can read all those languages?”

She nodded her head as she looked up from the book. “My father could read and write seven languages, but he didn’t count Latin.”

“Oh? Can you speak Latin?”

“Of course. But not as well as my Father.”

“That book there…? Who’s it by?”

“Tolstoy.”

“I’m not sure I know the man. Is he famous?”

“I think so.”

“Well, don’t let me disturb you,” Rupert said, and when her eyes dropped back to the book he looked to Emily – who had watched the exchange with something approaching pure wonder in her eyes.

Emily had been to college and studied literature – though that had been decades ago – yet she grasped that the girl’s intellect must be truly staggering, if, that is, she wasn’t simply exaggerating. Watching her now, the girl turned a page, on average, in less than twenty seconds – which was shocking enough for a seven year old – but she was reading in Tolstoy’s native language, not her own.

“Claire,” she asked, hating to interrupt her again, “I’ve not read that work. What’s it about?”

“About man’s search for redemption, though, from what I can tell so far, most of the events are allegorical in nature.”

“Allegorical? For what?”

“Political and social injustice, the nature of corruption.”

“Do those things mean anything to you?”

“Of course.”

Emily smiled, though she was now shocked beyond belief. “Did you and your father read a lot, together?”

“Every night.”

“And what about your mother? What did she do?”

“She taught music, but she wrote music all the time, too.”

“Oh? What kind of music?”

“Symphonies, though she wrote chamber music too.”

“What about you? Do you play?”

Claire nodded her head again. “The piano, and I’m learning the violin.”

“Do you write music, as well?”

“Of course.”

Emily looked at her husband, her eyes taking in his apparent shock, then she looked at the girl again. “Claire? Would you like to live with Rupert and myself?”

The girl studied them both for a moment, then shrugged. “I don’t know you. I think the better question might be, do you want me to live with you? And even then I’d want to know why?”

“To take care of you,” Rupert said.

“To help you with your reading and music,” Emily added. “Would that interest you?”

“Would I have any brothers or sisters?”

“Both, but they are all already on their own, so you wouldn’t live with them in the usual sense.”

“Where would I live?”

“In Philadelphia,” Rupert replied. “I manage a law firm there, but I travel a lot. Would that interest you?”

“What? Travel, or to live in Philadelphia?”

“Both, I suppose.”

She closed the book and folded her hands on her lap, then she looked out the window into the passing landscape. A long sigh slipped from her lips, but she saw Rupert’s expression in the reflection as she watched his movements inside the glass, and she saw the man’s eyes were full of hope.

“I think I would miss Paris,” she said at last.

“We have a small villa outside of Paris,” Emily said hopefully. “That’s where we were going when…”

Claire smiled. “Oh? Where?”

“Near Chartres,” Rupert said. “Have you been to the cathedral there?”

She nodded her head carelessly, like the question was beneath contempt.

“What did you think of it?”

“I like the vaulting behind the altar. It’s like the web of creation came to life.”

He nodded. “We are going to retire there soon, in two more years. Would you like to live there?”

“Yes. Could I still go to Paris?”

“Yes, of course. As often as you like.”

“But for the next two years I’d live in Philadelphia?”

“That’s right. But who knows, you might enjoy that too. In fact, we’ll be stopping in Philadelphia in just a few minutes. We’re already in the north part of the city right now…”

Claire looked out the window for the next several minutes, clearly unimpressed as mile after mile of dowdy, red brick buildings slipped by. “Will we be able to see Independence Hall from the train?”

“No, I’m afraid not.”

“I’d like to see that. My father took me to the house where Thomas Jefferson lived when he was ambassador to France. He told me how much Jefferson shaped the French Revolution.”

“Did he? And what did you think of that?”

“I would have liked to know Jefferson.”

“So would I.”

She turned and looked at the old man again, nodding her head as she thought things through. “Are we going to talk to Secretary Knox? About me?”

“Yes.”

“And you want me to live with you?”

“Yes, if you think you’d like that.”

She closed her eyes, nodded her head once again, then resumed looking out the window – wondering about life and what waited ahead. 

+++++

She walked up the boarding ramp to the Lusitania’s promenade deck, following Rupert now, and she had to admit she liked the burly, grandfatherly ways of the fat old man. She reminded him of Tolstoy’s Count Ilya Rostov, the compassionately careless patriarch in War and Peace, and that wasn’t an altogether bad thing to be, she told herself, as long as wealth wasn’t too important. She’d read enough about money to understand the implications of being poor, yet she’d read enough to understand that money could be a poison, too. Rupert seemed wealthy – yet kind of careless, too – like Count Ilya. 

She followed him and was surprised to find she had her own stateroom, and that Emily had arranged to have a piano placed in sitting area. She assumed she’d have to play for them, and that bothered her a little – yet she had to admit she’d missed playing since she and her father left Paris.

She’d enjoyed Washington, the cherry blossoms along the Potomac most of all, and her few hours in the Secretary’s office – in Foggy Bottom, as Rupert called it – had been pleasant enough. Once she told Secretary Know she’d be happy to live with the Wilkinsons things had sailed along smoothly enough, though after Rupert said he’d handle all the paperwork she’d felt a little like a puppy.

Yet their brief return to Philadelphia had been promising. Emily had taken her to one bookstore after another, and now she had, literally, a steamer trunk full of unread books to fill the days ahead, and all sorts of new clothes, too. Her father had never attached much importance to such things, so she’d watched Emily as she was lead from one store to the next, the old woman going on and on about which designers were promising and which were doddering incompetents, and at times she wondered about the woman’s sanity.

Another maid had been engaged, a younger girl, perhaps fifteen, who would do, as far as she could tell, nothing but keep her own clothes in order and make sure she was suitably dressed for meals. The girl’s name was Edith, and at first blush she seemed quite simple.

So, after the Wilkinsons’ belongings were unpacked, the maids Marie and Edith came in to get her things settled, so she sat behind the piano and began playing a Debussy prélude, La cathédrale engloutie, the soft, measured notes filling the stateroom with a deep blue melancholy. As she fell deeper inside the music she closed her eyes and let the music take her deeper and deeper into the despair she’d denied for the last two weeks, and when, minutes later, she fell away from the keyboard she saw Emily and Rupert watching her from the corridor outside her room, the maids almost in tears…

She stood and pushed herself away from the instrument, then she walked out onto the promenade deck and made her way forward – as tugs pushed the ship away from the city.

She felt the ship accelerate into the East River, the open sea ahead now – again – then she felt Rupert by her side, standing – silently – beside her as sea-borne breezes lifted her hair.

“That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” he whispered.

She turned and looked at him, tried to read the emotions playing across his face. “I’m sorry,” she said. 

“Sorry? Whatever for?”

She looked at the denial in his eyes and wondered where that came from, then she looked ahead.

“Will we pass where the Titanic went down?”

“I don’t know, Claire.”

“I’d like to…see that place again.”

He nodded. “I think I understand.”

She reached over and took his hand. “Thank you, Rupert.”

“Of course.” He sighed as he looked into her eyes, then he made up his mind. “Do you think, maybe one day, you could call me ‘Father?’”

She leaned into the old man, let him hug her for the longest time. “Yes,” she finally said.

Then she heard his tears, and so she smiled.

Chapter 2

In time – seven more years, to be precise – she knew her place in her odd, new family, the Wilkinson family. Her nearest sibling – in age, anyway – was a boisterous jock named Elizabeth. Liz rode horses with a western saddle and rowed crew, both unheard of predispositions in 1919, and she was big-boned and coarse-humored, too. Liz had started college the year before, at Penn, though she frequently snuck home so Claire could help with her homework.

Her oldest sibling, her brother Charles, had become something of an adonis to her. Chuck, as she called him, was tall and possessed a firm intellect, and he was scrupulously fair-minded. Yet even at seven years old she had a kind of crush on him, and when she looked at him she thought of him in a special way. Chuck was completely unlike Rupert in every way, too, so much so she wondered if Rupert was his father, and in time Chuck became Claire’s protector – both at home and when he picked her up at school. When the war broke out in Europe, in 1914, he’d wanted to run off to England and enlist, but Rupert had prevailed on him… “Finish college first! Who knows, maybe we won’t be sucked into this war…”

That was, however, not to be.

By the time America formally entered the war, in 1917, Chuck was in the Navy, an officer, and already had his eye on a career in politics. 

Rupert was devastated.

And after seven years the fly in Claire’s ointment was her sister Amanda. Amanda was a devious, manipulative creature who enjoyed breaking things – then blaming the latest calamity on someone else, though usually on Claire. This might have been a serious issue had not both Rupert and Chuck seen through Amanda’s intentions, and in time it seemed plain to Claire that there was something seriously wrong with Amanda. Yet Amanda’s cause was not hampered in any way by her looks. Blond-haired and blue-eyed, Amanda was regarded as one of the brightest lights in Mainline Society, and would-be suitors came calling for her on a nauseatingly regular basis – which bothered Claire not in the least, but which, in the end, crushed the big-boned Elizabeth. Amanda was about a year younger than Chuck and so was blissfully out of the picture by this point in time, yet when she drifted by on weekends discord followed in her wake as naturally as gusting winds precede a summer afternoon’s thunderstorm. So when Claire felt the coming of Amanda’s treacherous laughter, she generally kept out of the rain by losing herself among the books in their father’s library.

Which was the safest place in this new world, in this place called Philadelphia. 

Rupert’s promise to move to Chartres was as empty as most of the empty promises he made. “Exigent entreaties” designed to forestall meaningful conversations were always to blame, and Claire had read enough to understand the man’s various shortcomings. He was of a type common in literature, a quiet sort of con-man, affable and generous to a fault, but a con-man, and not so unusually The Law was his stock in trade. Anyone could tell Rupert was addicted to making money, scads and scads of money, but he seemed to have little inclination to happiness. He read little else beyond the latest financial news, and in the end he had little interest in Claire’s accomplishments on the piano. Perhaps not so unusually, by the time Claire turned twelve the fat old man had developed a somewhat unhealthy interest in Claire’s body.

Yet oddly enough, Emily, her mother, saw through these machinations and kept him away after the sun went down, and in time Claire learned that Rupert had visited his unhealthy appetites on Amanda often enough to be of some concern socially. A hasty trip to Sweden had been arranged to take care of one such problem, and all the attendant complications that came with such an undesired event.

Because Rupert was one of those men. His appetites were severe, his sense of propriety impaired by proximity – and far too often by bourbon – and while he could have had affairs with any number of available women, he chose, far too often, to take out his lustful inclinations on Amanda. And soon enough Claire saw through her sister’s actions and intentions, understood where her grief came from, yet the distance between them remained insurmountable. In time she learned, as well, that one of the unforeseen complications after her sister’s Swedish misadventure was that she was barren: Amanda would never have children – and this was considered a Dark Family Secret. Perhaps the Darkest.

1919 saw the winding down of the war, and Chuck’s return from the North Atlantic became a cause for celebration – if only for a short time. He had two more years to fulfill his commitment to the Navy, and as he did not want his father to intervene he planned to finish his stint then gather his wits about him and move on to graduate school – ah! – before running for congress. That was the plan, anyway.

Yet Chuck was coming home for Christmas, and that was miracle enough for them all. The future would, or so it seemed at the time, have to wait for the present to catch up to the past.

+++++

The dream came to her that year, on the night before Christmas. And perhaps no creatures were stirring…

She was on the boat deck and her father was lifting her up off the deck, placing her in the lifeboat; there was an explosion and one of the great red funnels collapsed in on itself – and then everyone was in the water. A vice of pinpricks held her firm and she wanted to struggle and break free of the water but she felt a hand grasping her ankle, pulling her down. She stuck her head beneath the waves and saw her father trying to pull himself back to the surface and she knew if she didn’t kick free of him he would pull her down too…

So…she did…

And she watched his limpid, questioning eyes as he slipped into the yawning darkness, falling away, fading into the night…

And she bolted upright in bed, drenched in salt water.

When Chuck heard her screams he ran to her; Rupert and Emily were not far behind.

+++++

Everyone first assumed Amanda had poured a bucket of seawater on her while she slept, but Amanda wasn’t in her room. She wasn’t, as it happened, even in the house. She had slipped out with an old boyfriend and was, at the time, in a nearby stable and most passionately involved. When she tried to sneak back into the house before dawn she was met by her family, all but Claire and Emily, anyway, and they all wanted to know why she had done such a thing…

“Done what?” Amanda wanted to know.

“You poured buckets of seawater on your sister Claire!” Rupert fairly shouted.

“I did no such thing!” Amanda countered. “I was with Langston all night!”

“You what?” Chuck seethed, and too late Amanda realized what she’d just admitted. Her father stormed from the kitchen, leaving Chuck standing there aghast. “What have you done now?”

But Amanda held her ground. “I am not a child, and I did no such thing!”

“Claire’s bed is awash in sea water. Go to her room, you can still smell the sea! If you didn’t do this, can you explain to me what happened?”

“Show me!” Amanda almost shouted, and Chuck led her up the back stairway to Claire’s room. Marie and Edith were just now stripping the bed and Amanda could see that easily two to maybe three gallons of seawater had been deposited on her sister’s bed. Worse still, her room, indeed, the hallway outside Claire’s room smelled just like a briny seashore, and so she walked into the room, held the sheets to her face. “It IS seawater…” she whispered.

“I told you that, did I not?” Chuck growled. “Where did you find it this time of year? Did you two go down to the shore?”

“What?”

“Did you take the train to the shore?”

“No! I told you I had nothing to do with this!”

“Amanda, this is no longer funny. You simply must own up to these pranks of yours.”

“I’m telling you, Charles, for the last time – I had nothing to do with this…!”

Then he too turned and stormed away from the scene of her latest crime.

Amanda stood in the room, Marie and Edith staring at her now, shaking with unrepentant sorrow for the poor lost soul. Then she spied a fleck of something on the oak floor and bent to see what it was…

“Seaweed…?” she sighed, after bringing the ragged green scrap to her nose. “But…how could this be?”

+++++

Some semblance of normalcy had returned by the time luncheon was served, and by that time the family had gathered around the Christmas tree in the library and exchanged their simple gifts. Claire seemed none the worse for her ordeal, yet she paid not the slightest attention to Amanda until her sister leaned close after dessert and spoke to her.

“Claire, I didn’t do that to you,” Amanda pleaded. “Please believe me…”

Yet Claire had a faraway look in her eyes; faraway and preternaturally calm. “I was dreaming of the sea,” she said quietly. “Then I was drowning, screaming…”

“You were dreaming?”

“Yes. That’s right. I was on the Titanic again, but the ship turned on it’s side and I was thrown into the water – by my father…”

Everyone was looking at her now, and even Chuck seemed disturbed by what she’d just said. “You were in the water?” he asked. “By the Titanic? And then you woke up?”

“Yes. I was about to drown…”

Chuck looked at his father – who only shook his head, the expression on his face studiously dour beyond anyone’s remembrance.

“Were you under the water, in the sea,” Rupert asked then.

“Yes,” she said. “It was quite dark.”

“And your father was with you?” Rupert added.

“He was under me, trying to pull himself back up to the surface.”

“Under you? You mean…pulling you down?”

“Yes.”

“And that’s when,” Chuck interrupted, “you woke up?”

“Yes…”

“I found this on the floor in her room,” Amanda said defiantly, tossing the bit of seaweed on the table in front of her father’s place. He picked it up and turned it over in the midday light, then he handed the piece to Chuck. “What do you make of this, son?”

Chuck turned it over in the light, too, then the blood drained out of his face. “This is a deep water kelp, Father, of a kind we most often see around the Grand Banks. I’ve never heard of it being found along our shores.”

Rupert looked from his son to Claire, who was looking at Amanda now.

“I don’t think it was a dream, Amanda,” Claire said, “and I don’t think you threw water on me.”

“But where do you think you were, Claire?” Emily asked.

“I was in the sea, with my father.”

“And with the Titanic? In 1912?” Chuck asked, and when she nodded her head he crossed his arms and sighed. “That’s not possible. You know that, don’t you, Claire.”

She continued nodding. “Yes, I know. Nevertheless, it happened.”

“Has anything like this happened to you before?” her brother asked.

She shook her head, then her head canted sideways a little. “I’ve seen father in my dreams, but not like this.”

“So, this was different? In what way?”

She turned and looked at him. “I don’t know how else to describe it, Charles, but this wasn’t a dream. I was there. I felt it happen…I felt him grab me, and it felt like he would never let me go again.”

+++++

Three days later they rode down to the Navy Yard and saw Charles onto his ship, then Rupert took the rest of the family to lunch at an old downtown eatery. Amanda was still seething about her mistreatment, while Liz seemed most unsure of herself once again now that Charles was off to sea again, and Claire felt a ripple in the currents that steered this little family – like at some point over the last week Charles had assumed leadership of the clan. It was subtle, but it was there.

And no one talked about her dream – or whatever it was. The wet bed and puddled water on the hardwood floors were evidence enough that something out of the ordinary had happened, but no one was willing to make the leap that Claire implied was needed to believe her version of events. And in truth, Claire had to admit she didn’t want to believe those things had happened.

Because, on the one hand, she knew she’d never left her bed. Simple enough. Yet she instinctively understood that she had been in the North Atlantic, if only for a few minutes – and the proof of that assertion lay in the watery residue everyone had seen in her bedroom.

What else could it be?

“Claire? What are you thinking about?” Rupert asked.

“How much I’ll miss Charles,” she said, telling only half the truth.

“Me too,” Liz added.

“It must be the uniform,” Rupert sighed.

“I can’t believe they’re sending that ship back to France,” Emily added. “Why do they need to do that?”

“They’re escorting troop ships, in case some U-Boat commander hasn’t gotten word yet.”

Emily shook her head, turned away from her mother’s fears. “Must we keep coming to this dreadful old place, Rupert?”

“Dreadful? What’s dreadful about it?”

“The food is rancid and the service inferior,” she said – just as their waiter walked up to the table. If the old man had heard her he was doing a fine job pretending he hadn’t, and after he took their orders he disappeared into the kitchen. “Check your food for broken glass and rat droppings,” she added a little too ruefully.

“Emily…really…” Rupert whispered, but he was looking at Claire just then. Looking at the fear in her eyes. “Claire…? What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Charles. There’s something wrong with his ship…”

“What? What do you mean?”

“There’s a fire on his ship. I see it. Right now.”

Rupert’s arched eyebrow was all the others needed to see. He was beyond skeptical now, almost to the point where he wanted to seek out professional help for the little girl. “Bah,” he growled as he turned to Emily and began talking about arrangements for getting the girls back to school next week. Their meals came and everyone ate in silence – everyone, that is, but Claire. She kept looking towards the windows at the front of the restaurant, her mind’s eye filling with images of burning men and flooding compartments –

Then without warning she stood and ran to the window, and Rupert watched her go with a growing sense of anger flooding his own mind’s eye…until he heard fire trucks rolling by on the street. Then crowds of people were running down towards the Navy Yard. He stood and walked to the windows and stood by Claire’s side.

“Down there,” she said, pointing.

Rupert saw boiling clouds of black smoke coming from the Navy Yard, roiled orange flames just visible above the buildings blocking their view of the grounds.

“Good Lord,” he whispered. “Claire, please go back to the table. I need to go see what’s happened.”

“Father?” she said, and as it was so infrequent that she addressed him as such, he turned and looked at her.

“Yes?”

“Don’t go.”

“What?”

“If you leave this place right now you’ll die.”

“What? What are you saying, Claire?” he said, fascinated by the faraway look in her eyes.

“The fire is spreading rapidly now. You won’t be safe.”

“Claire, to the table with you, now. Wait with your mother for my return.”

She turned to look at him as he left the building, but she had already seen the horse-drawn pumper unit that would run him down and kill him. She had seen the horses in a dream last night, just as she’d seen this raging fire. Hundreds of people would die in the next hour, but Charles would not be among them. No, he would escape immediate injury, then lead battalions of fire-fighters in a heroic charge to prevent the spreading fire from spilling over into an ordnance depot. Days from now he would be hailed as the hero of the Navy Yard fire; his future in politics would be assured.

And Rupert would be gone.

As she sat at the table, she looked at her sisters and wondered how Amanda would react to the news.

Chapter 3

She was halfway through her senior year at Radcliffe the first time the bottom fell out of the stock market, and the short-lived panic that gripped the nation seemed to ripple across campus for days and days. When things finally settled down, Claire, like most of the people in the country, realized divisions that existed within the world only increased during the uncertainty. Poor people on the sidelines began lining up at soup kitchens and wealthy people continued getting wealthy, in other words, and as a result the Wilkinson family suffered not at all. Indeed, as Charles would soon point out, the family’s fortunes had increased markedly, thanks to some timely advice he received prior to these events.

Yet Claire seemed not at all interested in her brother’s financial wizardry, perhaps because money had always eluded her understanding. She had, and only for the first time, become interested in the world beyond music during her second term at Radcliffe. She had her first opportunity to study advanced mathematics, which led her deeper into the realms of physics and chemistry. In other words, when the country began to convulse, as stock markets crashed in 1929, she was herself immersed in the study of high energy physics – at least until news of the world beyond academia intruded on her studies.

She began to read about the effects of the crash spreading not only across the country, but around the world, after she enrolled in a required history course, and what piqued her interest most occurred when her professor talked about implications of wartime reparations imposed on the German state after the war in Europe concluded. He talked about how cycles of reinvestment, particularly between American and German banks, would soon grind to a halt – and with devastating consequence. The ruinous inflation that had visited the Weimar Republic in the early twenties would return, her professor warned, and when that happened there would be trouble. Real trouble. And that trouble was already spreading.

Because there were violent opposition parties in Germany now, most problematically the National Socialists – who were, ironically, anything but socialist. He mentioned of Mussolini’s National Fascist Party, which had taken power in 1921 by forming a tight alliance between fascists and existing corporate power structures in the Italian state, and he cautioned that German industrial might – when incorporated into a fascist regime – would prove ruinous to the aims of the League of Nations. If liquidity in the financial markets dried up, as it surely would in a crisis of this magnitude, there would be war in Europe again, and soon. Within ten years, he claimed at the conclusion of one lecture.

And Claire thought about this professor’s claims as she walked away from class that afternoon. What would another war mean, she wondered – both to her family and to the broader  future of humanity? For weeks she thought of little else, and when she went home for Thanksgiving she sat one evening with Charles and they talked about what she’d learned in class. They sat alone, in her father’s old library where she’d spent so much time in hiding, and they talked for hours and hours.

“The things your professor talked about,” he said at one point, “the collapse of reinvestment markets and increasing demands for reparations, is already happening. Inflation is already becoming a real concern in greater Germany.”

“So, hyper-inflation could lead to the rise of this populist, people’s party? This Hitler everyone is talking about? You think that’s inevitable, too?”

Charles sighed and shook his head. “Not inevitable, Claire, but certainly more than likely. I’m only a junior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, but I’m getting the same briefings President Hoover gets, and the specter of European inflation has the President spooked. He’s practically begging the French and the British to relax terms of the Versailles treaty, but as their banks begin to lose liquidity they’re demanding that their governments increase German reparations. It’s insane, by the way, but this Mussolini in Italy is eating it up, pumping money into the National Socialist Party in Munich. If Hoover can’t reverse this trend, I’d say your professor is absolutely correct.”

“Actions have consequences,” she thought, not quite aware she was speaking.

“You’re damn right they do!”

“What do you think I should do now?” she asked.

“Regarding?”

“After graduation.”

“What are your options?”

“Get married, I guess, or go to graduate school.”

“In what? Physics? Do they even let women into those programs?”

She looked away, shrugged noncommittally. “It’s not impossible. My advisor wants me to at least try, and he told me there’d be no problem about my getting into Harvard, but he thinks Princeton is where the real action is at.”

“What kind of action?”

“The physics of high temperature reactions.”

“And…what are you not telling me?” he said as he saw the look in her eyes

“Theoretically, there are weapons applications. There’s a physicist over in Germany, Heisenberg, who is a leader in this field.”

“Weapons? What kind of weapons?”

“Possibly – bombs. It’s a long way off, and even the physics is questionable.”

“But you’re studying this stuff?”

“No, not really; it’s more like I’m learning the theory behind what’s beginning to take shape. The real work, if it gets that far, will be happening at places like Princeton, Chicago and out at Berkeley.”

“Why don’t you go to California? Weather’s nicer, and that would give me an excuse to visit you out there. And…you’ll be far away from all this mess in Europe.”

“That’s kind of what I’ve been thinking.”

“Well, let me know when you get in. We’ll go out together and get you settled.”

“What happened to that Cartwright girl? Not rich enough for you?”

Charles turned red. “Oh, her family is wealthy enough, but her old man is a staunch Hoover supporter. He’d murder Stephanie if she married a Democrat.”

“Father would murder you for running as a Democrat.”

Charles laughed just a little as the thought played out across his face. “Yup, he would’ve. Do you ever miss him? I mean, I know he wasn’t really…”

“Oh, I miss him. And yes, he was. I was seven years old when the ship went down; I can barely remember my other father now.”

“Do you remember that dream? The one…?”

“Yes.”

“Do you still have – dreams – like that?”

She turned away.

“Claire? It’s not like you to keep things from me.”

“The Navy Yard fire. I saw that coming, Charles, and I saw Rupert’s death, too. I tried to tell him, but…”

“He shut you down. He never believed in all that stuff…”

“Do you?”

“I believe what I saw. Amanda does, too. But Mother and Liz? I think they’ll always be more inclined to believe you’re a witch of some sort,” he said with a wink, and she smiled. And then they both laughed, nervous little laughs full of the fear of unknown consequences.

“Well, we’d better go see how that bird is cooking,” he said after that.

“I hope you’ve learned how to carve; after last year’s debacle…”

“Ouch…say no more…anyway, it’s your turn this year…”

But no, it wasn’t.

By Christmas it was clear to them all that the coming recession would be deep and prolonged, and Charles talked with Claire about that man named Hitler.

In July after being admitted to the University of California, she and Charles planned to take the train across the country to California, where he thought they might buy her a rambling bungalow on a hill overlooking the bay. 

California…

The very name and the implied reinvention of her life sounded so intensely romantic even then, like something out of the Spanish poetry of Carolina Coronado – which she had adored while at Radcliffe. She found a book of Coronado’s poems to take with her on the journey as she packed her things, full of impossible dreams that all seemed so happy when she remembered the time years later.

+++++

After a night and a day crossing to Chicago, she and Charles finally boarded Union Pacific’s Overland and they settled into the rooms of their Pullman car for this next leg of the journey. A porter brought them cups of beef broth before the train left the ornate station, yet Claire could see the effects of the Crash on the platform below the train: children begging for pennies, indifferent business men walking past with not even a glance, and then the station restaurant advertising soup for a penny, hamburgers for two cents, forgotten men sitting by the entrance – hoping for a handout while they slowly withered away.

“It’s awful out there,” she said to Charles as they looked at the shattered landscape, this evolving land of broken dreams. “It’s even worse here than it was in Pittsburgh, and I never thought I’d see anything like that in my life.”

“You should hear what we’re being told about conditions in Germany.”

“Why isn’t more about this in the papers?”

“Oh, I suspect we’ve got problems of our own. Enough so that the powers that be assume we wouldn’t be interested enough to give a damn.”

“That’s awful, Charles. Just awful. A few years ago…all these people hard at work. And now, look at them. Reduced to begging for food, begging for their survival.”

“You took Tilleman’s economic geography class. You know the score. This is just dialectical materialism playing out before your eyes. Systemic imbalances seeking distributive realignment…”

“Don’t blather on with that jargon, Charles. Look out the window, look at the reality behind your textbook analyses, look at the toll in human suffering, the real cost behind all these economic rationalizations. This isn’t some kind of distributive realignment; this is suffering. Needless suffering. ”

“And it’s the same story it’s always been, Claire. The same processes that have been going on for thousands of years, and with each iteration we improve, we progress.”

“But the cost…?”

“One generation is sacrificed, the next three or four benefit, then comes the next realignment, the next round of suffering…”

“What? And then what? Another Golden Age after the sacrifice?”

“We either progress or we stagnate. We take chances, or we wither – and die.”

“Is all this really so simple?”

“No, of course not. That’s why there are political parties always fighting it out over what the road to progress looks like. Now we have trade unions fighting it out with capital…but who knows what tomorrow will look like…?”

The train jerked and billowing clouds of black smoke filled the platform, then cinders were raining down on the panhandling children as the huge steam engine chuffed away from the station. A boy standing on the bricks below their window looked up at her, and she watched as black dust settled on his brow – and then she waved at the boy, and tried to smile.

He turned and walked away, and she wondered what it must be like to be so hungry you had no energy left for even a simple gesture – and then she wondered why the boy reminded her of her father. Her real father.

+++++

Wyoming was the same, but darkness was coming on and most children were gone from the platforms they glided past in the night. Yet she saw squalid encampments outside each little town the train passed through, the same scarecrow children she’d seen in each big city they stopped in, and their porter brought them drinks while she looked down on each passing scene of suffering.

But hadn’t the Titanic been the same? The “unsinkable” Titanic? A few first class passengers cloistered above the many hundreds of steerage class passengers jammed into the tight spaces below the huge ship’s waterline? She wondered what had become of those people? Had they drowned with the rats that fled from the icy water as it swept through the cargo hold? Had they not even made it to the boat deck? Did those people ever make it to the boat deck, so to speak; did they ever really have a chance? Or did wealth conspire to keep them down with the rats, waiting to drown?

They had a dinner of roast beef and creamed spinach, with a fat round Yorkshire pudding fresh out of the oven rounding out the feast, yet she found she had no appetite for such things that night and only picked at her food.

“You should eat your dinner, Claire,” Charles said softly, as always aware of her passing moods. “They simply throw away whatever’s left.”

She nodded her head and picked at her spinach a while longer, then she gave up and pushed the plate away.

“So, have you decided to join an order?” he asked. “Steal away into the night, fall into a life of splendid isolation and moral contemplation?”

She smiled at her brother, this strange man who was really anything but. “What about you? How are you going to weather the storm?”

He looked away for a moment, lost in thought, then he turned back to her. “I’ve applied to the Department of State for a posting to Germany.”

She tried to hide her surprise, but failed: “You…what? You’re turning your back on politics?”

“For the time being, yes.”

“Why Germany?”

“Berlin is the fulcrum, the pivot point of history right now. I want to be there. I want to watch what happens, if only so I can better understand the forces shaping our world right now.”

“And then what?”

“Someday I’ll return, perhaps run for the Senate.”

“And then…for president?”

He smiled. “You’re being presumptuous, aren’t you?”

“Aren’t you?”

“No, just making plans.”

The train slowed for the next station and she looked at the platform as it stopped, and she saw another boy standing down there, standing under a gaslight. Moths circled the light, and they circled the boy’s face too, but he ignored them – and looked directly into Claire’s eyes.

“Who is that?” Charles asked.

“He looks like my father, when he was young. He was in Chicago, too.”

“What? The same boy?”

“Yes.”

“He must be traveling on this train…”

“He isn’t.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because he isn’t.”

Charles watched Claire just now, suddenly very aware of everything she said and did. She was in that place again, that place he found her in the night of the dream – yet now she was simply staring at this strange boy standing on the platform below.

She reached out to him, but the glass window kept them apart, then Charles watched as the boy reached out for her too, just as the train began pulling away from the station…but then she turned to her brother.

And he’d never seen such fear in his life. Fear, locked in her eyes, like a moth caught in the glare of an open flame. She swallowed, hard, as she looked at her brother, and she began to breathe more deeply, a little quicker, too.

“Claire? What is it?”

She stood and ran from the table, and he quickly followed.

+++++

She was standing with the lookouts in the crystal cold night, and she watched the reflections of stars on the mirror smooth sea while she tried to ignore the cold.

“Oh my God…” the lookout sighed, then he turned for the bell and began ringing it, then he was on the growler, shouting for whoever was standing watch in the wheelhouse.

“Iceberg, dead ahead!” the seaman yelled, and she turned and looked at the slowly building pandemonium as the ship began to turn. She turned too and looked at the approaching berg, willing the ship to turn, faster, even as she knew how this was going to end – again. But no, something was different this time.

The ship simply didn’t turn at all, and the seaman by her side – was the little boy down on the platform.

And the bow of the great ship slammed into the iceberg, a frontal collision of such colossal force that the bow simply crushed inward – then fell away. Their lookout tower tore away too, and they fell on top of the wheelhouse just as an avalanche of ice rained down over the foredeck and the bridge. 

Oh, God, it hurts!” she screamed, then she felt someone shaking her, and lights coming on in the darkness.

She opened her eyes, saw Charles and the Pullman porter standing over – shock and fear in their eyes. She looked at her hands and found they were covered in blood, and her berth was awash in briny ice.

Chapter 4

Charles stared at Claire’s berth, the porter by his side aghast at the sight. Seawater was running from the mattress onto the rolling floor of the compartment, while fist-sized chunks of ice continued to rain down from the ceiling – then he looked up and saw the vortex. Shimmering blue, like a metallic-tornadic sphere was embedded within the woodwork, and it made not a sound even as more and more ice showered out of the gyre, hitting Claire’s hands as she tried to protect herself.

“What’s goin’ on in there?” the porter cried, his eyes wide with fear.

“Must be something wrong with the air conditioning,” Charles said, reaching in and pulling Claire from the compartment.

“They ain’t no air conditioning in this car, mister.”

“Then where’s this ice coming from?”

The old man stuck his head in the compartment and looked around. “I don’t know…I just don’t know, sir. Beats the devil out of me…ain’t never seen nothin’ like it…”

“Is it snowing out there?” Charles said, pointing at the window.

“No, sir, it sure ain’t. Why does…it smells like the ocean in there…now you tell me – what’s goin’ on in there…?”

Charles bundled Claire in his robe and helped her to his compartment, and he grabbed a washcloth and tried to staunch the flow of blood coming from a shallow laceration on her scalp, then he heard the porter run to the end of the car, perhaps summoning the conductor.

And sure enough a gaggle of men appeared a few minutes later, inspecting the car generally then making a thorough inspection of Claire’s compartment – before coming by Charles’ compartment to check on her condition.

“We’re sure sorry about this, Congressman. We can’t find anything that might have caused this. Do you have any idea what might have happened, Ma’am?”

“No sir, I don’t.”

“Well, we’ll be coming to Salt Lake City soon enough, if we need to summon a doctor…”

“Thank you.” Charles said. “I’ll keep an eye on her and let you know, but I think it likely we will have to. This is a deep cut.”

“Yessir,” the conductor said, looking at her scalp, then he shook his head and left, talking to his men as they walked to the vestibule.

“What happened, Claire?” he said when he was sure they were alone again.

Her breathing was strange now, deep ragged gulps followed by brief, shallow sighs. “I’m so cold,” she hissed, cold vapor trailing her words.

“It’s warm in here, Claire. What are you feeling now?”

“Water. Cold water. Icy pinpricks…all over my body…”

“What do you see?”

“The ship…the bow’s been torn off by the impact, ice is falling on us…”

“Us? Who’s with you…your father?”

“No, the boy is with me now, he’s speaking to me…”

“What is he saying?”

“‘Change course, now. Change your heading.’”

“Your heading?”

Her eyes flickered, then opened, and she finally seemed somewhat aware of her surroundings in the sleeper… “Where am I?” she asked.

“You’re safe now, on the train, with me.”

“The train?”

“Yes. We’re nearing Salt Lake, and you took a nasty blow to the head…”

“A blow? What…?”

“Ice. Your berth is full of seawater, too. More than the last time, I think.”

Her breathing became shallow and fast, and she looked around Charles’ compartment – the mahogany walls and the brass fittings seemed jarring to her. “We fell, the lookout tower with us still in it, we fell on the wheelhouse, then ice started falling…”

“What do you think the boy meant? Change course…?”

“He shouted a warning to the wheelhouse but they didn’t react, they never saw the ice coming, and the ship just plowed into the berg.”

“They never saw…? You mean they…?”

“I don’t think there was anyone there, Charles. The ship felt empty, like we were the only two people onboard…”

There came a light tapping on the door, and Charles found the porter standing in the narrow corridor with an arm full of towels. “Thought you might be needin’ these, Congressman.”

“Thanks. Is there any alcohol onboard, anything I could use to clean this wound?”

“I don’t think so, but I’ll go see. Might be somethin’ in the kitchen…” the old man said as he scurried away, then Charles turned to Claire again. “You say you were alone, with the boy?”

“I’m not sure. It feels so far away right now. Not so real anymore…”

“That ice was real enough, Claire. The cut on your head is, too.”

“I could have done that to – myself,” she said, beginning to cry. “I could have scratched myself in my sleep…?”

“What? How? What are you saying? Do you want to go look at all the ice in your compartment? There must be twenty pounds of it on your berth…and I saw it falling from something in the ceiling?”

“Something? What do you mean, something?”

“I don’t know what it was, but it looked like a blue sphere spinning round and round.”

“Blue…? I saw something blue…just before the ship hit…”

And as suddenly she entered a trancelike state; her body grew rigid and her eyes settled into a blank stare…

“Claire?”

Nothing. He could see she was barely breathing now, too, so he shook her. Gently at first, then with more urgency – and still he felt nothing but the same vacant stare…until he noticed the room was suffused inside a shimmering blue glow… 

He looked around, saw he was on the deck of a ship, and that it was very cold out…

Then he heard someone overhead shouting “Iceberg, dead ahead!” and he turned, saw the looming mountain of ice not a few hundred yards ahead. He felt Claire at his feet and looked down, but another man was leaning over her now, leaning over a lifeboat and a seven year old girl, and he didn’t need to ask the man’s name.

Moments later he felt the berg ripping into the ship’s hull once again, and he wondered what it was going to feel like to die in these icy waters… 

Chapter Five

Her hands hurt; of that much she was sure. She looked at her fingers, and the joints in her hands now came to her as the roots of a gnarled oak might – as if pushing up through the dry grass of late summer.

“Can this be me,” she gulped, the sight tearing at her mastery of the moment. “These can’t be my hands…can they?”

Yet, when she moved her fingers she felt overwhelming pain, and that searing sense of immediacy pushed aside all other awareness of the moment. She had been on the ship one moment, yet seconds later she had been with Charles in a train – but now…this? She was in a small compartment, at least it looked somewhat like a sleeping compartment, yet she was certain this was no train, and certainly not the ship she’d been on with her father. She sensed no movement here, nothing at all save for a distant hum, and the vaguest impression that air was being pumped into this small space.

Then, she felt more than heard a faint hissing sound – and as she watched a doorway slid open.

A man. She saw a man – in a wheelchair. He seemed familiar too, yet not quite – then she saw a naval officer was pushing the wheelchair, and, oddly enough, he looked familiar to her as well. She remembered the patch on his shoulder…

“Doctor Aubuchon?” the old man in the wheelchair said, his voice rheumy, tired and full of deep sorrow. “Claire? Is it you?”

“Do I…do we know one another, sir?” she asked, now completely taken aback by the man in the chair, and then the naval officer coughed gently before he looked away – as if she had said something embarrassingly untoward to the man.

“Claire? It’s me…Franklin?”

“Franklin?”

“Roosevelt? You don’t recall anything?”

She drifted for a moment, reaching for a lost memory, then: “You were the president, weren’t you? I remember something about that now.” She paused and looked around the room again. “Where are we?”

The old man wheeled himself over to a porthole on the near wall, but there were no dogs on this port to keep the raging sea from pouring in, just a smooth oval glass perhaps a foot wide, at most nine inches tall. She followed the old man, this President Roosevelt, to the window and looked out…

…and fell away when she saw a planet spread out below. The surface that arced away beneath this ship, or whatever it was, was a mottled sea of flowing tans and mauves, and there was a vast ring encircling the orb, the sandy ring casting an immense, oblate shadow on the pulsing world below.

“What is this?” she gasped, “Saturn?”

“Yes, that’s right – or so they tell me – but I’m still not sure I believe them.”

“Them? Who’s…”

She then felt an inrushing, overwhelming pressure gripping her skin, the unexpected force pushing in from every direction – yet within the pressure she felt entombed in pure, icy silence.

Then she saw the mountain. A vast horn in twilight, dark gray rock in swirling streaks of mist, and she saw an Old Man watching her – seemingly from within the mist. His eyes were glowing with anger, and the old man was looking right at her.

“Where have you been?” the old man asked. “I was expecting you hours ago…”

Yet she didn’t recognize the man, and before she knew what was happening she felt a new relentless pressure on her skin again, then she was standing beside lookouts overlooking a vast deck – and she saw the iceberg, heard the forlorn cry: “Iceberg, dead ahead! Mister Lightoller…”

But this time the rudder bit into the sea and held; the great ship leaned perilously to starboard and then, suddenly, it seemed immediately clear to her that the ship was going to miss the iceberg entirely this time. She leaned with the ship and looked down into the sea, and she could see the great white spur beneath the rail as they passed– and again, she knew they’d escaped this time – that somehow the Titanic had escaped her certain fate, that somehow History had come undone…

She was breathing deeply now, and one of the men standing watch heard her and turned to face the sound of her fear.

“‘Ere now, lass, what be the likes of you standing up ‘ere now, and in your night clothes and all, eh…?”

She looked down at her hands and bare feet – and recognized her seven-year-old-self, then she felt the biting cold air nipping at her arms and legs…

“Did we miss it?” she asked, not really sure what to make of this disrupted night just now.

“Looks like it, Missy. Now, it’s best we get you back to your stateroom…”

One of the lookouts called out and an officer from the wheelhouse came for her, then a steward walked her back to her father’s stateroom…

The kind-faced man knocked on the stateroom door and she heard her father rousing, then coming to the door – yet when the door opened she saw someone else. Someone she’d never seen before, yet even so this other man smiled when he saw her standing there.

“Claire, have you been out exploring again? And…look at you – with no shoes again?”

“She was up with the lookouts, sir,” the steward said. “Don’t quite know how she got there, but the Captain asked that you try to keep her with you after hours.”

“Of course, of course,” the man said sternly, looking down at her with scarcely concealed scorn in his eyes. “I’ll see to that.”

And she wondered who he was, and why he was here. And – where was her father?

The man held out his hand and without knowing why she took it, and she let him guide her into the stateroom. When the door closed she turned to the man and stared – then: “Where’s my father?”

“Your father? Claire? Don’t you remember?”

“Remember? Remember what?” She said, but she felt the words more than she understood their meaning, and she fought to accept what little she understood of this new place –  even as she struggled to find her way inside the moment.

“Who are you?” she said after a long moment studying the man’s oddly recognizable features.

“I’m your grandfather, Claire. I came for you – for the funeral. You don’t remember?”

She shook her head slowly… “No-o-o,” she sighed, then she thought about all she’d seen in the last few minutes and she intuitively understood she needed to keep these things to herself – lest the people here think there was something wrong with her. “I think I should go to bed now, Grandfather.”

“Right. Well, yes, but I think you need a hot bath first,” he said as he went to ring a bell for the maid. “Don’t you think so, too?”

“Yes, you’re correct, Grandfather.”

He turned and looked at her again – but shook his head after a moment – as if he had been confused by something. “Are you sure you’re alright,” he asked.

She nodded her head. “Yes, Grandfather,” but in the next instant she was standing in a vast mist – only now the air smelled strange. Like oil…burning oil – only sharper – and her eyes started to burn, then came water. A moment later she heard an immense whining roar building in the near distance, and suddenly bright lights split the night so she turned from her quivering shadow and faced the glare, recoiled from the sight of a great winged machine hurtling down a concrete road of some sort, then she fell away when the machine leapt into the sky. Acrid smoke fell on her and she watched in horror as the thing rose from the earth and disappeared in the deepening gloom.

“I’ve lost my mind,” she sighed. “I’ve gone crazy. This is what it means to be mad…to see things such as this that have never existed…”

She closed her eyes and shook her head, tried to squeeze all these twisted images from her mind…then she felt the swaying motion again, the clickety-clack–clickety-clack of the rails below and she opened her eyes again…

Charles was staring at her now, sniffing at the stuffy air in the compartment.

“What is that smell?” he asked. “Like something burning…?”

She shook her head as echoes of a man named Roosevelt danced in her mind’s eye, then she remembered the naval officer standing behind the president. A patch on his shoulder? She could see it now, more clearly than she imagined possible.

Something about time? Project TimeShadow…but whatever could that mean?

Yet…why did all that sound so familiar?

Chapter Six

She sat in the close compartment, rubbing the loose skin under her eyes while looking out the window at a vast, snow-covered prairie rolling by in the darkness. Her eyes felt like molten pools deep within the earth, and she felt a line of perspiration beading on her forehead.

‘Oh, God no,’ she thought, ‘I can’t get sick now. Not now…’

She shook her head, leaned back and palpated the glands in her neck – but they felt soft and small so she relaxed and picked up the sheaf of papers and found her place – again – then dove back into the text, rereading an exploration of transuranic radiochemical fractionation presented only a few months ago in Naturwissenschaften, a journal of physics and chemistry published in Germany. It hadn’t taken Oppenheimer’s team at Berkeley more than a few days to grasp the importance of Hahn and Meitner’s breakthrough, yet it turned out that several groups of physicists around the United States and Canada had made the same observation – and in roughly the same time-frame. Now varied groups of engineers, chemists and physicists were en route to Washington to meet with the president.

She almost didn’t hear the soft knock on her compartment’s door but she looked up and shook her head, then rubbed her eyes again before speaking: “Yes?” she said to the darkness.

And then a kindly faced old porter stuck his head in the door. “Doctor Aubuchon? Doctor Oppenheimer would like to speak with you, down in his compartment. He says, if you don’t mind.”

“What time is it?” Claire asked.

“Not quite six, Ma’am.”

“Morning? Or afternoon?”

“It’s five-forty-three in the morning, Ma’am.”

“Right,” she sighed, adding: “I need a glass of water” – then fishing for a bottle of aspirin from her purse as the porter slipped away. She looked the monograph, and her notes, then she downed the tablets before she walked down the swaying corridor to Robert’s compartment.

The door was standing wide open, and her brother Charles stood anxiously when he saw her eyes. He helped her into the chair then closed the door on his way out, never saying a word to her.

“I think you look worse than I feel,” Oppenheimer sighed. “I’d kill for an aspirin right now.”

She nodded, pulled the bottle from her purse and passed it over, wanting more than anything else in the world to pour ice water into her burning eyes.

“You’re rubbing your eyes again,” Robert chided. “Getting episcleritis. Knock it off, and I mean right now. I can’t have you going blind right now…”

“I hear you.”

“So? Any new conclusions?”

“We may have underestimated the forces involved. The energy released could be cataclysmic.”

Oppenheimer nodded his head slowly. “That’s my take, too.”

“Have you heard from Werner?”

“Heisenberg? No. But I don’t expect the Reich will let this kind of free exchange of ideas continue. The implications of this work are creating shockwaves throughout the community.”

What did Bohr have to say about it?”

“I think he’s terrified, Claire.”

“So, he confirmed? What about Schwarzwald?”

Oppenheimer nodded his head. “Yes, her conclusion as well.”

“What are you reading now?” she asked, looking at the colorful book on the little table under the window.

“This? Oh, the Bhagavad Gita,” he said, passing the book over to her.

She opened the heavy book and looked over a page or two, then passed it back. “You read Sanskrit?”

“Yes.”

She shook her head as she looked him in the eye: “Why?”

“I get the impression, reading this now, that these events have been foretold.”

She smiled, then looked out the window again and noted the the prairie was shading from gray to purple, and she wondered what he meant. “Foretold?”

“Eternal recurrence…something like that. Have you read Jung?”

She shook her head, then looked at him again. “Something about archetypes, I recall.”

“Precisely,” he said. “You should try to get some sleep. We’ll be in Chicago around noon.”

“Straight to D.C. from there?”

He nodded. “We should be there tomorrow morning.”

“Have you met him before?”

“Who? Roosevelt?”

“Yes.”

“Only in passing. Why?”

“Oh, something that happened years ago.”

“Something? Like what?”

“I’m not sure, but I recall seeing him on a ship – and yet he seemed to know me.”

He looked at her for the longest while, then opened the book on his lap and began reading aloud; moments later she felt herself falling… 

+++++

He looked younger…of that much she was certain. He had looked pale and used up when she’d seen him on the strange ship, but now he seemed stronger – and very sharply focused. When she walked into the conference room he looked up at her briefly, but she saw no recognition in his eyes, nothing at all to indicate they’d ever met before, and his attention had soon shifted to something Harry Hopkins was whispering in his ear.

But it was him. It was the Roosevelt she’d seen on the ship, and now – here he was. And here she was. In the same room, looking right at him, and everything about him seemed so utterly familiar. She watched the way his hands moved – soft yet decisive – and the way his eyes seemed to focus on every detail in the room…like as soon as someone entered he made an inventory of their characteristics. A Navy captain stood behind him, a man named Carlton, and he was talking to Hopkins just now – but the captain was looking at her much more frequently as they talked, like he knew something she didn’t.

Then her brother Charles walked up to the officer and the two shook hands – and that seemed to answer one question – for the moment, anyway, then Oppenheimer walked into the room. She watched Roosevelt look up – nothing dismissive in his eyes now – and she watched Oppenheimer work his way around the room to his place at the table – by her right side. Directly across from Roosevelt, she noticed. 

Eye-to-eye. Man-to-man. As equals.

So, she thought, the president wants to look him in the eye. Wants to see beyond the truth of the moment.

Then three more men walked into the room – three men she recognized from newspaper articles, and she watched them as they walked up to her brother and the Navy captain, then as they shook hands with the president – before moving off to the shadows where Hopkins lurked.

Presently the naval officer, the Captain Carlton, called the room to order, and everyone’s attention focused on Roosevelt – who coughed once, his eyes bright and almost wet, before he looked up from a stack of papers on the table in front of him.

“Good morning,” the president said, and there arose a chorus of well wishes from those around the table. “I’ve read and reread the various synopses given to me by the Navy, and I’ve called this meeting to see what the scientific consensus is about the threat posed by these findings. Dr Oppenheimer? Care to get this show on the road?”

Robert laughed, then looked over at Claire. “If you don’t mind, Mr President, I’d prefer that my associate, Dr Aubuchon, run through our initial observations.”

“Very well.”

Claire cleared her throat and was about to speak when Roosevelt coughed again, this time a ragged, rheumy fit, and she watched as his face turned at first red, then faintly blue. A steward poured ice water and Hopkins was by the president’s side in an instant, helping him take the glass in hand. Looks were exchanged around the table as a bottle of cough medicine was produced.

“Damn bugs!” Roosevelt grumbled between spoonfuls of medicine. He put his hands out on the edge of the table – as if steadying himself against a storm-tossed sea – then he looked at Claire and smiled. “Tell me, Doctor Aubuchon, as succinctly as you can…can a bomb be made using the theories and techniques posited in this paper?”

“That remains to be seen, Mr President, but the possibility is real. The techniques presented, those to stream off and produce isotopes from raw ores, simply do not exist at this time. These are issues related to electrical and mechanical engineering, not simply matters of theoretical physics, and one of the first items that springs to mind is the vast scale needed to produce even measurable quantities of refined uranium. To produce a fission bomb of the sort being characterized would require an industrial operation that simply exists nowhere in the world.”

“Presently, you mean? Explain.”

“Well, sir, imagine a trainload of ore, uranium ore. Perhaps fifty hopper cars worth of raw ore. With optimal efficiencies, and by that I mean utilizing efficiencies of extraction that, again, simply do not exist anywhere on earth today, we might be able to prepare a sample size of, well, sir, a kilogram of the necessary isotope to conduct preliminary experiments.”

“Alright. Say we lick that problem. How much ore would be needed to produce a bomb?”

Oppenheimer broke in just then. “Mr President, we simply won’t know the answer to that question until we can produce enough of the necessary isotope.”

“And?” the president sighed, “just how much time do you think you’d need to get to that point?”

“We’re just not sure, Mr. President,” Oppenheimer replied, his voice cool and steady.

“And what about the ore we might need?”

“Perhaps a hundred thousand metric tons, Mr President,” one of the naval officers standing in the shadows said.

“Oh. Is THAT all?” Roosevelt said, his splitting into that famously broad grin of his. “Where can we lay our hands on that much ore, Captain Henry?”

“Canada, sir.”

The President turned and looked at the captain, then at another man standing by Hopkins. “Dr Kirby, is it your belief that the machinery to accomplish this is feasible? On the necessary scale?”

“Sir, we’ve never tried to regulate currents with this degree of precision, but yes, it’s possible. Assuming we can deliver a prototype for testing within a few months, get our testing done, then ramp up production…well…yes sir. We can do it.”

Roosevelt leaned back and looked up at the ceiling for a moment, then daubed his eyes with a handkerchief. “What are we talking about here, Dr Aubuchon? What kind of bomb?”

“Mr President, I don’t think we have a frame of reference here. There’s never been anything like this, not in human history. We are talking about a vast, almost primeval power, sir. The power that fuels the universe.”

“Theoretically, Dr Aubuchon. How big?”

“Mr President,” Oppenheimer broke in once again, “once again, we simply don’t know, but initial projections are staggering. Certainly one such device, a small one, would be enough to destroy a large city.”

“Alright, Robert. Now, one last question. How long will it take the Germans to get there?”

Oppenheimer looked down, then shook his head slowly. “There are few sources available to the Germans outside of Africa, but they’ll need to overcome an even more important barrier, sir.”

“And that is?”

“Werner Heisenberg.”

“Meaning?”

“There isn’t a more ethical scientist in Germany, Mr President. Perhaps in the world.”

“I see. And what if Mr Hitler decides to kill this ethical scientist, Dr Oppenheimer? What then?”

“Then we’d better be further along than the Germans, sir.”

+++++

She went from the meeting to her brother’s house in Chevy Chase and rested, but only for a few hours. She and her brother, as well as Dr Oppenheimer, were to dine with the President and Mrs Roosevelt this evening, and her brother asserted it was necessary for her to ‘look presentable’ for the occasion… 

“No, you may not wear that nasty old cardigan tonight!” he’d almost shouted at her. “It’s covered in chalk, let alone smells like it hasn’t been cleaned since 1919!”

“No doubt it hasn’t,” Claire sighed. “And it doesn’t – ‘stink,’ nor do I?”

“Well, it smells like a wet goat.”

She’s just left it at that. “Does Anne have something I can borrow?” she asked. Charles’ wife had impeccable taste, and ‘just oodles and oodles of time to go shopping.’

“You two are hardly the same size, you know, but I’ll ask. Have you considered that she’s not at all happy about not being invited to dinner tonight?”

“No, not really. I’d assume most of the things under discussion would be somewhat classified. Does she have the necessary clearance?”

Charles turned and stormed out of her room, grumbling as he thundered down the stairs – leaving Claire to wonder about her brother’s sanity one more time. She took off her sweater and dropped onto the bed, and was soon fast asleep – again. She felt urgent hands shaking her awake some time later, saw the sun was now close to the horizon and that a heavy snow was falling. She rolled over and saw Charles standing by the bed, looking at her with concern in his eyes.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“Yes…why?”

“I’ve been shaking you for ages. I wasn’t even sure you were breathing.”

She sat up slowly, yawning as she did. “How long was I out?”

“About three hours.”

“Do I have time to shower?”

“Well, you won’t be allowed in the White House smelling the way you do right now, so I’d hop to it.”

“I do not smell, Charles.”

“Oh, okay. I must assume my nose is broken then. Perhaps you can explain that to the Golden Retriever outside your door. You know, the one who’s been trying to burrow under the door for the past half hour.” She stood and promptly passed out, falling to the floor like a sack of rocks. She felt Charles’ hands lifting her, helping her to the side of the bed. “You’re burning up, Claire. How long have you felt like this?”

“Night before last, I think. If you have a couple of aspirin handy, I’ll be alright.”

“Can you handle some orange juice?”

“Yes, that’d be nice.”

“Alright, I’ll get that going – if you think you can handle getting to the shower.”

“Help me up, would you?”

He helped her to the bathroom, and when he was sure she was steady on her feet he left her to it; when she came out a few minutes later she found some of Anne’s things laid out on her bed and she dressed, then, looking out the window at the heavy snow falling, she dried her hair with a fresh towel. Charles knocked on the door a few minutes after that, asked if she was ready to go, and he took her arm when she walked out to him.

“Thanks, big brother,” she sighed.

“Your welcome, little sister,” he said, taking her hand in his.

The Navy had sent a courier to take them to the White House, and as they arrived at the portico she saw Oppenheimer and a turtle-faced man get out of a sedan together, and the two naval officers who’d spoken at the conference earlier were with them, too. “Who’s that with Robert?”

“Leo Szilard.”

“The Hungarian?”

“Yes. He’s at Columbia now, I think. Einstein’s shadow, I think they call him.”

“So I’ve heard. We’re not the only one’s invited tonight, I see.”

“I think the guest list has expanded somewhat since we left this afternoon. Einstein will be here, and I heard Thomas Mann may be, as well.”

“The writer? Why him?”

“He’s been helping get academics out of Germany, and has come to be seen as a kind of father figure for the exile community.”

“But with…”

“He has clearance, Claire. He hates Hitler, and he has the president’s ear, so be nice. Okay?”

She shook her head as Marines came to open their doors, and she took Charles’ arm and walked with him into the White House.

After so many years in California, walking from a minor blizzard into the stuffy heat of the old building’s radiator heat was a shock, and almost instantly she broke out into a cold sweat. Charles, of course, noticed immediately.

“Your face is the color of a plum…what’s going on with you?”

“It’s the heat, I think. As soon as we hit this air I felt like I was going to melt – from the inside out.”

“You’re starting to perspire again.”

“I think I’m going to be sick…”

A steward helped her to the nearest restroom, then a physician was summoned – and she soon found herself in one of the upstairs bedrooms, laid out like a fish on a monger’s scale. Panting now, she tried to close her eyes again – but as soon as she did she was back on the ship.

And Roosevelt was with her again, looking out the thick glass port-light by her side. Looking out at Saturn’s rings, and she was quailing before the implications of this place. The walls were bright red, and somewhat distorted – like the floors sloped up. Regardless of whether she turned to the left or the right, like she was inside some sort of vast, toroidal ringlike structure.

Then she felt an eyelid being forced apart between two soft fingers, a bright light shining in the middle of her skull, making her turn away – or trying to, at least.

“Ah, good. You’re still with us,” a man’s soothing voice said…then she felt a thermometer sliding between her lips. “Under the tongue, if you can,” the voice said.

She sat just in silence, her eyes darting around the bedroom, echoes of red fighting for her attention. Fingers on her wrist, she saw the physician counting as he watched the motion of her breath, then he pulled out the glass thermometer and looked at the scale. 

“That can’t be right,” he murmured.

“What is it?”

“Ninety five-two.”

“Wouldn’t that account for the heat I felt?”

“It might, but then again, you’d probably feel rotten. More that you can imagine.”

“What makes you think I don’t?”

The physician was shaking the thermometer down again, then he placed it in a vial of alcohol for a moment before he wiped it down. “Let’s try this again,” he added, slipping it under her tongue a second time.

She listened to a clock ticking in the distance, then the gurgling of hot water flowing through the radiator across the room – and she could almost imagine blood flowing through her veins as another wave of heat washed across the room. In an instant she was standing beside Roosevelt on the toroidal floor.

“I’ll never tire of looking at this,” he sighed – then she noticed he was standing now. No wheelchair. No hint of disability – at all.

Then an overwhelming wave of ammonia catching her unawares, her eyes parting again, that noxious light shining on the back of her skull.

“You passed out again,” the physician said, “and now your temperature is ninety four-three.”

“What do you think’s wrong with me?”

“I’m not quite sure, but the rather annoying thing is that you and the president are experiencing the exact same symptoms. He has – all afternoon, too.”

“I need to speak with him, right away…”

“I’m not sure that’s possible, Doctor Aubuchon.”

“It’s important. I need to ask him something.”

But the door to the room opened, and she saw him in his chair out in the hallway, looking on with concern in his eyes, then he was wheeling himself into the room, right up to her bedside.

“Leave us, doctor,” Roosevelt said, and the physician put his things away in his little black bag and left the room, closing the door as he went.

“You were there again,” Roosevelt said, reaching out now – and this time taking her hand.

His skin felt so familiar, so shockingly intimate and familiar. “What were we doing there?”

The president shook his head and sighed. “I don’t know, but whatever else it may be, it’s real. Your presence here confirms that.”

“This morning, when I walked in the conference room, did you recognize me?”

“No, not right away. When you spoke I began to feel…something like an echo, of meeting you before. Something far away, something washing over me like a memory of tomorrow. Like something that hasn’t happened yet – but has somewhere else.”

“Some other time, you mean? Something that hasn’t happened yet, but how could that be?”

“Something, or someone, related to this morning’s conference? Something is being manipulated?”

“Time?” she said. “But…how?”

“How isn’t as important as why right at this moment, Doctor. If we’d simply shared a delusion, the how of this might be interesting – from a psychiatrist’s point of view – but understanding the why of things will be vital going forward. At least from a politician’s standpoint, I might add.”

“The why of things? Is that important?”

Roosevelt tried not to laugh, but failed – though he caught himself before he started coughing again. “The why is always the most important point to consider, young lady. Why do we need to consider making bombs out of uranium? Why do we need to go to war with Germany? How is a question for engineers and economists; why is my purview right now, and with events in Asia and Eastern Europe spiraling out of control right now, the answer to why you and I are sharing this vision is suddenly the most crucial thing I can think of.”

“The first time I saw you…well, it was almost ten years ago.”

“What?” Roosevelt said, suddenly exasperated. “When was this?”

“My brother and I were headed west. I was on my way to Berkeley, to begin graduate school, and I felt myself phasing in and out of time, experiencing different outcomes to events that had happened long before. My father’s death, the sinking of the Titanic…”

“The Titanic? Why, of all…”

“I was onboard, sir, the night she went down.”

“Good God. Why didn’t I read that in your dossier?”

She shrugged. “The night of our first encounter, she missed the iceberg. And I learned my father had passed away some two weeks before, not on that night…”

“So…time had been altered, and in more ways that one?”

“Yes.”

“And then you met me, for the first time?”

She nodded her head slowly. “By that window…looking out…”

“At those rings.”

“Yessir.”

“The walls on that ship…what color are they?”

“Red, sir.”

Roosevelt looked at her, trying to come to terms with these revelations, then a sudden thought came to him: “I say, you’re looking much better now. Do you feel up to going downstairs?”

She nodded her head again. “Yes, I think so.”

“Good. Let’s give it a try, shall we?”

+++++

Sitting on the train, heading back to California a few days later, she thought about that encounter, and the evening that followed, for hour after hour as the train crossed the country. About the various discussions around the table, the palpable excitement surrounding the road ahead. Entire new industries would have to be created almost overnight…precision electro-magnets capable of streaming off isotopes in electron streams. A vast new transport infra-structure to carry ores from Canada and Brazil, and in wartime.

Yes, war. Roosevelt had made it abundantly clear that war with both Germany and Japan, and possibly Russia, now appeared inevitable. The United States would have to fight two well armed adversaries on opposite sides of the earth, or risk being swallowed by an imploding wall of totalitarianism. It was as simple as that.

The last resort, Roosevelt said, might very well be the fission bomb under discussion – but then he’d asked: “What then? What happen if we succeed? If we win this war, how in God’s name do we maintain the unstable peace that must surely follow? What happens after we finally open Pandora’s box?”

When they’d first made it down to the room, a large ballroom where both cocktails and heated arguments were being consumed in unhealthy quantities, people were just shuffling off to a dining room, but Roosevelt had mysteriously disappeared again. Charles and Oppenheimer saw her coming through a doorway and both rushed to her side.

“Ah,” Oppenheimer said casually, “you didn’t die, I take it?”

Charles shook his head as he walked up to her, rolling his eyes. “You look better, the color of a tangerine now. Better than that plum-red you were sporting…”

“And I feel better, too. Thanks for asking.”

“We’ve taken the liberty of putting you next to Ben Goodman…”

“Benny Goodman? The…musician?”

“No, dear,” Oppenheimer sighed, as if he was talking to a child. “Ben Goodman, the physician. The physician who held your wrist and took your temperature when you were upstairs. He seems to think you need to go to the hospital.”

“The hospital?”

“Yes. Oddly enough, he thinks both you and Franklin have pneumonia.”

“Bosh. I have no such thing. I’ve not coughed in days.”

“Indeed. You must remind me…where did you take your medical diploma?”

Ignoring Robert, she turned to Charles. “Now, where am I sitting?”

“Follow me,” her brother said, and when they gained the table a dapper looking man stood and held out her chair.

“Well, you’re looking better,” Goodman said. “How’re you feeling? Still flushed?”

She smiled and sat, and Charles sat between her and Oppenheimer. “Aspirin seems to do the trick for me,” she said. “Do you have any idea whatever it is I’ve gotten hold of.”

“No, not at all. Well, all I can tell you is drink plenty of water tonight. They tend to over-salt the food here,” Goodman said, frowning.

“You come here often, I take it?”

“I seem to have taken up residence here – rather against my will, I might add.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, it seems I’ve become the President’s Personal Physician, or some such blather. That’s what’s on the door to my office, anyway. Are you Charles’ wife?”

“Sister.”

“Indeed? Splendid!”

She looked at Goodman and smiled. “Truly? Why is that splendid?”

“Yes indeed. Take a look around, would you? There are three females in attendance, one is serving food this evening, and one of them is Mrs Roosevelt. You’re the third, and I’m sitting next to you. So, yes. I think that’s very splendid indeed!”

“I see. You’re not married, I take it?”

“No, but the night is young.”

Claire grinned while she tried not to shake her head.

“So, why did Charles bring you along?”

“I’m Robert Oppenheimer’s assistant.”

“Indeed,” Goodman said, frowning. “A physicist, then?”

She nodded her head, smiled a little smile, though feeling not at all triumphant. “Yes. Isn’t that the bee’s knees?”

“Are you working on all this uranium stuff?”

“I’m sorry, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Of course. It’s just that I am, so I naturally assumed…”

“You are?”

“Yes. Well, you see, I’d been working on establishing new protocols for radiation exposure, primarily for use with or during diagnostic imaging, when Szilard tapped me to help out. When I’m not working here, I’m stationed at the Navy Yard.”

“Oh? You’re in the Navy?”

“Yes, and sorry…no uniform tonight. I was off duty, until Harry called me in to check on the President.”

“Harry?”

“Ah, you’re not into politics, I take it? Harry Hopkins. He’s been with Franklin since day one. The New Deal is his baby, if you didn’t know. Harry is one of those Progressive Optimists you read about in the Times.”

She shrugged again. “If you say so.”

“Not interested, I take it?”

She shook her head gently, though she smiled at Goodman.

“Oh dear,” he sighed, “I may fall in love with you before we get to our salads. Where are you working?”

“Berkeley.”

“Yes, of course. How stupid of me. You did say you were working with Robert.”

“Where did you go to school, Doctor?”

“Annapolis, then Georgetown. I began working with x-ray imaging devices when I did my internship, and I’ve been fascinated by the devices ever since.”

“And how did you get roped into being the President’s physician?”

“Harry was out at the Yard and he had a bad cold. I ended up seeing him and that was that.”

“Chance, then?”

“Yes. Bad luck.”

She smiled when he grinned again, and she looked at his eyes a little longer this time. Kind, gentle, and deeply inquisitive. A scientist’s eyes, in other words. “So, radiological dosing? You’ll be working on this so-called uranium project, I take it?”

“Yes. So I’d imagine we’ll see each other from time to time?”

“Would you like that?”

“Yes, you know, I rather think I would.”

She felt her face flushing again, felt a few beads forming on her forehead, then she felt a glass of ice-water being thrust into her hand. “Drink it down, and take some ice into your mouth, roll it around…”

And without asking she did so, then she felt him grasp her wrist, begin counting-off her pulse while he watched her face and neck. “You know, even as sick as you are, you have the most enchanted eyes I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“Enchanting, I think perhaps you meant to say?”

“No, enchanted. Like you’ve seen wild, magic things already. Like there’s little that makes you afraid.”

She could feel Charles looking at her, listening to this conversation, and she tried her best to ignore his eyes burning into the back of her skull, then she took a deep breath and leaned back in her chair. “You know, I’ve felt better.”

“I’d like to run you over to Georgetown, if you don’t mind.”

“Perhaps after dinner, Dr Goodman,” she heard her brother say – then she was wrapped in warm blankets of deep sleep, adrift on a sunless sea.

Chapter Seven

14 November, 1943

The sea breeze was shedding her veneer of autumn as easily as winter’s breath came on, and Claire stood at the rail looking out over the Atlantic as the great ship steamed to the southeast. Even from this modest height – and she guessed she was about thirty feet or so above the water’s surface – the sense of speed as the Iowa knifed through the sea was absolutely palpable. And it looked as though the destroyers and even the nearby cruiser were working hard to keep up with the immense battleship, for indeed they were. Now, on their second day at sea, the small convoy was carrying the president to Morocco; from there the gathering of diplomats and soldiers would fly with him to Tehran, where a meeting between the all the president’s men and both Churchill and Stalin was scheduled to take place.

“Why am I here?” she asked the wind. “What possible use could I be to him?”

She turned and saw him in his chair near the rail, perhaps fifty feet away, just under the huge sixteen inch guns of the number two turret. The teak decks were mottled by random hits of spray, the three barrels cast giant, oblate shadows over Roosevelt and the deck under his chair, so that one moment he was alive in early morning sunlight, the next a wraith sheathed in shadow.

“That’s what we are,” she sighed, “the two of us. Sun and shadow, light and dark. Good and evil.”

Once the theoretical nature of their work had borne fruit, she had begun to see the real contours of darkness inside Roosevelt’s Pandora’s Box. And she had begun to see her role in uncovering that uncertain darkness, and until recently she could only guess what would be released when the box was opened. And no, she realized she wasn’t simply a passive receptacle standing idly by while others did the work. She had played a pivotal role unraveling the darkest fire man had ever kindled, and yes, she understood she was more than just a simple bystander, too. She had grown into one of the most important members of the group designing the charge that would induce fission, and now she was helping Sealy and his team as they worked with Boeing on modifications to the B-29s wings. She now realized she would help bring the ultimate irony to humanity’s doorstep: we would harness the power of creation to destroy – and the world would never be the same again.

As she watched Roosevelt, she wondered what he would do with this immense power. Let the world know what we alone possessed, let the Germans and the Japanese understand the consequences of prolonging the war? Or, keep the power a secret? Unleash it on an unsuspecting world without any warning at all?

And she watched Roosevelt more closely now that she understood him better. She had never once considered how much his personal struggle with polio had redefined his character, how much the wounded man’s experience in Warm Springs had altered his patrician’s frame of reference. The entitled Assistant Secretary of the Navy would eventually become the Governor of New York, but only after defeating his own very personal demons. She’d never really known these things about the man, not until the night before, anyway. When they’d sat and talked on this very deck, under the stars.

And he seemed to know each and every star in the night sky, from the origins of their names to their uses as aids to navigation. He loved everything about these big ships too, especially the ability to project force around the world. He’d championed the development of naval aviation – in the First World War of all things – and even submarines. She’d known so little about him when he was first elected, but now – after working with him off and on for four years, she thought of him almost as a father.

Fathers had been in short supply all her life, after all, and though she hardly ever thought about it she knew she had missed out on something important. Charles was Charles, a brother and never anything more, yet Charles had assumed the role of father when she was still quite young. And, as it turned out, he had never really had understood this very basic need. He became a friend – and not a father – and then a sort of career advisor, yet he never expressed any sort of familial love for her – and that was a scar that had never really healed. He cared, true enough, but he had never once expressed anything at all like love for her – not even a brother’s love. Because he wasn’t her brother…not really…and that was the plain unspoken truth between them.

And yet, Roosevelt had immediately seen through all her hastily erected veneers, had seen her need, and he had done so in an instant. At first she put this down to his politician’s instincts, but no, she sensed there was more to him than that. After their first meeting in the White House he had begun writing letters to her, silly, half-affectionate fatherly missives she at first dismissed as the ramblings of a lonely old man – but, again, she had found something else in his words. A need to connect personally with the reality of her work, not only to understand her better, but to better come to terms with what they were building out there in the high New Mexican desert.

 And so she wrote to him, too. Long letters about the problems the team faced, little notes about how odd it was being one of the few women out there under the high stars. She was impressed a man so burdened with the many responsibilities of his office, and that he took the time to correspond with her, and often as she wrote to him she would lapse back into the dream, see him standing by that oval window looking out on Saturn’s rings… 

‘Why don’t you find a man, get married,’ he wrote once, and she thought about the answer to that question for a long time before she set out to craft a reply.

‘I thought I had, once,’ she wrote to the president. ‘Your physician, Ben Goodman. We spent a few days together in 1939, and I thought we had found something special. Something real and lasting, only then he drifted away. I have no need to go through that again…’

His next letter rocked her world.

‘He speaks of you often,’ Roosevelt wrote, ‘yet I was given to believe you had spurned his advances. Was that not the case?’

And so, when she had boarded the Potomac with Roosevelt a few days before this covert crossing, she was instantly on guard when she saw Goodman walk aboard just ahead of the president. Neither had looked her way; indeed, neither had acknowledged her presence in any way. And as the only female on a US Navy battleship steaming across an ocean full of German U-boats, she had been locked away in the executive officer’s stateroom, apparently for the duration of the crossing – lest she distract the men. Or so she was told… 

Then, last night. 

Roosevelt had asked that she come to his cabin after dinner. He wanted, the hand delivered note plainly stated, to talk with her about an idea or two.

When she was escorted to his cabin the door opened and she found him tucked into bed, sipping some sort of amber liqueur. “Could I pour you a snort?” Roosevelt asked, grinning.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Drambuie.”

She shrugged, a blank look on her face.

“It’s a liqueur, made from scotch whiskey,” another voice said, and she turned to see Goodman at a writing desk, inside the attached captain’s more utilitarian, in-port cabin.

“I see,” she said, though of course she didn’t. She couldn’t, not just now, because her vision had grown confined and dark, and her thoughts muddied as the currents of time slowed. She had watched Goodman pour her a glass, then turned to the president sitting in his bed. He was smiling, she saw, and looking not at all unlike another grinning Cheshire cat of some ill repute.

She had taken the glass and carried it too her nose, closed her eyes as the honied scent found her, then she took some of the liquid on her tongue and let it settle there. When she opened her eyes Goodman was sitting across from her, his eyes still full of a quiet, lingering empathy.

“Like it?” Goodman asked.

“I do. Yes, very much, as a matter of fact.”

“Well then,” Roosevelt crooned, holding up his glass. “A toast! Here’s to swimmin’ – with bow-legged wimin’…”

Goodman grinned and shook his head, then he too took a sip, his eyes never leaving her’s, not for a single instant.

“I hope you’re not asking me to swim with a bunch of bow-legged women, Mr. President,” she laughed, almost under her breath.

“No, no, not at all, Claire. We were going over some production figures this afternoon when someone asked about your work on the blast dynamics and effects on the airframe. It’s been weeks since I read an update on that work, and I wanted to get your take on the problem.”

“Now, Mr. President?”

“Yes, yes…now.”

“Well, sir, as you know, the basic question is altitude versus the aerodynamic properties of the bomb itself. In other words, how long it will take the warhead to reach the target…”

“Are we still talking about that fused air-burst thing, or a ground impact?”

“For all intents and purposes, Mr President, there won’t be much difference on delta-T. Our current working hypothesis has the aircraft dropping on the target from thirty-one thousand feet. We need to retard the bomb’s velocity in order to allow egress of the aircraft, as even if we can achieve a wing loading in the eighty pounds per square inch range it’s not likely the aircraft will survive.”

“What would an optimal range from detonation look like?”

“Twenty miles, Mr President. A minimum of twenty miles.”

“Parachute?”

“We discarded the idea, sir, after it was demonstrated that anti-aircraft fire might hit the bomb and disable it.”

“And…?”

“We’re looking at an enhanced climb profile that gets the aircraft to thirty-four thousand feet, then the crew would start a shallow dive at full power, make the drop at thirty and continue diving to around twenty-five thousand.”

“And their speed at that point would be?”

“We’re looking at roughly 320.”

“Will that get you to twenty miles?”

“No sir. Not quite – but we’re getting close.”

“So…what’s next?”

“Drag, Mr President. We’re designing the weapon to be as aerodynamically inefficient as possible.”

“Can the wings be further reinforced?”

“Boeing engineers have done about all they can…short of a complete redesign of the nacelles, where they attach to the leading edge of the wing.”

“They’re still the problem?”

“Yessir. My modeling shows that the blast wave will start a series of oscillations on the outboard nacelles, eventually leading to failure of the wing. If they’re less than fifteen miles from detonation you might as well advise the crew it will be a one-way mission. Bailing out would simply expose them to an unprotected dose of intense radiation.”

“And as I mentioned earlier, sir,” Goodman added, “the amount of exposure to the aircrew of this amount and kind of radiation poses unknown risks. The further away they are, the better.”

“So, it looks like we’ve got the means to make the weapon, but it also looks like we may sacrifice the crew if we use it? Is that about the size of it, Dr Aubuchon?”

“No, sir. I still feel quite confident we’ll solve the problem. Probably through a combination of methods, and I still think the engineers have a few tricks up their sleeve. By the way, that wing is a work of art, Mr President. Wing loading, as it stands now, is in the seventy pounds per square inch range, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they can modify the structure to get to a hundred pounds. If they can, and if the aircraft can hit 340 knots in a limited duration dive, then we aren’t going to have a problem.”

“Robert doesn’t share your optimism, Dr Aubuchon. Perhaps you could tell me why?”

“This isn’t his area of expertise, Mr President, and as he hasn’t spent as much time out in Seattle as I have, so he’s not up to speed on the specific range of options available to us.”

“It’s not your area of expertise either, is it, Claire?”

“No, it isn’t, Mr President. But Boeing’s engineers have to work with the numbers I give them, so I’ve learned a lot about this aircraft’s strengths and limitations working with them. The math is simple and straight-forward, I might add.”

“I’ll have to take your word for that, Claire,” Roosevelt said, grinning again. “Well, Ben? Think I could take some sea air this time of night?”

“Yessir, I think that might do us all some good, just remember what the captain said. No smoking out on deck, sir.”

“Bosh! Damn U-boats!”

“I’ll go get Roy, sir. Claire? Would you come with me, please?”

She followed Goodman out into the passageway while Roosevelt’s valet went in the cabin to help dress the president, and they waited for Roosevelt’s naval escort, this time a colonel from the Marines, before heading topsides.

A few chairs had been hastily placed on the main deck, just ahead of the number two turret, and the tiniest sliver of a crescent moon hung above the horizon off to their left. Roosevelt used his shoulders to move from his wheelchair to the deck chair, then huffed and puffed for a moment – getting his wind back as he looked out over the infinite sea.

“By Golly, Claire, there’s nothing like the sea at night. Surrounded by stars, as we were in the beginning. And look at that! Even the moon is cooperating tonight…and just look at Orion, would you!”

Both she and Goodman turned and looked up at The Hunter, his bow drawn through the millennia. “I was out earlier, Mr President,” the Marine said, “and I do believe after your vision settles you’ll see the pink smudge in the scabbard.”

“Really? It’s been years and years since I’ve seen that. Too many years, I think.”

“It’s nice to feel summer air again,” Goodman added. “I’m already dreading winter.”

“Are you indeed?” Roosevelt said. “Maybe it’s time you moved out west. Berkeley, perhaps?”

Goodman looked at the president, not sure what to say.

“Maybe it’s time you settled down, tried to have a family?” Roosevelt added. “Family saved me, of course, though I had very nearly destroyed mine. Losing the use of my legs, finding my way to Georgia, getting involved with those kids…”

“Sir?” Claire said, sounding puzzled.

“Warm Springs. I went down there for the waters. Hot, ninety degree water, waters full of magnesium. It was this ramshackle place, almost beyond repair, the people who came to take the water were as afraid of us polio patients as lepers were in the middle ages. I came to understand discrimination for the first time in my life, as well as despair. Hell, I suppose discrimination and despair are one and the same. But I suppose that goes without saying. Yet in a way now I don’t think one can truly experience hope without first experiencing the deepest despair, but then again I may not have been the first person to have come around to that way of thinking.”

“What happened down there,” she asked. “To change your mind, I mean?”

“I felt so sorry for myself. For the loss of my future, I suppose you might say.” Roosevelt looked away for a moment. “Yet it was the children down there who taught me how to live again, to see beyond my legs. Eleanor helped me purchase the place, and we’ve turned it into a facility for treating children with polio.”

“I had no idea,” Claire said.

“Ben’s been down to help out a time or two, haven’t you?”

“Yes, Mr. President. And it’s been an honor.”

“Indeed. There’s a humility in the suffering of children, I think. Especially when children without hope of a cure. Humanity’s burden, I think it is, too. Every suffering child we let pass into the night is an unconscionable burden on our souls.”

“Yes it is, sir,” Goodman added.

“Anyway, that’s what I was getting at, Ben. You’ll miss out on one of life’s greatest joys if you miss out having children of your own.”

“Perhaps when this all over, Mr President,” Goodman sighed heavily.

“Ben, this will never be over. Don’t you understand that yet?”

“Sir?”

“This war will never be over, Ben. It can’t ever be over. Once the music stops playing, industry will collapse again. We learned that after the First War, if you’ll recall. As Assistant Secretary of the Navy I was charged with demobilizing the Atlantic Fleet, and so we scrapped almost half those vessels in a matter of months. I fought to preserve our submarine fleet, and to increase research on aircraft carriers, and whatever else I could, but both Wilson and Harding were adamant…we didn’t need a peacetime navy. Short-sighted bastards! Of course, mobilizing for war in 1916, and again in 1940, pulled us out of the economic doldrums, yet that may be the one vital lesson lost on most people both in and outside of Washington. Military spending props up the rest of the economy, simple as that.”

“But with these new weapons,” Claire began, “haven’t we made war obsolete?”

“Obsolete? You mean, as in no one would dare attack us now?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“And how long before another country has these weapons? A country, perhaps, not quite so friendly to our interests. Remember, today’s friend might not always be so friendly…”

“You mean, Russia?”

“Yes, I suppose I do, but it really doesn’t matter who, Claire. It will happen, and the how or the why won’t matter then. It will happen, and the sword will be poised above all our necks.” Roosevelt’s eyes swept the horizon, then he turned to Claire. “What about you, Claire? Ready for a life of domestic tranquility?”

“I don’t know that I could let go just now, Mr President. I want to see this through.”

“Yes…there’s nothing so vital as having a purpose in life, yet there’s also nothing as important as having your own little sliver of immortality. Children are still our best shot at that, I guess you know?” Roosevelt added, turning to look at Goodman again.

“You’re correct, of course, Mr President.”

“Look at them,” Roosevelt sighed, his word drifting away on the slipstream as he pointed at the night sky. “Not even the stars will last forever. I know you two feel something for one another, and it would do me a world of good to see something nice and decent come from all this uranium nonsense. All I ask is that you think about it, alright? Just think about it, before it’s too late.”

Goodman stood and walked forward, past the number one turret and on to the foredeck, and two ratings walked along behind him – just in case – then Roosevelt turned to Claire. “No time like the present, I always say,” the president whispered. “Roy, I feel I’ve had enough of this air for now. You’d better get me inside.”

She turned away as Roosevelt struggled back into his wheelchair, but she watched his men wrestle his chair inside before turning to look at Goodman. He was leaning on a rail up forward, still looking up at the stars, and she looked at him for the longest while, then she turned and walked aft, back to her cabin.

+++++

She had expected Tehran to be unbearably hot, yet the city was pleasantly cool, almost cold at night. She was with Roosevelt’s group staying at the Soviet embassy, and while Goodman’s room was next to her’s she did not see him once after they settled-in at the embassy. Roosevelt’s intrusion had rattled her, and she neither needed nor wanted some sort of presidential imprimatur attached to any relationship she might have – even if that’s what she called this nascent thing between them.

They’d seen each other, from a distance, anyway, while still on the Iowa, even after one of the escorting destroyers accidentally launched a torpedo at the battleship, but Roosevelt didn’t summon her again. Perhaps Goodman had relayed what had happened, perhaps not, but the evening had unsettled her. Had it him, as well?

And why had she gone back to her cabin? Why had she left him alone up there? What had she felt for him before? Friendship? Or had there been something more? Something beyond gratitude, that he had taken care of her at Georgetown when her “walking pneumonia” very nearly took her out? What of those long walks in the piñon out on the west side of Los Alamos? When they’d talked about California versus Maryland, of perhaps getting married and starting a family.

Yet she’d never once seen the slightest hint of love in his eyes. Empathy? Yes. Compassion? Again, yes. But love for her? Not in the slightest. Yet the first time she saw him around young men, good looking young men, his eyes sparkled – with pure, unbridled lust – and that had settled the matter. Still, she had to admit that lust had never been a powerful draw for her. She’d never had sex, not once, and she’d told herself more than once that if she went through life without experiencing lust that wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen.

And she almost believed that, too.

On one of their last walks together in New Mexico she’d asked him about that. About what he felt when he saw attractive young men. “I don’t know,” he’d replied hesitantly, his eyes looking away, his shame apparent. “Why do you ask?”

“Because you seem so full of desire.”

“I do?”

“What do you mean, ‘I do?’ Are you telling me you aren’t homosexual?”

“I don’t know. I suppose I might be…”

“You mean you’ve never…?”

“Good God, no!”

“But you’re attracted to men, right?”

“I don’t know,” he’d said with a sigh. “I suppose it’s possible.”

Yet as hard as she tried to believe him, she knew he was lying. She knew this was so because she could see deceit in his eyes when he spoke, something she’d never expected to see from him. So, when he’d walked away from Roosevelt that night on deck, he’d walked away from her too. From any idea of a future together.

Yet there was something about him that attracted her still. His empathic soul, perhaps. His ability to see into people, to understand them. Yes, it was simply ironic that he couldn’t see into his own soul, or that he was willing to walk away from what he saw about himself, but this only made the tragic flaw all the more intriguing. And unnerving.

So, she’d thought about him that first night in Tehran. She wondered if he might indeed be a good father, a good partner for the rest of their lives. Could she ignore his lustful impulses, could he contain them enough to keep them from destroying their lives? Would it be worthwhile to even live like that? Would she want the central equation of their lives reduced to an ongoing series of evasions?

Yet the very next day, while walking to the British embassy, she’d felt a young man fall in beside her…

“Dr. Aubuchon?” the man asked.

“Yes?”

“My name is Trevor. Trevor Eisenstadt. I’m with the British legation.”

“Ah.”

“If you have some time after the next session, I’d like to talk with you if I could.”

“About?”

“Your work.”

“Indeed. And why would I do that?”

“I’ve asked my minister to have a word with Secretary Hull; he’ll vouch for my status.”

“Alright, Mr Eisenstadt.”

“It’s doctor, if you don’t mind.”

“Ah. And your field of study is, Dr. Eisenstadt?”

“Quantum mechanics.”

“Indeed. Cambridge?”

“Yes, but I’ll explain later,” Eisenstadt said, but without saying another word he veered off and joined another group, and she watched him as they walked on, lost inside the peculiar reality of those two words. Very few physicists were specializing in quantum mechanics, not yet, anyway, so what interest could he have in her work in Los Alamos?

Yet just then she was struck by an even more unsettling realization: she’d seen him before.

On that ship. On that ship with the red walls, the ship where she and Roosevelt stood together, looking out over Saturn’s rings.

Chapter Eight

“Trevor Eisenstadt” tried not to watch as Aubuchon rejoined her group, but he had been waiting for just the right moment, and for a very long time. He rejoined his own group, a covey of diplomats from the British legation, and he listened to their talk of agenda items – mainly how to keep Churchill from being pushed out of the main flow of the conversation between Roosevelt and Stalin – and that was when he felt William Thacker’s eyes boring into his.

“Who was that?” Thacker asked.

“Who? The girl?” Eisenstadt replied. “Claire Aubuchon. I met her once, in D.C., I think. Rather cute, don’t you think?”

He watched as Thacker looked after the girl for a moment, then he continued. “I was thinking I’d try to ask her out – again,” he said, grinning conspiratorially.

“Oh, was she so interesting?” Thacker said, now eying Eisenstadt.

“I’ll never tell,” he said, for indeed, he never would.

“What did she say?”

“I’m going to meet up with her when the afternoon session wraps up. Say, I’d bet you didn’t know she’s Charles Wilkinson’s little sister.”

“Seriously? I hear he’s in the queue for an ambassadorship.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“They’ll probably send him to Oman.”

“Family has too much money for that.”

“Ah,” Thacker sighed. “So that’s where your interest resides, eh, Trevor?”

Eisenstadt grinned, looked sheepishly away.

“You sly dog,” Thacker joshed before he walked quickly to catch up with the ambassador. 

Trevor groaned inwardly, then thought of the very first time he’d seen her. How many lifetimes ago had that been? A hundred? A thousand?

And just then, watching her disappear into the main conference room, he had to admit he really didn’t know anymore.

+++++

She listened to the introductory remarks the first morning, tried to make sense of Stalin’s ambiguous statement of greeting, his continued insistence that America and Britain open up a second front as soon as possible, then she listened as Roosevelt thanked Stalin for the sacrifices of the great Russian people. She looked at Churchill from time to time, too; at the old man’s chin resting on his chest, his hooded eyes barely concealing the anger seething away inside. Everyone knew he was being pushed aside, that Roosevelt was, in a very real sense, relegating the United Kingdom to the dustbin of History. Stalin, his wolfish eyes darting here and there, could barely conceal his glee. The sun would soon, his darting glances confirmed, set on the British Empire. Tehran would forever be remembered as the final changing of the guard; Japanese aircraft had put an end to any just claim that Britain had any right to a global empire. The sinking of the battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse, on 10 December 1941 off the east coast of Malaya, and just three days into the Pacific war, simply codified Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement. Those results were cast in stone now, and History’s judgement would be severe. 

It was odd, too, Claire thought. Churchill was by far the most astute wartime politician since Napoleon, and yet Napoleon, too, had squandered his empire. Were all empires doomed to rise and fall, she wondered? Was western civilization so doomed, as well? If mankind held firm to its grasp of stoking the fires of religious intolerance, would life on this planet survive the atomic age? Was that what she saw in Churchill’s eyes just now? Communist atheism running headlong into the last vestiges of the Judeo-Christian impulse?

And the Manhattan Project was now teeming with scientists from both Britain and Canada, not to mention all the other European emigres that had fled Hitler’s spreading malignancy. The best, the greatest minds in the world, all gathered under the vast New Mexican sun. Her mind drifted to Santa Fe, to Taos, to the spine of mountains that ran between them…the Sangre de Cristos, the Blood of Christ mountains, snow-capped and brilliant. Her little house in Los Alamos, her casita, looked out on those mountains, and when she took walks in the sharp air her mind always drifted to them, and now, sitting in this faraway land, she found herself thinking about that jagged spine of rocks once again.

How many civilizations had those mountains borne witness to? The various native tribes that came and went on their nomadic wanderings to and from Mesa Verde, then the Spanish? The French, under Napoleon III had tried to push into New Mexico, too. The Republic of Texas had laid claim to the valley for a few decades, and now it called the United States of America home. But yes, empires rose on the mighty roar of their warriors, yet they invariably whispered off the stage as their aspirations faded, with age, into irrelevancy.

Then the words ‘quantum mechanics’ drifted into her mind’s eye, and she saw the man again, in the same waking dream. She closed her eyes and tried to see him now as he was then, standing on that ship.

It was the same ship, wasn’t it?

Her eyes popped open in that instant and her eyes darted around the room again. Yes, there he was, sitting behind Churchill and Anthony Eden – and he was looking directly at her. Why, she wondered, did that not surprise her? And why did he suddenly seem so familiar? And, oh yes! Why had he said those two vexing words? There weren’t a hundred people in the world who knew what those two words, quantum mechanics, really meant, and most of those lived within a few blocks of her – under the gaze of those very same mountains in New Mexico.

She wondered what he knew, too. Wondered if he had heard of the Aubuchon Shift.

Time was like an arrow, or so the saying went. Once loosed, that arrow went on and on, and in one direction only. But what happened before the arrow left the bow? What happened when you tricked time, and made it go backwards? As an arrow might when the bow is drawn?

+++++

Her eyes burned and she rubbed them again, rubbed them until she felt the sclera detach – then she cursed under her breath and stopped. 

“When are you ever going to learn?” she heard Charles say, and she looked up at him and grinned sheepishly.

She shrugged, then looked at the note in his hand. “What’s that?” she asked.

“Franklin would like to see you. I think Secretary Hull will be there too.”

“Why him, for God’s sake?”

Charles shrugged. “Hull is always around when the discussion turns to Stalin, or even to Russia generally. Get used to it.”

“He’s too serious,” she sighed. “I don’t like him, Charles.”

He chuckled. “Serious? Cordell? And why wouldn’t he be? He and Acheson have only been charged with creating the post-war political framework of the world.”

“Right. And just what the hell have I got to do with that?”

“Well, there’s been some talk of this shift you discovered…”

“Talk? How…”

“I think that’s the point. There’ve been some very serious discussions about this, I can tell you. The whole paradox thing that Oppenheimer brought up, as I guess you can imagine, shook up a lot of people.”

“Myself included,” Claire didn’t exactly need to add.

“Exactly. Now, I’d suggest you not try to conceal a thing. Answer Hull’s questions directly, but pay attention to Acheson. Dean has the better grasp of scientific matters, so if you see him struggling you’ll need to dumb it down a little.”

“Okay. Is Acheson the one you’ve been working for?”

“Uh-huh. He’s the brains of the outfit, and don’t you forget it. Roosevelt ain’t stupid, and neither is Hull, but Acheson is in another league compared to those guys. He’s smart, and his eyes don’t miss a thing. And don’t even think of lying when he’s in the room.”

“I wasn’t planning on lying, Charles.”

“I know. Now, come on.”

“Do you know a Trevor Eisenstadt?” she blurted.

“With the Brits, right? I’ve heard the name before. Why?”

“He said he wants to have a talk with me.”

Charles visibly stiffened when he heard that, and Claire noticed. “Don’t meet with him unless Hull gives you the go-ahead.”

“He assured me Eden would vouch for him…”

“Doesn’t matter. They’ll be probing, trying to get information on this Shift you’ve run into. My guess is Churchill is directing this contact, but he’ll keep very-very hands-off to avoid any semblance of impropriety. Anyway, you’d better scoot.”

“Is it still cold out?”

“You’d better take a coat, yes.”

She picked up something and walked out into the early morning air, took a deep breath then wrapped the coat around her shoulders as she walked over to Roosevelt’s suite, unnerved by all the Russian guards standing around. ‘Well,’ she thought, ‘it is their embassy…’

An America Marine stood outside the president’s door, and he came to attention as she approached – yet the door magically opened as she arrived, and Carlton, the Navy captain who acted as Roosevelt’s aide, smiled from inside the suite.

“Good morning, Dr Aubuchon,” Carlton said.

“And to you, Russ. Anything new overnight?”

“Nothing major. Some new fuel consumption figures from inside Germany; that’s about it.”

She nodded understanding as she walked inside, noted a fire simmering away in the fireplace as she took off her coat, then watched Carlton point at the ceiling. ‘Yes,’ she sighed inwardly, ‘I caught the signal, Russ. The place is bugged, they’re listening. I get that…’

“Secretary Hull will be right out,” Carlton added as he walked into his makeshift office off this ‘living room,’ and she wondered if Roosevelt would come too. He had looked like death warmed over by the end of yesterday’s sessions, and had reportedly gone straight to bed. The burdens this man carried, she thought, were enough to crush anyone, yet he had carried the weight of the world on his shoulders for years now, and yet he never seemed to flinch under the load. Now all that benign neglect was catching up to him, and that worried her… 

Another door opened and Secretary Hull walked into the room – looking more than a little tired – and he came and sat across from her.

“Ah, the fire’s not out yet…good. Franklin slept with the windows open a little last night…too cold for me.”

“Yessir,” she said.

“I’ve a request from Churchill that you be allowed some time with this Eisenstadt fellow. Know anything about him?”

“No sir, not a thing. He approached me on the way to the morning session, asked to speak to me then walked back to his legation.”

“Damned odd,” Hull sighed. “Should have put that request in writing. Damned odd. You haven’t met before?”

“I’m not sure, sir. I might have seen him before, in passing, but I don’t know him, or anything about his work.”

“I see. Well, I don’t need to mention that talk about this shift you’ve discovered will be off-limits.”

“Understood, sir.”

“And the president would like a follow-up ‘contact report’ when you wrap this up. Just make sure Captain Carlton gets it as soon as you’ve written it up. Just the basics, but your impressions about why this contact was initiated, what you think they’re fishing for…that kind of thing.”

“Yessir.”

“Well, you best get at it. I understand he’s waiting for you now,” the Secretary of State added, pointing at the door.

“Thank you, sir,” she said, standing and picking up her coat. Another Marine opened the door now and helped her with her coat, then she stepped out into the courtyard. And there, standing in a swirling sea of autumn leaves was this Trevor Eisenstadt. Not very tall, she thought, and almost too thin, his head a little too big for his frame, as well. As she approached she thought his eyes looked almost owl-like; large and predatory, eyes like a raptor, and she couldn’t decide whether they were darkest amber or dusty-gray. 

“So,” she said as she walked up to the man, “quantum mechanics? What’s on your mind?”

“Have you had breakfast?” Eisenstadt said, smiling.

“No, I haven’t, and I’m starving.”

“I’ve found a place, and not too far away – if you think you can stand a walk…?”

“Lead on, kind sir.”

“What do you think of Tehran?”

“It’s cooler than I thought it would be, that much is certain. Have you been to the Grand Bazaar?”

“That’s where we’re headed, as luck would have it. Have you been yet?”

“No, but I wanted to see it before we leave. Is it safe?”

He chuckled. “Don’t bother turning to look, but I think we have about a half dozen of your Marines following us, and God only knows how many Russians.”

“Ah.”

“Anyway, I’ve found Tehran quite lovely, and the people wonderful. I shouldn’t mind living here, if it came to that. You’re looking well, by the by. New Mexico agrees with you.”

She was instantly on-guard, now that he’d tipped his hand so obliquely. “You’ve been, I take it?”

“Only to Santa Fe, but that was years ago, before the war. Stayed at the LaFonda. Walking the square in the early morning? Magic.”

“And what were you doing in Santa Fe.”

“Pottery.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“Looking for Navaho pottery. For my collection.”

“Ah. Find anything interesting?”

“Quite a bit, actually. Well, here we are…”

He led the way inside a small restaurant just across from a narrow passage that led into one of the Bazaar’s many entrance halls, and the varied scents coming from the small kitchen were almost intoxicating. Breakfast, teas, fruits and mists of exotic spice hung in the air apparent, the heady brew at once compelling and unnerving.

“Do you speak Persian?” he asked.

“You must be joking,” she deadpanned.

“Well then, shall I order for you?” he said, almost laughing.

“No sheep’s eyes, please, but other than that…”

This time he did laugh, openly and for a long time, then he spoke to the proprietress for a moment before leading Claire to a table. “Shouldn’t take long,” he advised, looking out the front door at the gaggle of confused security personnel gathered there, wondering what to do now.

“So,” Claire said, eyeing Eisenstadt as he sat, “quantum mechanics?”

“Yes, sorry. Kind of an odd way to introduce myself, I know. How far along are you?”

“Excuse me?”

“What are you calling it? The shift?”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I understand. We’d like you to stop all research on this material. Now.”

“What research?”

“On time dilation and contraction.”

She stared at the man for a long time, not sure who or what he was now, then she simply looked down at her hands. “Oh, is that all?”

“Yes.”

“And who is ‘we’?”

He shrugged. “People who want you to stop, before you get into serious trouble.”

“Trouble? With whom? The Physics Police?”

His eyes turned deadly serious in the next instant. “Yes, something like that.”

It was the way he spoke, the look in his eyes that convinced Claire Aubuchon that this man, if indeed he was a man, was completely serious and on-the-level.

“We’ve met before, haven’t we?” she asked, her voice conspiratorially quiet. “On that ship?”

He nodded his head only once, an ambiguous gesture that left her feeling even more unsure of the moment.

“Where are you from?”

He grinned, slightly, still looking her in the eye: “Near Cambridge, I should think.”

“Uh-huh, sure. And before that?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes, very much.”

“Not so far from London. I was born in Kent.”

“When?”

“When? You mean, when was a born? The year?”

She nodded her head, almost knowing what had to come next.

“1866.”

“And let me take a wild guess…on the first of April?”

He smiled broadly now. “Almost. The 21st of September.”

She felt a sudden shift, like her understanding of the universe had quietly slipped from the room. Her father…her father’s date and place of birth…and now, after these 30 years it felt like vast cosmic tumblers were finally slipping into place. This Eisenstadt should be seventy six years old, yet he looked, what? Twenty-five? Thirty?

“And you’re my father, is that what you’re telling me?”

He stared at her now, though he said not a single word.

“That’s not fair, and you know it,” she said as she confronted his silence.

“I know.”

“Can you tell me what this is really all about? Please?”

“I already have. Stop all work on the Shift. You’re endangering everyone on the planet.”

“Because, again, I might upset some sort of Physics Police? Is that what you’re implying?”

“I’m not implying anything, Claire. It’s a warning. Stop, now. While you still can.”

“And?”

“And I’m going to introduce you to my brother this evening. You might fall in love with him. I should warn you, everyone does, sooner or later.”

“You’re telling me to fall in love with this man?”

“I am.”

“And if I don’t?”

Eisenstadt shook his head, then two plates of food arrived and he looked at her reaction to the food. Some things never change, he thought. 

Chapter Nine

Eisenstadt’s “brother” was indeed a precocious, lovable bundle of inherent contradictions, and yes, every woman at the closing ceremonial dinner – held, of course, in the British Embassy – was enthralled by him.

His name was Benjamin Levy, and he was not, as it happened, related to Eisenstadt. They were not real brothers, Trevor said. No, they were more like friends. 

“I see,” Claire had said. “And let me guess…he was born on the 21st of September, 1866 as well?”

“Yes, of course.”

“In Kent, I take it?”

“Certainly.”

“And he grew up near Cambridge?”

Trevor turned and looked at her then: “My, we’re on a roll tonight.”

“He does seem to be a ladies man.”

“Oh, he is that. Ready to meet him?”

“I’m not sure. Does he know who I am?”

“Oh yes. He’s been looking forward to this evening for some time, I think you could say.”

“Indeed.”

“Yes. Indeed.”

“Well then, I suppose we should get on with it.”

“Yes, tally-ho and all that. Into the fire – into the fight.”

She looked at Benjamin as she and Trevor walked across the room; he was the same height as Trevor, the same general build, too, and more curious still, he had the same general raptor like head – a little too large for his frame and the same peregrine shape. When she closed the distance she saw Benjamin had the same eyes, too…not quite amber, not quite blue…like a color that phased between the two, lost in indecision…

And this Benjamin was talking with Cordell Hull just now, and she wasn’t quite sure why, but that troubled her. 

“Ah, here she is now,” the Secretary of State said. “Dr Aubuchon, may I introduce you to Dr Ben Levy. He’s been working on a few of the same problems you have, only up at Cambridge.”

She held out her and and Levy took it. “A pleasure,” she said.

“The pleasure is all mine, dear lady,” and they smiled at one another for a moment, then she turned to Trevor – and saw her brother Charles standing behind them both, now casting a wary eye at Levy.

“Ah, Charles,” Hull said, “are you and Dean finished for the evening?”

“Yessir. We’ve established the framework for the monetary conference, and Mr Acheson floated the idea of Bretton Woods again.”

“Ah. And our friends are still resisting?”

“I think they’re pushing for one of their Black Sea resorts, sir.”

“No doubt. Well, no doubt we’ll see stormy waters ahead. Charles? Have you met Dr Benjamin Levy?”

“No sir, I’ve not had that pleasure.”

“He’s with the Underground Balloon Corps, as luck would have it?”

“Ah,” Charles said, one eyebrow arching. “Well, it is indeed nice to meet you. I’m sure you have some interesting stories to share.”

“Well,” Hull added, “perhaps some other time.” Now both the Secretary of State and Trevor Eisenstadt cornered Charles, and they led him away to a far corner of the room, leaving Benjamin and Claire alone…suddenly – and completely – alone.

“The underground balloon corps? What is that all about?”

“You’ve not heard about us, I take it?” Levy said, now turning his predator’s gaze on her.

“No. Sorry. Should I have?”

“Well, no, as a matter of fact. I’m rather glad you haven’t. We’ve been charged with identifying top scientists working on the German heavy water project…”

“The bomb, you mean…?”

“Yes. And, well, we’re charged with either extracting them, or removing them from the equation.”

“You mean…?”

“I do.”

“So, you’ve penetrated their operations?”

And Levy only smiled, though he blinked rapidly a few times, and the reaction only served to heighten her perception of him. He was indeed a predator, and a dangerous one, at that.

“Your brother as much as told me that we’re to be married. Is that about the size of it?”

And again, only the blinking eyes gave any indication at all that he had even heard her, though now his face grew thoughtful, if a little puzzled. “Did he, now?” Levy said a moment later.

“Yes, he did.”

“Trevor has a…”

“A what? A warped sense of humor?”

“Questionable timing, I think I might have said.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. I’d have rather liked the whole courtship ritual to unfold with few such expectations, if you know what I mean.”

And this time it was she who smiled, gently, and now it was she who remained silent.

“But yes,” he added, “I think that’s the general idea.”

“My, but you really do know how to sweep a girl off her feet…”

And Levy laughed now, a boisterous, fun-loving laugh. “Ah, indeed I do.”

“And if you don’t mind me asking, just how long will we be married for? A week? A month or two?”

His eyes turned more serious then, and they turned to meet her own: “1984, I believe. Forty-one years, then I’ll die, but I’ll leave you with two beautiful daughters.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you? I mean…”

“Oh yes. Quite.”

“How could you possibly know that…” she began, then the implications of his words slammed into her – and she fell silent – yet she was aware he was studying her reaction so she turned to face his penetrating stare head-on. “May I ask why? For what purpose have you chosen me?”

“Why, to save the universe, of course,” Levy said, though he began smiling again, but then he took her hand and led her to a table. A table for two, and the only such table in the lavish room. She was being set up she knew then, but by who, or whom, and to what purpose?

Was that why Roosevelt had insisted she attend the conference? Certainly there was no other reason she could fathom, no real reason for her to attend a conference on the structures of post-war Europe. And why arrange this liaison here and now? She looked across the room, saw Charles looking at Roosevelt – and Roosevelt looking directly at her, grinning that sly grin of his.

“Why me?” she whispered, the sound more a plaintive sigh of despair.  

“You don’t know?” Levy said, almost as quietly. 

She shook her head slowly, unsure of herself again. “No. No, I really don’t.”

“Ah, well, you will soon enough.”

“And…where are we to be married?”

“In New Mexico, I should think, though I don’t suppose we should rush things.”

“I beg your pardon? You’re telling me I’m going to spend the rest of my life with you, but that there’s no need to rush into this thing?”

“Precisely.”

“I see. You do know, don’t you, that this is rather like a bad dream? A very bad dream?”

“And what if I told you it was? What would you think then?”

“That I was mad. Stark, raving mad.”

“Ah, well, there you have it…”

“What? What are you talking about? Are you telling me this is all some sort of wild, paranoid delusion?”

“Why not?”

“Is it? Tell me, and I mean right now! Is this, or is this not real? Am I in a ballroom, in Tehran, in 1943?”

“Oh, yes. This is as real as it gets, Claire; of that you can be most sure.”

+++++

Levy was on the same aircraft with Claire when Roosevelt’s group left Tehran, and the entire group flew on to Cairo, then, after a brief stay in Algiers, on to Morocco. The Iowa and her escorts arrived then, and were waiting just offshore as the aircraft landed, but Roosevelt wanted to linger and visit Casablanca and Marrakech. Hull wouldn’t countenance any more delays, so gigs and launches ferried the group out to the Iowa, and within hours the ships set sail, steaming for Norfolk. Aircraft and submarines ranged ahead, looking for any signs of U-boat activity or other surface threats, but the first two days passed, generally speaking, with little anxiety. Then a lookout spotted a periscope on the second evening, and all hell literally broke loose. The escorting destroyers criss-crossed all around the Iowa, dropping dozens of depth-charges as they passed, and when nothing showed up on sonar the convoy resumed steaming straight for Virginia, only now at the greatest possible speed. 

And then, Ben Levy asked to speak with Captain McCrea.

“There is a German surface raider working in the vicinity of Bermuda just now, Captain. I’d recommend heading a bit north, for Boston or Portland.”

“And where did you hear this, sir, if you don’t mind me asking?” the captain asked.

“I’m not sure I’m allowed to say, Captain, but I think either the President or Secretary Hull will vouch for me.”

“The Secretary already has. Any particular course you’d like me to steer?”

“Come right to two nine nine degrees and reduce your speed to sixteen knots. You’ll not need to refuel with this reduction, sir.”

“I see,” the captain said, more than a little incredulous now. “Perhaps you’d like to set a new watch-keeping schedule now, too,” McCrea added, not a little sarcastically.

Levy looked at the captain, understood the position he’d just put the man in and nodded his head. “Sir, a Focke-Wulf 200 C-4 is scheduled to depart San Sebastian at approximately 0430 tomorrow morning. This particular aircraft is equipped with the new FuG 200 Hohentwiel search radar, as well as one Hs-293 anti-shipping missile. There is a strong cold front approaching the area and visibility will be limited. I doubt they’ll fire based on radar returns alone.”

“I assume you work with the OSS?”

“Yessir, something like that.”

“So, what time would this aircraft intercept us on our current track?”

“It should be in the area sometime between 0830 and 0845. We’ll be out of range, by that point, for any allied aircraft to provide cover.”

“Well, why the devil don’t we head for Brazil, or even Argentina?”

“There are at least three large Wolf-packs operating in the area between Bermuda and Barbados, and I can assure you the German High Command is making a maximum effort to get to this ship.”

“You’re full of all kinds of good news, aren’t you, sir,” Captain McCrea said, but the man’s earlier sarcasm was gone now, replaced with something approaching genuine respect.

“Captain, if you don’t mind, I’d like you to meet me on the bridge this evening, call it 2100 hours. I’d recommend you get some sleep now…we may be in for a busy night.”

And with that, Levy walked from the bridge back through officer’s country to his cabin, but he stopped outside Claire’s cabin and knocked lightly on her door.

“Come on in,” he heard her say, and he smiled at the light, carefree sound of her voice, the genuine warmth her words conveyed.

“How’re you doing?” he asked when he saw her red eyes, not to mention the swollen, boggy cheeks under them. Her lips were reddish-blue, her nail-beds, too.

“Something about ships and the sea,” she said. “We just don’t get along.”

“The carbon-monoxide concentration in this room is too high. You need to come with me, get some fresh air.”

She nodded, started to stand but toppled over; he caught her and held her close for a long moment, let her pressures catch up for a moment before he led her through the confined walkways to a hatch that opened onto the foredeck. When her face hit the fresh sea air she revived almost instantly, and just then a seaman came by.

“Is she alright, sir,” the young man asked.

“We’ve got some noxious fumes working their way into her cabin. You’d better round up the X-O, and tell the captain he’d better check on the president’s cabin, too.”

The kid ran off and half a dozen men, both officers and ratings, showed up within minutes. Levy told them his concerns and the men took off, and sure enough, Roosevelt was feeling ill, too. Soon, most of the working group was gathered on deck, huffing sea air in great gulps, and soon enough more men carried out chairs and a small table; sandwiches appeared moments later, and pitchers of iced-tea, too.

“This your doing, Mr Levy,” Claire heard, and she turned to see the Captain McCrea walking their way.

“Yessir, ‘fraid so.”

“Well, we found some corrosion in a few pipes in that area, and a few shoddy floor welds, too. Quite possible we’d have had a few fatalities tonight without your intervention.”

“Yessir.”

The captain spun around and walked off, looking like he was about to go chew on some undercooked executive officer for lunch. Work details sprang into action all over the ship, while Claire looked at Benjamin with newfound respect, and now not quite sure what she felt about this kind-hearted stranger with death in his eye.

She turned and leaned into his shoulder just then, and when he put an arm around her she felt weak in the knees for a moment – until she remembered she really had no idea who – let alone what – this stranger really was.

+++++

It seemed most every one of the people in Roosevelt’s working group had surreptitiously found their way to the bridge just before nine that evening, and both Captain McCrea and the X-O were hunched over the chart table when Roosevelt was wheeled onto the bridge. All the servicemen snapped to attention and Claire could tell the President relished this little bit of pomp; nevertheless, he told them all to get back to their duties while Roy wheeled him over to windows that overlooked the foredeck.

“Why can’t I go out, Captain McCrea?” the President asked.

McCrea looked up, shook his head. “Thirty-eight degrees out, Mr President. Sea temp is fifty two, and sea state is, well sir, it’s going to be a rough night.”

“I see, John. Carry-on.”

Levy looked at a bulkhead mounted clock and walked over to the captain. “Any time now, sir.”

“X-O, bring the ship to general quarters, signal all ships: go dark now.”

“Aye, sir.” Moments later klaxons rang and men scrambled to their stations all over the ship, and forty seconds later the X-O announced “All stations manned and ready, Captain. Water-tight doors are set, and the ship is ready for air engagement…”

“Very well,” McCrea said.

Levy walked off the bridge to the radar operators compartment, and he looked at the screen for a moment…

“There he is,” Levy said, and the radar operator snapped to, began firming up the plot. Levy walked back out to the bridge.

“Captain, aircraft bearing zero two two degrees, fifty miles. Best guess is his altitude is ten thousand, possibly in a slight descent.”

“Alright. Radar, keep your reports coming.”

“Aye, sir. Single aircraft is turning in our direction now, still in a shallow dive, now about four-six miles out, speed now one seven zero knots.”

“You think that’s your Focke-Wulf?” McCrea asked Levy.

“Right profile, Captain. There were, are four of them up right now.”

“You think he’s got us?” McCrea asked, trying to ignore the slip.

“Yup.”

“What kind of range does that missile of his have?”

“It’s altitude dependent, sir. Anywhere from two to five kilometers.”

“Any idea how big his warhead is?”

“Roughly 300 kilos of high explosives. Signal your escorts to move in close now, sir. As close as they possibly can – without risking a collision. And let’s you and I go out to the bridge-deck, sir.”

“Alright…”

McCrea led the way, and he looked out into the night sky, saw a line of thunderstorms along the far horizon, the distant clouds silhouetted by flickering lightning.

“How far away?” Levy asked. 

“Fifty, maybe seventy miles. Won’t do us a bit of good.”

They watched the cruiser and four destroyers sliding in closer and closer, the cruiser taking up station perhaps fifty yards off their starboard beam, the phosphorescence kicked up in it’s wake almost magnificent…

“Remind me, Mr Levy, just why the hell did I let you talk me into this?” McCrea said, turning to look at the civilian – but Levy was staring straight up into the night sky now…

At something bright blue.

“What the devil is that?” McCrea hissed, suddenly feeling betrayed.

“A friend, sir.”

Whatever IT was, the thing was resolving into a sphere now – yet it was impossible to gauge any idea of it’s size, let alone how far away it was…

“What is that, Benjamin?”

He turned, saw Roosevelt and Hull looking up at the blue sphere – and Claire, too, only she was looking at him, a million questions in her eyes.

He turned back to the sphere, saw its descent was slowing rapidly now, and its motion was apparent to everyone looking at it.

Then the X-O stuck his head out the hatch…

“Captain, zero bearing change, range now thirty five miles and closing.”

“Got it,” McCrea hissed. “Mr Levy?”

“Steady as she goes, Captain.”

McCrea shook his head. “Just how big is that thing, Levy?”

“Now about a mile in diameter. Its altitude is one hundred and ten thousand feet.”

“Jesus,” Hull sighed, “it’s huge. What did you say it was made of?”

“Pure energy, Mr Secretary,” Benjamin said, but he was looking into Claire’s eyes just then, trying to take the measure of her mood. She did not look happy, and he guessed because she had seen into the nature of his lie.

McCrea was looking up at the sphere now, and out of habit he checked his navigational stars: Vega was hovering near the zenith, while Deneb and Altair were down a bit, now to the southeast, but soon enough the sphere commanded all his attention. He held out his clinched fist, tried to measure its relative size against a known object, and just then the sphere was half the size of his extended fist. Then…thirty seconds later the object was as big as his fist…

Then the X-O stuck his head out the hatch again: “Sir, Mr Dawson is requesting weapons free; they want to engage the object overhead…”

“X-O, under no circumstances is anyone to open fire on that object. Make that clear to the C-O of each vessel in the group, and I mean NOW!”

“Aye-aye, Captain.”

“And where is that goddamn airplane!”

“Constant bearing now, Captain, and two-two miles out.”

“Mr Levy?” McCrea said, “I’m getting a little nervous. Why is that?”

Levy smiled, though it was too dark out for McCrea to see. “Me too, Captain.”

“Oh, swell.”

“Ben?” He heard Claire say his name and he opened his arm to her, felt her slip in by his side. He furled his arm around her and pulled her tight.

“It won’t be long now,” Levy sighed, staring at the sphere.

McCrea guessed the object was only a few hundred feet above the gunnery mast now, and he saw the surface of the sphere did indeed look like pure energy…it’s surface was covered with hairy blue – lightning, for want of a better word – and it was still closing fast. “Is this going to hurt when it hits?” McCrea asked.

“No sir,” Levy answered, “though some power systems may be temporarily affected.”

And seconds later the Iowa and her escorts were literally encased within the sphere, and in the next instant all seven ships went cold. The ever-present vibration of the ship’s power plant faded away, and in the same instant all power to every system on the ship simply tripped and fell silent.

McCrea looked up, tried to make out the contours of the sphere – but it was gone now, and no trace of it remained. Then… “What’s with the goddamn stars?”

“What about them?” Roosevelt said.

“Vega was on the zenith less than ten minutes ago; now it’s low on the southern horizon, while Altair and Deneb are higher in ascension. That can’t be.”

Levy hadn’t counted on this happening, hadn’t thought anyone would notice the changes in stellar positions, and he nodded his head. “Spherical aberration of being within the sphere,” he lied. “It ought to change when we re-emerge.”

“X-O? Where’s that aircraft?”

“Sir, all systems are dark now.”

“Well hallelujah and no fucking shit! Any of the ship’s lookouts still at their posts, Commander?”

“Yessir, and no reported sightings.”

“How about helm? We got any rudder authority?”

“Yessir, the auxiliary kicked-in.”

McCrea looked at the escorts and noted that all the other ships were still – more or less – safely abeam and not closing in. “Mr Levy, any idea how long this is gonna last?”

“Thirty, maybe forty minutes.”

“Somebody bring me a sextant,” McCrea grumbled, and within moments a seaman carried over the Plath almost reverentially and handed it to his captain. “Thanks, son.”

“Yessir.”

McCrea grumbled while he walked the transit in the moonless night, trying to zero-in the horizon, and when he was sure he had it on the line he dialed the vernier until the two horizon lines met; when he was sure he had what he needed he walked into the chartroom and pulled out his tables, started reducing the angles.

He soon realized none of the figures he had worked so he walked back out on the bridge-deck and shot almost-as-bright Altair, knowing that with this one higher in the night sky he had to be more careful with his horizons. Again he grumbled and growled, again he thought he got exactly what he needed, and again he walked to the chart-table, working through the tables and the math by candlelight.

The problem, he soon realized, was simple: neither Vega nor Altair were anywhere close to where they ought to be, and then he felt Levy by his side.

“Problem?” Levy said.

“You could say that, yes. Vega and Altair aren’t where they’re supposed to be, and I can’t account for it.”

“No, your sight reduction tables don’t go back that far.”

McCrea felt the hair on the back of his neck rise. “What did you say?”

“They haven’t been at these stellar coordinates in roughly eighty thousand years.”

McCrea didn’t know what to say, so he said – nothing.

“We find it far easier to move through time, Captain. I’m sorry…I should have warned you, but I didn’t count on your familiarity with the stars.”

“We?”

“My group.”

“Is that sphere…your ship?”

“That…? No, it’s more like a tool. Once inside the sphere we slip through time.”

“Uh-huh. And where did the sphere come from?”

“Our ship.”

“And where, Mr Levy, is that?”

And when Benjamin Levy pointed at the sky, Captain John McCrea shook his head. “And if you don’t mind me asking son, just where the hell are you from?”

“New London, sir.”

“Connecticut?”

“Yessir.”

“Uh-huh. Right.”

Levy chuckled. “Can’t say I blame you, sir. I wouldn’t believe me either.”

“How much longer?”

“Maybe ten minutes.”

“Well, let’s get back out there.”

“Yessir, but…could we keep this just between you and me?”

“Not on your fuckin’ life, Mr Levy.”

And Levy laughed, laughed until he couldn’t stop. He laughed as he walked out into the windy bridge-deck, laughed while Roosevelt looked to McCrea for an answer, but then the Captain simply shrugged and looked away in despair.

A few minutes later the sphere seemed to spontaneously reappear, then, as it shot up into the night sky, the Iowa’s systems came back to life. The boilers had to be re-ignited, pressure had to come up again, but diesel generators restored vital systems before that happened.

“Bridge, radar. We’re clear across the board here. No, repeat no radar contacts.”

McCrea shook his head, then looked up into the night sky again again. Vega was back where she was supposed to be; Altair and Deneb were as well. He brought the sextant back out and shot Vega, then Altair, taking his time to double check all his angles. He shot them again, just to make sure, then he retired to the chartroom.

An hour later he had reduced all his new shots, and when he crossed the arcs he looked up and smiled. In the last hour and a half the Iowa had moved perhaps a quarter mile. And what…? Eighty thousand years?

He looked up, saw Levy watching him as he worked.

‘No,’ Captain John McCrea thought, ‘on second thought, I think for once in my life I’ll just keep my mouth shut.’

The X-O walked over to the chart table and looked at this seasoned navigator’s work, then up at his captain. “Orders, Captain?”

“Resume heading of two-nine-nine, speed sixteen knots, and you have the con, X-O. Mr Levy and I are going for a little walk.”

Chapter 10

Claire too had seen the Shift, had seen Vega, Deneb and Altair drop down to the southern horizon, only she make a quick estimate of the change in right ascension and declination and worked through the math – in her head. Judging from these three stars alone, the earth’s relative position in the galaxy had either moved ahead forty thousand years, or retreated more than seventy thousand year. That meant, she guessed, the sphere was a cloud created from one electron, and what? By varying the charge rate the sphere could be made smaller or larger? But how could anyone do that? And what if, as many were beginning to suspect, there were particles smaller than electrons, protons and neutrons. How would that change the calculus of the phenomenon?

‘There’s still so much I don’t know,’ she whispered, her inner voice tinged with frustration, then she thought about Oppenheimer’s warning, his ‘paradox of time.’ If time was a river, a constantly flowing river, and if the flow was disrupted by a traveler venturing into the past, and if the river’s course was thereby altered, then everything that had happened after the alteration would be altered, too. 

“So if,” Oppenheimer continued, “one was to go back far enough and teach cave men to make fire millennia before the original event, presumably mankind would be that much further along the curve.”

But then she had said something to the effect that “But what if one went back and prevented man from learning how to make fire, or how to make a wheel? Couldn’t an unscrupulous agent move through time to completely undermine human progress?”

“But why,” Oppenheimer sighed condescendingly, “would anyone want to do something like that?”

“Why is it, Robert,” Albert Einstein said to the assembled group, “that you assume human actions will always be rational, or even benevolent, when all human history is full of direct contradictions of that notion?”

“Because destruction is creative, Albert. It always has been.”

“Yet what if, and one day soon, we take our destructive impulses too far? What then, Robert? What will we have created?”

“Renewal, I should think, Albert.”

“Renewal?” Einstein sighed. “Whose renewal, Robert? Perhaps those Hindu gods of yours? Chamunda, I dare say?”

And what had Benjamin said? “We have to stop now, or else.” What did his ‘or else’ mean? He was implying direct consequences, wasn’t he? So ‘or else’ meant there was someone, somewhere, who would take great offense at her continued work within the Los Alamos group, and her tinkering with the fabric of time…

And she thought just then that ‘someone…somewhere’ was exactly the wrong way of looking at the problem. The real issue would most likely turn around the idea of someone, sometime. The idea that the river of time might be diverted in such a way that people in the future would be somehow negated, and so, perhaps, simply cease to be, had never occurred to her. 

So what if Trevor and Benjamin had truly come from New London, Connecticut; if that was true, could Trevor indeed be her father? The idea washed over her for a while: ‘Yes – but only if my father was a time traveler. Or if he still was a time traveler. Yet they are trying to stop the me from working with the Los Alamos group, from studying this phenomenon. Why?’

The only plausible explanation would be to keep their present intact, and yet to do that they couldn’t overtly intervene. To repair that kind of damage would require that they move backwards in time again and to erase the damage done…but how could they – if their present was negated?

Then it hit her. Trevor had said he’d been born in the nineteenth century, and what if that was the truth? 

But what about his eyes. And Benjamin’s, too. She’d never seen anything quite like them before, and they were identical. And both their heads were a little “off,” weren’t they. Not shaped quite right.

She shook her head, refused to think through the consequences of these little observations, the cause and effect, any further. She didn’t like where this path was taking her. 

Oh no, not at all.

+++++

Levy stood on the bridge, looked out over the stormy seas, at the scudding clouds whipped along by the storm. The Iowa plowed through these towering waves, throwing great white walls of blue water over the foredeck, but the escorting destroyers weren’t have such an easy time now. He watched as one of them, one of the newer Buckley class DEs, struggled up and over a forty foot wave, the little ship’s helmsman obviously fighting to keep the hull from turning sideways to the wind and the waves and broaching, to, in effect, being rolled over. The Iowa could take these seas head-on, and for days if necessary, but these little “tin cans” could be seriously damaged, or lost, in a storm like this one.

But that’s not what Levy was thinking about.

No, and that was because, in the accounts he’d read about the Iowa’s role in the Tehran mission, she had never once diverted towards Portland, Maine. Roosevelt’s convoy had traveled, unmolested, directly to Norfolk, Virginia…so why had he decided to divert north? An extra measure of caution, perhaps? A sense that something wasn’t quite right?

They had known about the German Condors flying out of northern Spain, the Wolf-packs operating in the south- and mid-Atlantic, as well as the raiders patrolling south of Bermuda, but what didn’t they know about? The weather, for one, but then there were all the other ships and submarines on patrol, ships whose activities had never been recorded by history. Each was suddenly a great unknown, and now he wondered if, by altering the Iowa’s course two days before, he had begun to alter the flow of time. If that was true, the assumed outcome of this trip – Roosevelt’s safe return to Washington, D.C., was now in jeopardy.

+++++

Großadmiral Karl Dönitz read through the latest dispatches then looked over the assembled nautical charts; most laid out the approaches to the Straits of Gibraltar, two represented waters around the Azores. Next, he looked at the assumed track of the convoy, then last nights report that a Condor flying out of Spain had developed a positive track on the ships. The convoy had deployed some kind of new electro-magnetic weapon, and the ships had simply disappeared; when news of this development landed on Hitler’s desk that morning, an invective storm had enveloped the entire command hierarchy in Berlin. “One of our maritime patrol aircraft had Roosevelt in its sights, then the ship simply disappeared?! Find this convoy! Find Roosevelt, and kill him!”

Dönitz looked over the dispatch one more time, and once again he plotted the coordinates on the relevant charts, then he looked over his fleet readiness report.

Unencumbered by escorting destroyers, Scharnhorst could, conceivably, make a dash into the North Atlantic and intercept the convoy at the Georges Banks. The weather would be treacherous, but that might work to their benefit. The Condor’s pilot had remarked that the convoy was only making 15-16 knots, a fuel conserving rate, meaning the Iowa’s escorts wouldn’t need to refuel at Bermuda. So, the convoy would be approaching Halifax in bad weather and in a perilously low fuel state. And air cover would be unavailable in such a storm, too.

He picked up the phone on his desk. “I need to speak with Konteradmiral Eric Bey immediately.” 

Three hours later, the Scharnhorst left Narvik and slipped quietly through the Vestfjorden – bound for the calm waters of the Georges Bank.

+++++

20 December 1943

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen it this bad out,” the X-O said as the Iowa’s bow disappeared inside another sixty foot wave. The windshield wipers were working overtime now, having been set at maximum power for more than thirty hours, and the storm hadn’t abated in the least.

Captain McCrea looked at the Indiana, now about a quarter mile off their port quarter, through his ever-present binoculars, and he held his breath as he watched her disappear briefly under a fresh sixty-foot wave. He resumed breathing only when he saw her forward guns break free of all that blue water.

“Signal Indiana to reduce speed to ten knots,” the captain said as he eyed a train of sixty footers bearing down on his ship. “Come left to two-six-zero; let’s take these waves head-on for a while, stop the rolling as best we can, and someone see if Mr Levy can make it up to the bridge now.”

He heard men moving and instantly regretted the order. Most everyone below was strapped into bunks, though out of sheer desperation some tried to use the head. Only the truly insane aboard made their way to one of the ship’s dining rooms, but no matter what was eaten, the half-digested muck soon came right back up. Sending someone to fetch Levy meant a seaman would have to navigate three passageways and two stairways; almost a suicide mission under these conditions. He hoped Levy had his sea legs now…

“Indiana acknowledges ten knots and two-six-zero, Captain.”

“Very well,” McCrea said, glad he’d sent the lighter DEs south to Bermuda; they’d have had a truly evil time in these seas. Now, with less than five hundred miles to go he wanted to breath easy. He wanted to believe the worst was over.

But something was bothering him. Something important. What was he missing?

“X-O, let’s fire up the radar, see if we have any company.”

“Aye, sir.”

The latest radar arrays were enclosed in small domes, structures perhaps 15 feet in diameter. The first convoys to make the Murmansk run lost radar when freezing sea water rendered the radomes inoperable; now almost all naval vessels were operating with enclosed sets, yet even so, the latest were hardly any better when operating in a sea-state like this. Waves and rain conspired to make all but the largest targets hard to acquire, and the ship’s violent motion didn’t much help matters.

“Bridge, radar, I have a large target bearing seven-two degrees, two zero miles. Standby for a speed.”

McCrea and the X-O looked at one another. There was no allied shipped this far north, not in this storm, so it could only be one thing.

“The Brits got Tirpitz, right?” McCrea asked.

“Yessir, but the Scharnhorst is operational, and last I heard the Prinz Eugen was in the Baltic.”

“Bridge, radar. Confirmed vessel track, speed two-five knots, positive radar emissions.”

McCrea shook his head. “Signal Indiana, let ‘em know the situation and tell them to come right to two-eight-zero, increase speed to flank. Helm, steady on two-six-zero, increase speed, all ahead full.”

“She has eleven inch guns, right, sir?”

“Yup, but they’re not radar-controlled. In these seas she’d need all the luck in the world to even get close. Tell Indiana to run parallel when she’s five miles off our beam. If Scharnhorst manages to close we’ll give her a broadsides at ten thousand yards.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Is it Scharnhorst, sir?” McCrea heard Levy ask.

“My, my, as I live and breathe…it’s Mr Levy. And what a surprise, he knows the tactical situation, too.”

Levy ignored the sarcasm. “What’s his range, Captain McCrea?”

“About twenty miles.”

“Bridge, radar, now picking up a second target, same range, same bearing, two nine knots.”

“That will be the Prinz Eugen, Captain.”

“No kidding. Gee whiz, my lucky day.”

“What speed can we make?”

“In these seas…twenty-seven? Those ships won’t be seaworthy after this beating, and the Prinz Eugen only has eight inch guns.”

“Both have 12 torpedo tubes, Captain,” Levy added.

“Won’t do them any good…not in these seas.”

Levy walked over to a barometer. “Rising?”

“That’s right, and this storm will clear from the southwest.”

“Air cover?”

McCrea shook his head.

“I see,” Levy sighed – as he left the bridge.

+++++

December, 1988

Naval Air Station, Brunswick, Maine

“Mauler 7-0-4, clear to taxi runway one-niner left, altimeter two-niner niner one, wind one eight seven at twelve.”

“7-0-4 to one niner left,” Lieutenant Noel Stevens replied, then he turned to his co-pilot, a nugget, Lieutenant-j.g. Dan Cox, fresh out of his S-3 course at Jax. “Got the TACAN freqs entered?”

“Yessir.”

“Gimme flaps 10.”

“Ten, aye.”

“Weps? How y’all doin’ back there?”

“Kewl beans, skipper. All checklists complete.”

“Okeedoke.”

“7-0-4,” Brunswick tower said, “taxi short of the runway and hold. P-3 on final.”

“Four, holding short.” Stevens looked at the mottled gray Orion on short final, and he followed it with his eyes all the way to touchdown while he worked his controls and pumped the brakes a few times. “Arm spoilers,” he told Cox. “Set yaw-dampers to stand-by.”

“Got it.”

“7-0-4, clear for take-off. Contact Boston Center 123.3, and good day.”

“Four rolling, one-two-three – three,” Stevens said as he advanced the throttles to the Viking’s pre-set take off power.” The Lockheed accelerated smoothly down the runway and he listened as Cox called out their speeds; he pulled back on the stick at one forty and at three degrees nose up the S-3B climbed gently, quickly gaining speed.

“Boston, Mauler 7-0-4 out of NAS Brunswick. We’re en route to check out a contact south of Halifax. We’ll maintain 500 AGL out of Class B, and 3-3-0 knots.”

“7-0-4, roger. No civilian traffic at this time, clear to depart your discretion.”

Mauler 704 was a Lockheed S-3B, the “Sea Control” variant of the S-3 Viking family, armed with two AGM-84 Harpoon anti-shipping missiles. An unidentified hostile surface contact, most likely a Russian cruiser, had been picked up by an Ohio class SSBN transiting the Georges Bank, and as 7-0-4 was the closest aircraft armed with Harpoons, Stephens and Cox got the call. Flying over the Gulf of Maine at 350 miles per was, generally speaking, great fun, but not when a potential hostile was lurking out there somewhere.

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky this morning, and the seas were mirror-calm as the Viking skimmed along a few hundred feet above the surface, and within forty minutes they were in the reported area…

“Weps? Anything?”

“Nothing, skipper. Just some X-band stuff going into Gloucester. Fishing boats, a couple of stinkpots. No vodka burners.”

“Well, fuck,” Stephens said, cutting the power and trimming the aircraft into a gentle climb. “Go ahead and light off the -137. Let’s see what we’re missing…”

Mauler 7-0-4 quickly reached fifteen thousand feet, but that was as high as he dared go out here. They were still well under the track of all trans-Atlantic traffic flying in and out of New York and Boston now, but he didn’t want to get tangled up in that mess.

“Skip? What if that Boomer picked up an Akula?”

“Wrong plant noise.”

“I read something a few weeks ago. The Akula apparently sounds pretty rough running on the surface.”

“Taylor? You shittin’ me? A nuc boat sounding like a diesel cruiser? What are you smoking back there?”

“Hey, I’m just thinkin’ out loud, ya know?”

“And we haven’t got MAD gear on this crate either, let alone any torps,” Stephens added as he reefed the Viking into a tight climbing right turn. He scanned his instruments, then looked up into the sky…

“What the fuck is that?” he said, leveling out the wings, then turning hard to the left.

“What?” Cox said.

Stephens pointed across Cox’s chest, straight up towards space. “That!”

“Looks like some kind of a energy disturbance, like St Elmo’s fire,” Cox said. “It’s descending.”

Stephens leveled the Viking, checked his ECM panel. “Weps? Got anything airborne, maybe flight level five zero, descending?”

“Radar’s clear, skipper.”

“Ah, Portland, Mauler 704, you have any traffic over head, say extreme flight level, like flight level five-zero?”

“7-0-4, only traffic we get up there is Concorde, and none are in the area right now.”

“Okay Portland, we’ve got a large blue sphere descending near this location, and nothing showing up on radar, either. Doesn’t appear to be a conventional aircraft and it looks too slow to be some sort of re-entry vehicle.”

“7-0-4, still negative radar contact.”

“Uh, skipper, that thing’s comin’ on down real fast,” Cox said. “Maybe we should give it some room, ya know?”

“I want to get closer, be right by it when it passes.”

“It’s gonna be close alright…”

“Jesus,” Stephens cried, “look at the size of that thing…”

And in the next instant Mauler 4-0-7 disappeared from air traffic control radars in Halifax, Portland and Boston.

+++++

And in the next instant Stephens fought to regain control of his aircraft…

The Viking had suddenly and without warning entered a violent thunderstorm – he chopped the throttle and trimmed for level flight, fighting to keep his eyes on the panel in the violent motion.

“Where the fuck did THAT come from!” he shouted, trying to make his voice heard over the hail battering his windshield, flipping his radar display to WTX, ranging in on the nearest red cell.

“Skipper, outside air temp just dropped from 55 to 22,” Cox cried, “and we got blowin’ snow out there!”

“Get some bleed air goin’ on the leading edge, pitot and AOA anti-ice set to MAX,” Stephens said, cutting the power even more. “Uh, Portland, 4-0-7, do you read?”

Nothing…not even static.

“Check the breakers, maybe we took some lightning.”

“Checked. Nothin’ tripped.”

“Set COMM1 to scan then set COMM2 to Halifax, and better get the transponder to 7700 and squawk ident.”

“Skipper?” Weps said, his voice wary now, “I got four contacts, 0-3-4 magnetic and sixty miles.”

“Anything else out here?”

“Nada, skipper.”

“Okay,” Stephens sighed, “let’s get out of this crud and see what’s happenin’ down there on the water,” he said, cutting power yet again and trimming for a steeper dive.

Then, over the scanning radio: “Iowa, Iowa, we’re taking fire, repeat, we’re taking fire.”

“Roger, Indiana, come left to 2-0-5 magnetic. We’ll cross behind you, you target the first ship, we’ll fire on the second after we pass.”

“What the fuck?” Stephens said, looking at Cox. “Weps, start calling out range and speed to that first contact…”

“Roger…now 0-2-0 degrees and nine miles.”

“You got the frequency?”

“242.2,” Cox said. “Locked in.”

“Iowa, this is Mauler 7-0-4, what’s your sit-rep, over.”

“Mauler 7-0-4, identify.”

“Uh, 7-0-4, we’re an S-3 out of Brunswick, VS-32, and we got two Harpoons if you need ‘em.”

+++++

McCrea looked at his X-O and shrugged. “Do you know what an S-3 is?”

His X-O shook his head as the Captain walked to the radio room.

“Okay, 7-0-4, this is BB-61 and we’ve got two bad guys on our ass. They’re about four miles behind us, and they’ve bracketed the Indiana twice with surface fire, and we’ve got torpedoes in the water.”

“61, 7-0-4, say again? You are engaged with surface combatants?”

“Affirmative, 7-0-4. Two hostiles firing at us.”

Stephens looked at Cox and shrugged. “Light off the wing cameras. Weps, target vessel three.”

“Targeting. Target acquired.”

“Lock on target.”

“Locked on. Getting some radar bleed now, skipper.”

“Jam him.”

“ECM to active.”

Stephens had his Viking 300 feet above the waves now, heading right for Contact One, whoever this BB61 really was…and then he saw the ship dead ahead…

Then he saw three shells land in the sea on either side of the Iowa – just as his aircraft screamed overhead…

+++++

“And just what the devil was that!” Captain McCrea screamed. “You ever seen anything like that before?”

“No, sir,”

“Get Mr Levy up here, goddamnit! On the double!”

+++++

“Was that the Iowa?” Cox screamed.

“Yup. Weps, ready on one.”

“One ready.”

“One away.”

“Firing one.”

The first Harpoon, the missile hanging outboard of the Viking’s left engine, leapt off the rail in a searing white roar…

+++++

Rear Admiral Eric Bey saw the launch from the Scharnhorst’s bridge, but he had no idea what it was beyond a brilliant white light. Alarms starting sounding when lookouts called an aircraft on the horizon dead ahead, yet Bey couldn’t believe that. No aircraft could possibly be up in this weather, let alone engage in combat operations…

Then he saw the missile streak by, perhaps two hundred meters off his port beam, and he ran out on the bridge-deck and watched it home-in on the Prinz Eugen. His hands on the ice covered rail, he saw the impact…indeed, he could feel the heat moments later…and despite the snow and the wind it took minutes for the his first view of the burning wreckage to emerge from the flames and billowing smoke.

“Radar! Where is that aircraft!” Bey called out, frantic now.

He saw the two battleships still ahead and shook his head…

“Hard right rudder, make your course zero two zero, make smoke and all ahead full!”

+++++

“Skipper?” the Viking’s weapons control officer said calmly. “Aspect change on target three. He’s breaking off, sir.”

“Okay, I see him now,” Stephens said as he flew over the flaming hulk of the Prinz Eugen. “See the flag?” he asked Cox as 7-0-4 flew past the sinking battle-wagon. 

“German?”

“NAZI German, as a matter of fact. Weps, safe your weapon.”

“Roger. Harpoon two to safe.”

“Make sure the camera is getting all this,” Stephens said to Cox.

“It’s recording, getting a good image.”

He cut power and trimmed his nose up a little, let more speed bleed off until he knew he needed to drop some flaps. Using the joystick, Cox centered the camera on the Scharnhorst’s stern, the vessel’s name and hailing port clear in the display.

Scharnhorst?” Cox asked.

“Uh-huh. She went down in ‘44, I think.”

“What? You mean, as in 1944? That we just engaged – and sunk – a German battlewagon that hasn’t existed in fifty years?”

“Yup, that’s what it looks like,” Stephens said, grinning. Let’s get some Mark I eyeballs on those two Navy ships…”

As Stephens reefed the little jet into a tight turn, and now on a reciprocal heading to the US ships, he barely felt the presence of the sphere again – then seconds later Mauler 7-0-4 burst out into radiantly clear skies. He checked the condition of his aircraft, knowing instinctively that the Iowa was gone now, then he checked-in with Brunswick as he changed course back to the base, not quite knowing what waited for him in the days ahead, and not at all sure what they had just experienced. Whatever had happened, he thought, at least it had been more exciting than chasing phantom Russian trawlers… 

Chapter 11

Roosevelt was, apparently, taken to a train waiting for him in Portland, and from there he rode to Boston, then on to the White House, while Claire and Ben Levy accompanied Charles back to the Wilkinson home in Philadelphia for a few days rest. They arrived on Christmas eve, just in time for dinner, and the house was decorated just as Claire remembered. A little over the top, as always, but festive and gay.

For there were children roaming the halls once again, and the stairs and hallways echoed with laughter.

Charles had two now, both boisterous boys, while Liz had three – two boys and a very little girl – while poor, barren Amanda had finally given in to her various depressions and learned to eat. When Claire first saw Amanda that evening she could hardly believe her eyes, for the glorious blond-headed dream-boat of Mainline Society had blossomed into something quite unrecognizable. Sullen didn’t begin to describe the look on poor Amanda’s face; no, her’s was the quiet lassitude of broken dreams…too many nighttime visits by Rupert had simply cut the girl loose from mundane things – like reality. She muttered to her demons no matter where she was, no matter who was around to listen.

And as these things so often do, her latest series of outbreaks was attended by Benjamin Levy.

+++++

Amanda was sitting at the piano in the library, staring at sheet music when he walked into the vast, high-ceilinged room. He did not see her sitting there as he walked to one of the shelves and pulled a book down, for she had neither moved nor spoken a single word.

Then he heard a child’s forlorn cry and turned to see Amanda in animated discussion with – no one. She was fully engaged in an argument, the contours of which remained a mystery to him as he listened, though he heard references to unwanted advances and pleas to a doctor… 

He watched her for some time, fascinated. He’d heard of schizophrenia, of course, but had never seen evidence of its existence before, and watching this woman rattle on as if fully engaged in a life or death struggle was at once as interesting as it was troubling.

He moved closer to the piano yet the woman didn’t respond to his presence, and he realized he simply didn’t exist to her right now, at least not in the world this woman inhabited. Wherever this woman was, she simply was not in the same place he was.

Then Claire walked into the room, looking first at Ben, then at her sister.

She walked over to the piano and looked at Amanda, then to Benjamin. And at the book in Benjamin’s hand.

Tolstoy’s Resurrection. Now…why had he taken that book from the shelves?

And she could almost remember when books like that one had consumed all her interest – until they didn’t – couldn’t – anymore. Until the overt primacy of the physical world became self apparent, and how after that epiphany she had turned away from literature and music.

Then, hearing Amanda’s words, she fell inside the distant conversation, and her pleas to the demons that haunted her…

And so Claire moved to her sister’s side, sat beside her on the piano bench and put an arm around Amanda’s shoulders.

“Oh, my poor dear,” Claire said, startled at the change she found now, “what’s bothering you this fine Christmas eve?”

And those words seemed to pull Amanda back into the present – for a moment. “Claire? You’re home?”

“Yes, precious, I am.”

“Play for me, would you?”

Claire shook her head, as if she hadn’t quite understood the words. “Play?”

“Yes. Debussy. Remember how you used to sit and play for father?”

“Yes.”

“When you played, he left me alone. Did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“I loved it when you played Debussy most of all. He left me alone for days.”

“I’m sorry, my love. I didn’t know.”

“Did you love me, Claire?”

“Yes, of course. I always have.”

“That’s so sweet of you to say. I wished I was younger when you came to us. That we could have played together. As it was, I was most afraid of you…”

“Afraid? Why?”

“Why? Because you were so much larger than life. Seven years old and reading books even my mother hadn’t, playing Debussy for us all, showing us the way forward, away from all the nightmares in this house.”

“I don’t understand, Amanda.”

“Really? I was so jealous of you…”

“Jealous? But really, it was I who was jealous…of you! You’ve always been the gorgeous one, so charming and full of poise, and I knew I’d never be as beautiful as you…”

And Amanda leaned over, let her head rest on Claire’s shoulder. “And look at me now,” she whispered. “Look at me now, dear sister.”

“I am, dearest. And do you know what? I think you need to come with me, out to New Mexico, and live with me for a while.”

“New Mexico?”

“Yes. Did you know I have a horse there, and mountain trails to ride? Streams to fish, pools to swim in? You’d love it, Amanda. Won’t you think about it? We could have so much fun…”

“Play something for me, Claire.”

“But…I haven’t, not in years.”

“Debussy? Please?”

“The Clair de lune? I might remember that…”

“Yes, please. That was always father’s favorite.”

Claire turned and faced the piano, and though it had been twenty years she played as if it had been only days. She played and played and Amanda wept, gently at first, then openly – as her nightmares came for her in this ancient room…their knives drawn, patiently waiting for just the right moment as they circled.

+++++

While Claire played Ben Levy looked at these two creatures and wondered about the things they had shared. About the things that had pushed them apart once upon a time, and about the tragic, unseen bond that held them so close even now. He thought about what it meant to be human, to be part of a family. About the betrayals you can never forgive, as if the moments that held these two people fast together were tragic moments trapped in memory. He thought about music, human music – and the music of the spheres. Yet all the blood in the universe couldn’t explain what he had just seen…the tears on Amanda’s face the echoes of another little girl’s betrayals, the solace she took from lost chords, notes played by echoes of another little girl – one blissfully unaware of all the other little betrayals that had lay waiting in this kaleidoscope of shadows.

All these hidden emotions were right there in front of him, on two faces hiding as one.

And if he’d ever wondered what it would be like to be betrayed by a father, here was all the evidence one would ever need – in this amber shadowland, lives hiding just out of sight until the fault lines became too hard to ignore. Until that other voice spilled out of the light of day, no longer content to wait for satisfaction.

When Claire finished walking through these conjoined memories she stood abruptly and walked out of the library, while Amanda resumed her dialogue with the dead. Benjamin opened Tolstoy to a bookmark and looked at the words on the page for a moment, then he followed Claire out into the shadows.

He walked to a vast parlor, what was being called a living room these days, and he stared at the Christmas tree set up before a huge expanse of diamond-paned leaded-glass windows. The house, he saw, was some sort of approximation of a Tudor mansion, with reddish brick augmented by blackish-brown timbers and sharply arced doors separating one room from another, all set-off by a huge stone fireplace along a far wall. The Christmas tree was a good twelve feet tall, and he saw an infinite number of amber reflections set amongst the green needles, reflections of other lights long gone, reflections of memories patiently waiting to be reexamined.

There were even stockings set on the mantle, he saw, and he remembered a time when such things had meant something to him. A life he’d never known, of course, yet attractive in the way borrowed memories often are. 

Presents under the tree, countless expectations wrapped in endless anticipation. So much happiness, so many memories waiting to be made, wanting to be made.

What if it all disappeared tomorrow, he asked himself? What if I make another mistake? I very nearly cost Roosevelt his life, and Claire’s. What if McCrea hadn’t turned on the radar? What if Scharnhorst had crept up on them unawares? What if the Iowa had perished in those cold, storm-tossed seas? And Claire, too? If she had been lost, then what?

He had to admit now he was starting to feel something for her. Nothing like attraction, though not really, but perhaps more like admiration, even a grudging respect. Hers was a towering intellect, beyond anything these people had ever encountered, yet she seemed, if not unaware then perhaps simply careless about the implications of her strength of mind. So few minds reached her state of development, anywhere, yet when such power arose the universe took note. There were a handful of such minds on earth now, and that might soon become a problem. If they succeeded in detonating their device the universe would take note, and then he’d have to decide what to do. 

If they came he’d have to go back once again, go back to that night of drifting icebergs and frantic pleading. Outcomes would have to be altered once again, destinies sent in new directions. He’d have to kill her this time, before she started changing outcomes again, before he fell in love with her – again. And most of all, before their daughter rose from the ashes and destroyed them all.

Again.

+++++

He sat across from Claire – and Amanda – his eyes trained on the gently passing landscape on the far side of the glass. They were on the Southwest Chief, now about halfway between Chicago and Lamy, New Mexico, and Claire was reading a report from Boeing engineers detailing reinforcements made to the outboard engine nacelles on three B-29s that had just come off the line; simulated blasts had rendered catastrophic damage to all three test aircraft and she was vexed now – because they had ignored her suggestion that they use either a heavier gauge steel, or consider an even stronger, though experimental, laminated metal…

Amanda was staring at her reflection in the window, talking to a man who looked suspiciously like her father – and who was holding a knife to her belly, apparently getting ready to slice her open and remove the unborn child from her womb…

Levy saw Amanda tense as she cried out and shook his head, then he turned away in embarrassed despair in search of silence, wondering not only how, but why Claire thought she would be able to take care of this wounded creature. Or why she should? There were hospitals, after all, and Claire would never be able to dedicate the necessary time for the level of care Amanda would require. And…she wasn’t even biologically related! Why wouldn’t Charles or Elizabeth step forward and take over her care…?

‘Does she expect me to care for this poor creature?” Ben sighed inwardly. ‘If so, she will be very disappointed…’ No, he would begin work at 3M after the war. ‘His’ family would move to Minneapolis, and Claire would commence teaching and stop all work on the Shift. She had to. He had explained that to her more than once, and she’d said she understood the implications of continuing, the repercussions such a course of action guaranteed.

He turned and looked at Claire again, still lost in that latest engineering report.

“Anything new?” he asked.

“They used aluminum again. Three aircraft lost.”

“Titanium would be better.”

“Titanium? How so?”

“Have the their metallurgists and engineers look at this formula,” he said, scribbling on the back of an envelope: 

2Mg(l) + TiCl4(g) 2MgCl2(l) + Ti(s) [T = 800–850 °C]

“What is it?”

“Just pass it along, Claire.”

“I had no idea you were a misogynist, Mr. Levy,” Claire sighed.

“What makes you say that?”

“Because,” Amanda interjected, “you’re speaking to her like a misogynist asshole, Asshole.”

Claire’s left eyebrow arced sharply, then she tried to stifle the laugh she knew was coming.

“That was a little paternalistic of me, wasn’t it?” Ben sighed.

“A little?” Amanda asked. 

“I’m sorry,” he added, taking the envelope again and writing on the back at an incomprehensible speed. “So, essentially, if one takes refined rutile from raw titanium ore, you reduce it further with a petroleum-derived coke in a fluidized bed reactor at 1000 degrees centigrade. Next, the resulting mixture should be treated with chlorine gas, giving you titanium tetrachloride, as well as a few other other nasty chlorides,” Levy said, grinning manically. “Next, these should be separated by further continuous fractional distillation, then, in a separate reactor, the titanium tetrachloride should be further reduced by liquid magnesium, at, say, 800 to 850 degrees centigrade, and this will ensure complete reduction. The resulting alloy will meet your requirements.”

“Oh? How strong is it?”

“Several orders of magnitude, I should think, than what they’re currently using, and not nearly so heavy.”

She took the envelope and studied it – while Amanda looked at Levy.

“Who are you,” Amanda said at long last.

“Me? Just your average industrial chemist.”

“You’re an asshole,” Amanda said, looking him in the eye, daring him to challenge her.

“Am I?”

“Yes. And I’m not at all sure I trust you.”

“And why should you? You hardly know me?”

“Claire hardly knows you. Why does she trust you?”

“Because she knows me better than you think likely, or even possible.”

“You speak in circles a lot, you know?”

“Occupational hazard, I suppose.”

“Never a straight answer,” Amanda sighed, then she returned to staring at the myriad reflections in the window…waiting for their return… 

Chapter 12

The house was odd, he thought. Odd, and tiny.

How had Claire made the adjustment? From that house in Philadelphia – to this? 

The entire house – all three bedrooms of it – was quite literally smaller than the library in the Philadelphia house. The walls were bare; not a single picture adorned the walls. There was no paneling on the walls, no library, and just one bathroom a little larger than a telephone booth.

And while Claire had returned to her own bedroom, and put Amanda in a large bedroom near her own, she had put him in a tiny space off the kitchen he assumed had been provided for some sort of domestic help.

And here he had thought she was developing feelings for him…

He lay in his bed that night thinking about this sudden uncomfortable turn of events, wondering if he should simply abort the mission and return to the ship, try to reconcile events that had already been altered with potentially more agreeable outcomes likely in the near future. Still, he knew what they’d say… 

‘It’s a good plan…stick with it a little longer…’

Planting dreams…molding the shape of her intellect to help create the best possible outcome…and then she’d stumbled upon the Shift – the worst possible outcome imaginable. All it would take to sunder the current order was one simple ripple in the fabric of time caused by the shift – and then They would come. The people living on earth now thought they knew what true evil was, but no one here had ever met one of Them. The silent ones, the mind readers. Keepers…that’s what they called themselves. No one knew what they kept, unless it was a certain order to the universe.

He thought about that for a moment…

What if someone went back to the very beginning of time, to the moment when the universe came into being? To the moment of inception? What if someone went back and took that cosmic thimble full of matter and put it in a suitcase, then simply made the suitcase disappear? What if all the matter of the universe simply vanished? What then?

The theory said that if the Shift began it would send the universe back to this zero point. Was that what the Keepers sought to prevent? What if the Shift was unstoppable once it started, if the arrow of time became corrupted?

The shift was fundamentally different than the TimeShadows. The spheres could be controlled, and easily, and time travel could take place without distorting the flow of time. Not so with the Shift. The Shift was a one way ticket back to the beginning, and conceivably whatever lurked before the beginning.

Before the beginning?

Is that what the Keepers are guarding?

He sat up in bed and walked out the door to the kitchen, then he stumbled to an open door and he walked out onto the stone patio and looked out at the stars. Was there something beyond, he wondered? Something on the other side of all that blackness? Was that the secret?

He heard someone coming out of the house, walking up behind him – and he stood perfectly still, looking at the pole star, imagining the earth spinning round and round.

Silence. Only the sound of someone breathing.

He turned, saw Amanda standing there, a large knife in her hand, a slash-wound across her belly.

His eyes went wide, he began to feel panic for the first time in his life. “What have you done!” he cried…then she lunged at him, the knife aiming right at his heart.

+++++

Claire heard Amanda walk from her room, heard the door that led to the backyard open. She shook her head and slipped on her jeans and hiking boots, walked through the living room until she saw Amanda in the yard, the knife drawing back. She saw Benjamin standing there with his back to them both, looking, as he seemed to do often, at the stars – and she knew what was going to happen. She started running, and was through the door when Ben started to turn around. She came up from behind Amanda as she lunged, hooked her arm around Amanda’s neck and knocked her to the ground, then she saw the belly wound and thought maybe he had done it.

Ben was kneeling now, applying pressure, but the flow of blood was simply catastrophic. Without thinking he pressed his left temple and waited… 

+++++

The scientist’s compound at Los Alamos was, in early 1944, one of the most heavily guarded facilities in the United States. Guards in Jeeps patrolled constantly – both the paved streets and the rugged arroyos that surrounded the compound. Several guards saw the blue sphere that settled over the small house on Sycamore Street, and they raced to investigate.

When they arrived they found blood in the backyard, the back door to the house standing wide open – and no one inside the house.

And no blue sphere.

Thirty four minutes later Harry Hopkins walked into the president’s bedroom and gently shook Roosevelt’s shoulder.

+++++

The room was impossibly small, the walls bright red – and Claire shook her head as the dream…but no, this wasn’t a dream, was it? Amanda was on an operating table and two machines were hovering over her body. Retractors had pulled open and revealed an enormous cavity; the robots were moving so fast she could neither see nor understand what they were doing. Screen flashed as readouts changed, one of the machines hovered over to what looked like a storage device and opened it and then plugged a bag of red fluid – was it blood – into the IV that coursed into Amanda’a arm.

She saw that Ben was beside her, and that they were in a small clean room off the operating room, and that Ben was talking on an intercom of some sort.

“She’s lost too much blood,” she heard him say, and she began to fear the worst. Then she heard him say: “Are you sure?”

He listened for a moment, then keyed codes on some kind of electronic pad. One of the machines stopped what it was doing and went back to the storage unit, pulled out another bag and added that to the IV.

Ben turned to her. “She’ll be alright now,” he said.

“But…she’s dying…”

“She was, yes.”

“What do you mean, she was?”

“She is not dying now. She will be better in about five hours. We can return to the house then.”

“Are you kidding? Look at her!”

But then Claire turned and looked at her sister; now the fourteen inch long gash was simply gone, and her color was improving – right before her eyes.

“What have you done to her?”

“She’ll be better now. In every way.”

“In every way? What do you mean?”

“You will see.”

“Where are we?”

“A hospital.”

“Where?”

“Here.”

“You won’t tell me?”

“No. I cannot.”

She turned and looked at Amanda. “Why did she do this?”

“I do not know.”

“What’s wrong with you, Ben? You don’t…you’re not speaking right.”

“I am tired. I must rest.”

And with that he turned and walked from the little room, but the door slid shut behind him as he left, leaving her locked inside the tiny cabin. She looked at Amanda, at the machines working on her, then she too felt tired. A small bed slid out of the wall and she just made it before she passed out.

+++++

She woke and looked around, rubbed her eyes and sat up in bed. Her bed, in her bedroom. In Los Alamos. The hard sunshine pouring in through the window left sharp shadows on the walls, and the sky over the spine of the Sangre de Cristo was the deepest blue she had ever seen…and then she remembered the blood.

Amanda!

Then, she heard knocking on the door. Frantic knocking, then men at the window, looking in. One saw her and tapped on the glass…

“Dr Aubuchon?”

“Yes, just a minute. Let me get dressed, please.”

The man seemed to visibly relax, then he disappeared around the side of the house. She slipped into her jeans and put on a flannel shirt, then walked to Amanda’s room. Her sister was sleeping fitfully so she let her be, then walked to the kitchen, and into Ben’s room.

Gone. The room was empty, and there was no trace of him at all.

She walked to the front door and opened it, saw a half-dozen uniformed and plain-clothes policemen standing there, all looking very agitated.

“Dr Aubuchon?”

“Yes?”

“We’ve been searching for you for hours now!” one of them, apparently an FBI agent, said. “We found blood all over the backyard…”

“I’m so sorry,” Claire began. “My sister fell and cut herself last night. I ran her down to Santa Fe.”

“Officers saw some sort of sphere descend on the house. Do you know anything about that? Some sort of experiment, perhaps?”

She looked at the agent and shrugged. “I wasn’t conducting any experiments.”

“So…everything’s okay here?”

“Yes, and thank you for your concern.”

“Is your sister here, or at the hospital?”

“Here. Back in her bedroom now, sound asleep.”

“There was a lot of blood…what happened to her?”

Claire looked down. “I’m sorry, but she has emotional issues. Hallucinations.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” the agent said. “I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“It’s no intrusion, officer. Would you like to check on her, see for yourself?”

“That’s alright, Ma’am. Doctor Oppenheimer would like you to check in with his office as soon as you can.”

She nodded. “Thanks, I will.”

“Well, good day, doctor.”

“And you,” she said, closing the door, then she retreated to the kitchen, to Ben’s room. There was no sign he’d ever been there and she felt gut-punched, almost bereft – because she knew he wouldn’t be back. She walked, head down, into the kitchen – wondering if, after last night, life would ever be the same.

Those machines! Performing surgery! And the red walls…? It had to be that ship…

She put her hands out and steadied herself on the counter, took a few deep breaths, then she saw another agent in the backyard, just standing there, looking up at the sun.

Then she saw the shape of the man’s head, and she just knew.

She went back out to the patio. “Ben?” she asked, and the man turned around.

“No,” the man said.

“Do you know where he is?”

“He failed. He will not be returning.”

“Failed? What did he fail to do?”

“To protect you, and your family.”

“He didn’t fail…”

“That was not your decision to make.”

“Was? May I see him?”

“No. That is no longer possible.”

“I see. And, what happens next?”

“My name is Andrew. I am to be your husband.”

“Well, Andrew, nothing personal, but Ben was going to be my husband. I’d rather like it if that came to pass.”

“I see.”

“Would you mind going back to wherever you just came from and see if you can make that happen?”

“That may no longer be possible.”

“Goodbye, Andrew.”

“Goodbye.”

She watched the man, if that was indeed what it was, walk off into the arroyo, then she returned to the kitchen and made coffee before she scrambled two eggs. When she had cleaned up after, she showered and put on fresh clothes, then went to Amanda’s bedroom again and sat on the edge of the bed.

There was something different about her this morning. She couldn’t put a finger on it, but Amanda definitely looked different. She pulled back the sheets and looked at the wound – and found nothing but smooth, white skin – and no trace of any sort of wound.

“The robots,” she sighed.

“The what?” Amanda groaned.

Claire looked at Amanda, saw the illness in her eyes was gone, replaced by a less malignant confusion. “My, you’re awake. How are you feeling?”

“I don’t know.”

“Any pain anywhere?”

“Pain? No…not really,” then Amanda seemed to look at Claire for a long time, then: “Claire? Is that you?”

“Yes, of course it’s me. Who did you think…”

“Where am I?”

“What?” Claire sighed, now confused herself. “Where do you think you are?”

“I have no idea…” Amanda quailed, now apparently on the verge of tears. 

“You’re at my house, Amanda, in New Mexico…”

“New Mexico? Since when did you have a house out there?”

“For two years now. I work here.”

Amanda sat upright in bed, her eyes searching for something recognizable – but after a moment she gave up, hugged her knees to her chest and started crying. Claire came close and enfolded her sister in her arms.

“Sh-h-h,” Claire whispered in a soothing, maternal way, “it’s alright. I’m here. It’s alright now.”

But Amanda was shaking her head…her confusion abnormally oppressive.

“What’s the last thing you remember,” Claire asked.

“I’m not sure.” Then: “Father, running to a fire. At the Navy Yard.”

And Claire gasped. “Amanda, that was almost twenty years ago. Have you remembered nothing since?”

“What? Twenty…?” she said, trying to stand just now – her knees almost buckling.

“Here, let me help you?” Claire steadied her sister and helped her to the bathroom, but when Amanda saw her reflection in the mirror over the sink she screamed, terrified.

“That’s not me!” she cried. “Oh, please God! Tell me that’s not me! Oh, please…who is that?”

“You should shower now,” Claire said. “Then we’ll get you dressed.” She turned on the water and adjusted the temperature, yet Amanda stood – transfixed – looking into the mirror at the stranger staring back…

Claire led her into the shower and let the spray beat on the back of her sister’s neck, and soon the water brought her back to the present. “Oh my, that feels so good.”

“Just stand there. Relax. I’ve a new toothbrush for you, too.”

“Could I have it, please. My teeth feel like they’re coated in saw-dust.”

“Sure. I’ll be right back.” She went out to the hall closet and found the brush, then she saw a man standing on the patio. “Benjamin?” she whispered.

When he nodded she ran to the door and let him in, then flew into his arms.

Yet he seemed almost inert, spent, and she stepped back, looked into his eyes. “Ben?”

“Yes?”

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m very tired.”

“Why don’t you take a rest. Amanda’s just now up, and I’ve got her in the shower.”

He nodded. “That should help, but Claire? She’s very fragile now.”

She nodded her head too. “Go rest. I’ll join you in a few minutes.”

“Where?”

“Your room?”

“Show me?”

“Show you? You don’t remember?”

“I told you, I’m very tired.”

She helped him to his room off the kitchen, then thought better of it and took him to her room. “Just lay down and rest your eyes. I’ll be right back…”

Then she took a new toothbrush to the shower, and found Amanda staring into the steam-covered mirror again, wiping rivulets of moisture from the silvered glass. “I recognize the eyes,” she said, “but nothing else makes sense. When did this happen to me?”

“What, my dear?”

“How did this happen to me?”

“Amanda, tell me…what do you remember?”

“Twenty three – I’m twenty-three, and I’m going to finish college next year, after spending the year in Sweden.”

“What happened in Sweden, Amanda?”

And Claire watched as her sister looked inside the glass, and she wondered what she saw just then. But, apparently she saw nothing, or nothingness, as Amanda turned to her and shook her head. “Isn’t that odd? I can’t recall a thing about it. Where’s father?”

“He’s not here just now,” Claire whispered.

“And Charles? Where is he?”

“Charles is in Washington just now, Amanda, but he’ll be out to see you soon enough.”

“And mother? Where is she?”

“She’s with father now, dearest.”

“And Elizabeth?”

“At home. At home in Philadelphia.”

“I want to go to Bookbinder’s, for the soup. Will you take me –oh, but you say we’re in New Mexico! How silly of me!”

“How about I fix some eggs and coffee? Would that do?”

“Oh, yes please. I do feel a bit hungry.”

“How many eggs?”

“Oh, you know me…just one, over easy.”

Claire nodded – as she did indeed remember, then, not quite sure what had happened to Amanda over the course of the night, she walked back to the kitchen and lit the stove. A while later Amanda walked out, and Claire was astonished to see that the dress she’d worn the day before hung loosely on her sister’s diminished frame.

“One egg, over easy,” Claire said, putting the plate with the egg on a little table in the kitchen. Amanda ate half, then declared she was full before she had her coffee, black.

“I’ll need to go into work for a little bit,” Claire said, looking at  her sister. “You’re looking tired…would you like to take a nap?”

“Ooh, yes please. I’ve never felt so tired.”

When she returned a few hours later Amanda was on the patio out back, laughing gayly as a harried looking Ben Levy tried to keep up with the conversation.

+++++

There was a small kiva in the corner of Claire’s bedroom, and a few pieces of piñon burned and popped away in there, lending the room a smokey scent that was pleasant in the extreme – or so Ben thought. He had never expected to feel the way he did just now, laying on Claire’s bed with her head resting on his lap. He had never known love, not even a mother’s love, but as he ran his fingers through her hair he knew, sitting in the amber light, that the feelings coursing through his veins could only be one thing.

He wondered about miracles of such a life for a moment, as if this is what people meant when they spoke of such things. And the oddest thing of all? They hadn’t said a word in what felt like hours.

There seemed to be no need.

“We’ll need more wood for the fire,” she said now. “I’ll go get some.”

“Show me how?” Ben asked.

“What?”

“How to make the fire work?”

“You’ve never made a fire?”

“No. There is no need where I live.”

“And where is that? The ship?”

“Connecticut.”

“Connecticut? Really? I always thought winters there were somewhat brutal.”

“Not where I lived.”

“And where was that?”

“New London.”

“And when did you move to London?”

“We were older then.”

“You went to school there?”

“Yes.”

“What did you study?”

“Science. Chemistry and physics.”

“Quantum mechanics?”

“Of course.”

“And metallurgy?”

“Yes.”

“Boeing is working on your titanium process; they should have results in a few weeks.”

“If necessary, I can go to Seattle with you.”

Claire looked away then, lost in a thought. “Can you tell me about Amanda? What you treated her with?”

“Treated? You misunderstand. She treated herself.”

“How do you mean?”

“There were replication errors. These were repaired…”

“Replication errors?”

“DNA.”

“And that is?”

Ben blinked, shook his head. “The bacteria in her gut were out of balance. This caused a cascading series of failures in other relevant areas of her internal biome. This sequence has been reversed. She will feel better soon.”

“I see,” Claire lied, not having the slightest idea what he was talking about. “What about these errors in replication?”

“I’m sorry. I misspoke.”

“Ah. So, the emotional problems she’s experienced?”

“There will be consequences, but with counseling they should be manageable.”

“Will she loose weight?”

“Yes. She has lost four kilos already, and her basal metabolic rate…”

“Her – what?”

“The rate at which she burns energy?”

“How did you determine that, Ben?”

“It is not important.”

“Tell me, what is important, Ben?”

“These feelings. The feelings we are experiencing.”

“Oh? Tell me how you feel?”

“How? I think I understand what, not how.”

“What do you feel now.”

“I think it is love.”

“Ah. Have you ever been in love before?”

“I have read about love, I have seen love, but no, I have never personally felt love.”

“How is that possible?”

“That was quite normal where I grew up?”

“Do you think you could love a child, Ben?”

“A child?”

“You said we would have two children. Don’t you know that children need love most of all?”

“Children need love?”

“Affection. Feelings of trust and understanding.”

“How so?”

“Children need to develop in an atmosphere of trust and understanding, tempered with affection. Without these things, children grow emotionally distrustful, even mean.”

The words washed over Ben Levy and he struggled to understand the meaning behind her words. Had she just told him that he was mean, and not trustworthy? Surely that was not love?

She watched his reactions, the reactions of a child, of someone who had not the slightest idea what it meant to be human, and that only made her more curious. It was no longer a question of who he was; it was more now that she didn’t know what he was?

Human? Yes, of course, but he hadn’t been born in the 1800s –

That just couldn’t be. Could it?

“Come with me,” she said. “Let’s get some more wood.”

The only thing she knew just then was that she had to keep him talking. The more tired he became, the more he talked… The more he talked, the less she understood, but that wasn’t important now.

Chapter 13

Roosevelt was in the Oval Office, looking over the FBI’s final report on the matter, reading through it for the third time. The blue sphere had been seen twice over Los Alamos, the report stated plainly enough, yet Aubuchon had denied any knowledge of its reappearance, and that troubled him. It troubled Harry Hopkins too, and Cordell Hull. They had all caught a brief glimpse of the sphere twice on the return voyage; the first when the Condor approached off Spain, the second when that strange aircraft appeared over the Georges Banks and attacked the German battleship.

And now, another sphere – over Aubuchon’s house in Los Alamos? He just didn’t know her well enough to understand what this meant.

So he picked up the telephone on his desk and spoke to the switchboard operator. “Get Harry, would you?”

A few minutes later Hopkins entered the Oval Office. “We have the latest German rail car dispositions you asked for, Mr President. Attacking fuel transport lines seems to be working.”

“Harry? I need to speak with Claire…Dr Aubuchon. And I need to see her eyes when I speak to her.”

Hopkins nodded. “Yessir. I understand.”

“Handled discreetly, of course.”

“Yessir. She’s still in Los Alamos. There are no records she took her sister to a hospital in Santa Fe, by the by.”

Roosevelt looked down at his hands, coughed once. “There are days when I truly hate this job, Harry.”

“What do you think…”

“She’s lying, for one thing, Harry. That means she’s hiding something. And if a person in her position is hiding something, then we’re in trouble. The entire project could be compromised.”

Hopkins pursed his lips, nodded slowly. “Do you want to remove her now, or wait until we can finish a full security review?”

Roosevelt leaned back in his wheelchair and sighed, then shook his head. “We can’t afford a breakdown in security now. Especially not now. Chop her off, bring her in, and anyone else in that house. We need to know who’s been compromised.”

“Her sister Amanda is on the approved list, as is Levy. Those are the only two in the house. At least, as of last night.”

“Have the FBI handle it, but I want it handled discreetly. And I want to talk to her tonight.”

“Yes, Mr President.” Hopkins turned and left the Old Man with his thoughts. He knew that look, after all, well enough – didn’t he? He went to his office and called the director…

+++++

Amanda looked odd the next morning. Clear-eyed and almost emaciated, Claire guessed her sister had lost more than twenty pounds in the last three days – an impossibility, true enough, but the evidence was there, right before her eyes.

“How are you feeling this morning,” she asked Amanda as her bare-footed sister padded into the kitchen.

“Excellent. You?”

“Tired. I was in the lab all night.”

“I know. I heard you come in. Around two, I think.”

“When I start on something I often lose track of time.”

Amanda nodded. “Father was like that,” she sighed, still coming to terms with the passage of so much time, and her absence from the flow. “Charles was too, in school, anyway.”

“He still is.”

“Do you miss him?”

“Who? Father?”

Amanda nodded carefully, slowly, hesitation clear in her movements.

“I didn’t know him the same way you did, Amanda, but my memories of him are of a warm, caring person.”

Amanda smiled, a tenuous, wounded smile – her eyes full of groping hands in dark places. “I’ve seen Ben before, you know?”

“Ben? Before? Where was that?”

“In Sweden. He was the physician who took my baby?”

“What?” Claire felt inrushing pressure when the words registered.

“I couldn’t place him at first, I think, because he hasn’t aged. But it’s him. I remember his voice most of all, but oh yes, Claire, it’s him. Of that I’m sure.”

Claire stared at the stovetop, lost in breaking waves of suddenly inexplicable implications. Ben…Trevor…and who else? Had they been following her all her life? But, to what purpose? Why watch her so closely? And why take a fetus?

“You must be mistaken, Amanda. That’s clearly not possible.”

“Clearly, yes, I agree. Yet he was there. Ask him.”

“Have you?”

“No. I think I’m a little afraid, and I guess I wanted you with me if I do.”

She shook her head, tried to laugh a little. “This must all be a coincidence of some sort, dear sister. Such a thing is simply impossible.”

“Impossible. Yes. I dreamed last night that you were on a ship of some sort, a ship near a strange planet, and that people were talking to you about something called a shift. It was all very real feeling, like we were really there.”

“A shift? Really?”

“That your work has something to do with it. What does that mean, do you think?”

Claire shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“I wonder who he is?”

“Who? Benjamin?”

“Yes. Is it true? You’re going to marry him?”

Claire looked away, embarrassed. “What makes you say that?”

“I’ve heard you two talking, but it’s not like I was snooping around. Is it true?”

“I think, yes, maybe.”

“But why? You don’t love him, do you?”

And Claire shrugged. “I don’t know that it’s as simple as that, Amanda. There are other things I’m considering.”

“Other things?”

But just then Claire turned to Amanda, looked her in the eye. “We’ll talk to him tonight, I promise. About Sweden, about your dream – all of it.”

Amanda took the evasion in stride, met her sister’s gaze on terms at once familiar – yet lonely. Claire’s words felt like a betrayal, and that was not a feeling she remembered coming from her. They looked at one another for a moment longer, then she made up her mind. “I think I should return to Philadelphia, Claire. I’ll only be in your way out here, and you have more important things to take care of.”

“Nonsense. There’s nothing more important to me than you.”

“Could you get me on the next train?”

“Really? You want to go home now? You haven’t seen or done anything, and there’s so much…”

“Yes, I feel homesick, as silly as that must sound. Really, I’d like to go home, back to Pennsylvania.”

“Alright,” Claire said, feeling dejected – and a little relieved. “I’ll call.” She turned and walked inside, leaving Amanda on the patio staring at the Blood of Christ mountains.

+++++

“Where’s Amanda?” Ben asked as he walked into the kitchen.

“On her way home. I got her on the one-thirty Chief.”

“Home? You mean, Philadelphia?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“How…unexpected.”

“Really? I thought you knew everything?”

“Her trip to the ship was not expected.”

“So, the future has been altered once again.”

Be nodded his head. “Yes.”

“Yet, you’re still here?”

“Yes, I’m still here.”

“When are we to marry? Is tomorrow too soon?”

“After the war concludes. If we married sooner it would appear suspicious.”

“Is it – suspicious?”

“What do you mean?”

“Amanda mentioned that you were the physician in Sweden, the man who removed her baby.”

“Indeed?”

“She said there was no mistaking you, or your voice.”

“I see.”

“Is it true?”

“Yes,” Ben sighed, “it’s true. You’ll understand, in time. There’s no frame of reference yet Claire, or I could tell you.”

“Frame of reference? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“The reasons why we had to, not to mention the technology involved, but I promise, I’ll tell you someday. Before I die, anyway.”

“And what about Amanda? What about her feelings?”

Ben shrugged. “Turn on the radio.”

“What?” 

“Turn on the radio. Now.”

She moved to the living room and turned on the set, then, waiting for the tubes to warm, she asked if he needed anything to eat or drink.

“No. I’m fine.”

As she tuned-in the station in Santa Fe she recoiled in horror. The Chief had derailed near Walsenburg, Colorado, and rescue operations were underway. The scene of the accident was remote, the announcer said, noting it was miles from the nearest major roadway.

“We should go,” Claire said. “I’ll need to be there when they bring her to the hospital.”

“There’s no rush,” Ben said, his face a mask of barely concealed pain.

“Why? What do you mean?”

“She’s gone, Claire.”

“Gone? What do you mean, gone?”

“Just that. She is gone.”

She stumbled to her chair and fell into it, hands covering her face. “Gone,” she sobbed. “Amanda? Gone?”

“I’m sorry.”

“You bastard!” Claire screamed. “You did this!”

Ben looked away, then walked over to the little fireplace and started putting piñon on the grate, and soon he had a fire going. When he turned Claire was looking at him, pure malice in her eyes.

“We had no part in anything that happened today, Claire. Amanda simply arrived at a moment in time, the end of a certain chain. It was her time, and there was nothing we could do to alter that.”

“Oh, yes there is.”

“Yes, but to alter that timeline once again could prove disastrous.”

“Once again?”

“Come. Stand with me by the fire.”

“I’m not cold.”

“Nonsense. I’ve never known anyone so cold.”

Her stare turned to icy stone after that, then she left the house. He heard her driving off into the night so he walked out to the patio in time to see her speeding down the canyon towards the highway that led to Santa Fe – and Walsenburg. He sighed again, then returned to his little bedroom off the kitchen.

He was smiling just then, for a million little reasons, when he heard someone knocking at the door. That, he knew, would be the FBI.

Chapter 14

The road was rough, and of course there were thunderstorms just ahead. Albuquerque lay beyond this line of storms, somewhere beyond the lightning, and Claire was smoldering inside.

Stopped by Los Alamos security near the entrance to the highway to Santa Fe, she had finally been stuffed into the back seat of a gray Ford sedan – only to find Levy already in the car. Handcuffed, as it turned out.

Then she was handcuffed, and for the first time in her life she’d wanted to cry. She also didn’t want Ben to see her crying, to afford him the opportunity to see into her fear, so she turned away, looked at her reflection in the glass…

Amanda…gone. How was that even possible? How did the best train in the country derail, without apparent cause, in the middle of nowhere?

When the FBI agent had asked where she was going she’d told him, and after he apologized he told her he hadn’t heard any details about the accident.

“If you don’t mind me askin’, Ma’am, how do you know your sister’s dead?” the agent asked as they passed through Santa Fe.

“He told me,” Claire replied directly, pointing at Ben.

“And, sir, how did you hear this information?”

And he couldn’t very well answer – ‘Gee, I learned of this a thousand years from now,” so he thought for a moment before answering: “On the radio.”

“I didn’t think they did that,” the agent said. “But then again, I don’t think you’re telling me the truth.”

Then Ben looked at Claire’s reflection in the glass – and their eyes met for a moment, yet she turned away. 

“You’ll have to ask the people at the station,” Ben added.

“I will,” the agent said, looking at Ben in the rear view mirror.

“Where are we going?” Claire asked the agent, still looking at her reflection. 

“To take a ride in an airplane, I guess you could say.”

“I see,” she added, thinking about the people who would want to talk to her after the sphere had been reported over her house. That meant Oak Ridge, or Washington. She thought about the sphere seen here, then the one off the Spanish coast. That one had been clearly observed – by everyone – including the president.

Yes, she was going to be taken to Washington – to see Roosevelt. Because…she had to be under suspicion now. Well, she’d just to have to let Levy talk to them, let them figure out what to do with him – because one way or another she was pretty sure Ben wasn’t going to let anything happen to her.

Slate colored clouds loomed ahead, and she saw lightning in the clouds, too, then fat drops of water hit the windshield. Heavier drops began to beat the Ford’s roof and she closed her eyes, listened to the mysterious rhythm… Why, she wondered, did humans see patterns everywhere? Why? And what pattern did Amanda’s death fit into?

Then the thought hit her: he had chosen not to protect Amanda? Why now, when he had opted to save her the day before? Had she suddenly become so peripheral to the future? Or had her death – now, today, this afternoon – preserved some pre-established order?

Then yet another thought slammed into her: what if Amanda’s trip to the ship had severely altered a timeline? What if her immediate death had become the only way to realign a presumed natural order of time?

Then, another leap of insight. What if…when she’d uprooted Amanda, brought her west from Philadelphia, what if she had altered…but wait…how could she ever know anything like that was true? She couldn’t, not with any certainty. If time was a river, how many tributaries could be generated by just one person. By just one person in the course of a single day? How many ‘what ifs’ could there be?

‘For all intents and purposes, an infinite number.’

Because if just one person confronted an almost infinite number of momentous choices in the course of lifetime, the permutations would literally be very nearly infinite. One would never know, unless they could somehow see into the future, to somehow measure the results of one choice over another.

What crushed her in that moment, what made her feel completely insignificant was the thought that Ben and Trevor – and all the people like them she assumed were working here – had just that ability. If so, there’s was an Olympian vantage, one not so different than what the ancients thought characterized the gods.

She opened her eyes, looked out the window, saw the outskirts of Albuquerque as they emerged from the thunderstorm. The rain-soaked two-lane blacktop was nearly deserted now, and she had seen only a few trucks headed to Santa Fe, while up ahead Albuquerque’s lights were winking on as the sun licked the far horizon. They drove through the city in silence, Ben apparently looking at pedestrians out the Ford’s window, yet now with his arms crossed over his chest, somehow looking very bored while also projecting an image of insecurity.

They drove out onto the tarmac at the Albuquerque Army Air Force Base, right up to a waiting DC-3, and as soon as they were aboard the aircraft the pilots throttled-up and taxied for the runway. It felt to Claire like only minutes passed before they were airborne, headed east over the Sandia Mountains – and into an infinite night.

+++++

More FBI agents met their aircraft at the small Army Air Force base near the Maryland border, and their small convoy made the short drive into the city in total silence. Even more agents were waiting under the White House portico, where both she and Ben were searched before being escorted to Harry Hopkins’ office. She recognized Ben Acheson as she walked into the cramped office, and she saw smoldering malice in the man’s peregrine eyes, then she saw Hopkins was in the room too. And he did not look in the least happy.

“The blue spheres,” Acheson said, pointing at Levy without preamble. “What are they?”

Ben stared at both Hopkins and Acheson for a moment, then shrugged. “In it’s essence, while each mimics a plasma, what you’ve witnessed is but a small electro-magnetic field that resides around a single sub-atomic particle. Power is applied to the field and that regulates the size of the sphere.”

“And why would you do that, Mr Levy?”

“Because the resulting sphere can be manipulated.”

“You mean Time, don’t you, sir? You can manipulate time?”

“No, sir. Not me, personally.”

“Your people, then.”

“That is a true statement, Mr Acheson.”

“Are you human?”

“Human enough.”

“Where are you from?”

“Connecticut, sir.”

“Don’t lie to me, you son of a bitch.”

“I am not, sir. Of that, you may be sure.”

“Alright…one more time. Where are you from?”

“Where did I come from? – would be the question you’re searching for.”

“Then you know exactly what I mean,” Acheson snarled. “Tell me where.”

“‘Where’ isn’t the correct question, sir. ‘When’ is more appropriate. Or – more to the point.”

“When? And just what do you mean by that?”

“My first iteration was created in 1866, sir. This body, the one you’re interacting with, was created in the year 3037. That is from when I come – this time.”

“You expect me to believe…?”

“I’ve told you the truth. Every time you’ve asked me a question, I’ve told you the absolute truth.”

“Well, the president seems to take great stock in you,” Acheson sighed, “though for the life of me I have no idea why.”

Levy only smiled, though he steepled his fingers now, as if measuring the passage of time to a metronome only he could hear.

“You’re a time traveler, then?” Hopkins said, speaking now for he first time, stepping tentatively into the flow.

“Not true, Mr Hopkins. I am – we are – engineers.”

“What kind of engineers?” Acheson snarled, suddenly perturbed again.

“Time, sir,” Levy said – looking from Hopkins to Acheson. “We engineer Time. We try to do so in such a manner that we disrupt certain unwanted imbalances. That we ensure more acceptable outcomes, without disrupting our own existence.”

“And,” Acheson growled, “if I may be permitted to ask, acceptable – to whom? To you?”

“Yes, of course.”

“You know…I think I’ll have you shot.”

“That’s quite understandable,” Levy said, smiling again. “I’m sure the Russians would allow you to, though I feel quite certain Mr Churchill may take offense.”

“What have they got to do with any of this?” Acheson said, his eyes narrowing.

“Everything. Absolutely everything.”

“What did you mean when you said you were human enough? Human enough for what? To fool us?”

Claire looked at Ben now, her eyes full of questions. “You say you were born in 1866? The original iteration of you – whatever that means?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Ben said, grinning.

“What was your name? Back in 1866?”

Levy smiled broadly now. “Herbert.”

“Herbert?” Acheson said, his voice unbelieving. “Herbert…what?”

“Herbert George Wells.”

And it was Claire who burst out laughing this time. “You should pick your doppelgänger with more care, next time – Herbert.”

“Oh, I am not he.”

“Iteration?” Hopkins said. “What do you mean when you say that?”

“I am a copy.”

“A copy?” Acheson added. “Of H. G. Wells? Named Ben Levy?”

“Yes. Just so.”

“And you are not completely human?”

“Not a type of human you would recognize.”

Claire turned inward now, afraid of the next question she had to ask. “Who created you, Ben?”

“Our granddaughter, Claire. Though her husband helped. Her name will be Dana. Dana Goodman.”

“Minneapolis, you said.”

“That’s correct. You remember now?”

Claire nodded before she turned away, then she closed her eyes – if only to stop the flow of tears that might not have been hers. But there was no way to tell, really.

This work © 2017-2022 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this was a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s (rather twisted) imagination or coincidentally referenced entities are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. In other words, this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.

The Eighty-eighth Key, Chapter 61.1

88th key cover image

So…welcome back my friends – to the show that never ends! Looking back from the here and now, this part of the arc began more than two years ago, so how did time fly by so fast? So many twists and turns along the way, too, both within this evolving set of interlinking tales and within this passing little thing called life. How is one life bent inside the other? Or…is it the other way around? Is there really any way to see the difference, or is this all just a dream within a dream?

(Dream of the Return \\ Pat Metheny Group)

We’ll dive back into the 88th Key slowly for the time being, so no big chapters for a while, and this next bit takes off where we last left off, just after Harry returned from Israel and his rough nite at Trader Vic’s.

Oh, a little sidebar here, but do please check out this link to read a heartfelt poem about the situation in Ukraine. And I send my appreciation to Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm for her work. So many thanks your way.

Chapter 62.1

Callahan sat up in bed and looked at the wheelchair parked next to the bedside, then he looked across the room to the bathroom. With no prosthesis yet and only a pair of wooden crutches on hand, his choice was a simple one. Shoulder his way into the chair or somehow get to his crutches and stump across to the bathroom. It was that – or crawl across the floor. Or just let go and piss the bed. 

So, he swung his good leg free of the sheets and got his foot to the floor as he squared his shoulders and pushed his way over to the wheelchair. He made the rapid swing to get aligned in the chair and sighed, for the first time realizing just how much of the real work Ida had been doing for him. But…she was gone now. Both she and Didi, now gone. And with all that accomplished he still had no idea where that left him.

“Getting to the goddamn toilet would help, Callahan!” he muttered to himself. “Unless you really want to take another shower.”

He pushed himself into the bathroom and thanked God Above that DD had the foresight to get handicapped railings installed in here, and he made the transition to the commode and finally let go, the feeling of relief almost overwhelming. A moment later he passed gas – but that was all. Three days and not a single bowel movement; the doc had laid down the law, too…no poop today and it was off to the ER to check for a bowel obstruction.

After he made it back into his chair he rolled over to the sink and somehow washed his hands, then he looked at his bed and sighed. He wasn’t really sleepy and yet he wasn’t awake, either. He was somewhere in between, caught like a fly on fly-paper…alive…but stuck in one place, and he realized now he had been, for months. First in Davos and then in Tel Aviv, and now, again, back inside the old house at Sea Ranch. And, he admitted right then and there, he now felt like he was just waiting to die. A lump of flesh occupying space and time with no purpose left.

He rolled out through the kitchen and into the living room, and then he rolled over to the broad wall of glass that looked out over the Pacific – yet all he saw out there was endless sea. Another sort of nothingness, he realized.

So many ghosts here, he thought as he watched lines of surf break onto the rocks below. He looked around the house and he felt Cathy and Frank all around him, the doc and DD too, and even Lloyd, in a curious way. Yet somehow he felt Fujiko’s presence most of all, Fujiko at the Inn of the Rock Spires. Fujiko dancing in the moonlight as she straddled him, their last union above the surf he now understood was the best, most sublime moment of his life. Love comes to you, and you follow? Wasn’t that from a song?

How odd, how strange it was to sit in the present thinking about the past when all that was left was the future. Would there be no more moments of equal importance? No sublime surrenders in the moonlight? If that was so, what then, really, was the purpose of the time remaining. To simply exist? To breathe in life and then to exhale the growing ambivalence of despair? Over and over, as if nothing else mattered?

“I guess I could just get it over with now,” he said to the darkness, but then he realized all his weapons were gone. Stolen, by his son. Even his Model 29…gone. “Isn’t that just a little too ironic,” he chuckled.

“Oh, I think careless is a better choice of words, Amigo,” he heard Frank say, and he turned to the voice. And there he was, as he once was. Still the same sandy hair, and the same face-splitting grin. Khakis and a gray turtleneck sweater, shoulder holster and his ever-present Colt 1911 snapped in place.

“Hi, Frank. I hate to mention this, but you do know you’re dead, right?”

Bullitt shrugged. “And I hate to break it to you, Amigo, but death is just a state of mind.”

“I see. Good to know. I’ll keep that in mind…”

“You enjoying this?” Frank sighed.

“Enjoying what?”

“Four Suffering Bastards then sitting here in your living room feeling sorry for yourself.”

“Look at me, Frank. Will you? I mean, really…”

“Yeah. You’re half the man you used to be. So what?”

“So what?”

“You’re still a man, ya know? You’re still alive, right? Still breathing in the here and now? What else have you got to complain about?”

“Purpose, Frank. I have no purpose.”

“So? Find one.”

“What? Like maybe run the hurdles in the next Olympics?”

“Don’t be such a fucking asshole, Harry.”

Harry shook his head. “I can’t see…”

“Harry, you never could see the forest because of the trees, because you always let the little shit get in the way. You got to move on now. This is the final sprint to the finish line, Amigo. This is when you got to make it count.”

“What? Make what count?”

Frank sighed and shook his head. “Goddamn, Harry, but you really are one stupid son of a bitch.”

“Now wait just one fucking minute!” Harry cried, but then he turned and looked at Bullitt. Who was just standing there looking down at him, that grin still splitting his face. “But you can’t really be here, can you, Frank?”

“We’re running out of time, Harry.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“Come on. I’ve got to show you something.”

Frank got behind Harry’s wheelchair and pushed him over to one of the sliding glass doors that led out to the huge flying deck that wrapped around the rear of the sprawling house, and then he pushed Harry out to the extreme edge, to the railing that looked down on the crashing waves just below.

“Okay, let’s see,” Bullitt said as he looked around the night sky. “Yeah, there it is,” he said, pointing to the south. “See the Milky Way, there? That cloudy line of misty stars?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, follow the stars down until you see a teapot…”

“You mean Sagittarius, right?”

“Right. Exactly. Find the spout then work your way up to the top of the kettle’s lid. That bright star is Kaus Borealis, and just above that star is a large globular cluster…”

“A what?”

“A big ball of stars, literally hundreds of thousands of stars…”

“And you know this how, Frank?”

Bullitt shrugged. “Doesn’t matter, Amigo. It’s called M28 and I want you to just keep looking at it…”

“Looking at it?”

“Yeah. Until the sun comes up.”

“The sun?”

“Yeah, then I want you to call Liz.”

“Call Liz?”

“Frank?”

“Frank?”

He wheeled around and looked back into the house, but Frank was gone. Again…

“Because he wasn’t ever here, you fucking idiot!” he cried into the darkness.

His despair was total now as meaninglessness piled on like the pounding surf just beneath his chair, and he pulled himself out of the chair, ready to fling himself down onto the rocks below.

Then the night sky lit up and he turned his face to Sagittarius.

Seven quick bright pulses, then a pause. Seven more came to the night, then another pause. 

And in all he counted seven such pulses, each followed by a pause, but then the star cluster disappeared inside a staccato series of bursts that lasted for seven minutes and, as it happened, repeating at the same time again and again over the next seven nights.

But by then Liz was back at his house in Sea Ranch, and this time Liz had brought an owl with her.

And now a piano beckoned, her siren’s song undeniable now. Just like the gravity inside a massive globular cluster in Sagittarius, Harry Callahan was now ready to play the music of the spheres.

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[but wait, there’s more…how about a word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need before work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (i.e., Covid-19 and me generally growing somewhat old) waiting to list said sources might not be the best way to proceed, and this listing will grow over time – until the story is complete. To begin, the ‘primary source’ material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw. I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. The UH-1Y image used from Pt VI on taken by Jodson Graves. The snippets of lyrics from Lucy in the Sky are publicly available as ‘open-sourced.’ Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]

(This Morning \\ Blue Jays: Hayward & Lodge)

Forgotten Songs From An Imaginary Life

Arbeit SM forgotten songs UCSF-1

So, here is Forgotten Songs, inclusive, all chapters knitted into some sort of whole, about 260 pages of typed nonstop rambling. Hopefully easier to read, but who knows.

I’ve been listening to Metheny all week as I rewrote parts of the original. And I’ll probably work on it some more when I go about tying all the tales together, so as far as music goes, well, As Falls Wichita So Falls Wichita Falls will get you to where I was. Enjoy. Please.

So, ahem, yes, there are some changes from the original in here, but not too many and few substantive pivots. And yes, I know, WordPress is not the ideal format for this. Endless apologies.

Forgotten Songs From An Imaginary Life

Part I: When The Sky Falls

Chapter 1

Copenhagen, Denmark 28 March 1939

The physician looked out his office window and scowled, his fingers moving about in nervous circles, and to a casual observer it might have looked like he was writing in the air. He was a young man, just thirty four years old, yet his sandy blond hair was already streaked with gray. He was tall, well over six feet, anyway, and quite thin. He dressed well yet always wore a gray flannel suit, even in summer, and his white shirts were always topped with a red bow tie.

Now, as he slipped out of his white lab coat, he called out to his secretary: “It is snowing already, Mette. I will need my overcoat and boots!”

“But you have another patient, Doctor. Am I to reschedule her for the morning?”

“Is it a new patient?”

“Yes. Something Baumgarten?”

“Something? Her name is Something?” Dr. Anders Sorensen scoffed. “Seriously?”

“No, of course not, I just don’t have the file in front of me right just now.”

“What is the issue?”

“Stomach pain, fatigue, blood in her stool.”

Sorensen growled as he turned and put his lab coat back on, then he put his stethoscope where he always put it – in his coat’s lower right pocket – before he walked into the nurses room to look over this new patient’s file. He pulled his reading glasses out of a vest pocket and slipped them onto his nose, then he quietly studied the information the woman’s family physician had sent ahead, along with her x-rays, and then, before he had even seen the patient, he asked his nurse to check on the availability of an operating room for tomorrow morning.

“How long a procedure?” she asked. She knew the tone, and the look on the professor’s face. This was a serious case, and she didn’t know how he stood up to the strain day after day.

“Four hours, and I will require two assistants. Preferably at least one of my residents.”

“Yes, Professor.” 

Sorensen walked out into the clinic’s waiting room and looked around until he found the likeliest looking person, a frail looking middle-aged woman with gray skin turning yellow under sallow jowls. “Ina?” he said to the frail looking, ashen-faced woman sitting with, he guessed, her husband. “Shall we talk now?”

The woman had trouble standing and he rushed over to help her husband, and she leaned on them both a bit as she got steady on her feet.

“Are you feeling dizzy just now? A little light-headed, perhaps?”

“Yes, Doctor. Very much so.”

He took her left wrist in hand and felt her pulse, then he checked her right wrist. “Can you walk now?”

“I think so, yes.”

He helped the woman to his exam room and then left her with his nurse to get into a gown, and he went out to talk to her husband.

“How long has your wife been feeling ill?” Sorensen asked after he confirmed the scared looking man was indeed her husband.

“It is months now, Doctor, yet she would go to our doctor but for the winter.”

Sorensen nodded. “Have you noticed blood in her stool?”

The man nodded. His hands we shaking and Sorensen could see the vessels in his neck beating heavily.

“Has she been vomiting?”

Again the old man nodded.

“And there is blood in the fluid?”

“Yes, doctor, though much more this last week.”

Sorensen put his hand on the man’s shoulder. “I will go and speak to Ina now, but you must be prepared for a hospital stay. Is there someone you can stay with here in the city?”

“Yes, Doctor. My son teaches engineering here at the university.”

“Fine, fine, that is good. I will come and speak with you when I am finished.” Sorensen returned to his exam room and looked over the patient’s vitals, including an orthostatic pressure check, then he took his opthalmascope and peered into the old woman’s eyes and nodded.

“I am going to help you lay back now, and I want you to point to where you feel pain when I do.”

She immediately indicated the upper central region of her abdomen and Sorensen gently palpated the area she indicated, then he felt around the rest of her belly. “How is your appetite, Ina?”

She shook her head. “Not good. I have not been hungry for weeks.”

“What about red meat?”

“No, no…the idea makes me ill – even just to hear the words.”

“Trouble swallowing, even when drinking water?”

“Yes, how did you know?”

He smiled. “Ina, I think we must go get a new x-ray just now, but I also think it very likely that you have something in your stomach that needs to be removed.” Sorensen was careful not to say ‘cancer’ – as he did not want to unduly scare her. “First we need to see if the this growth has spread, and if it hasn’t then we will need to operate as soon as possible.”

“And if it has spread, then what?”

“We will discuss that after we look at the images. For now, I want you to keep thinking only of good things, about your happiest memories. Can you do this for me?”

“Yes, Doctor.”

“Now we go to the x-ray machine.”

“Does this x-ray thing hurt, Doctor? The other one hurt.”

“No, no, it should all be quite painless. You won’t feel a thing, but let me know if it does.”

+++++

The snow was ankle deep and falling wet and heavy by the time he left the clinic; Sorensen pulled his coat’s heavy fur collar up to keep the slushy snow from running down his back, because he disliked the sudden chill of the intrusion. He looked at all the people walking home then he put on his hat, then his fur-lined gloves went on before he stepped out into the blue light of evening. His house was nearby, just two blocks away, but the walk was just long enough to be bothersome on nights like this, and he tried to think of something, anything, other than this Baumgarten’s tumor. He would know more once he was inside, of course, but malignant spread was obvious on her x-rays – yet her liver might not be involved yet so maybe there was still some hope of a decent outcome.

He stepped out into traffic and almost immediately a taxi honked its horn and slid to a stop on the slick surface, in the process spattering his legs with slushy snow. ‘That was too close for comfort,’ Sorensen sighed as he shook his head by way of an apology, then, as he stepped back up onto the sidewalk, he nervously pulled his scarf tight – just as an errant stream of water puddled on his neck – before running down his back.

He shivered once then tried to concentrate again – on the traffic around him and on the slushy piles forming on the sidewalk – until he made it home, but when he entered he was surprised by the silence that greeted him. No servants to take his coat? And…while the house smelled of fresh cut flowers – there was no dinner ready? So, where were the cooks?

“What is going on here?” he said to the silence, and when no-one spoke to his question he turned and took off his overcoat and hung it in the hall closet, then he shook off his hat and put it away, too, on a rack to dry. His gloves and scarf came off next, but just then he heard scurrying footsteps on the floor above, followed by the sound of breaking glass.

He turned and ran for the staircase, made it up to the next floor in a mad dash, only to find his wife sweeping up the remnants of a mirror that had, apparently, just fallen off the back of a closet door.

“Are you alright!?” Anders cried as he ran into the bedroom. “I heard glass break and no-one is in the kitchen! What is going on here?”

His wife, Tilda, shook her head and smiled. “Must I tie ribbons around your fingers? We are going out tonight, in case you have forgotten. So I gave everyone the evening off!”

“Out? Tonight? You didn’t…oh wait, yes, yes you did.”

“Yes, I did.”

“The recital? Or is it a concert this time?”

“She is only the daughter of your best friend in all the world, and already he forgets! Anders! You are hopeless!”

Sorensen shook his head, scolding himself. “Ah, yes. Imogen, the new concerto, at the concert hall.”

“You have had a bad day?”

“A bad afternoon. A bad case.”

“How early must you go in?”

“Four thirty in the morning. It was the only opening.”

“It always it,” she sighed. “So. Then we will make a brief appearance at the reception after. We must get you home and to bed.”

“I hate to mention it, but what about dinner? Do we have plans?”

Tilda shook her head. “I thought we would go to Hugo’s tonight. There is time enough.”

He pulled the pocket-watch from his waistcoat and looked at the time. “Barely. We will need to hurry.”

“Then let us hurry…but you’d better call for a taxi.”

“I should tell you, in case you have forgotten, that you are the most beautiful woman in the world and that I love you immensely.”

She smiled as she walked by, pausing only slightly and kissing him gently on her way to the stairs. He looked at her and smiled, because even now, after ten years, the sight of her thrilled him. So, perhaps you could say he was blind to the dangers coiling around his life, perhaps even blinded by his wife’s eternal beauty. But do those things ever really matter? 

Or is beauty, and the love it inspires, the only thing that ever really matters?

Copenhagen, Denmark                                             2 September 1939

Anders Sorensen put on his reading glasses and looked over the patient’s chart, then up at the surgical residents standing around the patient’s bed. He seemed to all who looked at him very agitated this morning, perhaps even a little angry, and in the experience of his residents this was most unusual. Sorensen was usually the calm, steady hand, and he had never, in their experience, appeared fearful. But today? 

Yes, something was amiss. Indeed, something was very, very wrong.

“Pers,” Sorensen said as he consulted the chart once again, “the patient is two days post-op and now has a temperature. His abdomen is tender where?”

“Right upper quadrant, Doctor.”

“Which makes us think what, Matilde?”

“That there is the possibility of another stone, Doctor, perhaps in the hepatic duct?”

“And so we should do what, Stefan?”

“An x-ray with contrast medium should be our next procedure, Doctor Sorensen.”

Sorensen hooked the chart onto the end of the patient’s bed and nodded. “Let me know when you have the results,” he said as he turned and strode back to his office without so much as a word.

“Have we done something wrong?” one of the residents asked. “He seems offended by our very presence today.”

Stefan Jensen looked at the group then at Sorensen’s retreating form. He knew what was bothering Sorensen but now was not the time to talk about such things, not around all these loose-lipped, clueless residents. 

Indeed, all Denmark was on edge today. The Germans had rolled into Poland just the day before and already it appeared that both England and France would declare war of the Germans within hours, and this morning there were reports that German units were gathering along Denmark’s border. And both Jensen and Sorensen were, like many students and faculty here at the medical school, Jews.

So yes, of course Sorensen was agitated. Everyone of his residents had seen the dozens of photographs of German Jews forced to wear armbands, being beaten and harassed as they walked down the Unter den Linden in Berlin. And of course by then they’d all heard the horror stories of homes and businesses being confiscated from German Jews – before some of these people mysteriously disappeared. Hitler’s views, as well as those of all his myriad acolytes, were by now more than well known in Denmark and the Sudetenland, and so now, with Poland about to fall, the thinking was that when the Germans inevitably rolled into Denmark it wouldn’t be all that difficult to figure out what would happen to people like Anders Sorensen and the other Jews. 

And, as was the instant case, to Stefan Jensen, but, then again, Jensen’s family had no intention of staying in Copenhagen and waiting for the inevitable noose to tighten. Even now his father was making arrangements to move the family to Canada by way of Sweden, and just last night his father had tasked Stefan with finding out if Professor Sorensen might not care to make the journey with them. He’d penned a letter to that effect, charging his eldest son with delivering it to the professor as soon as possible.

And so, when Sorensen walked off towards his office, Jensen made up his mind right then and followed him.

But he hadn’t counted on having to deal with the Professor’s secretary-nurse, a ferocious creature who jealously guarded Sorensen’s privacy as well as his time.

“I need to speak with Professor Sorensen,” Stefan said as he came sliding breathlessly into the anteroom. “It is most important!”

“What’s this about, Jensen?” Anders said, as he had not yet made it all the way into his office.

“A personal matter, Doctor. A letter from my father, for you, sir.”

“Well. come in, come in. I have a few minutes…”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

“How is your mother? I have heard she was feeling ill?”

“Ah, better. Thank you for asking.”

“Now, what’s this all about? A letter, you say?”

“Yessir, from my father. About, well, Poland.”

“Poland? My, my. Well, you’d better let me have a go at it, don’t you think?”

“Yessir,” Stefan said as he pulled the envelope from his lab coat and handed it to his mentor.

“Do you know what this is all about?” Sorensen said as he took the letter from his young resident.

“Not the specifics, sir.”

Sorensen opened the envelope and read through the letter twice, taking a deep breath once then rubbing the bridge off his nose, trying to chase away too many hours without sleep with one futile pinch. Then he walked over to his office window and pulled it open, letting waves of fresh air wash through his stuffy little office.

“I love the smell of this city,” Anders said as he put his hands on the sill and leaned out into the air. “The sea, the market stalls, the streets here around the university…life…I smell life…intoxicating life everywhere I turn.”

“I think my father smells death, Doctor. Fear and death.”

“And there are few people in the world I respect more than your father. You know that, don’t you?”

“I do, sir.”

“What about you, Stefan? You have your medical degree now but your training will be incomplete, so what do you think of all this commotion? Such a departure will make for many difficult choices, and for us all, yet for you this decision may be more than a simple inconvenience.”

“I have heard that a German branch of the Gestapo has already formed here in the city, and that there are collaborators in all levels of the government and that who are ready to deal with the Germans.”

“Yes, I have heard this too. And lists will be made, knocks on doors will come in the middle of the night, as surely as the night follows day. Synagogues will burn, too – yet always under mysterious circumstances, of course – but by then all the Jews in Denmark will have disappeared. Stefan, I fear this new animal, this new kind of superman. And yet, I think I fear for our world most of all. We are not prepared to deal with such Hate.”

“It makes sense to leave now, does it not, Professor? Before such a decision becomes too difficult, if not impossible. We risk much of course, that I do know, but do we not risk the end of our families, and not only our lives? We will endure if we leave, will we not. We will survive another season of man.”

“So, we must teach the horse to sing after all? Is that what you are saying, Stefan?”

“Yes, Professor. But what about the Schwarzwald’s? Do you think you can convince the professor to join us?”

“Professor Schwarzwald? No. Never. He will never leave Copenhagen, and he has told us so many times.”

“But, what about Imogen?”

Sorensen backed out of the freshening breeze and stepped back into his office, and then he turned to face Stefan, a scowl creasing his lean face. “That will depend on Avi Rosenthal, of course…”

“I do not trust that – bastard,” Jensen said, almost spitting out that last word.

“She is not well, Stefan.”

“Imogen? I did not know this…”

Sorensen pointed to his head and shook his head. “Her father fears she is fast becoming schizophrenic. Apparently she is visited by an old man who whispers to her in the night.”

Jensen shook his head then. “She is such a talent, such a brilliant physicist. Her mind must be at war with itself.” 

“You have known her since…”

“Yes, Professor, since forever. Since before we started school together.”

“So…you know Avi well enough to…”

“I do. He is a prick who would sell out his mother…”

Sorensen held out his hand. “Enough. His father was a dear friend, as you well know.”

“I understand. What should I tell my father?”

“Tell your father…that all in all I would prefer Quebec over Toronto, but then again I would rather resettle in California over any other place. San Francisco above all.”

Jensen beamed. “Really? Well, this is excellent news!”

“Yes, go tell your father. Now, I have to talk to my wife about all this. It will come as rather a surprise, I should think. And before you run home, might I suggest you see to your patients, Doctor Jensen?”

+++++

Everything was arranged quite hastily, with travel under the guise of attending a surgical symposium in Philadelphia deceptively employed. And then almost immediately the Jensens and the Sorensens traveled to Gothenburg to board to the Svenska Amerika Linien’s MS Kungsholm, leaving for New York City in early October, 1939. By the time the party arrived at the old red brick Stigbergskajen quay in Gothenburg, word was already circulating among the people gathered on the docks that this would likely be the last passenger crossing from Sweden, and Anders Jensen thanked his lucky stars that he had acted as precipitously as he had.

Because of the fourteen hundred and fifty two people gathered on the pier that crisp autumn morning, most were Jews, and most were by now quite frantic. Frantic – because all the Jews gathered that morning feared that something might prevent their boarding the ship – and so prevent their escape to America. Already the Gestapo was monitoring air traffic within Europe, already they were plucking prominent Jews from aircraft bound for Lisbon, where the last Pan Am Clippers were departing mainland Europe for Miami and New York. Because, in a very real sense, these fleeing Jews were like desperately unwitting fish being forced into waiting nets, and this crossing on the Kungsholm appeared to be the last best way off the continent – simply because the Gestapo had yet to find a way of operating effectively within neutral Sweden.

So by the time Anders and Tilda Sorensen cleared immigration and walked across the boarding ramp and into the ship they each felt a palpable sense of release. Walking up the grand staircase to the reception area they felt an ongoing cascade of conflicting emotion: regret and sorrow for leaving the only life they had ever known – then tumbling down the very real slopes of fleeing a deadly, ominous and incomprehensible force bent on their destruction. By the time they settled in their stateroom Tilda was a quivering wreck, so distraught she could hardly walk; Anders, however, pulled a prized old Meerschaum from his vest pocket then stepped out onto the promenade and slowly filled the bowl, watching the liner pull away from the quay as he lit the tobacco – a quieting ritual he had stumbled upon when he had been a surgical resident some years before.

When he was able, when his own hands had steadied, he returned to his stateroom and helped Tilda get out of her traveling clothes and into something more appropriate to walking through the ship for lunch, then he took her out to the promenade for an easy stroll in the freshening breeze. He put his arm around her and once again he marveled at the way they seemed to have been made to fit one another. Everything about her felt so right, and it always had…from their very first moments together to this very instant.

“We have made it, my love,” he said to her reassuringly, gently, and he felt her relax as easy-loose sensations arced through her arm into his soul. 

“You have decided on Quebec, I take it?”

“As a first stop, yes. The Americans have closed down immigration from Europe now, especially for Jews…”

“But why…?”

“It is the same story, my love. The same as it has always been, the same as it will always be.”

“So tell me again, please – why are we running?”

“To stay one step ahead of the Hatre. To survive, to live and to love life while we are alive.”

“So? Quebec? And then what?”

“Do you remember Stefan Petersen, from my days as a resident?”

“Stefan? Of course?”

“He is teaching now at the medical college in San Francisco, and yet I have been in contact with him since he left Denmark. He has been trying to convince me to come join the faculty there, so I think this will work out – but even so we may need to be patient. Some doors will not be so easily opened now, not with all these new restrictions, but we will be safe in Canada for the time being.”

Tilda looked across the sea to the faint shimmering coastline across the strait and sighed. “That is home, is it not?” she said, pointing across the water to Denmark in the distance.

“Yes, that – was – home.”

“Do you think we will ever come back?”

Anders shrugged. “Before this madness began I had thought about San Francisco as a home for us. About America. I was beginning to feel so hemmed in at the University, like my future there was predefined and limited. It seems odd now, preordained in a way, but when I thought about San Francisco I felt a kind of hope, even a year ago, and for some reason now I feel that our future is there, and that for us it will be correct future.”

“I have always trusted you, my husband. Where you go I will follow.”

“And wherever we end up, I will love you with all my heart.”

She smiled and the sun peeked out from behind a scudding layer of fast moving clouds. “Do you think that, perhaps, they have food on this boat?”

“I have heard a rumor that this may be so. Are you finally hungry?”

“I am,” Tilda Sorensen said, her red hair streaming on those sun-kissed autumn breezes, her green eyes alight with something akin to hope, perhaps even happiness. “For the first time in days, I think.”

“Then let us find something! I am so happy you finally feel well enough to have an appetite.”

Still looking out over the horizon, Tilda pointed to something low in the sea, and her brow furrowed with sudden anxiety. “What is that?” she said, and as Anders followed her eyes he squinted and shielded his eyes with his left hand.

“That,” he sighed, “is a periscope.”

And as if on cue, a German U-boat surfaced a few hundred meters off the Kungsholm’s port beam, and she steamed alongside with her Nazi ensign streaming in the wind from her conning tower. Anders and Tilda and several hundred fleeing Jews stood at the port rail, all of them gathering in sudden fear, all staring at the submarine as if they were staring into the eyes of death itself, and soon enough all Tilda Sorensens’s happy appetites had slipped away on dark, unseen currents. The ship’s captain came on over the ship’s PA just then and announced that because of anticipated submarine activity the Kungsholm would omit her customary stop in Southhampton, England, and that they would be steaming directly to New York. He assured the passengers and crew that as a vessel flagged in Sweden that the vessel – and all her occupants – had been assured safe passage by the German Foreign Ministry.

Anders Sorensen looked at the glistening black submarine steaming alongside their pristine white and gold liner, the submarine’s captain having decided to come closer still – thinking that perhaps his proximity alone would be enough to menace those squalid Jews standing at the rail one more time – and Sorensen could feel the man’s loathing from where he stood. Sorensen did not, he realized at last, understand his fellow man. Hadn’t all the Hate cultivated by the Church and Hanseatic merchants finally dissipated once and for all? Why had their virulence resurfaced once again, and why now, and with such malevolent intent? ‘What have we done to deserve this?’ he wondered – just as Jews all around Europe have for a thousand years.

Or, he wondered, did this hatred spring from another place, from a darkness within all men’s souls that he had not yet encountered?

He looked down now, almost straight down at the officers and enlisted men standing on the submarine’s conning tower. Men in black leather jackets were staring up at the Jews clustered along the Kungsholm’s rail, and he wondered what was on their minds, and in their hearts, as they looked up him, and at all these fleeing Jews. Predator and prey – or was it simply a mindless pursuit? Or, again, was there some darker force at work? And in the face of so much hate, would this submarine captain recognize something so inconsequential as Swedish neutrality?

The encounter lasted perhaps a half hour, but by the time the submariner turned and departed towards Helgoland he had made his point…

…because every time Anders went out to take a walk around the promenade he stopped at the after-most stern rail and looked into the Kungsholm’s wake, for the periscope waiting out there, closing-in to end his life. Yet the submarine captain’s emotional victory was complete, if only because for the rest of his life, Anders continued to run from images of that submarine and her torpedoes coming for him in the night, and in his nightmares he died a thousand times, and always in searing agony as the Kungsholm slipped beneath oily waves on her way to eternal darkness.

Chapter Two

San Francisco, California December 1945

Anders and Tilda Sorensen stood beside the railway platform at Oakland’s 16th Street Station, waiting for the arrival of the Southern Pacific’s Number 12, the Cascade, inbound from Seattle and now due to arrive in ten minutes – and only a half hour late! It was chilly out that Saturday morning because an unusual cold front from the northwest had pushed through during the night, dumping rain on the city and leaving a crisp, cloudless sky over the bay after it passed. Anders felt Tilda tremble as a gust whipped along the platform so he put an arm around her shoulder and held her close. She leaned into him and sighed, content as current conditions allowed.

“I remember making this journey,” she said. “It was so long, and so very uncomfortable.”

“It was not so long ago, you know? And you were uncomfortable?”

“Oh, no, I didn’t mean to say that. The journey from home in general, I meant. And that first winter in Quebec…I hope I am never again as cold as we were that winter.”

Anders laughed at the memory, but then again it hadn’t seemed all that funny at the time. “I remember the hideous coal burning stove most of all. It put out enough heat to warm perhaps one room, and wasn’t that an awful apartment.”

“We were lucky not to die of pneumonia,” Tilda sighed. “I will remember nothing but the cold.”

“Well, life is much better here, don’t you think?”

“I have never been happier, my love.”

“I know. I feel the same way, and every day I thank God we made it here. This was the correct choice for us.”

“I hope I was able to set up the new apartment well enough. I don’t know what to expect now.”

“It is just temporary, Tilly. As soon as her husband is finished with that school we will help them find a house; until then they must remain close to us. We will both need to look after Imogen, I’m afraid. Rosenthal’s telegram was bleak, but at least she survived the madness.”

“Is he coming?”

“Rosenthal? Yes, soon. Perhaps by spring, but I understand he is working to get as many Jews into Palestine as he can, despite the rancid objections of the British.”

“I have a bad feeling about all that, Anders.”

“Many do. Relocating so many people will not be achieved without cost.”

“They should all come here,” Tilda said, and perhaps she spoke only half-jokingly.

“But California will never be the Promised Land,” he sighed.

“Only because the desert fathers had never been here. One week in San Francisco and Israel would have been built here, or perhaps in Monterrey.”

Anders chuckled. “You might have a point,” then he cocked his face into the wind and listened. “Do you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“The train. Can you hear the whistle?”

“Ah, yes, I can…just.”

“I wonder what it is about that sound that is always so exciting?”

“Taking a trip, I think, is like getting away from all of our day to day cares, all our frustrations and worries…so maybe it is the hopeful sound of release?”

“You are so wise, Tilly. Yes, look right there!” he cried, pointing to the north. “See the steam, there, just above the trees and those warehouses?”

And yes, there above warehouses and neighborhood streets lined with bungalows pulsed vast geysers of steam – gray and black at times, then purest white…a procession of cloud-like billows rising into the blue sky – until the locomotive’s monstrously bright headlamp appeared as the train rounded a curve, then soon enough and car by car the entire train came into view. Anders and Tilda stepped back from the edge of the platform as the locomotive huffed and chuffed into the station, and then Anders looked for the Pullman sleeper that had come from Seattle.

“What a beautiful train!” he cried. The cars were the deep red and orange of a western sunset, trimmed in silver and with a black roof, and even the huge steam locomotive wore the same colors. 

“Which carriage is she in?” Tilly cried, trying to be heard over the cacophonous noises of the arriving monster.

Anders looked at his notes again, double checking his memory. “9034, a sleeping car. Ah, there it is!” he said, taking Tilly by the hand and stepping towards the car as a porter opened the door and set out his yellow step on the platform. People began filing out two by two, but they saw no Imogen Schwarzwald, and no husband with her.

Then at last a tall, almost gaunt man stepped down to the platform, then he turned and raised his hand to help a withered old scarecrow-lady down the steps…and just then Anders recognized Imogen and his first impulse was to turn and run from the horror of her decline.

“My God,” Tilda whispered. “Could that be our Imogen? She must weigh fifty pounds, if that!”

Anders held his tongue but in that moment all the alleged horrors of Hitler’s Final Solution crystallized in his mind and once again his blind hatred of all things German came up in a raging tide of acrid bile. His best friend, Imogen’s father, dead. Killed. Shot in the back of the head for providing medical care to resistance fighters, a colonel in the Gestapo waiting in the wings to take possession of the professor’s house, and then the colonel’s turning up face down in a canal with a knife shoved into the back of his skull.

An eye for an eye, right?

That’s how the game has to be played, right?

You don’t meet the enemy head on, on his terms. You slip around behind him, preferably under cover of night, then you slit his throat in his bed. You send a message with your audacity: no one is safe. You cannot hide from us. That was the lesson Europe’s Jews had learned from this latest reign of terror, paid for with their dearest blood. That was the truth Europe’s Jews would carry with them as they returned home, to Palestine. And now all the horror that Anders Sorensen had hoped to push aside here in California came crashing home again. He wanted nothing to do with the old world, because he saw in California what every new arrival in California had always sought: he wanted to rejuvenate his very soul, to reinvent his life while he recovered the best facets of his other self, the life he had been forced to abandon in Copenhagen. Since the gold rush, California had become the land where people went to make their fortune, and then to enjoy the fruits of their prosperity – in a land that truly was made of milk and honey.

But now Imogen Schwarzwald stood before him and everything he had run from came home in one thunderous crash, and in that sundered moment he felt all his hopes and dreams wither and die on a parched vine. Then he ran to her and when she recognized him she opened her arms and fell into his embrace.

“Oh my God, my sweet love. What has happened? What did they do to you?” he whispered into her ear.

“You do not need to know such things, Uncle,” came her whispered reply.

“Oh my dear, I am sorry but I must tell you that you are wrong about this. I must learn what you learned of the people who did this to you, to see and feel what you experienced at their hands. I must know, you see? I must know so that it can never happen again…” He felt her grow hard and stiff so he pulled her closer still. “But not today. Today is for happiness, for you have made it to our home – to your new home – and you are safe now. I will let nothing bad happen to you ever again.”

He pulled away and saw her tears, but that was before he looked beyond the tears.

And what he saw there left him reeling with uncertainty, for surely she was the most fragile human being he had ever seen, cast adrift on demon-haunted seas with no hope of finding a safe shore. No hope, true enough, but a searching uncertainty too, like somehow she carried the burden of guilt for what had happened.

He pulled her close again, only this time he lifted her in his arms and carried her off the railway platform and through the station, then all the way out to his car, a black and gray Buick Roadmaster convertible parked on the street with the top down. Imogen’s husband dashed ahead and opened the car door, then he helped Anders get Imogen seated.

Anders, seriously winded now, went to the back of his car and leaned against the rear fender, taking his time to catch his breath – and he used a handkerchief to mop his brow while he introduced himself to Imogen’s husband, Lloyd Callahan.

“You really did not need to do that, Doctor,” Callahan said in his usual Scottish seaman’s brogue. “Imogen needs to walk, to regain her strength…”

“No, Lloyd, this was something I had to do.” Anders stood tall and looked at Imogen. “I should have never allowed her father to talk us into letting them remain in Copenhagen. I should have insisted they join us, all of them.”

“It is hard to imagine what she’s been through,” Tilda said, “but I couldn’t have imagined in my worst nightmares that a human being could look so frail…”

“Oh, really?” Lloyd said, startled by this stranger’s unwarranted tactlessness. “Well, you did not see her on the docks in Copenhagen, not as I did. Clothes like rags, her skin yellow and caked with mud. She was on death’s door then and so ill she could hardly eat.”

“And yet,” Anders sighed, “here she is with you? Her mysterious savior?”

“Aye,” Callahan barked. “Many things brought us together, Doctor. Forces, you might say, beyond all our control.”

“Yes,” Anders replied, “fate is a strange thing. So many unexpected intrusions.” Unexpected, he wanted to say, like the unforced exclusions from those who had truly loved Imogen. Like the man who by sheer force of will had protected her during her long confinement. The man who through sheer force of will carried her from the Bohemian mountains surrounding Theresienstadt back to the Danish coast, back to her home. But no, he would not speak of those things today, and perhaps he never would. This brutish sailor had no interest in such truths, and he doubted such a man ever could. This boorish Callahan was, after all, a useful enough idiot, but he would, in the end, never do as a husband – or as a father. 

No, he would not do at all.

+++++

Within a year of his arrival in California, Anders had earned enough to purchase a nice little house on 6th Avenue between Hugo and Irving, and as the house was located very close to the hospital his old routines blossomed. Anders had always loved his morning walk to the clinic in Copenhagen and here, nestled up against the Sutro Hills, he once again felt comfortable enough with the neighborhood to resume that tradition. And besides all that glorious proximity, he simply loved his new home, a narrow three story affair that, that for all intents and purposes, looked more like a Dutch home lifted from a canal in central Amsterdam than the usual American bungalow that lined almost every other street here in the city.

But the real delight was to be found outside, off the rear of the house, for the area behind all the houses in the block had been given over to a huge common garden absolutely teeming with birds and enchanted little nooks to sit and wile away a sunny morning. He loved the little gardens that popped up back there and soon began planting flowers and putting up bird houses.

As live-in maids were the exception now in America, the practice being frowned upon even among the well-to-do, they no longer employed a live in housekeeper. Still, he had found a partial workaround that had, so far at least, worked out splendidly. He had turned parts of the top floor of the house into a small apartment, and they let out the room to needy medical students, a move with less than charitable intent because in lieu of rent the tenant would help Tilly out with chores around the house, including cooking evening meals in their spacious new kitchen. Naturally enough, all the tenants to date had been female, because it wouldn’t do to have a young man wandering around the house with his wife so close, and all had been Jewish to help keep a kosher house.

He had, to date, found California exceptionally tolerant in this regard, and because of events during the war Anders found himself drawn to his faith in ways he never had in Denmark. He’d first found a Reformed synagogue near his house and began attending, not telling Tilda and never wearing a kippah anywhere but inside the temple. In this way, he observed the Judaic sabbath as best he could – given his obligations at the hospital – and it was months before he even broached the subject with Tilly. Yet she was immediately interested in attending services, claiming that since leaving home she had felt something missing from her life. Perhaps reconnecting with their religious roots was that something?

And yet when they first went to the temple together he caught himself looking over his shoulder more than once, as if he might find a leather jacketed submariner lurking in the shadows, or worse still, agents of the Schutzstaffel waiting just ahead, watching and recording their every move. Even Tilda admitted to feeling as much…and that a kind of uneasiness permeated their every move when they went to observe their faith because, she had to admit, as a Jew she would forever be a stranger in a strange land. They talked to their rabbi about their feelings, and all the elder could do was commiserate and tell them that they were not alone in their fear. The only real answer, the rabbi told them, resided in Palestine.

Yet by the time the war came to an end they had both grown comfortable in their new skin. They felt like Americans. They contributed to the war effort freely and gladly; Anders bought war bonds and Tilly volunteered at the hospital, helping out as best she could by rolling bandages and doing other menial chores. Yet she soon began to regret her lack of higher education, and this led to feeling inadequate. 

But then both Anders and their rabbi encouraged her to pursue her interests, to attend college and see where this new road might take her.

And this, she finally realized, was the real beauty of America.

She was no longer bound by stifling traditions, no longer limited to a role in society imposed on her by her elders. Because in the beginning she had simply watched the procession of young women boarders pass through their little apartment with little more than idle curiosity, but soon enough she talked to them about their own hopes and dreams as women in a male dominated hierarchy, and soon enough she realized that all hierarchies are meant to be challenged, but that in America such challenges were not necessarily doomed to fail.

So she went to Berkeley and she studied biology and chemistry and she proved to be an excellent student, if a little on the older side of such an unbalanced equation. Yet Tilly did not let even that dissuade her. Inspired by the women in the apartment on the third floor of their “little Dutch house”, she began to follow in the footsteps of these girls, and so no one was at all surprised, least of all her husband, when she was accepted at the medical school just down the peninsula in Palo Alto, at Stanford University.

Soon enough her routine was more than complicated. Tilly was up before dawn to make breakfast with their medical student-tenant, then she was off to the little Southern Pacific depot to catch the morning commuter down to Palo Alto, and after school she did the reverse: catch the train then a bus to the hospital, then walk home and prepare dinner. Maybe there was time to decompress before a couple of hours spent studying, then she went to bed for a few hours of desperately needed sleep .

Yet she graduated near the top of her class and began her internship at UCSF, and there the contours of her life took on the more urgent challenges and responsibilities of working inside a major teaching hospital, only now she could walk to work – with her husband. She matriculated into the residency program there, in psychiatry, and her life might have stabilized somewhat had not two people returned to her life.

Imogen Callahan went to Berkeley to teach once again, and Avi Rosenthal turned up at Stanford.

And then, a few years later and against all odds, she found one morning that she was with child.Chapter 3

Copenhagen, Denmark 13 August 1955

Saul Rosenthal looked up from his morning newspaper, then he looked out his office window – lost in thoughts about The Magic Mountain. Thomas Mann had died the day before and he was surprised he’d found the news, well, more than a little upsetting. While Mann’s work hadn’t really exerted a tremendous influence on his own life, his books, especially his Zauberberg and Faustus, had defined the twentieth century and put the calamitous events of the 1920s and 30s into a context that still eluded most observers. More importantly, Mann had been a willing participant in a long running scheme during the war to broadcast news of importance to those caught inside Nazi Germany, and Rosenthal had long been funneling information to Mann for use in those broadcasts, and in this way their indirect relationship lasted from early 1942 until the war’s end. They’d even met, though only briefly, after the war, when the author still lived in Southern California. Now Mann was gone and it felt like a great voice had grown still. And somehow, in the moment Rosenthal read of Mann’s passing, he’d felt more than empty again, more like the world had suddenly proven itself hollow after all – then in a flash he remembered the same feeling had crushed him once before, for this was exactly how he’d felt just after he’d learned of FDRs passing.

But there were other pressing matters laid out on his desk that morning, as well. 

There was a new letter from Lloyd Callahan to consider; he’d had written that Imogen was hallucinating more frequently, and now Lloyd was openly wondering if Tilda Sorensen, because of her long friendship with Aaron Schwarzwald and family, that she might be the best physician to treat her – given the circumstances. Saul sat back and considered the question, in the end deciding that in order to make the best decision he needed to see Imogen in the flesh. He sighed, considered that perhaps it was time for a return trip to San Francisco. There were simply too many other matters that needed his direct intervention there now, and after hesitating he decided he could no longer avoid making the journey.

Because most troubling of all, his brother Avi had just shown up at UC Berkeley – after a brief stint at a research facility in Israel, and that could only mean one thing. Sooner or later Avi would make his play for Imogen, and that when it was time Avi would remind all concerned that he had, after all, been married to Imogen before the war. With that trap sprung and his undermining the Callahan marriage accomplished, there was little doubt that Avi would force a return to Israel with Imogen in tow, so the question facing Saul now was how best to intervene. Could he simply expose his brother as the fraudster he’d always been and hope to expose him through subterfuge, or would he have to take more direct action?

Which was a course of action he really dared not take. Not now. Because of his brother’s political ambitions, Avi had developed contacts within the Mossad, so any action he took against his brother might lead to direct intervention, and he simply could not risk exposing his own network.

But he kept asking one question over and over: why had Avi left Israel – now. He’d heard rumors of some sort of sexual impropriety, yet that kind of nonsense was very unlike his brother. Avi had made enemies, of course, both in Denmark and in Israel, but that only meant he’d have to devote precious resources to finding out what his brother had been up to. He was, after all, a brilliant physicist, and useful enough to the state for certain laws to be…bent, if not quite broken.

Then again, maybe it was time to take Imogen over to Berkeley, and perhaps up to the Livermore labs, use his contacts within that community and see if she might not be welcome as a professor there. It was worth a try, especially if she was losing focus again and falling into her peculiar hallucinations. The same blasted Old Man in his loden cape, and with some sort of magic cane he used to control the weather! Really? But…what if he, Saul, could strengthen her grip on reality again? What was the best way to do that?

Then he considered that it was time to finally open the new store in San Francisco. He would need such a venture to justify his comings and goings there, and if he was indeed going to start meddling in Imogen’s life again he would need the cover such a going concern might offer.

“Ah, well,” he said as he brightened to the chorus of phantoms dancing in his mind’s eye, “perhaps it is time to visit young Harald again.” He liked the boy and thought he might still turn into a decent pianist – with a little more timely encouragement, anyway, so he thought about his options then called SAS and booked a one way ticket on their new trans-polar route to Los Angeles. Then he sent along a telegram to Anders Sorensen advising when to expect him.

Saul Rosenthal had worked behind German lines during the war and had inadvertently crossed paths with intelligence services since the war’s end, so he wasn’t completely unsurprised when he picked up a tail on his way to the airport in Copenhagen early the next day. Was it, he wondered, the Mossad? Or had he pissed off the CIA one time too many?

But then at one point he thought he saw an old man in a loden cape watching him, and yes, this old man had a curious looking cane in hand, too – yet the next time he tried to catch a glimpse of him the old man had simply disappeared. Rosenthal took a deep breath and tried to steady his nerves; he wasn’t typically given over to hysterical flights of fancy – but he’d seen what he’d seen. The question lingering now, and that bothered him all the way across the Atlantic, was simply this: What would it mean to discover that Imogen’s ‘Old Man’ was real? And what on earth could he possibly want from me?

So, now, he had another issue he needed to talk to Imogen about…let alone one more reason to keep his guard up. As the shiny new DC-4 taxied to the runway and took off over the Baltic Sea, he pondered the voyage ahead. Denmark to Greenland to Nova Scotia, then on to Chicago and Los Angeles – just a day in the air compared to a week at sea to New York, then another five or more days by train to San Francisco. And no U-boats to worry about on this crossing!

He was lost in thought soon after takeoff, thinking about how he might go about opening his first real outpost of the music company, when the idea hit him. Imogen always seemed to best respond to life when she was writing music, but she had – according to Lloyd, anyway – lost all interest in composing.

But…why?

Yet even more importantly, what could he do to spark a renewed interest in music?

A new piano, perhaps? But no, there was no real lasting purpose there, was there? 

No, he had to…

…but wait. No, this is too simple, but what if…

…what if he could convince her to teach young Harald? Maybe that would give her a renewed since of purpose, and what if I could get her involved teaching physics again? Is that how I counter Avi? What else could I do to stop him?

The Sonata?

Could I get her to finish it?

But…what about the earlier concertos? Could we not sit together and score them? I could publish them, too, couldn’t I? That might earn her some serious money, so why not give it a try?

The stewardess served him smoked salmon and a cucumber salad and he sat back in his seat, rather pleased with himself. This was the first time he’d crossed the Atlantic by air and all in all it wasn’t as bad as he’d expected. He pulled out his copy of Death in Venice and started in on the novella again, smiling as he thought about Mann’s well developed sense of irony, then he felt the urge and decided to try out the facilities. He unfastened his seatbelt and walked aft to the WC – and there on the last row he saw the old man in the loden cape – and curiously enough the son of a bitch was staring at Saul Rosenthal with a wide grin spreading across his face.Chapter 4

Los Angeles, California 15 August 1955

And perhaps not surprisingly, the Old Man remained on Saul Rosenthal’s trans-polar flight – and he’d not, apparently, deplaned at any of the intermediate stops even once – yet he was nowhere to be seen by the time the SAS DC-4 landed and taxied up to the Intermediate Terminal at Los Angeles International. And yet not one of the crew seemed to notice or, more precisely, to even care that the old fellow had simply disappeared. An exasperated Rosenthal collected his luggage inside the terminal then, still looking over his shoulder, he took a cab to Union Station to wait for his train, the usual early morning northbound Coast Daylight to San Francisco. Then, a few minutes after Rosenthal checked-in at the Southern Pacific counter, the Old Man reappeared once again – though he remained out of sight – both making the long walk out to the platform with the Old Man lost in the shuffling crowd while keeping a few meters behind Rosenthal. After Saul made it out to his car he then noticed the Old Man was now behind him again and – now both surprised and angry – he turned to confront him – yet before he could utter one word the Old Man simply vanished into thin air.

“What the Hell!” a startled Southern Pacific porter cried loudly – as he too had observed the disappearance.

“You saw that too?” Rosenthal said, turning to face the porter.

“Of course I saw him, Mister. I ain’t blind, ya know! It was like poof!” the porter said, making a little explosion with his hands, “ – and then he was gone!”

“He’s been following me for days!”

“Then I s’pose I feels right sorry for you, Mista.”

Rosenthal boarded the car and found his seat; he tried to regain his composure but as soon as the train began to slowly pull out of the station the Old Man appeared just outside his window, down on the platform again – only now he was waving up at Rosenthal – now, in effect, taunting him, and more troubling still, making no pretense to hide. Rosenthal glared at the Old Man as the train gathered steam, sure of only one thing now. This Old Man existed. He wasn’t some kind of shared delusion, if only because the porter having verified the sighting confirmed his sanity. And if he existed, well then, the Old Man had to be vulnerable, didn’t he? All Rosenthal had to do was be prepared for the Old Man’s next visit – and then it would be time to turn the tables.

+++++

Anders and Tilly met Saul at the Southern Pacific’s Third and Townsend Street Depot near downtown San Francisco, and once Saul had collected his luggage they took the westbound cable car out towards the sea, all the way out to the Sutro stop a block from the hospital. The sun was shining bright in the late afternoon and a freshening sea breeze was coming ashore, so they walked the last little bit to the Sorensen’s ‘Little Dutch House’ – as it was now affectionately known by all who came by for a visit – and while Anders wanted to talk about conditions ‘back home’ no one had the slightest problem seeing that Rosenthal was, after days of constant travel and constantly shifting time zones, now utterly exhausted. With that decision made for them, Anders took Saul to the guest bedroom and left him to find sleep, then he and Tilly went to the kitchen to make their supper.

“Perhaps it is just me,” Anders said as he prepared a triangle tip roast for the oven, “but Saul looked almost unnerved, as if something or someone has been chasing him. Perhaps on his journey…?”

Tilly smiled, her trained psychiatrists eye taking charge of the moment. “I’d say it is not just you, Husband. Did you see his hands?”

“No? Fidgeting, was he?”

“Yes,” Tilly said as she prepared the baby’s bottle, adding: “and he kept looking over his shoulder, as if he was expecting to find that someone was following him.”

“You know his history as well as I. Do you think the Germans might still be after him?”

“I would not be surprised,” she replied. “The question that comes to mind, however, is simpler still. If he is in danger, does that not put us in danger, as well?”

Anders sighed. “So what if it does? He is our friend and we will see to his needs.”

“You will need to talk to him tomorrow – see what this is all about.”

“And what if he is in danger? Then what?”

“I’d not care so much if we were talking about just the two of us, but Anders, that is no longer the case. We have Theodore to think of now, and we have a new student arriving next week…”

“Dear God, is summer over already?”

Tilly shook her head as she checked the temperature of the formula on her wrist. “You would know that if you stopped working twenty hour days six days a week.”

“It has to be the Germans, you do know? They will hound us to the ends of the earth. They will never rest until we are all dead and gone, shoved into their crematories…”

Tilly turned and looked at her husband, only now she almost imperceptibly shook her head. He was getting worked up again, growing increasingly irrational as dark hatred burned away at the edges of his sanity. “Are you going to services in the morning?” she asked, trying to divert his attention away from the immersive paranoia crowding out his thoughts.

Anders sighed, opened the oven door and put the roast in. “Yes, yes. I somehow feel, well, that I need to. Especially now.”

“Oh? Why now?”

“Because of Theodore. I must…we m-must work to instill in him the values we left behind, when we left our home. Our past.” He was unfocused now, drifting in a fog as guilt washed over the moment.

Despite her discomfort Tilly nodded. “Well, I’m off to feed the little monster. Could you wash the lettuce, please? Perhaps make that nice dressing of yours?”

“Oh yes, of course…”

She smiled as she left the kitchen but as soon as he assumed she was out of earshot the talking began again. He was speaking in Danish now, his thinking consumed by images of gas chambers and gestapo agents chasing them through endless night, and she leaned up against the wall, trying in vain to hold back the tears that always came for her at times like this.

She had to find a way to help him through this madness, but now that his outbursts were growing more vocally troublesome she understood that she was running out of time. What would happen, she wondered, if such an outburst came during a procedure? And when would the hallucinations begin, as they almost inevitably would? And when they did, then what would she be able to do? Such madness, if left unchecked, would soon grow to ruinous proportions, a conflagration of the soul that might take all of them down. 

She could, she realized, talk to him about these things and then watch his reaction. Promethazine might be warranted if he became combative – but the side effects of this drug would put an end to his surgical career. There were other drugs in development and many researchers both here and at Stanford were focusing-in on this field, yet if Anders was indeed drifting into schizophrenia any prognosis with a good outcome was hard to imagine. Then she recalled the work being done at Cal Tech under Linus Pauling. Perhaps those efforts would come to something…

She thought of little else as she fed Theodore, though at one point she had wanted to reach out to their rabbi – but instantly thinking the man under the robes probably had little patience for wives intervening in the affairs of their husbands. Was he simply another man caught up inside yet another paternalist cult, a misogynist hiding behind yet another musty old religion? Why did such men turn to the past to justify a stale worldview? “We have to move forward!” she whispered to little Ted. “Always forward!”

She caught herself just then, caught herself falling into what she now considered her own variety of Old World thinking. ‘This is California!’ she told herself. ‘People don’t suffocate in their past! Not here!’

‘And Saul isn’t exactly a moron,’ she thought, grinning at her own foolishness. ‘I can talk to him, see what he thinks about Anders. We have – all of us – trusted him with our lives, so who better to talk to about these matters…?’

+++++

Saul realized the instant he saw her that you didn’t need to be a psychiatrist to know there was something terribly wrong with Imogen. She’d always been an impeccably dressed woman and had taken great care with her personal hygiene – but not now. Now she was a model of self-neglect. Her hair was a frightful mess and she smelled, badly. Her clothes were dirty, bordering on filthy, and there was dirt seemingly caked into the pores of her skin, even under her fingernails. When he leaned close to give her a hug he found that her breath was tinged with a deep foulness, that even her gums might be infected. Even Tilda seemed shocked, but then again he’d just learned that neither Anders nor Tilda paid the Callahans very much attention these days, not since Lloyd had bought his accursed little green house down amongst the artichoke groves between Monterrey and Carmel. Even the green color of the house was foul! It was a putrid green, almost the color of pea soup – but with a dreadful white asphalt shingle roof, and there were quite literally flies everywhere! Huge black things with ferocious appetites!

Yet in a very curious way Imogen seemed rather happy here. Happy to tend her artichokes and her lemon trees, and she was growing avocados too, whatever the hell those were. And she was happy to be alone with her son – at least most of the time. Happy to be tending the almost endless blackberry brambles that encircled the property. She even had a piano again, a dreadful little upright affair that sounded a little like braying donkeys, but it was in-tune and at least she was playing again. She had even, wonder of wonders, begun teaching young Harald the basics and with his monstrously long fingers he was showing an unexpected talent. In fact, he was showing real enthusiasm for music, at least that was Saul’s initial impression after listening to the boy play for a half hour. But why Gershwin, for heaven’s sake! Chopin, of course. Debussy – if you must. But Gershwin? What would follow? This Elvis, perhaps?

But just now Lloyd was away – again – and as it happened he was off to Japan and Hong Kong on one of his longer trips, so he’d not return for more than a month and that put the seed of an idea to work. ‘I’ll buy a house up in the city, maybe put the new house in the boy’s name. Entice Imogen back to civilization that way, perhaps? And they can keep this wretched hovel, come down and play in the dirt when the mood strikes, all while still enjoying the fruits of civilization, only on a daily basis that I can control…’

“Imogen?” he asked – when Harry stopped playing. “Might we go for a walk? Just the two of us?”

She shrugged noncommittally – at least until Harry went over to play with Tilly and the baby – then she stood and grabbed a shawl and made for the door off the kitchen, leaving Saul to make his excuses as he chased after her. When they were well away from the house Imogen turned to confront her old friend – but when she saw the look on his face she crossed her arms protectively over her chest. “What is it?” she said. “What’s wrong?”

He walked up to her and took her hand in his. “Show me around, would you? While we talk?”

“Why? Are you going to tell me how ashamed my father would feel if he saw me now?”

“No, I wasn’t, but now that you mention it, would it matter how he felt?”

She shrugged. “What do you want to talk about, Saul?”

“The Old Man. The man in the loden cape.”

She stiffened instantly, then turned to face her house. “Tilda told you?”

“She did. Years ago.”

“God damn the meddling bitch!”

“What can you tell me about him?”

“What?”

“I’ve seen him, Imogen. He followed me all the way from Copenhagen, on the airplane and through Los Angeles. I assume he’s nearby even now.”

“You…what?” she asked, her voice tinged with hysteria. “You’ve seen him?”

“Yes, and I know for a fact that other people have seen his comings and goings, as well. You are not imagining him, Imogen. He’s real. Very real. And we must know more.”

“Real?” she sighed, now almost breathlessly. “Are you certain?”

“I am. There can be no mistaking the cane that I saw.”

And he had the impression, if only for a moment or two, that he’d been looking at her as if she was little more than a reflection locked away inside a mirror – and that somehow he’d just thrown a hammer through the mirror. Now the mirror shattered before his eyes and the shards were falling away, and what was left was the Imogen he’d known once upon a time, his irrepressible, brilliant best friend from Copenhagen. He looked at her and smiled – and then, quite unable to help himself – he enfolded her in his arms and held her as tears of relief came to them both.

And when, a few minutes later, she pulled away she was almost a different person than the disheveled housewife he’d first seen only an hour or so ago. Now her eyes were bright and searching, her native inquisitiveness shining through once again, but then she looked down at her hands – and shook her head. 

“Are these mine?” she asked, her voice full of the sudden awakening she’d just come through.

“They are. But listen closely, because I have a plan…”

“My dearest Saul,” she said, kissing his cheek gayly. “But of course you have a plan. You always have a plan, don’t you…?”Chapter 5

UCSF Medical Center, San Francisco 22 November 1963

Anders Sorensen was closing a belly after removing several gall stones when he was called over the intercom by an ER doc: “Doctor Sorensen, I’ve got a ten year old boy with a hot lower right quadrant, nausea and vomiting…”

“For how long,” Sorensen said, not looking up while he finished suturing the woman’s belly.

“Mother advises onset was yesterday morning.”

“Damn. Aure-Rozanova’s?”

“Positive.”

“Dunphy’s?”

“Yessir, positive. X-ray looks distended, as well.”

“Ten years old, you say?”

“Yes, Doctor. Ten.”

“Okay, get him prepped and send him up. Parent’s with him?”

“Yessir. You want me to talk to them?”

“If you could, please. I’ve got another case I’ll need to push back a little.”

“Right. Thank you, Doctor Sorensen.”

Anders looked up over his glasses at the surgical resident working with him this morning, a bright middle-aged woman named Sheila Ackerman, and he sighed. “Feel like working another case this morning?”

“Yes, of course. Would you like me to complete the notes on this one while you scrub?”

“That’d be fine,” Anders said as he looked up at the clock on the wall. “Call closing complete at zero-nine-thirty, and let’s talk over a couple of ideas at lunch.”

“Okay, fine by me.”

“I’ll bring her out now,” the anesthetist said.

“Fine. And Brad? Can you help on this next one? He’s young, and you know how I feel…”

“Yeah, Doc, sure thing. I’m clear ’til noon.”

Anders nodded as he taped the drain to the base of his incision. “Perfect. This should only take an hour.”

+++++

Sorensen and Ackerman headed down to the physician’s dining room after the hot appendix, but as he stepped into the dining room they were met with pulsating scenes of pure pandemonium and chaos. Everyone seemed to be gathered around the two television sets in the room and Sorensen pushed his way through the melee to see what was going on – until he…

…saw Walter Cronkite telling the world “that President Kennedy is dead.”

Sorensen backpedaled from the screen, his mind reeling, falling through images of hooded klansmen in a torch filled night, the world, his world, closing in on Kennedy, then he saw gestapo agents coming down a cobbled lane towards the wharves in Copenhagen and he knew they were coming for him, pushing through crowds to get to him, to arrest – him – a simple surgeon. He was soon fighting for his life, pushing and clawing his way through white-coated klansmen, trying to get free and make a run for his life as images of cattle cars overflowing with emaciated Jews filled his mind. Then came onrushing echoes of endless nightmares as he felt his body giving way to a human wave, another nameless, faceless wall of humanity being herded into some kind of concrete shower facility – and yes, there they were. Pipes overhead, painted pipes full of gas, and that, he told himself, is where my death will come from. Rusty drains set in a concrete floor painted gray…so when we die…when our bowels and bladders let go…that’s where we will go…where I will go…

He felt a pinprick in his left arm and he started to cry as he fell into that bottomless well…

“I don’t want to die in here,” Anders Sorensen cried. “Not like this, not now, not here!”

Across the dining room an Old Man in a loden cape looked on with a deepening scowl etched across his face. No one saw him wipe away tears from a twitching eye; no one saw him leave the room. Indeed, no one remembered seeing him at all.

+++++

By September, Saul Rosenthal had settled on a little brown bungalow over in the Potrero Hills neighborhood south of the city. He purchased the house and put the title into a trust for young Harald, and even before Lloyd returned from his latest trip to Asia Saul he had moved Imogen and ‘Harry’ – as the boy liked to be called – from that flea-ridden artichoke farm back to the city. With that accomplished he set about finding a location for The Rosenthal Music Company’s first international location, and the Sorensens helped him find just the right spot. 

An old warehouse located nearby had caught Anders eye more than once – and he said because the building reminded him of home, like the architects had styled the front facade in a way that would have seemed perfect along a fin de siècle Danish waterfront. Built just after the Panama–Pacific International Exposition in 1915, the main warehouse building was adorned with strong neoclassical elements of cast stone, while the main office was a fusion of styles, from classical Greek to linear Bauhaus cubism. Better still, the main office had already been divided into two principle areas, and Saul could easily see that the largest space would make a perfect showroom for the high end pianos he wanted to showcase here in this more affluent part of the city.

He closed on the building in the middle of November, and had just begun to assemble the designers and contractors necessary to modify the building to suit his needs when he learned that President Kennedy had just been shot and killed. There wasn’t yet an active telephone line in the building, yet his first instinct on hearing the news had been to call Anders – because something about his friend’s behavior the past two weeks had been troubling him. He had at first seemed preoccupied with the past, and with what had happened to Europe’s Jews in Poland – not to mention all the other occupied territories – this was understandable. Yet when he came back from services Anders was almost distraught – but with guilt!

Guilt?

“Survivor’s guilt?”

Anders had been among the very first to recognize that both he and Tilda were in mortal danger just after the Germans moved into Poland; in fact, he had departed within days. He had done his very best to convince Aaron Schwarzwald to get his family together and leave with them, but to no avail. And now Aaron was dead and gone, crushed by the gears of the Nazi war machine, while Imogen had barely made it out of Europe alive. But Anders and Tilly? They had been living not just in comparative safety – but instead they had weathered the storm deep in the very lap of luxury. Indeed, their life in San Francisco was hardly comparable to the life they had known in Denmark. Food was more plentiful and all the other material comforts were of better quality, often much more so, and Saul had watched Anders nervously prattling on and on about Europe as he bounced around his Little Dutch House, and suddenly everything seemed to make sense.

Because he had listened to Anders talk about Kennedy. About how Kennedy was The Future. How the Cuban Missile Crisis had rattled the foundations of the post-war world order, and how Kennedy had shepherded the world out of the icy claws of yet another holocaust, a nuclear holocaust. Kennedy alone recognized the illiberal tendencies still alive in the world, forces still working to undermine democracies all around the world, so was it really a stretch to think that Anders had begun to build up Kennedy – in his mind – as some kind of new Messiah?

If so, how would Anders react to the news of Kennedy’s murder?

He was alone in the building now that the last architect had just left, so he was a little surprised to hear the front door open and close again. “Sorry…we are not yet open…” Saul had just started to say – when he saw the Old Man walking into what would soon be the main showroom – and yet in that moment Saul grew very angry.

Until he saw the expression on the Old Man’s face, and the sorrow in his eyes.

“What’s wrong?” Saul asked, innate compassion stirring him to act according to his nature.

“Grandfather,” the Old Man sobbed. “Something dreadful is happening…”

The incongruity of the Old Man’s words penetrated Rosenthal’s consciousness. “Something is wrong with your grandfather? Is that what you are telling me? But…he must be – how old? And I am sorry, but that can not be…”

“You…” the Old Man gasped, suddenly struggling to breathe. “You are…”

“I am what?” Saul cried. “Who am I to you?”

“You are my grandfather,” the Old Man said – just as he clutched his chest and fell to the floor.

Chapter 6

San Francisco California 24 December 1963

Tilda Sorensen fought through the feeling again, pushed it aside as best she could. Of suffocating under the weight of all Anders accumulated miseries, of his divergent, almost messianic need to return to the Old World so that he could slay all his demons. But…what demons were waiting back there to consume him? And where did these demons reside – if not only in his mind?

Saul had mentioned ‘survivor’s guilt,’ something he’d only recently learned of when he’d talked to survivors of the holocaust in Tel Aviv. How some who’d been interned and who’d lost family or friends during that time, and who had somehow survived their ordeal, returned to freedom only to find all their waking moments consumed by feelings of anguish and, yes, guilt. Could it really be so simple? Had Anders simply internalized all the grief he’d felt about the people the two of them had left behind when they fled Copenhagen, and now, somehow, had all that angst metastasized into what for all intents and purposes looked like a psychotic break?

Had Saul’s recent visit sparked some of this? But then, what of Imogen? The Sorensens had not often visited the Callahans since they’d moved down to Monterrey Bay – but then Saul returned to their lives, again. So, had Saul been the catalyst? Because John Kennedy sure hadn’t played such an outsized role in Anders life; in fact, prior to three years ago they’d never even heard of the man – so to put all this down to Kennedy’s assassination was sheer folly…

But Saul had hastily departed after the assassination, returning to Copenhagen after some sort of unsettling news had sent him packing on the very next train to Los Angeles. 

And then Lloyd Callahan returned from Japan. And, apparently, without any sort of preamble at all Imogen had picked him up at the commercial wharf and taken him straight to their ‘new’ house in Potrero Hills. What a commotion that must have produced!

But tonight was Christmas Eve and the Callahans had invited her to the new place – and after endless deliberation she’d not been able to come up with any sort of convincing reason not to go. Besides, it would be Ted’s first Christmas Eve dinner party, and at ten years old perhaps it was time to let that happen. Beyond time, really. Anders had simply shunned anything and everything to do with Christmas, his anger stemming from the endlessly crass materialism of the buildup to the actual day. In the Sorensen house Saturday morning cartoons had become cause for real concern, as the house was flooded with commercial jingles advertising a nauseating parade of warlike toys, from G.I. Joe to some kind of board game called, for God’s sake, Battleship! Even the networks’ evening programming was overrun with Prime Time Specials featuring Hollywood has-beens hosting one variety hour after another, each one complete with at least one house-drawn sleigh pulled by a team of massive Clydesdales, and all this snow covered hooey magically appearing in Sunny Southern California, complete with falling snowflakes – which, if the rumors were to be believed, consisted of low-speed fan-driven mashed-potato flakes!

“Not in my Goddamned house!” Anders shouted when commercials for talking dolls flooded his living room.

Only this year – Anders wasn’t at home. He was still on that awful extended business trip; at least that’s what Tilly told their neighbors when his absence was duly noted by nosy hausfraus. Even so, within a few days there had been an undercurrent of rumor spreading around the neighborhood, and this bothered Tilly to no end. ‘Bothered’ – because she dealt with inpatient psychiatric patients day-in and day-out, and while she had always, in family conferences, tried to downplay the stigmatization families were going through, she had never really experienced it – not on a first-hand basis, anyway. Now it was fair to say she understood their feelings all too well, and the sense of marginalization she felt transferred quite readily to Anders – as anger. And just to shake things up a bit more, there was always the Callahans’ Christmas Eve dinner to consider, as well. 

If Anders heard about that he’d lose it completely.

Anders had finally broken down and purchased a new Buick just weeks before the assassination, a silver Riviera replete with navy leather interior and even a wood grained center console, and Tilly loved driving around the city in the car, enough so that she had finally decided it was time to go out and get her driver’s license. She wasn’t a self-assured driver, not yet anyway, but she was cautious and careful enough to make it just the few miles to the Callahan house in Potrero Hills for Christmas Eve.

Lloyd Callahan, despite all her apprehensions, appeared to be – on the surface, anyway – quite happy and not at all perturbed by the new house thrust into his life, and Harry was now apparently fascinated by ‘the girl next door,’ who he had taken to calling Looney-Junes. Lloyd had invited a handful of single officers from his ship to join them for dinner, and the atmosphere was actually quite festive, and Ted seemed to dote on Harry, following him around the house at breakneck speeds.

Imogen was busy in the kitchen, making some kind of American style Christmas Eve dinner, so Tilly joined her there and they talked about Saul and Anders and all of life’s new complexities, and after dinner everyone gathered in the living room around a huge Christmas tree and listened as Harry played, of course, several Gershwin tunes, then a few Christmas classics – just because – then that was it. 

Whatever Tilly had been expecting, the experience turned out to be a far lovelier thing than she’d imagined it might be, and as she was driving home she looked at Ted looking at all the houses with Christmas trees in living room windows and she wondered what he felt about Christmas. 

“That was a nice dinner, don’t you think?” she asked when they were still a few blocks from home.

“It…was, yes. But it feels kind of strange, you know?”

“Strange? You mean, like an outsider?”

“Outsider?”

“Oh, that means something like, well, you’re on the outside looking in, like maybe you don’t really belong.”

Ted nodded. “Not belonging. Yeah. It felt kind of like that.”

“But you know that Harry and Imogen and even Lloyd love you, right?”

Again, Ted nodded. “Say, you think we could, I don’t know, maybe like drive around and look at the lights for a while?”

“It is…it is pretty, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Pretty. It’s interesting, too.”

“Interesting?”

“I wonder why it’s such a big deal. Decorating houses, putting up trees and decorating those, too.”

“Where would you like to go?”

“I don’t know, maybe just drive around a little. See what we can see, you know?”

“I saw that Harry gave you a Christmas present. Did you open it yet?”

Ted nodded again. “Yeah. A bunch of short stories by Mark Twain. He said it was his favorite when he was my age.”

“That was nice of him. You still like him, don’t you?”

“Harry? Yeah, he’s great. There’s supposed to be a good park near their house and he wanted to know if I could come over this weekend and throw the football with him, maybe with June.”

“Okay. I can drive you over if you like.”

“Ooh, there’s a nice one,” Ted said as they passed an old ornate Victorian fitted out in solid white lights. “Well, I was kinda hoping maybe I could take the cable car by myself.”

“You ready for that?”

“Yup. Harry and June do that all the time, ya know?”

“Okay. Maybe we can give it a try to together this weekend, see how you do on your own?”

“Mom? You think Dad would be too upset if we put up a Christmas tree?”

Tilly smiled. “Maybe – if we call it a Hanukkah bush? Maybe we can even do some presents next year?”

Ted looked out the Buick’s window as they passed house after house adorned with all kinds of festive decorations, and for the first time in his life he really did feel like he was on the outside.

And he hated the way that made him feel, more than anything he had ever known.

Forgotten Songs From An Imaginary Life

Part II: The Broken Road 

Chapter 7

Brentwood Heights, California December 1966

Tilly Sorensen didn’t wait for the ink on her divorce papers to dry; she took a position at the UCLA Medical Center that included a teaching position in the medical school and with her walking papers in hand she didn’t looked back, not even once. With her generous settlement, including full legal custody of Theodore, moving wasn’t an issue so late in 1964 she moved down to Los Angeles and bought a small house just across the 405 from the medical center. She learned of two excellent private schools nearby and enrolled Ted at the one closest to home, and within a few months they had both settled into their new routines.

On the last Friday of each month Tilly drove Ted out to LAX and there he hopped on a PSA 727 for the short flight up to San Francisco. He spent these weekends with his father except when the Forty-Niners played home games in the autumn, and he came up for all these games because his father had season tickets.

Yet there were weekends when his father really wasn’t all there. Like the lights were on but no one was home. Tilly had warned Ted there’d be weekends like that – she called these his “time out for Thorazine Days” – and she had even advised her son how to handle things if he got wound up. Because Anders did indeed get wound up, as in: really, really manic. These things happened, Tilly said, because patients with manic-depressive disease were notorious for not taking their medications when they were supposed to, and when they missed a dose the usual outcome was a manic episode and a trip to the emergency room.

She’d tried to live with Anders when he came home from the hospital, and while she knew – at least on an intellectual level – how serious manic episodes could become, she’d never expected the crash course in handling aggressive outbursts she’d been forced into after his return. Ted had been terrified, at least in the beginning, because he simply didn’t understand what had happened to his father, let alone why.

But more importantly, like many kids his age Ted began to internalize his feelings, to bottle them up and keep them hidden from view. Out of sight, out of mind? And, like many kids his age the one emotion he internalized was guilt. As in…what did I do to cause this? Because whatever it was, I must’ve been the cause, ya know?

Fortunately Tilly caught all the signs. Withdrawal into his room. No interest in school. Growing increasingly combative with his friends at school…all of the classic symptoms. So she didn’t wait to see how bad things could get, because after working the psych wards for almost ten years she knew how this game played out. When Anders was lucid, when he was on his meds, she talked with him about her concerns and in the end he concurred. An amicable split before his psychosis inevitably grew worse was preferable, because at least that way the boy would grow up with decent memories of his father.

So…Anders and Tilly tried to keep things on an even keel, for Ted’s sake.

Yet when Tilly spoke of Anders she had nothing but wonderful things to say about the man, and her new circle of friends in Brentwood and Westwood always wondered about that.

“Do you still love him?” one of these new friends asked her once.

“Oh, yes. Completely. And I always will.”

“So…you aren’t going to remarry?”

“Heavens no! How could I do something like that to him!?”

Which was about the most confusing thing her friends had ever heard.

And so it was in this circuitous way that Ted grew to understand the foundations of his father’s disease. And in a curious way he began to look at everyone he met through the lens of a doting, almost overbearing psychiatrist-mother, wondering what was wrong with them, even what these people might be hiding. Yet his was soon a cynical way of looking at the world, and some might go so far as to say the seeds of a dangerous worldview had been planted within these developments.

This missing piece of this puzzle was, of course, Anders. 

For just as surely as every planted seed contains a blueprint of the future, Anders had always been a gifted empath, a brilliant surgeon, and a supremely logical thinker. These characteristic traits passed along quite easily, too, so much so that when Ted took the College Boards during his sophomore year at the Harvard School for Boys he scored a perfect 1600. Yet by then absolutely no one doubted Ted’s scholastic abilities.

And though he could have easily graduated and gone on to college – before his fifteenth birthday – he decided to stay in school. Because, he thought, he really wasn’t ready for college – not yet. Probably because he was having way too much fun, but that wasn’t the only reason.

When people looked at Theodore Sorensen they saw a tall and quite thin kid that looked a lot like Gregory Peck, or maybe even a gangly Jimmy Stewart type. Girls didn’t simply swoon when he walked into a classroom; no, most usually squirmed in their seats and then crossed their legs, a dangling foot swishing away nervously – like a white-tailed doe’s tail when a buck pranced by. So…maybe it helps to think of Ted as a young man who appreciated the attention of admiring glances, and high school became a comfortable place for him. 

He was no longer an outsider, you might even say.

And so in high school Ted finally developed his father’s innate ability to talk to people. He related to both his classmates and his teachers, perhaps using his father’s empathic abilities, and everyone in school would remember him as an easy going if gangly kid who was super easy to get along with. He had, you might say, no enemies, and in his high school yearbook he was described by one friend as ‘most likely to become a politician, and probably the president of Argentina.’

As soon as Ted got his license Tilly bought him a little BMW, a ’75 2002 tii – in British Racing Green with a tan leather interior, and soon enough everyone recognized Ted simply by the sound his little green Beemer made as he raced away from campus, headed up Beverly Glen bound for Sunset Boulevard – and home. He went on his first date in high school in that car, and she would also turn out to be his last date because, as it happened, they fell so deeply in love during their senior year together that he asked her to marry him – only, she insisted…“after we finish college.”

And that’s what happened, too – except by that time Katharine Gold had decided to go on to med school so she saw the wedding happening four years later than previously expected. Theodore Sorensen was, however, neither amused nor inclined to wait. And even then Katharine knew better than to make Ted angry.

+++++

Saul Rosenthal hadn’t seen it coming, of course.

Divorce was an unspeakable thing, at least it still was in his world, so to learn of the Sorensen’s divorce ‘through the grapevine’ had rattled him. But, he thought when he first learned of the split, to abandon a sick spouse was just too much. Had Tilda always been so evil?

But…how could this have happened?

He had been spending, or so it seemed, half his time in Denmark and the other half in Israel, at least in the years right after the war, but his work in Israel was now almost at an end. Deciding to open the new Music Company location in San Francisco had already required more and more of his time so after he learned of the Sorensen’s split he didn’t need to make excuses to his staff – he just called SAS and booked another one-way seat to Los Angeles.

After taking the train up from LA he found Anders at the ‘Little Dutch House’ packing boxes and profoundly depressed. Over dinner that evening Anders said he could ‘no longer justify the expense’ of such a grand old house and that he needed to put it on the market, so of course Saul did what Saul always did. He bought the property and leased it back to Anders, and for a song. Then he went and purchased a little apartment building close to Fisherman’s Wharf and moved into a tiny studio apartment on the top floor. He, of course, paid cash. “It’s only money!” he told Anders after the deals were wrapped up.

“Yeah,” Anders replied, “but not everyone bleeds hundred dollar bills, Saul. Where’d you make your money?”

And Saul answered that question the way he did whenever someone was stupid enough to ask him that: “You don’t want to know.”

And perhaps Saul Rosenthal was reluctant to talk about such things with good reason. He had helped resettle survivors of the camps first in Palestine and then, after 1948, in Israel. He was paid for his services by those who could afford them, and those who couldn’t…well, he helped them, too. Still, he would have never made much money doing these things. And while the music company was a profitable enterprise, especially the rights management end of the business dedicated to publishing music scores, even that income wouldn’t have accounted for the staggering ledgers and balance sheets his accounts accrued in more than one Swiss bank.

No, not hardly.

Because Saul Rosenthal’s main preoccupation in life was settling scores, and that meant working for special interests around the world who wanted to see all the Nazis who fled Germany at the war’s end punished. Not brought to justice; punished. Killed, by and large, as in extrajudicial killings not sanctioned by any government, anywhere. And by the mid-1960s Saul had made, literally, tens of millions of dollars doing exactly that, and at the height of his operation he commanded a shadow network that spanned the globe.

But all that was fading in relevance now. Rosenthal was what most would consider an old man in the 1960s, that he was a man living in the valley of the shadow. He’d killed so many people during the war, and after, that he could no longer remember them all. He’d killed men. He’d killed women. He’d killed children, the children of evil men who remained out of reach – to send a message. And now he was paying the price, or at least he had been.

Until he met his grandson, Lloyd. The Old Man, that is.

Whose father was someone he knew well, that precocious boy – Harry Callahan – but which could only mean one thing. When he’d first gone to Canada right after the war ended, to help Imogen and that sailor get to Vancouver, he’d fathered her child – and yet he’d never known. Imogen – and Lloyd – never told him that Lloyd was incapable of such an act, that a war wound prevented such a thing from happening. And both had apparently decided to never tell Saul, Harald’s true father, of his paternity.

So, what to do? He had settled people as easily as he’d settled scores, but how to be a father?

Keep his distance, let time and destiny play their role? Let the symphony unfold from a distance? Or remain close and shape the outcome? But how could he? What was destiny, after all, other than the sum total of uncorrelated events shaping an unforeseen outcome?

Yet Saul Rosenthal might never have worried about such meanderings, if only because he had already made his definitive contribution to the arc of Harry Callahan’s life. A genetic contribution, if you will, the same swirling combination of emotive factors and physical traits that defines every sentient thing. And yet…the frightening matrix of Saul’s heartfelt empathy sat astride the hidden soul of a dispassionate killer, and both traits had already been set in stone within the Harry, just as his mother’s brilliant, if tortured, outlook had settled within those very same codes.

And in exactly the same way, Ted Sorensen’s life had been pre-defined in sequences of nucleic acids. Empathy – foundering in a sea of paranoia; malice – hiding in generosity’s shadow.

Yet these two men, and in ways neither would completely understand, could be seen as two sets of swirling strands of dancing nucleotides primed to interact, a biologic happenstance destined to collide from time and time over the span of their brief existence – as each made their way down the broken road of time towards what could only become a final…confrontation.

Yet the Callahan-Sorensen nexus was a powerful force, one that stood to unravel the very fabric of time. And as each made their way through time to the inevitable collision, it might have been that both were little more than pawns on a much larger board, and so it might have remained.

But…we get by with a little help from our friends, don’t we?

Part II: The Broken Road 

Chapter 8

Beverly Hills, California 15 December 1972

She’d caught his attention the very first time he saw her; at school, just before a dance – while walking to the campus dining hall. She was just a few yards ahead and the shape of her legs was mesmerizing, yet so too was her long, jet-black hair – which hung to her waist. She was wearing black tights and a black sweater, yet he first noticed that her tights seemed to accentuate her legs every curve and sinew, and he simply couldn’t take his eyes off of them as she made her way to the dance. 

The occasion was the annual Christmas Dance, and this year it was at the girl’s school. The night was pure Southern California: freeway smog and jets overhead tempered by eucalyptus groves and even a few maples; the sky was otherwise clear and almost crisp. Ted Sorensen didn’t have a date and he was kind of glad of that now, because of those legs. And even from halfway across the campus of the Westlake School for Girl’s he could hear outrageously loud music blaring from inside the dining hall – in this case King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man – and after going inside he kept a close eye on the girl, paying close attention to who she talked to as she started to mingle in the pulsing strobes.

After a few minutes of watching her and noting that no boys were drifting her way he decided to make his move – just as I Talk to the Wind started to play. He walked right up to her and held out his hands, and she seemed to settle easily into his embrace as they slow-danced through the number. By the end of the song the live band was setting up onstage, so Ted Sorensen leaned in close and asked Katharine Gold if she wouldn’t like something to drink. When she nodded enthusiastically they went out onto the commons and got a couple glasses of punch; with no real plan in mind he walked with her for a while, then went to sit on an out of the way bench.

Katharine Gold was considered a peculiar sort, in a roundabout way. Usually quite shy, when she’d first seen this boy and the way his eyes engaged hers she’d immediately felt at-ease, so much so that she would recall years later that all her usual defenses had instantly slipped away. They’d talked and talked and in fact never returned to the dance-floor, content to sit and drift through these first magic moments. And perhaps that magic was their common ground – because both recognized this coming together for what it was. They’d read enough Shakespeare and Byron and Milton to know the score, and though – perhaps – both doubted such moments were anything other than contrived contextual plot devices, it didn’t take them all that long to understand that what was happening to them was very real. The peculiar, bookish girl slipped away and went into hiding – for a while – and the boy began falling in love.

Near the end of the evening she’d called her father to let him know that a friend would be driving her home from the dance, yet Ted took his time that evening, not racing over Beverly Glen at his usual breakneck pace – instead wanting to draw out the magic, to make the moment last. By the time he turned right off Sunset onto Alpine he was already so smitten he could hardly concentrate.

“Turn right, into the next driveway,” she said just then, pointing to an ornate iron gate flanked by walls of tall shrubbery.

And so turn he did, though in his trance still not yet realizing where he was. When he switched off the engine and went around to get her door, only then did he look up and take a measure of his surroundings – at the impeccable neighborhood and at her palatial house. Even by Beverly Hills standards this place was huge and he was instantly on guard, even as he held out his hand to help her out of his little green Beemer.

“You better come on up. I’m sure Dad wants to meet you.”

And, quite uncharacteristically, Ted began to feel a little uneasy in his skin, even a little unsure of himself – because in his limited experience this place represented something quite unusual, even for him. This was money. Houses like this represented power. And as these were the things Ted Sorensen aspired to beyond all others, he found himself wondering about things like fate and destiny.

And as they walked up steps to a massive bricked entry, the massive front door opened well as they approached, and Sam Gold stepped out into the ambiguous amber glow of flickering gaslights – and Ted’s heart just about stopped. Sammy Gold had been one of the biggest stars in the Hollywood of the 40s and 50s, and yet at the pinnacle of his career he’d moved behind the camera and was now more well known for producing and directing – but only the biggest productions – over at Paramount. And now here he was, his right hand extended in peace, yet when Ted took Sam Gold’s hand in his he felt almost like an amoeba under a microscope. Searching eyes, knowing sidelong glances, nodding appraisals…moments unlike any he had known before.

Sam Gold was unlike any other man he’d ever met. He simply didn’t look the part of the doting father, either: urbane and articulate, he was tall and a neatly pressed kind of slim; his short hair was bright white, combed neatly. And while it was eleven at night Gold was still so elegantly dressed it defied description: ivory slacks and a light blue linen blazer, shoes that matched his slacks and that had to have been custom made in London…and Ted took it all in, processing what he saw, instantly calculating the odds of his surviving such an encounter whole and intact.

Yet after sizing the boy up Sam Gold took him by the shoulder and invited Ted into his home.

And into another world.

Fate. Destiny. Nucleic acids. So we unfold, like flowers to the sun.

+++++

Saul Rosenthal came of age in a somewhat progressive reformed Jewish household, a fairly new tradition nonetheless though quite typical of Jewish communities in northern Europe during the first decades of twentieth century. His parents embraced confronting the unjust exercise of power with reason and compassion, and the two brothers – Saul and Avi – had learned to navigate through their adult lives in much the same way. Saul joined Denmark’s Foreign Ministry soon after he graduated from University, while Avi, the more gifted mathematician of the two, naturally gravitated towards the exciting developments taking place in the university’s physics department. Both had been, of course, more or less infatuated with Imogen Schwarzwald for as long as they’d had hair on their chests, though both understood she enjoyed Saul’s less pretentious company more.

Saul was the taller brother and he was considered the handsomer. He was a gifted athlete and an accomplished long distance runner all through school, and he had always taken better care of himself. Where Avi was unkempt and often frankly neglectful of his self, Saul was always smartly dressed and clean. You might even say that Avi was better suited to the shadows of academia, while – perhaps – that explained why Saul was so well regarded in the more refined circles of diplomatic work. There was no doubt that his more polished demeanor contributed to Saul’s earning a posting to London soon after he finished his foreign service training, that happening in late early 1933 – and this posting came despite his religious background.

Yet almost immediately, after the elections in Germany in 1933 the European landscape shifted awkwardly into the unknown, as, too, did Denmark’s.

And while some saw the shift for what it was, and what such a shift meant for the future of Europe, most Europeans outside of Germany simply turned away from the implications of Adolph Hitler’s meteoric rise to power. Even as the German Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei had grown more virulently anti-semitic in the late 1920s, there was still a lingering disbelief in the air that all this could happen again, and that for all Hitler’s blustery talk he was simply nothing more than just another boorish, unwashed politician from a darker corner of the Austrian working class. The German people would soon come to their senses and turn back to the more progressive ideologies of the Weimar Republic. 

“They just have to, so just you wait and see…”

Such were the hopes and dreams, anyway. 

But there were many people, more often than not those raised within the lingering shadows of European anti-semitism, who took such men as Hitler – and the stated intentions of those close to him – with utmost seriousness. Avi and Saul Rosenthal were two such people; they watched and listened and learned all they could about Hitler’s rise to power and they soon saw it for what it was. They were also among the few who chose to act, yet even these actions differed. Of more interest to us now, Saul Rosenthal chose to meet force with force.

A characteristic he passed on to his son, you might say.

+++++

While Anders Sorensen sank deeper and deeper into his collective past, Tilly seemed to blossom as she more deeply accepted the traditions and customs of her new surroundings in West LA. And just one example of this dichotomy revolved around the holiday festivities at Christmastime. Anders was loath to recognize anything about the holidays beyond the simplest, most traditional expressions of Hanukah, while Tilly – during their first Christmas in Brentwood – put up a Christmas tree then went so far as to string lights around the eaves of her new home.

When, one evening after school, Ted asked her why she’d felt the need to do this she had remarked offhandedly that she simply wanted to “fit in,” and besides, she intoned that the festive atmosphere was all rather optimistic. And now, what with the war in Southeast Asia dragging on and on, she felt that more optimism was just what she and Ted needed most.

Yet when Ted made his monthly hop up to SFO on PSA he was as suddenly immersed in the ancient customs of a much more traditional Judaism, perhaps because now his “uncle” Saul was a more integral part of his father’s life. Yet as suddenly, when they went over to the Callahan house in Potrero Hills to celebrate Christmas Eve, he had to slip back into the uneasy space between these two opposing religious traditions – and the space where these two met became a somewhat confusing place to Ted. Imogen Callahan hardly ever seemed to know how to react to Christmas, though Lloyd Callahan certainly got into the mood, yet Ted sensed that Harry had grown more and more ambivalent over the years, perhaps as the weight of the conflict within their little family took a toll on them all. 

And harry had always been a kind of “big brother” to Ted. The older brother who taught him how to throw the football or how to break-in a baseball glove. Who taught him how to use a camera, a real camera, a Nikon F…and how to see the world in shades of gray. How you could compress space with a telephoto or distort reality with a fisheye lens. When Anders was too busy to help with a homework assignment, Ted turned to Harry. Ted turned to Harry. Ted turned to Harry.

Why? Even after Ted moved with his mother hundreds of miles away. Why?

What uncertain gravity pulled at the boy?

Destiny? Fate?

Yet before long Harry went to Germany, he learned to fly helicopters, and now that he was back home he had gone to the police academy. He was a cop now. One of San Francisco’s finest. Yet Harry looked anything but happy and no one mentioned June, Harry’s old girlfriend. And when Ted asked Harry what it had been like in Vietnam all he got in return was a thousand yard stare. When the families gathered around the piano that Christmas Eve, Harry played Silent Night then ran upstairs to his old bedroom – and he didn’t come back down again, either. Yet it was Harry’s hands that had captured Ted’s attention; his hands, and the way they trembled and shook now. Why?

Maybe because there was something about Harry’s being a cop? Something that really didn’t fit – not that Ted knew any cops – but when Ted thought about Harry the first thing that came to mind was the piano. Then again, Harry had joined the Army and he’d learned to fly helicopters and then gone to Germany, and did that fit? Then he’d decided to go to the police academy, but that was after he returned from Germany. Had something happened to him over there? He wondered why because Harry became a walled off creature after he strapped on his gun and put the badge on his shirt.

And after that the two drifted apart. 

And so, maybe, being a cop took Harry away from Ted. Maybe there was a little resentment there? For that gun, for that badge. 

Lloyd told Ted that sometime after Harry’s return from Germany the Army called him up. Something about being in the reserves – whatever that was. So a few years later the Army sent him over to Vietnam for some kind of special mission, but Harry wasn’t over there the usual two years. Yet Ted sensed that Lloyd seemed to be apologizing for his son in the years after that, almost making excuses for him. But in the waning Christmas eves Ted spent with the Callahans, he cast little sidelong glances in Imogen’s general direction and from time to time he recognized the same downcast eyes – and the same shaking hands – that had plagued his father…before the fall.

Who caused this reaction? Was Lloyd crushing Imogen? Had his mother crushed his father? What secrets were crushing the love out of these people? Was it simply Germans? Ha! Or…was it authority? Authority, as in…a gun and a badge?

Then a thought came to Ted while Saul was driving he and his father back to the Little Dutch House after what turned out to be his last Christmas Eve with the Callahans. He’d been racing up Beverly Glen a few weeks before Thanksgiving and he’d been stopped by an LAPD motorcycle cop; Ted had not been completely deferential to the cop and he’d watched, at first amused and then with growing alarm, as the cop’s hands began shaking and his voice grew belligerently strident. What had at first been an innocuous encounter had grown, in the blink of an eye, into a life or death encounter, and he’d spent days the stop after going over everything he’d said and done out there on the street, trying to figure out what had happened, and what he’d done wrong.

In the end it was the cop’s shaking hands that gave up the game. The cop had been using the power of his position to command a certain level of unspoken obeisance, and when Ted’s wasn’t forthcoming the cop took that as a challenge to his authority. Okay. Easy enough to understand, but there was a lot more than that going on. Again, Ted thought the shaking hands and tremulous voice were the key to it all, because he’d seen the same thing time after time growing up, usually whenever he’d encountered bullies on the playground. Because he’d noticed that when a bully came at him in school he could see the same kind of reaction: the bully’s hands and voice would shake, and the more you challenged them the more upset they became, but it didn’t take too much to figure out that these guys, these bullies, were really just scared. They were, in a word, cowards. The bullies he ran across at school were usually big, fat, and stupid, too – yet the motorcycle cop wasn’t. Then it occurred to Ted that the cop was hiding the depths of a certain kind of cowardice behind the implicit authority of his badge. And, oh yes, his gun, too. His hand had never left the reassuring comfort of that gun, and in Ted’s eye that made the cop a new, and a very different kind of bully. A more dangerous kind of bully. A bully with a badge now had relentless authority to back him up.

So maybe that’s what it was about Harry Callahan that didn’t exactly fit the paradigm he had been constructing in his mind, ever since their last Christmas Eve together.

Neither Harry Callahan nor his mother appeared to be the bully-type, at least they’d never acted like a bully around Ted or his family, so he immediately concluded that it was foolish to make bold, generalized statements like “all cops are bullies,” or “the motorcycle cop on Beverly Glen was a coward,” just as the Callahans didn’t act like bullies. Yet as uncertain as he was now, there was one thing that had been made abundantly clear to Ted after his encounter with the motorcycle cop: if you didn’t have such power your life could be rendered meaningless in an instant by to those who possessed it.

And this was an important lesson to learn for a seventeen year old rich kid, a young man who had come of age in the lap of extreme luxury. He’d led a life shielded from this kind of reality by his mother, who took great care to shield him from the day to day life that other children experienced, especially kids raised in places like South Central LA – kids who lived just a few miles from their house in Brentwood. And who knows…maybe it goes without saying that when you grow up in one reality it’s almost impossible to understand what’s happening just a few miles away. 

Ted Sorensen watched the evening news as much as anyone else did. He went to a school that was quite literally tailor made to meet the expectations of the richest people in the richest city in America, the kids of movie stars and politicians and musicians, yet the students at his school all seemed peculiarly interested in ‘social justice’ these days. They read and learned all about discrimination and racism and more than anything else they seemed to want to understand Hate.

Ted Sorensen grew up in the shifting sands of the sixties, and he came of age in Southern California, where good vibrations and strawberry fields colored the sidewalks, and where incense and peppermint almost covered the stench of more blood pooling under another Kennedy’s silenced eyes. And then just to shake things up a little more, after Tricky Dick pulled a little heist in the Watergate the world knew the foxes were loose in the henhouse and suddenly there was nothing left to do but laugh at the absurdity of life. So…Ted came of age when everyone laughed, yet at the same time no one seemed to feel that life was especially funny anymore.

What do you call that? Cynicism?

The cynicism of shaking hands? His mother’s empathy? His father’s overwhelming paranoia? Had these things shaped the boy?

Maybe. But as the 70s came along something was different going on. Like a rustling of leaves outside your bedroom window, something was stirring out there, something was waking up, coming alive. The sixties were dead and gone now, just like the blood on the sidewalks around the commons at Kent State had been washed away, reduced to a footnote, just like all that Kennedy blood. Distance was making everything easier to swallow, even the disillusionment of kids trying to see through all that blood – but for some, for kids like Ted Sorensen, the disillusioned landscape of the early 70s was nothing so much as it was a new kind of shadowland. A land where the questions came at you hard and fast – but where the answers didn’t seem to make sense anymore.

He ran into another bully at school after the new semester began. Another big, fat kid with piggish eyes and a vile tongue. This one didn’t push him around or try to pick a fight. No, this bully spat words of unfettered Hate, and when the bully said that Hitler had “fucked up,” that Hitler’s “biggest mistake was not making sure that all you Jews were dead.” Gas chambers and ovens had obviously not been enough for this bully…but Ted wondered if anything would ever be enough.

Sticks and stones and all that makes a certain kind of sense, yet the hatred Ted saw in the bully’s eyes was unimaginable. He saw a cold, hard blackness in those eyes and he didn’t understand where it was coming from, why someone he hardly knew felt the need to say these things to him.

Ted was so utterly shocked by the outburst he hardly recognized that this bully’s hands weren’t shaking, that this boy’s hatred was a cold, dense place – and that quite suddenly he was in real danger. Again. 

Was Hate just another kind of power? Could you strap on Hate just like a cop could strap on a gun? 

But if Hate was power, what then was Love? 

As Ted Sorensen looked into this bully’s soul he knew only one thing – that this bully believed what he was saying. Things like Hate and Love were of little consequence in these shadows.

The only thing that mattered here was power.

Cynicism? 

Oh, really? 

What accounts for the death of peace and love and the counter-culture that came alive on college campuses in the 60s? Cynicism? Greed? Materialism? Capitalism? Communism? 

If anyone knew the answers to these questions they either weren’t talking or they were dead, their blood running down sidewalks into drains that just didn’t give a fuck.

Part II: The Broken Road 

Chapter 9

Beverly Hills, California 1 July 1976

Anders picked up the telephone and dialed Tilly’s number. He did not need to look up the number because he knew it by heart, yet there was nothing ordinary about this particular call. Or, for that matter, this particular day.

When Ted picked up the phone on the second ring Anders felt a little wave of relief. “Ted?” he asked. “Got a minute?”

“Sure Dad, what’s up?”

“I wanted to know if you could come up this weekend.”

Ted knew his dad’s voice – and his moods – well enough by now to know that something was wrong. “Uh, well, Kat and I were going down to the marina on Sunday. They’re having a big fireworks display down there…”

“Okay. That’s fine. What about coming up tomorrow afternoon and I’ll get you back out to SFO on Saturday morning?”

“It’s important, isn’t it?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Is Saul going to be around?”

“Yes, this concerns him – as well as you…and the Callahans.”

“Okay, Dad. My last class gets out at noon-thirty, so I can probably make the one-thirty on PSA.”

“Sounds good. I’ll pick you up at the usual place.”

Ted clicked the receiver and then dialed his mom’s office, and her secretary picked-up.

“Hey Margie, it’s Ted. Is Mom free?”

“Yup, I’ll put you through.”

Tilly had just wrapped up her last patient for the day but getting a call from Ted was a little out of the ordinary on a weeknight, so she was instantly on guard. “Ted? Is something wrong?”

“Not sure, Mom. Dad just called. He wants me to come up tomorrow afternoon…”

“What about Sunday – with Katharine and her family?”

“Coming back Saturday afternoon?”

“Just one night? That is strange. You want me to give him a call?”

“No, I can handle it.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. He said Saul was going to be there, and the Callahans, too.”

“The Callahans? Really?”

“That’s what he said.”

“What flight are you trying for?”

“The one-thirty.”

“Okay. I’m coming too.”

Ted sighed and shook his head. “You sure you wanna do this, Mom? He might get all wound-up again, ya know?”

“I know,” Tilly said. In fact, because of all the scheduled bicentennial celebrations she was halfway expecting Anders to be in rare form. “Are you and Kat going out tonight?”

“No, she’s got an MCAT study session Saturday morning.”

“I thought you had something going on with Sam?”

“No, that’s next weekend.”

“Well, looks like you’re stuck with me for dinner, Kid. Anything sound good to you?”

“How ‘bout Gladstone’s?”

“She crab soup, right?” Tilly said, grinning at Ted’s latest craving.

“How’d you guess?”

“You’d think that maybe I know you by now, right? Maybe just a little?”

“Maybe so, Mom. You never can tell, though…right?”

She sighed – then scowled. “You know we loved each other, right? Your father and I? Things just got out of control.”

“Yeah, Mom, I know.” But, he sighed to himself, control was the operant word, wasn’t it?

Just like that cop and his shaking hands…was all about control.

+++++

Almost everyone met up at the Little Dutch House before heading down to the wharf, where they picked up Harry before walking down to Scoma’s for an early lunch. No one seemed talkative, and even Harry seemed caught off guard – or was he simply annoyed – by all the unasked for importance attached to the outing. Imogen, for her part, seemed more than a little nervous, and for some reason that made Tilly hastily put up a few more walls of protection.

Anders ordered two bottles of riesling to go with a couple of platters of chilled seafood appetizers, and after their waitress left them he cleared his throat and looked at everyone seated around the table. “I am sorry for all the drama, but I have some news.”

“Dad?” Ted said, and though still not sure what this was all about his father’s voice sounded more than somber. “Are you okay?”

“Me – okay? Why yes, of course, but wait – oh, this has nothing to do with my health. In fact, if I may get to the point, I have decided to go home and I wanted to tell each of you personally.”

“Home?” Tilly said, more than a little interested now – but still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But Anders merely shook his head. “I am going to Israel,” he said. “To our home.”

“Israel?” Ted cried. “But Dad – why…there?”

“Because,” Anders said, “I have grown tired of having to look over my shoulder, of waiting for the ‘stab in the back’ – again. I am tired of feeling no control over my life…again.”

“Again?” Ted asked.

But it was Saul who spoke next. “This was Herr Hitler’s favorite saying, Ted. That Jews in the Weimar Republic stabbed all Germans in the back by agreeing to surrender when – and how – they did.”

“So, Hitler blamed Jews for that, too?”

Saul smiled, a rueful, apologetic smile. “The word is scapegoat, Ted. Blame does not adequately describe what Herr Hitler was conjuring just then.”

“So,” Ted continued, “moving next door to ten million pissed off Arabs is supposed to be safe?”

“You misunderstand, Ted,” Anders interjected. “Israel is our homeland. God has ordained this.”

Harry cleared his throat – before he spoke next. “Anders, if you don’t mind me asking, just what are you planning on doing over there?”

“Teaching,” Anders said, though a little defensively.

Harry nodded. “Well, I for one will miss you.”

And for some reason this made Anders cry – just a little. “Thank you, Harald. You will always be welcome in our house.”

“Our house?” Tilda Sorensen said, her left eyebrow arching tremulously.

“Yes, Tilda. You see, I am getting married once I arrive,” Anders sighed unapologetically, perhaps even a little defiantly – though he was almost imperceptibly grinning…just a little.

“Dad!” Ted growled. “What the fuck!”

Tilly signaled their waitress and ordered a double martini, dirty.

Harry Callahan leaned back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling, trying his best not to get up and leave the table – perhaps because he’d noticed his mother’s hands had begun trembling.

Yet…in that instant Ted’s eyes were drawn to Imogen’s hands, and while at first he wondered why, it took just a moment for his eyes to drift to Lloyd Callahan and then back to Imogen. When his eye caught Harry’s upturned sidelong glances he too realized the truth of the moment…there was something wrong now between Lloyd and Imogen…and in the moment he wondered how long their troubles had been going on…?

Then he watched Saul and saw him looked away, and Ted wondered what secrets the old man was carrying around – until he followed Saul’s eyes to another table across the dining room.

An Old Man was sitting at the table, alone, and he was staring at Imogen. 

And to Ted it seemed as if the Old Man was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

+++++

Ted and Kat met Sam Gold down at the Marina del Rey, at the end of a finger-pier behind a fence that belonged, apparently, to a sprawling apartment complex located just above the slips. Sam was talking to the yacht’s captain and chef when Kat led Ted up the boarding ramp to the main deck.

Though Ted had been down to the boat twice before, the sheer size of Sam’s latest toy simply left him awestruck each time he saw it. Her name was The April Fools, and she had been built in Holland a couple of years before by a consortium of naval architects and ship builders known as Feadship; she was the largest yacht permanently berthed in the marina and was universally regarded as the most luxurious yacht on the West Coast. At 178 feet length overall and with a permanent crew of seven – that lived on board –  The April Fools was also one of the few yachts on the West Coast that kept a Bell JetRanger semi-permanently onboard. 

And of course Ted knew all this and much more. He knew that the people watching him walk up the gang-plank were envious, and that the half dozen or so paparazzi posted up there were here to shoot whoever boarded The April Fools that evening. They were taking his picture – his picture! – as he boarded, and this was a singular moment for the boy, if only because it fed the little voice inside that kept saying “I want, I want…” as he watched the world unfolding – for him!

LA County was putting on the fireworks display that Saturday night, on July 3rd, and the plan was for the boat to head offshore and watch the fireworks before heading across the channel to Catalina Island, where the yacht would moor just off Casino Point at Avalon Harbor. There would be more fireworks there on Sunday night, leaving all day Sunday free for exploring the island, and after the Avalon show wrapped the yacht would return to LA in time to get everyone off to work. Sam would, not unusually, leave by helicopter after the second display – because he was slated to take his Gulfstream II to Paris for a Monday appointment.

Ted walked up and shook Sam’s hand, but Sam wasn’t having any of it; he took Ted in hand and pulled him into a deep hug, then he hugged his daughter before leading them to their stateroom. All  of the other guests were already on board, and all of them actors on this trip, but Ted and Kat had the largest guest stateroom – and that had more than a couple of the actors pissed off.

By the time the crew cast off the lines the marina was full of little sailboats puttering out the main channel, everyone vying to be close to the end of the breakwater where the fireworks display was being readied, yet everyone in the harbor stared at The April Fools as she pulled away from her pier and made for the breakwater – probably because everyone knew she would be packed with Hollywood royalty…

…which immediately caused more than a few problems…

As it seemed every little boat had to see how close they could get to the yacht, causing the skipper to lay on the collision horn more than once. Little speedboats buzzed by, bikini clad girls waving from the bows as they passed – until a half dozen LA Sheriff’s Department boats showed up and chased everyone away.

The April Fools increased speed once clear of the breakwater and went about a half mile offshore, and by that point Ted was up on the bow, standing with his face into the wind. He holding onto the varnished teak rails as the little ship crashed into a deeply rolling swell – sending spray fifteen feet into the air. Ted turned and looked aft to the flying bridge and waved at Sam, then he turned to Katharine as she walked up and he held her close.

“How was San Francisco?” she asked. “As bad as you expected?”

“Maybe. I’m not really sure yet. Dad’s moving to Israel, and he says he’s getting married once he gets there.”

“What? Your dad?”

“Yup.”

“Do you know who?”

Ted shook his head. “No, but he wants us to come over for the ceremony. Mom too.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Katharine sighed, laughing a little. “I bet that was good for a laugh.”

“I didn’t see anyone laughing, Kat. Not even Harry.”

“Oh? Was he there, too?”

“Yeah. Kind of unnerving too, if you know what I mean. He was carrying some kind of hand-cannon in a shoulder holster. Big, if you know what I mean.”

“I can’t tell whether I like him or not, you know?”

Ted nodded. “Harry is an acquired taste, Kat. How many times have we been to dinner with him?”

“Twice, I think. Always at that crab shack down by the pier.”

“Ah, yes. Beer, with seafood optional.”

“He can really pack it down, you know?”

“That’s our Harry. He ain’t happy without his Oly.”

“Oly?”

“Olympia, Beer. Seattle’s finest, I guess, or something like that, anyway.”

The boat’s bow crashed into a large rolling wave and a wall of water flew out from the ship in a long, graceful arc – and just then another couple came up to the bow. Ted recognized the actor but for some reason couldn’t remember his name – but he nevertheless came up and held out his right hand.

“Dustin Henry,” the actor said as he took Ted’s hand in his. “And you’re Ted, right?”

“I am. Nice evening, isn’t it?”

Dustin looked around. “Yeah. I guess. Look, Sam just told me you’re going to be co-executive producer on Falling Water, but that you’ll be making a lot of the casting decisions.”

Ted just smiled – if only because this was the first he’d heard of it but he also knew that was how Sam worked these things. Everything was a test, and that was why he was up behind the glass looking at him right now: “What can I do for you, Dustin?”

“I want the lead. You haven’t committed to Redford yet, have you?”

Ted simply shrugged. “Nothing is written in stone yet, Dustin, if that’s what you mean.”

“Goddamn!” Henry cried. “It’s fucking like ice up here! How can you stand it?”

Ted simply shrugged – though he grinned just a little. “I like it cold,” he sighed.

“Oh. Well. Look,” Dustin pleaded, “could we talk this weekend? I have some ideas I’d like to go over with you…”

Again Ted just smiled and shrugged, not really sure what Sam was up to yet. “Why don’t we just enjoy the fireworks tonight, okay?” he added, concluding the exchange. He watched Henry deflate then walk back to the main saloon, but he noticed Sam was still up on the fly bridge watching him intently – but this time Same waved at him and Ted nodded in return. He knew enough by now to never to ask what Sam was up to, and that Sam would tell him when he was good and ready – but then he turned to Kat and looked at her. She kept her eyes dead ahead and he instantly surmised she was in on it – whatever ‘it’ was.

“How’d the study session go?” he asked – watching for her reaction.

“Good. I had no idea there’d be an essay on moral reasoning, and it’s an important part of the test, too.”

“No kidding? Moral reasoning?”

“Yup, that was a real surprise,” she sighed.

“You want to tell me what’s up with your dad?”

“No, not really. He will when he’s ready.”

“I kinda figured that out, Kat.”

“I’m getting cold.”

“Yeah, me too. Getting rough out, too.”

She turned and smiled at him, but that was all she’d give away that night, no matter who threw what metaphor at whom.

But when everyone gathered on the aft deck to watch the fireworks Dustin stood next to him, engaging in pleasant chit-chat throughout the entire display, and then he and his wife sat next to Ted and Kat when everyone gathered for a late supper.

“That was really something,” Dustin said in his thick Brooklyn accent. “Almost as good as New York’s.”

“Hard to compete with all the tall ships in the harbor,” Sam Gold said. “That gave me goosebumps, seeing those ships against the two towers, but I thought the guys did a nice job here.”

“Yeah. Nice,” Henry said, and Ted watched the interplay between Sam and this actor, and again he got the impression Sam was watching him, sizing him up – by how well he handled the situation…then…

“I’m headed to Paris on Monday,” Sam added. “Doing some location work with the crew. Ted? You think you could take some time off from work and join me?”

Ted didn’t act surprised, not in the least – he just leaned back in his chair and looked at Sam: “No sweat,” he sighed, though he grinned – just a little.

“You didn’t happen to bring your passport, did you?” Sam asked.

“Of course,” Ted replied.

“Dustin? You bring your passport?”

“Yessir, sure did.”

“Well, Ted and I will let you know in the morning. Kat? Think you could entertain our guests for a while? Ted and I need to have a sit-down before I hit the sack.”

“Sure, Daddy,” she cooed.

“Alright then, if you’ll excuse us? Ted?”

Ted followed Sam forward to the midship stairway and they made their way down and aft to Sam’s stateroom, then to a little sitting area on the port side.

“You really bring your passport?” was the first thing he asked.

“I did, sir. Yes.”

“Mind if I ask why?”

“I always carry it when I fly.”

“Oh, that’s right. You went up to the city yesterday. How’d that go?”

“Okay, sir. My dad has decided to move to Israel, and he’s getting married again.”

Sam looked at him, his demeanor unchanged. “You okay with that?”

“I’m still getting used to the idea, sir.”

Sam nodded his leonine head, then he pointed to a chair as he took a seat and picked up a phone. “Lee, bring my cigars and Drambuie, rocks please. Ted? Something to take the edge off?”

“Drambuie is fine, sir.” Ted sat down and waited.

“How old are you now, Ted? Twenty-one?”

“Yessir.”

“Your teachers tell me good things about the work you’re turning in. Good ideas, sound thinking. You ready to get your hands dirty on a little project?” Sam said as he took his glass of Drambuie from Lee, his personal waiter/valet – who was never far from his side.

“Of course,” Ted said, taking the second glass from Lee.

“You ever thought of acting?” Sam said as he fiddled with his cigar.

“Me, sir? Acting? Not on your life…”

Sam chuckled as he shook his head. “You’ve got the looks and you handle pressure well. You might do pretty good if the mood ever strikes…”

“It won’t, sir.”

“Well, let’s clear the air a little, okay?”

“Sir?”

“Look, I know you think I helped you into film school but it was all you. Once you were accepted, well, I asked a couple friends of mine there to keep me posted on your progress – and they’ve had nothing but good things to say about your work so far.”

Ted looked at Sam and nodded, still not sure where this was headed but more than curious now.

Sam was enjoying this, the kid’s calm demeanor impressive as hell. Most of the ass kissers he dealt with would have been on their knees by now, but not Ted. This kid had ‘it’ and the idea filled Sam with a sense of wonder. Katharine had bumped into this kid, there’d been no prearranged agendas in play, no one running a con on him. No, Ted was the real deal and he’d just fallen into his lap. The kid needed a mentor, true, but Sam had known even then that he’d need an heir to the throne. Because time was running out now and he’d begun to realize he couldn’t afford to waste another day. He needed to put the kid under some real pressure, see if he had the balls to take the reins – if and when…

“How are you and Katharine doing?” Sam asked.

“Fine, sir.”

“She tells me you want to set a date. Is that about the size of it?”

“Yessir.”

“Ted?”

“Sir?”

“My name is not sir. Got that? Not between you and me – understand?”

Ted nodded. “Okay.”

“If there’s something on your mind I need you to be comfortable enough talking with me to come to me with any problem you can’t figure out on your own. Don’t procrastinate, don’t let things fester. So no keeping things from me. Got it? No bullshit, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Now, tell me what’s going on between you two?”

“I think she still wants to put off getting married until she gets out of med school…”

“And you’re still against that?”

“I am, sir – uh, Sam.”

“Why’s that?”

“Well, med school is just the beginning of the process. There are internships and residencies to consider, and then who knows what after that and before you know it ten years or more is gone. Then what?”

“And those ten years? What’s so important about getting married that it can’t wait?”

“Kids for one, Sam. And then what else can happen in all that time. Maybe she meets someone else and decides I’m not the one…”

“That kind of shit can happen regardless of the time and place, Ted, and you can’t live your life in fear of shit like that. If your love is the real deal that kind of stuff isn’t usually a factor. On the other hand, having kids is a big deal, a solid commitment. You think the two of you are ready to take that on?”

“Not right now, no sir. But maybe in a few years, maybe after living together a couple of years, well, I think we’d know by then.”

“What? Living together? Or married?”

“I’d marry her tomorrow, Sam. You know that.”

Sam smiled and nodded. “Yes, that was clear the first time you showed up on my doorstep. You were smitten, had it bad.”

“I still do, sir. She’s the one. I can hardly breathe when we’re apart.”

“Sure you’re just not horny?”

Ted coughed at that. “Sir?”

“I assume you’ve nailed her…more than once, right?”

“Sir?” Ted said, his face turning a bright crimson.

“Ted? Get your act together. And I mean now.”

“Uh…”

“Look, Ted. Basic premise here, so listen up. When someone tries to fuck with your head like this they’re looking for an angle, a weakness they can exploit. Get you off balance, on guard, then while you’re flustered and weak…that’s when the big shit goes down. You’re an easy mark then, in that moment, and that’s when people take advantage of you. Got it?”

“Sam? What’s this all about?”

“A new flick. Working title is Falling Water. It’s kind of a World War Two romance thing but the script we’ve got is remarkable. I’m going to Paris to see if we can get Deneuve signed, and I want you there. But here’s the problem; because you’re young people are going to try and fuck with you, fuck with your head…”

“Understood, but I need to know your objectives, sir.”

“My objectives? Ted, my objective is to turn you loose and see if you can sign her.”

Ted nodded his head slowly. “Okay. I can do that.”

Sam’s eyes narrowed at that. “You know anything about Miss Deneuve?”

“Yessir. A little.”

“Well, that’s why Jack’s here. Talk to him. God knows he’s still infatuated with her, and he knows everything there is to know about her. How’s your French?”

“Decent enough. At least I think I can hold my own.”

“Well okay, we’ll see. Her’s English is, well, let’s just say she tries.”

“Okay. Is Kat coming with us?”

“Kat? No, why would she? This is work, Ted, not a vacation.”

“Understood.”

“Now, this stuff with your father…is it going to fuck with your head?”

Ted shook his head. “No sir, not at all.”

“Okay. Now, tell me, do you see Dustin playing a romantic lead opposite Deneuve?”

“Is it a comedy or a drama, sir.”

“Call me sir one more time, Ted, and I’m going to pitch your ass overboard.”

“Look, Sam, there are just a few people in the world I respect enough to call sir, and you’re one of ‘em. Cut me some slack, would you?”

Sam nodded. “Okay. Let’s call it a drama – with a little fun thrown in to lighten the mood. The male lead has got to be self deprecating and unconsciously funny.”

“Is he a soldier or a pilot?”

“Flyer. Now, what does that tell you?”

“It tells me I need to read the script.”

“In your stateroom there’s an envelope. Let me know what you think by six a.m. tomorrow. You don’t smoke, do you?”

“No sir. Never have.”

“Pot?”

“No sir.”

“Well, you’ve got some reading to do. See you at breakfast, and Ted…I’m sorry if I’m ruining your night.”

Ted nodded. If anyone could understand what Sam was up to it had to be Kat…yet when he made it forward to their stateroom he found the envelope propped on his pillow – and Katharine already fast asleep.

+++++

He’d never been on any kind of private airplane before so getting his initiation in a Gulfstream II was a bit of a trial by fire. Eight sumptuously reclining leather seats and with one stewardess to take care of them, Ted settled into the seat over the right wing and took the proposed shooting budget from Sam and quickly skimmed through the document, making notes as he read, so by the time he finished he hardly even noticed that the jet was airborne and now headed northeast over Utah. He handed his notes and observations to Sam who quickly read through them before smiling and looking over at the kid.

“You know, Ted, I’ve got accountants, supposedly CPAs, and I’ve got lawyers by the score working for me, and not one of them has pointed out these problems to me. I saw them immediately, and apparently so did you, but I’m wondering why all these highly paid professional fuckups are missing obvious problems like these. What do you think?”

Ted shrugged noncommittally, then he turned to Sam and spoke: “Hard to say, but lawyers profit by litigating, right, so is it possible that they feel like they can safely ignore more complex, behind the scenes problems in the early stages of the process, because, well, who knows, maybe they’re hoping these problems will lead to more complex litigation down the road…”

“Once a project is well underway and I’d have more incentive to fight…”

“And so they get more billable hours. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”

“It’s also illegal and unethical,” Sam sighed.

“So? Show me a lawyer who pays attention to those kinds of niceties and I’ll show you a starving lawyer.”

“Where’d you pick that line up…van Brunkle’s class?”

“Yeah, I guess. That’s just motion picture financing 101.”

“That’s also called cynicism, Ted.”

“Which doesn’t make it any less true, does it, sir?”

Sam turned away for a moment, measuring his next words carefully: “Sometimes cynicism is called for, but in the end I’d say rarely so. You have to surround yourself with people you can trust, Ted. If you can’t, well, all I can tell you is you won’t last long in this business.”

Ted held up his notes and looked at Sam. “So, what’s with these people?”

“New kids, just out of the film school. They’ll be working for you on this project, so it’ll be your job to figure out how – and why – they’re screwing things up…all while you’re supervising the writers and production designers and all the other pieces of the puzzle…”

“And while keeping in touch with the studio, I assume?”

“Yes, that too. Let’s call it a trial by fire.”

“Okay.”

“Think you can handle it, Ted?”

“Yessir. Not a problem.”

Years later, Sam remembered the almost flat affect in Ted’s voice, even more so the look of pure determination in the kid’s eyes – like even as they spoke he was working out in his mind how to go about solving all the inevitable little problems that routinely plagued all poorly run projects. Yet Sam recalled his first project even as he remembered that all Ted had to work with was book learning, not experience.

“Okay, now about all this BS with my daughter and a wedding date. You both graduate next May, and the release date for Falling Water is June 25th, just a month later. She reports for orientation at med school in late July, so that leaves about a month. You want to push that hard?”

Ted turned and looked out the window over the jet’s wing and sighed, then he nodded. “When push comes to shove, sir, getting married is the most important thing – at least it is to me.”

“What’s the most important thing to Katharine, Ted?”

Ted shook his head as he turned to look at Sam. “Going to med school.”

“And what does that tell you?”

“She has her priorities, and I have mine.”

“And your number one priority is getting married?”

“Yessir.”

“Why is that, Ted?”

“My parents, the way they broke apart.”

“There’s no one on this plane that can hear a goddamn thing, Ted. And there’s no need for secrets between you and me, not anymore. What happened with them, Ted? Why the urgency?”

“I’m not really sure I know the answer to that one, Sam, but it feels like my dad has been running from the Germans since 1939…”

“Germans? Really?”

Ted nodded. “But then came the anti-semitism in the city and I think that surprised him. Once he figured out there were the same kind of people here in the States, well, I think that’s when he started to come undone…”

“So that’s what led to his…”

“Yessir.”

“And therefore – the whole Israel thing. Well, I guess that makes sense.”

“Does it? I mean, does it really? Israel is like this little island surrounded by shark infested waters, so will he really be that much safer over there?”

“I doubt it, son. Do you ever go to temple?”

“Not really. Not since my bar mitzvah.”

Sam nodded. “You might reconsider that decision, Ted. Katharine has been kind of tolerant about the two of you not going, but there’s a limit to her tolerance.”

“Sir?”

“Religion has played a large role in her life, especially after her mother passed. Don’t ask her to give up that part of her life, Ted. You won’t like the outcome.”

“Yessir.”

“Your father and Israel? He’s getting married there, I take it?”

“I think so, sir.”

“Any date set yet?”

“I think he’s going to try and make if over Thanksgiving break, sir.”

“Makes sense. I assume you’ll go?”

“I’d like us all to go, sir.”

“Me? I’ve never even met your father, Ted. That might not be the best…”

“Sam, I haven’t had a father in a long time, not really. That’s what divorce means, practically speaking, because I hardly know the man now.”

“He’s your father, Ted.”

“And so are you. Anders is a shadow to me now, sir. Someone I used to know, and more than likely someone I’ll rarely if ever see after he leaves.”

“It’s a horrible thing when a father turns away from his family.”

Ted looked down, nodded his head slowly.

“But I suppose you’re correct. And all of this is behind your desire to get married now? You feel the need to repudiate your father, to prove him wrong. Yet Ted, wasn’t it your mother who pushed for the divorce – after your father’s breakdown?”

“Yessir, it was.”

“And yet you don’t feel any hostility towards her, do you? Isn’t that odd?”

“She did everything for me, sir.”

“And yet you think your father didn’t? Given the circumstances, isn’t what he gave up all that he had to give?”

Ted looked out the window again, at his reflection in the glass.

“I’m not trying to push you around, Ted, but sometimes cynicism blinds you to certain obvious truths, but more importantly cynicism keeps you from learning after you make mistakes. In a way, cynicism is like a wall you build, brick by brick, between your soul and a greater wisdom. Cynicism keeps you from seeing your life as it is.”

Ted turned and looked at Sam. “Did you lose family over there, sir? In the camps?”

“Of course I did, Ted. I lost six million brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. I lost every soul, just as you did, and as your father did, as well. That is the horror from which your father runs, Ted, and it is that which we acknowledge every Sabbath. So perhaps you’ll join us next week? Perhaps you’ll start to push aside the bricks in your wall?”

Part II: The Broken Road 

Chapter 10

Tel Aviv, Israel 22 November 1976

Most guests invited to Anders Sorensen’s marriage to Deborah Eisenstadt arrived on commercial flights from California. Theodore Sorensen, as well as Sam and Katharine Gold, arrived by private jet, in this case by Sam’s Gulfstream II, and in a curious way this conspicuous arrival set the tone surrounding Ted’s introduction to Israel. He was accorded a different level of deference by state bureaucracies that the others did not experience, and none of these little things escaped Ted’s notice. Power was power, as he was learning, yet passive displays of the symbols and accoutrements of power often meant that more obvious exercises of gross power were often unnecessary.

And somehow, within a day of his arrival in Tel Aviv, all of the invited guests knew that Ted had arrived by private jet. Unknown to these guests, however, was Katharine Gold’s ‘condition’ – for she was now quite pregnant – though still barely ‘showing’. Also, though Tilly Sorensen had been invited to the wedding she chose not to come, for – oddly enough – she was still rather angry about the whole second marriage thing. The Callahans chose not to attend, as well – for Imogen had never felt comfortable with the Sorensen’s divorce and she did not want to be seen taking sides. Tilly therefore spent her Thanksgiving at the Callahan house in Potrero Hills.

Anders had asked Saul Rosenthal to stand with Ted under the chuppah, while Deborah, a recent emigre from Soviet Armenia and without parents, had no onto stand with. For Deborah was indeed alone, and it was becoming clear to all concerned that she had been characterized by the authorities as some sort of ‘mail-order bride’… She was certainly much younger than Anders, and quite good looking too, but little else was known of her background. Not by Anders’ friends and associates, and not by Anders himself.

Ted was not amused when he learned of this, yet had he known more about the precarious history of Armenian Jews he might have at the very least been more understanding. As it was, once Ted heard the first faint rumblings surrounding Deborah’s background he grew more skeptical by the hour. More skeptical and, in both word and deed, less understanding. Or…perhaps, cynical?

Yet for some reason his father seemed quite happy when he was standing beside Deborah, and with Sam’s steady counsel never far away Ted took a cautious ‘wait and see’ approach. Kat, for her part, was as gracious as could be to Deborah – which of course meant that Deborah was soon never far away from either Anders or Katharine. For her part, Katharine would soon become the tiny, empathetic voice whispering in Ted’s ear, her counsel a mirror image of her father’s: watch; listen; say nothing you might regret tomorrow; smile – even when you don’t feel like smiling.

Ted spent almost every moment standing beside Sam Gold; Katharine listened to Deborah Tarkov Eisenstadt, who happened to speak flawless English – as well as French, German, and the Germanic Yiddish of Ashkenazi Jews – for it turned out that parts of her family had once prospered in cities such as Heidelberg and Copenhagen, before being forced into exile – first to the Soviet Union and thence to Armenia. She came from a family of academics and physicians; Deborah was, at 35 years of age, already a trained cardio-thoracic surgeon. Katharine soon began to feel that of all the people she’d met so far in Israel, Deborah Eisenstadt was by far the most cultured she’d talked to. It wasn’t long before Kat began to understand just how delightful Deborah truly was, and how truly blessed Anders must have felt when he first met her.

Yet Ted rarely listened to Kat when she spoke of all this, at least when Deborah’s background was the chosen topic of conversation. Worse still, Ted was cool, almost distant and preoccupied around her, and it wasn’t long before Anders began to notice.

Katharine, ever the empath, took this deterioration seriously, enough to talk to her own father about Ted. Sam began to watch the boy, trying to understand all the varieties of his antipathy, and the more he watched the more he began to see a complex deterioration of the relationship between father and son – and this he simply did not understand.

Was it a basic failing within the boy? Could Ted simply not understand the emotional complexities of survivor’s guilt? Did the boy, at root, simply have no frame of reference to understand the Jewish experience of the camps? Of the continuing diaspora? Were America’s schools doing such a poor job of conveying the tortured landscape of Hate?

The ceremony was never meant to be a lavish affair but as Kat – and Sam – learned more about Deborah the scale of the post-nuptial celebration increased in both scale and social importance. Sam talked to people. Government ministers took note. Various important people’s names were added to the guest list – and all this happened over the span of a few days – so that by the time of the actual ceremony the list had grown from less than thirty names to more than a hundred, and as his father’s wedding seemed to grow in stature Ted’s acceptance of Deborah seemed to grow. The event was remembered by all concerned as a happy, even a joyous affair.

Ted observed that Sam seemed to operate in Israel just as he did in Los Angeles. He was comfortable, and perhaps because Sam was as well connected in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as he was LA. Ted soon learned that Sam was well connected because he gave, and quite generously, to a number of important Israeli charities – and to many Israeli politicians connected to those charities. Sam did so because he owned quite a lot of property in and around Tel Aviv, and he had purchased these properties with an eye to building residential projects. Yet he never talked about these investments. He never let on that it was his intent to immigrate to Israel as soon as he had cultivated an heir to handle his affairs in the States.

Yet what Sam Gold observed in Ted Sorensen filled his heart with foreboding. The boy had displayed all the killer instincts necessary to flourish in Hollywood; he had proven to be, in fact, a more than competent producer while Falling Water was in development. Yet there was something missing in the boy, something important, something…vital. 

Ted lacked both humility and humanity. He didn’t just want power, he appeared to crave it, and not just the power to create or to build, but power for power’s sake. The boy was, in a word, dangerous.

Yet his daughter loved the boy, and she had apparently loved him enough to ‘forget’ to take her birth control pills. She loved him enough to want to have a baby with him, to put-off her studies for at least a year to have this baby with him – so at some point he had to recognize that he’d raised Katharine inside a home that valued humility and compassion, so surely her choice would reflect those values.

+++++

The Gulfstream made an unscheduled stop on the way back to California. 

The jet landed in West Berlin, itself an audacious act that required serious political muscle, and which meant that the jet was met by a sizable contingent of US Army troops. Sam led Ted and his daughter to the car indicated by a light colonel, and after leaving the airport their small convoy drove into the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf district of Berlin, and thence to a small annex near the Plötzensee Prison complex. The colonel escorted the group to a small brick building not far from the main administrative center and led them inside. Almost instantly some unseen person turned on floodlights and the white painted walls seemed to come alive, as if they had a tale to tell and only lacked for iron-willed souls ready to stand and listen. And to remember.

The colonel led them to the far wall and pointed to pockmarks in the brick – with a brown leather riding-crop he wielded with precision. “Bullet holes,” he said, the words a steely statement of fact. “In the early forties new prison guards were trained here, in this room.” Next he pointed to five hooks suspended from a heavy timber beam that spanned the width of the room. “Routine political executions took place in the courtyard, usually by guillotine. Jews, on the other hand, came in for special treatment. The prisoner’s hands were tied overhead and then they were suspended from these hooks. Guards used them for target practice, I understand to get new recruits used to killing unarmed human beings.”

Katharine turned and ran into her father’s arms; he sheltered her and took her back to their waiting car. 

Ted stood there, as entranced as he was terrified.

“They’ve bricked-over all the other parts of the apparatus,” the colonel continued. “They had meathooks suspended from the tracks you see up there, and the track – we assume – was chain-driven and ran in a large oval. Children were impaled on the hooks and their flailing bodies sent along the track. They were more challenging to hit, or so I assume.”

“You’re…not serious…” Ted whispered. 

“Oh, similar set-ups were found in Poland. We think this facility was a ‘proof-of-concept’ operation; as I mentioned, the walls had already been bricked over by the time the Russians got here, but the very same arrangement, right down to the same hardware, was found in operational condition at both Auschwitz and Treblinka. Survivor’s accounts, mainly of those carting the bodies off to crematories, fill in the blanks.”

“This is monstrous. Simply monstrous.”

“Is this your first camp?” the colonel asked, gently, knowingly.

“Yessir.”

“I hate to say it, but this is nothing.”

“Nothing? How can you say that?”

“Do your research, Mr. Sorensen.”

“How can you stand it? To live here, surrounded by these monsters…?”

The colonel nodded, then he turned and looked Sorensen in the eye. “I’ve lived here for six years and I have yet to meet even one monster here. Not one, Mr. Sorensen. Hitler and his pals sold the German people real a bill of goods…he promised to ‘Make Germany Great Again’ and part of the mechanism of Hate they built to do that was focused on scapegoating the Jewish population. They were a prosperous people but more importantly there were a few prominent Jewish politicians during the Republic. Those Jews were accused…”

“The stab in the back. Yeah, I’ve heard that one – but that still doesn’t explain why you think these people aren’t monsters.”

“They’re just people, Mr. Sorensen. People just like you and me. Many were broke and starving and Hitler came along and told them exactly what they wanted to hear. ‘It’s not your fault! It’s the Jews! Follow me and together we will restore Germany.’ It’s the same formula would-be dictators trot out and use all the time. It goes back to Caligula and the Germanic tribes and, hell, I don’t know, maybe it goes back to cold men huddled in caves, to when we first learned to kill one another. When we learned to Hate.”

“You’ve seen more things like this? These things, I mean?” Ted asked, pointing at the track mounted on the ceiling.

“Me? Yessir, I have. Funny thing, though. The first time I saw stuff like this was over in Vietnam. Laos and Cambodia, too.” The colonel chuckled a little, then shook his head. “Truth is, it’s everywhere, Mr. Sorensen. Every place you find desperate people my guess is you’ll find Hate waiting in the wings, and when you find people blindly willing to follow Hate you’ll find the same kind of thing.”

Ted nodded his head slowly, then he held out his right hand. “Thank you, Colonel.”

“You’re welcome, sir. Now…we really need to get you back out to the airport…before the Russians throw a real first-class hissy-fit…”

Part II: The Broken Road 

Chapter 11

Hollywood, California 7 July 1977

“Take Beverly, it’ll be faster this time of day,” Ted said to his driver. Kat’s OB’s office had just called; her contractions were getting closer so it was time for him to dash to the hospital. Cedars-Sinai wasn’t even four miles away but in noonday traffic on a Thursday it could easily take a half hour – or more – and Ted was already nervous, even before he made it to the limo. His palms were sweating and his stomach was twisted up in hard little knots, every one of them on fire. “Could you turn up the air, Henry?”

Henry Carmichael smiled and nodded as he turned the Lincoln onto Melrose. He could do this drive in his sleep, and probably had more than once over the last twenty-one years, but even so he had to take care – if only because Ted Sorensen already had a nasty reputation around the studio. You didn’t cross him, you didn’t make him angry, and you sure didn’t contradict anything he said – not if you wanted to keep your job. Funny, too, because the kid was still just that: a kid. He’d just graduated from the film school at ‘SC but already the word around the back lots was that this kid was some kind of wunderkind, brilliant – but ruthless – and let’s not mention he’d married the boss’s daughter last month. And now here he was, in a city full of power players the kid was already feeding at the top of the food chain. Better still, the kid was shaking up the old, established pecking order; firing people left and right, pissing-off has-been actors who’d been at Paramount for decades, getting rid of the deadwood while clearing the way ahead for fresh talent.

Henry already liked Ted, even felt loyal to him. He liked driving him around the city, just like he’d enjoyed driving the Old Man around. Still, the fact of the matter was simple enough: Henry was still working for Sam Gold. He was still filing written reports on everything the kid said and did while being driven around town. Henry’s ultimate loyalty was, after all, reserved for The Boss. And it’d been earned, too. Sam Gold was a Mensch…with a capital M, the best of the best.

Henry took Melrose to Fairfax to Beverly and made it to the hospital in less than ten minutes, impressing even Ted, but even before he could get around and open the kid’s door, Ted was out and sprinting for the entry.

The Old Man had done pretty much the same thing when Katharine came into the world, but that’s what Henry liked about working for the studio. LA was constantly reinventing itself, spreading out into the valleys that branched out like vines from Hollywood, the real beating heart of the city, yet the studios were already bastions of tradition. Whole ecosystems had grown up and flourished around each of the major studios, but Paramount was the grandfather of them all – and in a way Hollywood was Hollywood because of Paramount. And not just Hollywood…Beverly Hills, too. Then BelAir and Brentwood, and even the far-flung Palisades, everything because of Paramount. And  along with the other studios, out of the orange groves and lemon trees – out of all that nothingness – new traditions sprang up – almost overnight. Traditions that developed into networks as intricately powerful as anything ever seen in ancient Rome, all in the span of a single lifetime. The world had never seen anything quite like it, and everyone everywhere was still trying to comes to terms with what exactly Hollywood really meant.

Yet one thing was certain. Hollywood was power. Sheer, unadulterated power.

And it looked like the ruthless new kid was moving in to take over.

+++++

Debra Sorensen came into the world at seven minutes past seven in the evening, and from that moment on she became the center of Theodore Sorensen’s waking existence. In a way, she became his salvation – for a while. 

And from the beginning of her time here there was something strange about the little girl.

She never cried. When people came to see her in the hospital the baby would look at her visitors and an unexpected calm would come over them. When Katharine first held her daughter she felt a peace fall over her that she had never experienced before.

Ted held her and at once grew terrified, almost rigid with fear, yet the longer he held her the more irresistible her gaze became – and the more at ease he became.

When Sam Gold held her close the little girl reached up and touched the side of his face and he cried for hours after, while Debra’s nurses all said they’d never seen anything like these reactions before. Strangers heard stories about the new little baby girl and would go to the window in the maternity ward and seek out her eyes, and everyone reported feeling the same kind of never-before-experienced calm, and after one psychiatrist heard about the phenomenon she went to see for herself; perhaps this physician described Debra’s effect on people best when she related that something like an existential peace came to her when she looked at the little girl, and into her eyes.

Debra had brown hair and the gentlest brown eyes, and the bridge of her nose was intensely freckled – something no one could account for. Her birth weight was seven pounds – seven ounces, a simple fact no one seemed to find in the least extraordinary, given her birth date, anyway.

Father, mother, and daughter left the hospital for their new house at the end of Collingwood Place in the hills above Hollywood; the house a boxy monstrosity designed by an architect with a dedicated passion for glass rectangles, concrete, and black steel. There were three swimming pools in the back yard, though there was not a blade of grass in sight. The house seemed to cling to the side of a canyon and, at times and when the light was just so, appeared ready to fly away at a moments notice, and perhaps that’s what attracted Ted to the house the first time he saw it. The view from the tiered back patios was stupendous, and on smog-free days the little girl could sit in her room and see Catalina Island and all the way out to the Malibu Hills. She lived the first seven years of her life in this little glass and steel airey, perched up there on the side of the canyon – and perhaps she too was ready to fly away at a moments notice. And while Katharine didn’t particularly like or dislike the house, it was the last place she would ever call home.

+++++

In a way, Ted Sorensen came of age up there, too.

He disposed of his little green BMW after his return from Berlin, in pointed discussions vowing to never again purchase anything with even the slightest hint of German origin. And that vow lasted, perhaps, two years. He began to read up on the Holocaust, he made charitable donations to homes in Israel that cared for orphaned children, Jewish children recovered from Soviet Russia, helpless children with their own harrowing tales to tell. If down and out actors found their way to him looking for work he listened to their stories, but some actors received more attention than others.

He listened with keen interest to the tales Saul Rosenthal was willing to tell him about his exploits during the war, those behind “enemy lines,” anyway. Curiously, Saul never mentioned killing anyone, though in time Anders would clear up that little hole in Saul’s retelling of history. Ted once voiced an interest in telling Saul’s story in a movie; Saul was aghast and very nearly threatened Ted when he heard about the idea.

Wanting to socialize in Hollywood, Ted went to first one country club and then another and another – only to be told that Jews need not apply – for membership or for a job, not even as a janitor. The same was true all around Southern California, from yacht clubs in Newport Beach to hunting preserves in the hills above Dana Point. When he learned that there were only a few politicians who listened to the concerns of their Jewish constituents he began to wonder where the difference between German Hate and American Hate resided, and he soon decided that the only way to take care of the problem was to beat the Haters at their own game.

Despite claims to the contrary, Ted saw in Sam Gold echoes of his father’s paranoia; both had spent their lives looking over their shoulders, finding the same kind of Hate in the shadows everywhere they turned. They never looked for alternatives, they never confronted their fears. They ran from the very idea of country clubs and yacht clubs, and in so doing they simply avoided the problem, passed the buck to the next generation. More than anything else, Ted saw that these men lived in fear of drawing attention to their very jewishness – and after Berlin Ted Sorensen was done with that. He wasn’t buying into that way of life. Not for him. Not for Katharine. And most especially not for his daughter. They deserved better. 

So he joined a country club that was derisively known as ‘that place that takes Jews,’ and he bought his way onto the board of directors. He got investors, some names with really big money behind them to come in and within a few years the dowdy old place became the jewel of Southern California country clubs – and everyone was welcome to join. And soon enough everyone who had belonged to the more exclusive clubs came around. At least those with the money to make the grade came over. The other country clubs began to languish as their anti-semitism hit the full light of day in newspapers that, well, that Sorensen ‘invested’ in. Other anti-semitic organizations on the West Side met similar fates until, one by one, those groups either disappeared – or moved to Orange County with all the other John Birchers. 

He began to put the studio’s money behind space operas, then more big budget revivals of sixties television series and that put Ted over the top. By the early eighties and with Sam’s endorsement he took over as president and chairman of the board and now there was nothing in the world that could stop what came next.

+++++

Katharine never went to medical school. The life she had long dreamed of was never meant to be.

Sam did in fact move to Israel, to one of his so-called compounds, though he kept the house on Alpine, for a while, anyway. He kept some sort of title at the studio but that was it. He was done. The Old Hollywood saw it as a changing of the guard while the new kids on the block thought it was long overdue. Ted was on his way to becoming a kingmaker, and everyone knew it.

Then one night, when Debra was just six years old, Katharine found a lump in her left breast.

Part III: The House With No Windows

Chapter 12.1

Beverly Hills, California 12 August 1983

She was a strange girl, all brown-eyed empathy and with a soul as big and expansive as a universe. You could not sit with her for a minute and not feel at peace, and after her mother passed everyone gathered protectively around her, yet in time it was the little girl who reached out and protected those around her. Her father most of all.

Because Ted Sorensen came undone after Kat passed. Simply and completely. Some people even said he was washed up, that he’d simply been using Katharine Gold to make his run for the top. Within a few years those voices had left Hollywood of their own accord.

Yet ind in the aftermath of her passing he did turn inside himself. He drove up the slot canyon to the glass house on Collingwood and the glass mocked him. As he looked out over the city that had made him his anger and his sorrow mocked him. During this time he began to feel sorry for himself, and he did not want anyone to see him like this. To see his mortality. His weakness.

But the little girl understood. She felt his pain, and she never questioned where it came from.

He purchased an old house on Foothill Road, just a block from Sam’s house. It was a huge old house hidden within a series of rambling gardens, and the place had been perfect for the silent film matinee idol who had built it fifty years before. Yet Ted hated the house and even before he found an architect he tore it down. He had an idea of the house he wanted long before he went looking for someone to draw up plans, so he went out for long drives in the limo – just looking.

Then he found an architect. Dina Marlowe was her name.

She was a wild, powerful creature, a clear-eyed disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright. She was an iconoclast – as was Wright – and it was inevitable that prominent local architects had long ago taken to calling her Frank Lloyd Wrong. And she had loved that. She loved their loathing, their self-righteous protestations to everything she drew. She didn’t draw houses for them; she created monuments to an idea that only she seemed to understand. 

She walked over the old lot on Foothill with Ted and listened to him as he talked about Katharine and her cancer and the almost total despair he’d experienced since. She was a good listener, too. She had to be.

She drove him around LA and looked at several of Wright’s houses from the 20s and 30s, as well as several she’d designed recently, and soon she began to picture in her mind exactly what Ted Sorensen wanted. Not what he needed, but what he wanted. Then she tried to get him to see the difference between the two.

She lived down on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, a vast promontory that juts out into the Pacific and that’s located just a few miles south of Los Angeles International. Close – but not quite touching LA – as living in PV was living a life apart, especially in those days. She rode a horse to her studio. She lived not far from where the writer Thomas Mann had lived when he came to California – before he came to his senses, anyway, and returned to Europe, to Switzerland. She lived in a rambling house of her own design, a sprawling series of soaring copper-roofed hexagons crafted of redwood and glass, and where a series of flagstoned terraces floated like lily pads down to honey colored rocks where the earth and the sea collide, often violently.

Dina Marlowe was not quite twice Ted’s age yet she’d never married, never had children of her own. She invited Ted and the little brown eyed girl out to her house – so that together father and daughter could feel what her brand of expansive architecture was all about. Such was the power of her design that prospective clients lucky enough to earn an invitation to her home invariably came away impressed enough to sign with her on the spot. Oddly enough, she rarely invited prospective clients to her house. She rarely deemed them worthy of her work.

But Ted Sorensen was different.

Because Ted Sorensen was the face of the new Hollywood. Daring to break with the past, Sorensen had broken free of all the old paradigms, the light comedies and the formulaic westerns. He was already behind several groundbreaking sci-fi epics and he had quickly begun bringing in new talent behind the camera as well as fresh faces in front. For years, Paramount had fallen behind the other studios in LA – but in just a few short years all that was in the past. 

Then Katharine happened and all that became a kind of open wound not yet scabbed over. So, in a way Dina began to see this house as a way to help Ted over the hump, to get him back into the fight. Maybe, or so the thinking went, if she could get Sorensen as a client then new doors would open for her work, not just in LA but around the world, because this was going to be a signature design. One she’d be known for – for the rest of her life.

Yet she knew if she created what Sorensen wanted her career would be left in tatters, that she would truly become a laughingstock, and that she might as well retire after her work was done for him.

Yet when they’d driven around LA looking at Wright’s houses he had expressed interest in only one. The Ennis House. A house that at its best looked like a Mayan temple, and that typically aroused feelings of outright dread, like something lifted right out of a dystopian nightmare. But at least the Ennis House had windows.

Yet Ted Sorensen wanted no visible windows, no way for anyone to see inside his new home. The house would, Sorensen demanded, literally turn in on itself. While all the exterior would present an impenetrable wall to the world, the interior would be pure, unobstructed glass. And every room in the house, every single space, would look inward. Inward onto a series of lush garden pools, like some impossible landscape dug up from a primeval rainforest and transported intact to Beverly Hills California – and literally just a few hundred yards from Sunset Boulevard.

Sorensen seemed drawn to the monolithic power of Wright’s Ennis House, the impossibility of finding something so incongruously out of place where the exact opposite was not simply expected, but demanded. And even Dina Marlowe knew that when the authorities in Beverly Hills took one look at her final drawings they would shit all over themselves. Horrified. Furious. How dare anyone even contemplate building something like this – and in Beverly Hills, for Heaven’s sake! 

Which was why she had invited Ted and his daughter to spend an afternoon at her home on the cliffs. Her house was, after all, a window on the world, and a home that seemed to come alive when the winds came in strongest off the sea.

+++++

She built a small house and attached it to the main house and an old French couple lived there; they looked after the house and cooked when guests came and when her draftsmen came ‘round after hours the old couple cooked for the impromptu gatherings that often sprang-up there.

When the Sorensens came the old couple prepared a simple dinner of salads and artichokes and fresh seafood caught that morning, and Debra walked around the various swimming pools – and the waterfalls that joined them into an harmonious whole – amazed that anyone could live so close to the sea. She stood, entranced, as dolphins and whales swam by just out of reach, and as swirling clouds of gulls circled high over the rocks below. In a life full of treasured memories, that afternoon on the cliffs was the one she would claim as her first.

Dina Marlowe’s draftsmen had created two sets of drawings based on her preliminary sketches; the first set was for a more traditional “prairie house” that in some ways resembled Wright’s Taliesin East, his second home and studio in Wisconsin – and where Wright had started his first architecture school. She created this set of plans because she’d been a student of Wright’s and knew this would more than likely be the last time that she’d be able to create such an homage. 

The second set of plans she’d spent more time on. She was already beginning to understand the role this commission would have on her career and, perhaps, she wanted to make one last statement. Maybe even a splash. This second set looked like the Ennis House – but on steroids, and without one single window visible from the street. Her blocks would use the same “Usonian” concrete block construction and her version incorporated similar geometric design motifs both in the blocks and in the overall design. One of her draftsmen made a quarter-scale model of this plan out of heavy foam-board and from the street the house looked more like an ancient Babylonian ziggurat than Wright’s Mayan temple, yet even in cardboard the form possessed a heavy, almost brooding presence that defied easy acquiescence. Ted Sorensen looked at the model and at once felt revolted and curious.

“Dear God,” he whispered as he looked at the thing, “what will people think when they see this?”

“Terror would be my guess, Ted,” Dina Marlowe sighed. “My first impression, once I saw the model, was that it looks like a place where human sacrifices take place.”

Ted looked at her, expecting to see a smile or hear a laugh, but no – her face was a blank mask.

“Where did this come from?” the heartbroken father asked the daring iconoclast.

“I listened to you, Ted. This is what you asked for. It’s a home where a man who seeks to deny his own humanity goes to lick his wounds.”

In the next instant Sorensen grew furious with her audacity…but then…

…then he fell back into her words…

“I listened to you.”

And this from an artist who made her living by listening to her clients.

He gathered his sense of himself and walked around the model again and again, then she leaned over and pulled the roofs off, revealing the intricate series of multilevel interior courtyards and pools. “There’s no way to model the landscaping but I tried to render those here,” she said as she turned and almost theatrically uncovered three renderings of the house done in colored pencil – Wright’s favorite media for presenting renderings to clients.

From the street about all a passersby might see was forest, three layers of forest – to be more precise – with each inner layer taller than the one before. Various towers and sub-towers would be visible both above or through the forest, but never the house in its entirety, not from any angle.

Sorensen stepped close and looked at the renderings and only then did he nod his head in dawning appreciation. “It’s majestic,” he sighed, “and you’re right. It’s utterly ominous.”

“It’s what you asked for, Ted.”

“It’s perfect,” he said as he turned to her, smiling.

“I know,” she said, sure this would amount to nothing more or less than her ruin.

And in that she could not have been more wrong.

+++++

Construction began almost as soon as a contractor willing to take on the commission could be found, while the city’s planning commission proved to be less an issue than Marlowe feared – but only because she had no idea how much money – in the form of pure, unadulterated bribes – Sorensen had been willing to pay for a construction permit.

Literally thousands of the various intricately layered concrete blocks had to be formed and poured, and this proceeded as the first layer of the forest was transplanted. There would be almost no lawn adjacent to the sidewalk, at least not in any traditional meaning of the word. Though within the first few feet in from the sidewalk there would indeed be some grass, almost immediately a low, dense rim of broad-leafed palm-like trees defined the outer wall of the forest. While this planting was underway the primary contractor moved-in and excavated the basements and subfloor footings, and then, within a few weeks the first walls started to appear.

And then the first wave of complaints started to trickle into the city planning office. “What is this thing?” seemed to be the gist of these first missives, and the city replied with a form letter explicitly stating that the plans had passed the city’s usual review process – and with flying colors. Most people were satisfied with this and let the matter drop.

Then the second layer of the forest was planted, and the front elevation of the house began to take shape. People began driving out of their way to see the new Babylonian ziggurat taking shape on Foothill. Traffic at times backed up as people stopped their cars and gawked. Until someone noticed this appeared to be a house with no windows…and wasn’t that a code violation? More letters were sent to the planning office, then matters escalated when members of the planning commission were summoned to a meeting in the City Manager’s office.

Of course this city manager had been bought off as well, so what followed was more a pro-forma strategy session to reassure the public that the house did in fact have the required number of windows and that everything was in fact okay with the design review process. But then even more people complained, because most people appeared quite uncomfortable with the idea that an ancient temple of some kind was being constructed right in the middle of a prime residential neighborhood, and it looked exactly like the sort of place human sacrifices might be performed!

Evangelical Christian leaders got involved next, alerted by parishioners that a temple dedicated to reviving the practice of ritual human sacrifice was being constructed in the heart of Los Angeles, and then these same evangelicals appeared in Palos Verdes, in the form of marching protesters outside of Dina Marlowe’s studio. She met with the gathered religious leaders and told them the story of the original Ennis House, as well as the handful of other houses around LA that Wright had designed that were also called Neo-Mayan by critics of art and architecture.

But when one of the evangelical pastors asked Marlowe if her new design was in fact intended to be a religious temple of some sort she scoffed at the idea, then telling the pastor to drive around LA and look at Wright’s other Usonian houses. When pressed further by this pastor – he repeated his original question and added something particularly stupid about Wright having been an advocate of human sacrifice – she laughed in the man’s face and called him a “congenital idiot…”

“Which is, I believe, on the front page of this morning’s LA Times,” Henry Carmichael said as Ted settled into the back of his limo.

Ted picked up the newspaper and skimmed the article, at one point laughing so hard his eyes watered – even as Henry drove the Lincoln out Melrose to the studio. “This couldn’t be going better,” Ted sighed as he looked at his reflection in the car’s window – as he turned inward and thought about all the hideous monsters out there in the world who had no idea what he had in store for them. He smiled at his father’s reflection in his mind’s eye, then leaned back and laughed when his father laughed with him.

+++++

Teachers reacted to Debra the way everyone else had: they were drawn to her, to her eyes, and when they made contact and stared into her eyes they almost always reported feeling something like waves of complete peace-of-mind breaking over them. Even students in her classes had no idea what to think when they interacted with her on the playground. She was just…different. Bullies tried to pick on her, to intimidate her and she would smile gently and look at them – and her teachers watched as her bullies wilted like flowers under a fierce sun.

One morning at early recess she was sitting on a bench talking to a friend when a small rabbit hopped over and sat beneath her dangling feet. Then another rabbit, and another and another came out of the bushes and sat there on the ground beneath the bench, looking up at her as if expecting something from her…so she went down to them and sat with them; within moments rabbits were walking all over her legs then cuddling on her lap, and everyone on the  playground – students and staff alike – stared in awestruck wonder at the sight of her. More rabbits came to her until dozens surrounded her, yet by then most faced outward as if they were taking a defensive stance – as if they were gathering there to protect her.

And day after day the rabbits came to her. Until one day, after a teacher called, her father came to see these strange goings-on.

And the rabbits came and sat beside Debra after she sat on the ground, and they remained there until her father came. They ran away then, and they never came back.

+++++

She loved him, of course. She could see the goodness in him. See past the monster everyone else saw.

The first time she saw the House With No Windows she did not know what to think. In a way the imposing hulk of the small towers peeking out of the little forest reminded her of one of her father’s movies, and she expected furry little aliens to come crawling out to greet her. Two streams ran through the forest in the front of the house and two glass bridges crossed over the running water, and she didn’t realize this was to be her new home because she felt like she was on one of her father’s film sets.

The front walk wound slowly through the forest to a small opening, and then, after a short turn not visible until then, a door appeared…and that first time her father and Dina Marlowe took her inside to show her around.

The same blocks on the outside made up the inner walls, and the floors appeared to be highly polished concrete stained a deep mahogany brown. A fireplace as big as a kitchen drew her eye inward, until she saw the forest atriums just outside the living room and she couldn’t help but run to the glass wall and look out there.

“Can we swim in that?” she asked Dina. “The water looks very dark, Dina, almost like a pool in a river, only at night.”

“Yes you can, Debra. This is just like any other swimming pool, only the inside of the pool is dark so it will look more like a pool within a stream. Do you like it?”

She nodded but remained unconvinced. “It feels very strange, Dina. Like some kind of power is hidden inside.”

“Inside? The water?” her father asked. “Really? What do you mean by that, Debra?”

But the girl simply shook her head, and very slowly – as she turned and looked at Dina. “I don’t know, father,” she said as she looked around the house and the garden pools. “I’m really not sure.”

But she did know. She had seen a place just like this once upon a time, though by the time she stood there inside the house, the ‘here and now’ must have felt like a very long time ago. She looked into the dark water again, and then into Dina’s eyes all while trying to understand what this was she was feeling again. Echoes? Something like echoes of another time and place, feeling the gut punch of knowing absolutely that she had been here before.

But it was a long time ago, and very far from this place.

But…why?

+++++

She read all the time. And she remembered everything she read. Word for word. Page by page.

When her classmates were reading Dick and Jane books aloud in her first grade class she was finishing up Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind, because that was one of her father’s favorite movies. The next book she read was Mann’s Death in Venice and she struggled with the idea that an old man could be attracted to someone so young. She asked her father about the von Aschenbach character and he told her that many men in their 40s and 50s became confused about their place in the world when their bodies began changing…

“What about women? Do they become confused too?”

Her father nodded. “I think so, yes, but maybe you should ask your grandmother.”

“What is a psychiatrist, father?”

“Well, do you know how some people become ill? Like when they catch a cold?”

“Yes.”

“Well, sometimes peoples’ brains become ill. Sometimes it is a kind of sickness, while there are other times when a person’s brain just develops that way.”

“You mean genetics, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Chromosomes, DNA, genetic codes and markers? Those things?”

Ted looked at her, now only seven years old but already so conversant in so many subjects. “Yes, those things. Where did you hear about those? At school?”

“No, the other teachers.”

He looked up from his dinner, looked her in the eye: “What other teachers?”

“The ones who come to me in the night.”

He felt a sudden cold dread fall over him. A piercing heaviness gripping his chest. He began to sweat a little, too. “People come to you? In the night?”

“Yes, father, but I am not sure they are people like you and me.”

“What does that mean, Debra? What do they look like?”

“They are usually very tall, too tall to stand in my room, and most of them are covered in feathers. Pink feathers.”

“You’ve seen more than one?”

“Not usually, but sometimes.”

He was watching her, looking into her eyes, looking for evasiveness or any other signs she was making this up – but when he saw only frank honesty he decided he’d call his mother after he put her to bed. “Do they stay in the room with you at night?”

“Usually, but we have been to the ocean, and once they took me to see a star.”

“A star?”

“Yes, only it wasn’t a star. It was some kind of machine.”

“A machine? What did the machine do, Debra?”

“I think it was talking, Father.”

“Talking? To who?”

“Father, I think it was talking to God.”

Part III: The House With No Windows

Chapter 12.2

Copenhagen, Denmark           12 April 1939

Niels Bohr, Walter Eisenstadt, and Saul Rosenthal sat with Aaron Schwarzwald listening to Imogen as she played a few preliminary passages from her latest work, her Second Piano Concerto, a work still incomplete, yet Bohr nodded appreciatively as she played. “That is marvelous, a truly interesting passage,” he said at one point. “I felt transported, Aaron.”

And Saul smiled, too. He loved her so much it hurt, yet on days like this he felt transported by his love for Imogen, transported to a place beyond space and time. ‘But,’ he thought, “isn’t that what Niels is responding to…?’

Once she finished Imogen left her mother’s cherished Bösendorfer piano and went to the kitchen to help Krista, her family’s longtime housekeeper, prepare tea and toast to go with the fresh blackberry jam she’d found at the market earlier that morning.

Saul was the first to speak, once Imogen left the room. “Chamberlain is out. The vote will come any day now.”

“Thank God,” Bohr sighed. “This can’t come a day too soon. Any idea who will replace him?”

Saul looked down and shook his head. “Churchill,” was all he managed to say.

“Then it’s war,” Aaron Schwarzwald said, his voice now a faltering whisper.

“This war was never avoidable,” Eisenstadt said, and Bohr nodded in emphatic agreement. “Now we are all dancing to the madman’s tune, so perhaps it lies with old Winston now. He just might be the only man left who can put the djinn back in his bottle.”

“You can’t be serious,” Aaron sighed. “With Churchill in power all out war is all but guaranteed. This will be a catastrophe for Denmark!”

Bohr laughed at that. “The Sudetenland was a catastrophe, Aaron. Chamberlain was the catastrophe, so now it is up to Churchill to clean up Chamberlain’s mess. We can only pray that he is up to the task.”

Saul cleared his throat. “Professor Eisenstadt? You said you had urgent news?”

Eisenstadt nodded. “I have spoken with Heisenberg. He is certain the Germans will move on Norway as soon as the war begins. The heavy water project has been given the go-ahead.”

“So, it is true?” Saul sighed – looking first at Eisenstadt and then to Bohr. “Herr Hitler wants to build this bomb you two have spoken of?”

“Yes,” Bohr replied, “but even so, Heisenberg is certain he and his group can stall the program, keep the Germans from achieving their aim.”

“I am not so certain,” Eisenstadt said, his voice flat now, “that I would be willing to bet the future of the human race on Heisenberg’s certainty he can forestall the development such a weapon.”

“Oh, der Führer puts much more stock in the occult,” Bohr said, his voice tinged with derisive sarcasm. “He may not even understand what such a weapon means.”

“I am unwilling to underestimate,” Saul said, taking in a deep breath as he spoke, “anything this Hitler concocts. He might be a madman, yet he has discovered the uncertain strength that resides within the dark underbelly of humanity. Professor? How certain of these facts are you?”

“I spoke with Werner last week. Why?”

“Face to face?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I assumed you wanted me to convey this information to His Majesty’s government. Am I incorrect?”

“Can you get to Churchill?” Niels asked.

Saul nodded. “It will take some doing, but yes.”

“What about Roosevelt?” Eisenstadt said.

Saul shrugged. “Would you trust anyone else with this information, Professor?”

“So, can you get to Washington?” Eisenstadt asked again.

“I’d do better to go to Princeton. Talk to Albert and the others. You were just there, weren’t you?” Saul asked Eisenstadt.

“Last year, yes. Should I cable him?”

“If you think it’s safe to do so. But yes, I will go to London tomorrow and I can arrange to go on to New York from there.”

“You must be back by June,” Bohr sighed.

“Oh? Why?”

“The Wehrmacht will begin moving troops towards the north and east in early summer.”

“Is this from Heisenberg, as well?”

“No. I overheard this on the train,” Bohr sighed. “Two colonels talking – under the influence, I might add.”

“North and east, you say?”

“Yes. I’d say Poland, from what they were saying. One of them mentioned that a secondary objective would be rounding up Jews along the invasion route.”

Saul and Aaron looked at one another.

“This will not end well, Aaron,” Saul whispered to Imogen’s father. “I beg you, please, leave now…while there is still time.”

But Aaron shook his head. “After all that I have said to you about this you still fail to hear me. I will never leave Denmark. Not ever. This is my home, but more than that this is the place where my heart and soul reside. These are my people, lives I have sworn to care for. You know this, Saul, so speak of it no more.”

Niels leaned forward and nodded to Aaron: “If anything happens, Aaron, please know that I will care for Imogen no matter what happens, and Werner knows how I feel about this. He will look after her should we be overtaken by events.”

Saul looked away when he heard that last bit of bravado. ‘If anyone gets overtaken by Herr Hitler,’ he thought, ‘there will be no safe haven…there will be only a last lingering twilight before a night without end.’

So many plans to make, so many contingencies. So much love waiting to die on the vine.

He watched Imogen as she walked into the room carrying a plate of toast and jam and he felt the last rays of the sun dance in this old room once again, even as a late winter’s snow started to fall in the twilight.

Beverly Hills, California 11 September 1992

Ted Sorensen went to the office a few days a week these days, and at most he’d spend a half day there. At the level he was playing, life was all about finding the right people to do the heavy lifting, and he’d set up an office in his new house to be at least as productive as was his office at the studio. One of his secretaries had been permanently assigned to the house for a while, but he’d found her presence annoying and had sent her back to work for someone else. Now he kept in touch by fax and went to the office only when important duties called.

Sorensen really didn’t like getting out and mixing it up with people anymore, and for the last few years he’d led an ascetic’s life. His only indulgence was Debra, and he lavished her with all the attention and love he felt she deserved, and there was literally nothing she wanted that he didn’t immediately secure for her. The problem with all this was, however, quite easy for anyone to see, if they’d bothered to look: Debra had patterned off her father and so never really wanted anything beyond the simplest food and drink, so when her classmates wagged their tails about wearing the latest jeans or sneakers she simply couldn’t relate. Her clothes were classically stylish yet durable, and she always appeared neat and presentable – and so what else mattered? What was status when you simply didn’t care about such things? What was money if you’d never had to worry where your next meal was coming from?

She’d had a few friends in elementary school but nothing lasting developed until she reached high school. Her mother had attended the Westlake School for Girls and that school had now merged with her father’s alma mater, The Harvard School for Boys, so it was only natural she attend – and this despite all her intellectual gifts. She could have attended college when she was eleven years old but Ted didn’t want to deprive her of all the experiences growing up around LA might provide.

Then he realized he’d never taken Debra skiing before. Or sailing. Or riding the trails around Sequoia on horseback. All the things he’d never done as a kid growing up here – and all the things he’d promised Kat they would do together.

‘What the hell have I been doing?’ he wondered…

‘…but she never complains, does she?’

In fact, she seemed to live inside a world of her own design, and maybe, he thought, because the world really wasn’t ready for someone like her. At least that’s what his own mother kept telling him.

“There’s nothing wrong with her, Ted. And I don’t think that she’s different, either. But there’s nothing I can point to that makes me think she’s imagining all these encounters…”

He’d told his mother about the things she’d said, about the tall feathered visitors and journeys to oceans and stars, and as she listened to Ted her heart filled with dread. So many varieties of schizophrenia were genetic disorders easily passed along from generation to generation, and the thought that Anders’ own peculiar guilt-paranoia might be passed along to Debra was something that had kept her up at night. 

So while Ted’s call wasn’t completely unexpected, it was nevertheless painful.

But what happened next was more than unexpected.

Ted had techs from the studio come in and wire Debra’s room with all kinds of state-of-the-art video recording equipment, with passive night vision and even infra-red cameras installed in the ceiling. He sat up one night and watched her sleeping – only one moment she was there in the bed and in the next instant she was gone. Simply gone. He’d run from his office to her bedroom and – yes – she was indeed no longer in bed. 

She was, instead, in the shower. Drenched in sea water. Kelp wrapped around an ankle. And she was shivering.

He’d turned on the water and picked her up, held her close until the cold passed, but he noticed that everything about her now smelled of the sea. Her night clothes, her hair and even her skin, and he was terrified. Terrified enough to call his mother the very next morning.

She listened, terrified, as Ted spoke on the phone. Terrified that her son was slipping into his father’s own peculiar psychosis. And so she came to the House With No Windows the very next afternoon.

She despised Ted’s house, everything about it. From the brooding menace of the exterior to the cloistered feel of the too-dark interior. The gallery circulation was indeed impressive, the various atriums botanically interesting but almost frightening in a deliberately fashioned way, as if those spaces had been drawn up to awaken dormant instincts – but in the most primeval way imaginable. The first time she’d stepped out to peer down into one of the swimming pools she’d felt the hooded eyes of silent predators lurking behind each and every frond; soon she’d felt naked and exposed and – hunted – and couldn’t wait to get back inside, back into the relative comfort of that insidiously dark living room.

“I don’t know how you can stand to live in a place this…medieval,” she said as she stepped inside again.

‘Because I love how it makes you feel,’ he’d wanted to say, but of course he never could say such a simple truth to her.  “Oh, you get used to the eccentricities,” he sighed at last – though somewhat remorsefully. 

“I couldn’t do it. Never. Not in a million years.”

She thought Ted’s smile was a little odd just then. Too…odd for comfort.

Debra’s bedroom was located in one of the two-story towers, and there was a small study-sitting room on the ground level and a library marching up beside the stairway to her second floor sleeping room. Her tower now had hidden cameras installed everywhere – except for the bathroom, and a bank of Beta-Max VCRs kept a running log of any and all movement in her spaces. Tilly sat with Ted and watched the recording from the night before, still not sure what to expect, but when Debra disappeared from her bed Tilly felt her world lurch sideways.

“What on earth just happened?” she sighed, startled.

“She told me – this time – that she was in an ocean and there were icebergs everywhere. Apparently when she goes there she’s with a killer whale. I gather the same one each time.”

“The same one? What do you mean?”

“Every time, well, you know, she’s with the same orca.”

“Are you saying this has happened more than once?”

“She told me it started in the other house and has been going on ever since.”

“Theodore! This is preposterous! Du begynder at opføre dig ligesom din far!

Og hvad hvis jeg er det? Ville det være så slemt? ” he screamed in return, his face turning an angry sort of red.

She pulled herself inward, protecting herself from her son’s unexpected words, then she turned to her son: “How long have you felt this way?” she asked softly, walls of professional distance sliding into place.

“Don’t you dare pull that goddamn psychotherapist bullshit on me, Mother!”

“You resent me for the divorce even now, don’t you?” she cried, wilting under the furnace of his eyes.

“Even now? Mom, there’s not a day since we left San Francisco that I haven’t blamed you! And that I haven’t hated you for what…”

“That is so unfair!”

“Unfair? And you – a shrink…think it’s fair that walking away from your husband, because he had a mental illness, was somehow the right thing to do? And you call me unfair…?”

“We were ruining each other, Ted.”

“In sickness and in health, Mother. Those are the words, right?”

“He released me, Ted. He knew what was coming next.”

“And yet, look at him now? You call that…”

“We have better medications now, better care…”

“Care he should have gotten from you, his wife!”

She turned away, knew he was right, yet she knew she was right too. A classic double bind, no way out. She turned to face her son again and sighed. “What would you have me do, Ted?”

“There’s nothing that can undo the past, Mother. Nothing we can do. We can only finish what you set out to do with us…to tear us down, apart – until nothing of us remains.”

“Is that what you think? Ted? Really?”

“It doesn’t matter what I think anymore, Mother. I asked you to come over and look at these tapes because I want to know what you think I should do next.”

Tilly pulled back from the brink and nodded as his words registered. “You said she has encounters with people of some kind?”

“Very tall, covered in feathers. Pink feathers.”

Tilly laughed at that. “Ted, this sounds like a little girl’s fantasy. Surely you don’t think…”

“Of all I know about Debra, Mother, the one thing she has never done is lie to me, about anything.”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing. People lie when they fear something – isn’t that what you always told me? That lies are a kind of response to something we’ve done, or even not done. So…I’ve simply removed anger from our lives, and so in a way I think I’ve removed fear. With no fear truth can flourish, right?”

“Oh, Ted, if only our lives could be so simple…”

Ted shrugged. “I’m an expert in anger and fear, Mother. I grew up watching Father’s fear. And the anger you showered on him as a result.”

She shook her head, trying to keep her focus. “The best thing we can do, Ted, is to monitor these images and see if these creatures present themselves. I cannot, however, imagine that anything like this is possible.”

“And if this is all some kind of elaborate fantasy? Then what?”

“Then we will take her to the clinic and let a pediatric specialist examine her.”

“Do you have someone in mind?”

“I do,” Tilly said. “Amanda Patterson. She is most gifted, especially with young girls.”

“Call her. Right now. Have her join us for dinner tonight.”

+++++

Amanda Patterson was a psychiatrist, Dublin trained – and a kind of wild Irish beauty permeated everything about her. She knew Tilly Sorensen professionally of course, but had never interacted socially with her so she was more than a little curious about this sudden invitation. Then…she heard words about Tilly’s granddaughter and possible hallucinatory episodes and everything slipped into place. This wasn’t a social call. This was work. She sighed. And she smiled.

She’d heard of Ted Sorensen, of course. He was one of the most feared personalities in Hollywood, a man who seemed to relish destroying the careers of anyone who stood in his way. And like everyone else on the West Side, she’d heard of this house. The House With No Windows.

Which of course told her everything she needed to know about the situation. Here was a man who had walled himself off from the world, from having to witness the consequences of his reign of terror. She imagined a little girl raised in such a house, a frail creature full of fear and lying to save her skin time after time, day after day. And night after night? Might she also not be a victim of sexual abuse, too?

But then wouldn’t her grandmother be complicit, too?

Oh, what an interesting evening this was going to be!

+++++

They met at house, while Debra was still at school. Something about a lacrosse game. 

Ted told her about his recent conversations with Debra, about the pink feathered visitors coming in the night, then he told her about the disappearance that had been captured on the video feed and about what he’d discovered in the shower…

…and Patterson seemed a little confused by that…

“You mean you actually found kelp around her legs?”

“I did, yes.”

“And you said you smelled seawater? In her shower?”

“Yes.”

“So, is it not possible that she has discovered how to cut-off the video feed, and that she planted these items beforehand so that she could pull off this little ruse?”

“But…why?” Ted asked.

“For attention, Mr. Sorensen. Perhaps because she feels neglected in some way?”

His mind reached out to thoughts he’d only recently had, thoughts of ignoring her needs, and while Patterson’s words hit him, and hard, he couldn’t imagine Debra doing something like that. And just for some attention.

+++++

During her freshman year at Harvard-Westlake Debra asked her father for permission to go on the school’s annual ski trip up to Mammoth Mountain, and Ted smiled when he remembered his first such trip. Good memories from those worst of times, not so long after his parents split, and yet somehow it was those memories that carried him through the worst of it all. 

“Of course you can,” he told her. “Funny, but I had no idea you were interested in skiing…?”

“Oh, yes, ever since Dina mentioned it I’ve wanted to learn.”

“Dina? You mean my architect?”

“Yes, of course.”

“She mentioned skiing?”

“Yes. She asked if we wanted to go with her up to Lake Tahoe.”

“We? You mean she asked us?”

“Yes. You didn’t seem interested.”

“You know,” he sighed, “I only went a couple of times. I was never any good at sports, but I never had the patience to learn, I guess.”

“I think the mountains must be wonderful.”

“We haven’t been? Up to Tahoe, I mean?”

And right away, when she shook her head, Ted knew that on so many basic levels he’d failed as a parent. He wanted to turn and feel Kat next to him, wanted to feel her steady hand on his, because he missed her most at times like this.

But Debra went on her ski trip and when she came back she seemed a different person.

There were the usual superficial things, of course – the sunburned cheeks and the healthy glow first among the things he spotted – but there were other, deeper changes, as well. 

“You look like you had a good time,” he said when she bounced back into the House With No Windows.

“You look pale, Father. Like you need to get out in the sun.”

He had shrugged indifferently. “How’d you like skiing?” he asked.

“It was hard at first but on the third day, I don’t know, it almost felt like flying. Like I was a bird and I was drifting on currents of air.”

He leaned back in his chair and steepled his hands over his chest. “I remember that. Fun, isn’t it?”

“Fun? It was more than fun, Father. There are people up there who live like that. They ski every day, they’re out there in the sun and the air and the sky is a part of their lives…”

“And our life isn’t, Debra. We have a different destiny.”

Her eyes narrowed a bit when she heard him speak those words, and perhaps because she had just come in from the sun and the wind was still in her hair and his words seemed contrived, almost hollow. Yet in the next instant she understood her father was missing something, like his life was devoid – of life. She had lived her life completely walled off from the world, because she’d been surrounded by music, and musicians, all her life. Musicians who, by and large, worked for her father. Well, for one of the recording studios her father owned.

Folk singers, rock ’n rollers, new wave and punk. She’d seen most of the heavy hitters at one time or another, sometimes in the studio but also in concert – when her father felt compelled to attend, anyway. And she remembered something one of the hard-line ayatollahs in Iran had said once, when he banned rock ’n roll from Iranian radio stations. In such music could be found the devil’s lair.

And at first she’d laughed, but soon enough she understood.

There was truth inside the rebellious spirit music conveyed, truth found in the same kind of Romanticism that had popularized Byron’s poetry and probably Jesus’s sermon on the mount. The truth they spoke was a universal truth and the truth had to come out, had to be set free – only in the way best suited to the moment. Of course the ayatollahs were terrified of The Beatles. There was truth in such music, the truth of the human condition, and those scared old men knew what could bring down their whole house of cards. So truth became a kind of evil. A devil’s lair.

And now, standing there in her father’s house she suddenly realized that her father was scared, the same kind of scared. Scared of what was “out there” – which meant he was scared of things he could not control. Which led her to the single most terrifying thought she’d ever had: her father was scared because he could not control her.

Her life.

Her…life? Is that it? Is he so simple?

Because ever since his parents had come undone he’d lost control and he’d been trying to get everything all neat and tidy ever since. 

So…does that really make since?

Mom died, they didn’t get divorced, so…

Mom died? She left…him. Is that when he lost control? He couldn’t control…death?

But that wasn’t his fault. And if it wasn’t his fault what was the point of trying to control the uncontrollable? Because…that’s what death is, isn’t it? But no, trying to keep someone you love safe and out of harm’s way isn’t unreasonable. But, oh, what was that song? Question? A question of balance? Was that it? Had he simply lost his way?

“Dad?” she said.

“Yes darlin’…what is it?”

“Something happened.”

He looked up at her, looked at the rosy glow on her cheeks once again. “Oh?”

“I met a boy.”

He smiled, but his hands started to shake a little. “And does he have a name?”

She shook her head. “It’s nothing like that, Dad. He was sitting beside me in the van and he fell asleep on my shoulder. I wasn’t expecting to feel what I felt.”

He relaxed – a little – and he pointed to the chair across from his desk. “Tell me about him,” he said, gently.

“He’s a senior, he got an early admission letter from Yale.”

“And he’s cute?”

She nodded sheepishly. “Yeah, you could say that.”

“And let me guess. He’s a good skier and he wanted to know if you could go back up to Mammoth with him next weekend?”

She nodded. “His parents will be there too.”

“Uh-huh. I’m just curious, but do I fit into this equation somewhere?”

“I was wondering if, well, if you wanted to come too.”

He grinned. “Is that what you were wondering?”

“Yes.”

“Deb…I do not remember how to ski, nor do I have the slightest interest in relearning.”

“Okay.”

“But why don’t you have this boy’s parents give me a call and we can see about you going with them.”

“Really! That’d be the boss, Dad!”

“The boss?”

But he did go skiing with her that weekend, and several more weekends that winter. Though she never knew.

+++++

Amanda Patterson quietly watched the bank of monitors as Debra fell asleep, Tilly sitting beside her in the little control room. Ted remained in his office, not wanting to watch anything that might possibly unfold – again – because he was afraid what it might mean for his daughter. One way or another.

An hour passed, then another – before all the monitors went out. Then all the lights..

“Ted! Come!” his mother cried as she stood and made for the stairway. “Something’s happening!”

But it was almost pitch-black inside the house and everyone found it difficult to move through the intricate passageways in near total darkness. Ted made it to the stairs first and started up but soon the way ahead was apparent. Deb’s room was suffused with pulsing shades of pink and blue and a faint crackling sound helped him find his way, until all three were standing in her room.

And a small, translucent sphere hovered in the air above the girl’s bed. One moment the sphere glowed pink and in the next a pale lime green aura filled the room.

And Debra was gone. Not in the bedroom and not in the bathroom. Gone.

“Sweet Jesus,” Patterson whispered as she stepped back from the hovering sphere, “what the hell is that?”

Ted leaned close to the sphere, his eyes at first lost in wonder – then filling with tears. “That’s my wife,” he cried, just before all their eyes closed. Just before they disappeared from The House With No Windows.

Part III: The House With No Windows

Chapter 12.3  

Los Angeles, California           14 September 1996 

Debra Sorensen was a typical freshman at The University of Southern California; she had been assigned to a four bedroom “apartment” in Webb Tower so she had, in effect, seven roommates and, like almost every other freshman at USC, she had not declared a major area of study – at least not yet. She knew she would end up in the film school – because, like duh – yet she really had no special interest in either film or even movie making in general. Her other roommates were, like almost everyone else at ‘SC, planning on going pre-med or pre-law – but that was only because the film school was considered almost impossible to get into – unless you knew “somebody” that was “like really-really big, man.” So of course as soon as people in Webb found out who Deb’s father was, she became very popular among the more hyper-ambitious sorts – at one of the most hyper-ambitious colleges in one of the most hyper-ambitious cities and yada-yada-yada, well, we all know how that song goes.

Which was how she came to be walking over to the Coliseum late that Saturday morning. She’d never expressed any interest in football and had, in fact, never even watched a football game on television, not even the Super Bowl, so she really didn’t know what to expect. One thing had struck her that morning, however: boys were on everyone’s mind. And she finally realized that all the girls names were either Taylor or Jennifer and that all the guys were named Grant. It was, like, really weird.

The Trojans (could that really be true?) were playing the Ducks…and she, like, really had no idea what the hell any of that meant. “Do ducks really use Trojans?” she asked one of her roommates. 

“What are you talking about?” Taylor Krumnow replied.

“Well? Ducks and rubbers, right? Is this a contest to see who can put on rubbers the fastest?”

“It’s the Oregon Ducks, Deb. And we’re the USC Trojans. Those are like football teams, okay?”

Debra laughed at Taylor and flashed her a quick wink. “Got it.”

“Ooh, you! You really like pulling legs, don’t you?”

“Only yours,” Deb fired back. “Any boys going to meet us there?”

“Yeah, Grant – from across the hall.”

“Which one? Grant d’brunette, or Grant d’blonde…?” Deb said, grinning.

“Grant d’one with the cute ass!” Taylor Pickford said as she bounced along beside them.

“What is it with you and asses?” Krumnow snarked. “You got an ass fetish or something?”

“Don’t you?” Pickford barked, sticking out her tongue and swirling it around.

“Ooh, that’s just gross,” Krumnow sighed. 

Deb shook her head. She’d read about stuff like that of course, but in truth it was all still a mystery. Boys didn’t stick around her for very long, at least not once they’d spent a little time with her. At least that had been the case so far.

Like Brent, the boy at Harvard-Westlake that had asked her up to Mammoth. 

He’d wanted sex, of that much she was sure, but he was all “I-Me-Mine” when he wasn’t trying to feel her up, nonstop talk about himself and after a day around him she grew tired of his shallow one track mind. She’d spent the rest of that trip with his father – if only because he seemed somewhat more safe. And besides, he was a pretty good ski instructor, until the I-me-mine things started up again.

She’d tried to date after that, had gone to a few dances on campus, but the whole sex type thing was mystifying. Sex was procreation, right? But did all these boys want to get married and settle down and have a bunch of kids? No, not in the least. Sex was some kind of hedonistic power trip for them, more about weak-egos trying to assert control and dominate because they’d been genetically programmed to be that way. But…the whole thing was…shallow and animalistic, and because that seemed to be just about all these kids had on their mind they were excruciatingly boring to be around.

They had tickets on the home side of the field and almost right behind the players benches and Taylor (Pickford) was all giggles now as she had a front row seat overlooking some of the finest ass on campus. Taylor (Krumnow) was explaining the basics of the game when Grant Cute Ass joined them, and he helped fill in some of the blanks while also explaining that he too had played football in high school but that he had grown bored with the whole thing. And all this while simultaneously trying to grope both Taylors.

The game wasn’t even close. ‘SC wiped the stadium floors with the Ducks but there was a lot of screaming and yelling and beer was flowing in cheerful overabundance and even Debra seemed to get into the spirit of the whole thing – when she noticed this huge lump of muscle on the sidelines. And he was looking at her.

More than once, too.

Number 56. The name Taylor embroidered above the numbers on the back of his jersey.

And when the game was over, before he disappeared with the rest of his teammates, he came over to where she was seated and motioned her to come down to the rail.

“Hi,” he said. “My name is William. William Taylor. You want to go grab a bite?”

“Sure,” Debra said. 

“You in Webb?”

“Yes. Seven-A.”

“Would you mind telling me your name?”

“Deb. Debra.”

“Okay, Deb. I’ll be by in about an hour and a half. Is that okay?”

She’d nodded but she wasn’t aware of anything else but his eyes, even as he joined his teammates jogging off the field.

“Nice ass,” both Taylors said as they watched the hulking jock jogging off the field.

“Yeah,” Grant said admiringly.

Beverly Hills, California 11 September 1992

Amanda Patterson came out of it first. Like smoke in her eyes, heavy and full of grit, she rubbed her face with her fingertips then she rubbed at her eyes trying to wipe away the burn. She swallowed hard and shook her eyes open and recoiled in horror when she realized she was hovering in deep space. No spacesuit, nothing to push against and nowhere to turn. She thought she was dead and reached for her wrist and tried to feel a pulse but she felt nothing and that’s when the panic hit.

Then, slowly, reason came back.

‘I’m pretty sure dead people don’t panic,’ she thought, but then she thought again. ‘Maybe when you’re dying you panic,’ she sighed, ‘like maybe when you realize you’ve taken your last breath…’

Then she remembered the orb in Debra’s room. And then Ted saying something about his wife. 

‘But his wife is dead,’ she recalled, ‘so how could that be…?’

And within seconds she was back in the bedroom, or at least a bedroom, and the orb was still hanging there, the wide-eyed crystalline figure still entombed within, her figure womblike – like the fetal embrace of umbilical sustenance. Then Ted was there beside her, and then Tilly too, while the orb seemed to shimmer – then dissolve. And all that was left was the creature within.

Still hovering above the bed.

Ted fell to his knees, Tilly dropped to console her son.

The creature seemed to unfurl and drift to the floor, her eyes never once leaving Patterson’s as she settled on the floor.

Patterson looked up at the creature and endless fear filled her mind, blocking everything else from consciousness. She – it? – had to be ten feet tall, maybe more, and she was covered in feathers. White feathers. With a pinkish amber tinge, and the creature’s eyes were bright amber flecked with deep cobalt islands, the whites of the eyes a pale Robin’s egg blue. She continued staring at it, cataloguing everything she could: no external genitalia, no mammaries, long boney phalanges, eyes and mouth almost human in form…

“Dear God!” she screamed – as the creature’s wings extended the breadth of the room.

And for some reason the creature seemed to enjoy watching her reaction.

“Do you have a name?” Patterson asked, still unable to take her eyes off the unfolding wings.

“Yes, of course.”

“My name is…” Patterson began to say…

“I know your name, Amanda Patterson,” the creature said. “You may call me…Katharine…if you like.”

Ted stood when he heard that, he stood and then he faced the creature. “Kat?” he whispered.

And the creature nodded her head. “Yes, Ted.”

“Is it you?”

Again the creature’s head nodded. “I think so, yes.”

“But…what happened?” he asked, his eyes filling with tears.

“I can’t stay here now, but I need to tell you something, and you need to listen. All of you. Don’t interfere, Ted. With Debra. Do not interfere with what happens.”

“What?” Ted cried. “Interfere with what?”

But the creature just shook her head as she faded away – and then the orb reappeared. She smiled at him once again before she furled herself away and disappeared inside the orb, leaving Ted feeling even more bereft than he ever had before.

“She’s not gone,” he whispered over and over – until they heard Deb in the bathroom, screaming.

Patterson made it to the shower first and she opened the shower door then jumped back in horror. The girl was covered with thick, hot blood – yet none of it was her own – then Ted pushed his way in and picked up his little girl and turned on the water. He rinsed her off and shampooed her hair and rinsed and rinsed her until the water ran clear again, then the physicians helped dry her and got her to bed.

And the most peculiar thing, Patterson thought, was that Deb never once appeared to wake up. Not once.

But their clothes were covered in blood, so there was no doubt in Patterson’s mind that something had happened up there in that bedroom. It wasn’t some kind of bizarre hallucination, or even something like a shared dream. No, something had happened up there, and the blood on her blouse was proof enough of that.

Yet it was Tilly who spoke first. Once they were back in the living room and once they had gathered their wits about them.

“Ted?” she asked. “Do you have any idea what she meant?”

“No, Mom. Nothing.”

“Well,’ Patterson sighed, “she said don’t interfere. She could have meant right then, tonight, or she could have meant to tell us not to interfere with something in the future.”

“Or both,” Tilly said, slumping down in her chair. “Exasperating. That was exasperating.”

Patterson shook her head. “I was thinking for a moment that I was terrified but then I felt something like peace, like I was supposed to be there watching this happen.”

“No me,” Ted said. “I think I just about crapped my pants when I saw it was Kat up there.”

“How long ago did she pass?” Patterson asked.

“Almost seven years ago. Cancer.”

Patterson shook her head. “This is almost like one of those bad movies. You know, oh what was it called…?”

“The Exorcist?” Tilly said.

Patterson nodded. “Yup, but that…”

“But that wasn’t some kind of demon, Doctor. That was my wife.”

“I wonder…” Patterson whispered. “Why your wife, Mr. Sorensen. Why not a grandparent, or even…”

“Because Kat was Deb’s mother. That has to be the link.”

“But what’s so special about your daughter?”

Ted leaned back and sighed. “She always has been. Since the day she was born.”

Tilly leaned over and shook her head. “Of course,” she sighed. “Since the day she was born. Could it be that she, our Debra, is part of some kind of experiment?”

Ted recoiled from the idea. “What?” he cried. “What do you mean?”

“Ted, think about it. ‘Don’t interfere?’ What else could she have meant?”

Patterson nodded. “Yes, that makes sense. Don’t interfere or you might screw up the results.”

Ted leaned back in his chair as icy fingers grabbed his chest. “Do you have any idea what you’re saying? The implications…”

“The implications are troubling,” Patterson said, nodding at Tilly, “no matter what. As long as we assume what we experienced wasn’t some kind of shared hallucination…”

“How could it be?” Ted replied. “I mean…really…how?”

Patterson closed her eyes for a moment and that triggered a reaction: “When I reacted to the orb I almost remember passing out…”

“I do too,” Tilly added.

“I thought I was in space,” Ted whispered as he recalled the feeling of being suspended like a fly in amber. “I thought I saw stars, at least for a moment.”

Patterson shook her head, suddenly on the verge of tears. “Do you know what this means?” she sighed.

Ted nodded. “Paradigm shift. Bad day to be an evangelical, I guess.”

“Ted?” his mother asked. “Did you say that Debra has no memory of these events?”

He nodded again. “That’s right. None.”

“Regressive hypnosis?” Patterson said, looking at Tilly.

“And that would surely qualify as interference, right?” she replied.

“Our hands are tied,” Ted said.

“And maybe that’s why this Katharine-avatar appeared,” Tilly added, looking at her son. “They knew you’d by more likely to respect this sort of restriction if it came from her.”

“That makes sense,” he agreed. “So, the question is…do we accept this restriction?”

Patterson burst out laughing: “Are you serious? We might not simply screw up someone’s science project, Ted. We might seriously fuck up your daughter in the process. You really want to risk that?”

“So…we’re back to square one?” he summarized. “Hands tied, we don’t interfere? Is that about where we stand?”

“And we don’t mention this to anyone,” Tilly added. “Ever.”

Patterson shook her head. “No one would believe us, so really, why bother?”

Part III: The House With No Windows

Chapter 12.4  

Harlowton, Montana October 1990

William Taylor was a big kid. An imposing kind of big, and he always had been. Solid muscle, but not the kind that came from too much time in a gym full of preening mirror queens. No, his muscles were home grown, built up over cold, hard winters working on his parent’s ranch between Harlowton and Lavina, in central Montana. He’d grown up riding horses – not because he wanted to ride or because he liked horses, but because riding fence lines on horseback was still a pretty good way to get the job done. Especially when you were ten years old. Few people understand that riding horses is not a passive activity, and that to ride a horse well you need to be about as strong as the horse.

The ranch had been in the family for four generations, dating back to the 1890s. Families had arranged marriages out on the prairie for decades, ensuring that large spreads grew larger, that dynasties were maintained, and that fortunes were assured and passed down. Now the Taylor Ranch, or the Bar-T as it was called these days, was about twenty miles by thirty five miles, so big that Dub Taylor had been flying his fence lines in a Piper Cub for twenty years. They rotated sections on the Bar-T, running cattle on large swathes and growing wheat on adjacent parcels. The land looked flat from up there in the Cub, with squared-off buttes here and there, but once you were down on the ground you soon realized the land was anything but. There were several tributaries of the Musselshell River running through the land and more than a few old growth forests just north of the main house, but about the only other remarkable features you’d find out there on the Bar-T were little fenced off enclosures that housed Minuteman III ICBMs. A bunch of them, as a matter of fact.

William’s father, William Sr but locally known as Dub, hated those goddam missiles. He hated them because ever since he’d allowed the Air Force to put them in the ground life on the ranch had grown uncomfortable. Uncomfortable as in strange, or, as Dub put it: “Pretty fucking weird.”

The ‘Missileers’ – as the kids in the silos were known – came from Malmstrom Air Force Base over in Great Falls, and they didn’t drive out in cars or trucks; no, they came out in dark blue Hueys. And they came out whenever they wanted, but usually in the middle of the night. And if you happened to be anywhere close to them you got out of their way, or else. Large trucks came and went in the middle of the night too, but those came in convoys. If you were dumb enough to ask what was in the trucks you were reminded in no uncertain terms that you really needed to mind your own business and otherwise shut the fuck up. The word over in Harlowton was that the really big 200 megaton hydrogen warheads were in those dark blue trucks. The Air Force guys called them City-busters. Even the trucks looked scary, like monsters from a really bad nightmare.

Yet not long after the blue trucks started coming in the night the red spheres started showing up. 

They family was gathered at the dining room table one night when a bunch of Hueys came roaring in low over the house, and that kind of thing was already considered “pretty fuckin’ unusual” so Dub grabbed his 30-30 and made for the door, not sure what to expect.

“Well, fuck me in the butt,” Dub muttered as he stumbled to a stop on the front porch.

A couple miles away, just to the north of the main house and so not all that far away from Mount Baldy, he saw a red sphere hanging in the sky – and he could tell it was close. Real close. Like right above the local missile silo close.

“What is it, Dad?” Junior asked as he came up beside his father.

But his father just pointed.

And William Taylor saw his first UFO that night. 

It wouldn’t be his last.

Los Angeles, California           14 September 1996

“Anything sound good to you?” William Taylor asked Debra Sorensen.

“You like steak?” she asked.

And he winced, because he’d grown up eating nothing but steak. Although beef stew was a popular option.

“I’m kind of into fish,” he replied, “but so far about all I’ve found is that fish thing at MacDonald’s.”

“The what?”

“I think it’s called the Filet-o-fish.”

“And you like fish?”

“I think so.”

She looked at him, saw he was uncomfortable and in an instant she could feel him, feel his embarrassment, almost his shame.

“I know a great place,” she said. “Do you have a car or can we take mine?”

He shook his head. “Nope. No car.”

Again she sensed embarrassment but she didn’t see an easy way around that right now. “Mind if I drive?” she asked – as she reached out and took his hand in hers. She felt him relax as they walked over to the parking garage…at least until they got to her car.

“Is that yours?” he asked as she walked up to bright yellow Porsche Carrera 4.

“Yup. Help me with the top, will you?”

“What?”

She smiled as she unlocked the doors. “Just sit down, okay?”

She pointed at a latch and asked him to release it then she flipped a switch and the Cabriolet’s top retracted in a dance of exquisite precision; she watched Taylor watching the movements and he seemed totally fascinated. She backed out of her assigned space and made it up to the westbound 10 and took it all the way out to the PCH, turning north on the coast highway and heading up to the Chart House in Malibu.

There was a long wait for a table but when Deb walked up to the hostess they were seated immediately, and their waiter greeted Deb like a close friend, even giving her a little hug before he helped her take a seat.

“Trust me?” she asked Taylor, and when he shrugged she turned to Chip, their waiter, and ordered crab bisque, lobster and filet mignons before she took William up to the salad bar. When he saw piles of smoked salmon there he turned and looked at Debra before he shrugged apologetically.

“I don’t think I can afford this place,” he whispered in her ear.

“You played so well today, maybe you ought to let me get this one, and you can get the next one.”

He nodded but once again she felt something like shame as he picked up the iced salad plate.

“Why is there fish up here?” he asked.

“Ever had a real Caesar Salad?”

“I’ve had caesar dressing before?”

“Henry?” she said to the man behind the station. “Two Caesar’s with anchovies and lox, please.”

“Yes, Miss Sorensen.”

Taylor looked at Debra then looked around the restaurant, and for the first time, really. 

The restaurant was not next to the beach but cantilevered out over rocks and literally perched out over the breaking surf and there was a huge open fireplace in the center of the dining area roaring away – and about this time a real honest-to-Pete movie star came up to Deb and gave her a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek…and then she introduced William to Robert Redford.

“William plays for USC,” she added.

“Oh?” Redford said. “Were you out there today?”

“Yessir. Middle linebacker.”

“Oh yeah? Number 56, right? Helluva game, and call me Bob, please.”

And that was all it took. Half the people in the restaurant came up and wanted to shake his hand, wanted to congratulate him on a game well played, and Debra leaned back and grinned. William was an accepted part of the scene now, and she was his date now, too, and not the other way around.

By the time they got up from their table at the Chart House – about five hours later – he realized this was exactly why he’d come to USC, and he understood that Debra was the key to the future he’d always dreamed of.

But she wasn’t through yet. Not in the least.

Instead of walking out to the valet stand she led him through the rocks and down to the breaking waves beneath the restaurant, and when she took his hands this time he knew exactly what to do.

+++++

It was simply a coincidence that Ted Sorensen was at The Chart House that evening – unless it wasn’t. 

He was meeting with one of his special effects teams that afternoon anyway, so when the meetings ran over he suggested they continue out in Malibu over dinner. No big deal. But by then the studio’s head of security had briefed him in on Debra’s activities at the Coliseum, and that one of the linebackers had asked her out to dinner. It didn’t take too long to learn that the kid didn’t have a pot to piss in and that Deb would be picking up the tab – and besides, where else could she go to impress a jock from East Bumfuck, Montana…on her hundred bucks a week allowance? She still had charging privileges at The Chart House, so that answered that. People were so predictable, so easy to manipulate.

But his FX team had scored a new hire, a real gunslinger who’d been working for Aldus and Adobe and who just might be able to take the studio’s special effects efforts to the next level. His name was Henry Taggart and while he’d played ball down in Newport Beach he was also supposed to be big in the local sailing scene, and that made him of interest to Sorensen. Because Ted wanted to get into sailing now. It might prove useful, if only because he’d grown to detest golf and he needed a new hobby. Maybe this Taggart kid would know the score, at least well enough to be worth talking to this evening.

He’d made sure Taggart sat next to him, though he’d had to ignore him for the first ten or so minutes – the time it took him to read through his security chief’s work-up on the Taylor kid, anyway – then he’d started talking about boats.

“Say,” he began, “you know anything about sailboats?”

“A little,” Taggart sighed. “Why? Got one, or want one?”

“I’m interested in getting one but have no idea where to start.”

“Why?”

“Excuse me?”

“Why do you want a boat? Got a trip in mind, or just looking for another mindless status symbol?”

Ted laughed at that, but the guy’s flippant tone was so arrogant it was aggravating. “Mindless. I like that. Is that what boats are for?”

“Around here that’s usually the score,” Taggart said, grinning a little. “Either that or they’re just elaborate compensation mechanisms.”

“Compensation?” Sorensen asked.

“Yup. The smaller the pecker the bigger the boat.”

“Ah.” Sorensen leaned back and smiled. “And you’re a real expert in these matters, I assume?”

“You live and learn, Mr. Sorensen.”

“Ted. Please.”

“Okay, Ted. Look, I’ll tell you what I tell everyone who asks about boats. Go charter one for a week or two and see if the whole thing yanks your chain. That’s usually enough to either catch the bug…or to come to your senses.”

“Charter? Like what? Charter a sailboat? You can do that?”

“Don’t play dumb, Ted. Why don’t you tell me what’s really on your mind?”

Now Sorensen didn’t know what to think of this kid. He was bright, maybe too bright for his own good, but already he was beginning to like him. “See that kid up there with Redford?”

“Yeah?”

“He’s with my daughter, Debra. That’s her, with the brown hair and glasses.”

“Okay?”

“I want to get to know him, maybe over Christmas. She’s been making noises about wanting to learn how to sail, and…”

“Two birds, one stone?”

“Exactly.”

“Over Christmas?”

“Uh-huh.”

“You probably want to head south. I’m thinking Tahiti, Moorea, someplace like that.”

“So, Mr. Taggart,” Sorensen said, grinning as the contours of a plan began taking shape in his mind, “got any plans this Christmas?”

Harlowton, Montana December 1990

Ten Hueys roared past, seemingly inches over the roof of the main house, and Dub grabbed his 30-30 again and made for the door, really mad now. William Junior pushed himself back from the dinner table and followed his dad out the door, hoping this one wouldn’t be as bad as the last two.

The wind was howling and the snow was already too deep for their Honda trail bikes so they made for the barn, never taking their eyes off the red sphere in the brush beyond the missile silo. The Hueys circled the sphere and door gunners leaned out and opened fire, tracers arcing into the blazing red sphere but with no obvious effect. Just like last time, and the time before that.

“You saddle up Tad; I’ll take Biscuit,” his father said as they jogged into the barn.

A minute later they were riding north towards Mount baldy, a huge full moon just rising through the trees to the east, and plumes of warm vapor arced out of their horses’ nostrils into the arctic air. A half mile ahead five of the Hueys settled onto the snow and at least fifty troops jumped out of the helicopters and sprinted for the sphere; even from here their M-16s made a hideously loud roar, and even from here William could see the sphere was completely disinterested in what was now unfolding around the helicopters.

Then in the next instant the sphere disappeared.

Just as several large transport helicopters approached from the northwest.

By the time he and his father approached the scene at least twenty heavily armed airmen had positioned themselves between the Taylors and where, up until a few minutes ago, a huge Minuteman missile silo had been. 

Now there was nothing to be seen but a smooth bowl seemingly carved right out of the earth.

And in the blink of an eye four more missiles had simply disappeared. And so had one hundred and twelve 200 megaton nuclear warheads.

Part III: The House With No Windows

Chapter 13

Beverly Hills, California 18 December 1996

Deb and William pulled into the garage of her father’s house on Foothill Road and she turned and smiled at him. “You’re doing better,” she said as he took the key from the ignition and handed it to her.

“I’ve never seen anything like this city. The streets must’ve been laid out by idiots.”

She laughed at that. “Oh, it’s not so bad, really. As long as you can find north just head that way until you hit Wilshire or Santa Monica then hang a left. You did great!”

He looked at her and nodded, still not really sure of himself. 

But he was still really uptight when her father was around. Something about the guy, some kind of deep anger always seemed to be hiding in plain sight, welling up to the surface but not quite breaking through. He felt stupid, tongue-tied and almost illiterate when Ted Sorensen asked him anything, even mundane questions about the weather! Then, without warning and like always out of the blue Ted would ask some kind of tough question – like about things going on the world – and he could hardly come up with an intelligible reply. Every now and then he’d seen people react to his own father that way, but Mr. Sorensen was in a league of his own. Taylor simply felt out of his depth when Sorensen was around, and the feeling hit him hardest when coming off the football field after practice and going directly over to the house in Beverly Hills. It was like one minute everyone feared and respected him, but as soon as he got to Sorensen’s house he felt the exact opposite reaction…like he was unsure of his place in the world.

Sitting there in Deb’s yellow Porsche he realized he was staring at his hands, lost in thought, and that Deb had just asked him something.

“Hm-m? What’d you say?”

“Just relax, William. He’s not going to bite your head off, you know?”

“Deb, we’re going to be locked up on a boat with him, and like a million miles from nowhere…”

“We won’t be the only ones there, you know…? Some location scouts are coming along, and I think he’s bringing along someone special.”

“What? You mean…like…a date?”

Deb sighed when she heard the mocking tone in William’s voice. “No, not really. She’s always been more like a close friend, but they’ve been spending a lot of time together recently. Oh, she designed this house, in case that comes up.”

“She’s an architect?”

“Yeah, a pretty famous one, too. Her name is Dina and she’s really fun to hang out with.”

“Is that special effects guy coming, too?”

She nodded. “Yeah, but I don’t really know all that much about him, other than he’s into sailing.”

“I hope everyone knows I’ve never been on a boat before.”

“You mean besides Dad? Oh, I doubt anyone cares one way or another.”

“They will if I fall overboard.”

She laughed at that. “Don’t worry. I’m a good swimmer.”

“I’m not. With this knee, if I hit the water I’m pretty sure I’ll sink like a rock.”

“How is it today?”

“Good, as long as I don’t run out of Percocet.”

She nodded, tried not to look at the massive bruise on the inside of his right knee then took his hand. “Just lean on me, okay?”

He turned and looked into her eyes and nodded. “Have I told you how much I love you today?”

“Not yet,” she smiled – just before she leaned in for a kiss.

“Well I do, ya know.”

“Ditto,” she sighed as he ran his fingers through her hair. “Ooh, you’re going to drive me mad if you keep that up.”

“Say…maybe we could stay in the garage and no one would notice…?”

“Or maybe we ought to head on in. I think the limo will be here soon and Dad will get upset if we’re late.”

William Taylor shuddered involuntarily. ‘Perish the thought,’ he sighed…

+++++

He was expecting to drive into the main terminal area at LAX – but the convoy of limos continued south on Sepulveda through the tunnels under the runway; when the cars turned right on Imperial he grew really confused. Yet almost immediately the Lincolns made another hard right and turned into a complex of office buildings and hangers that appeared to line the south side of the closest runway. His limo pulled to a stop behind Ted Sorensen’s and soon everyone was getting out and standing around, some stretching and squinting, others chatting amiably as the noonday sun hit home. RayBan sunglasses went on and baggage handlers dashed out of the main office building and took everyone’s luggage inside, directly to a Customs and Immigration kiosk. Pilots lounged on the far side of the room, looking bored as they thumbed through car magazines.

By now, William knew better than to say a word – lest he appear vapid – and when he got to customs an agent looked him over then stamped his passport…and that was it. The agent told him he was no longer in the United States – even though he was standing firmly in Los Angeles – and he only grew more confused as he followed Deb through the building and outside to an area dotted with dozens of private jets. He’d never seen anything like these aircraft and he was instantly smitten by the sight of so much obvious wealth…just sitting out there under the sun…waiting for their owners to come and command them.

Then he saw Sorensen walking up the air-stairs and disappearing inside an airliner – a private airliner. It looked like a Boeing 707 but planes weren’t his thing so he just clammed up and walked up the steps. And there even was a stewardess waiting for him, with a smile, too!

Debra led him to seats just aft of the wing but by that point William was almost in shock. He was looking down, not paying attention at all, and Deb just pulled him down into a seat and belted him in.

“You okay?” she asked.

He just shook his head then shrugged.

“What’s wrong?”

“Whose plane is this? Your father’s?”

“God no,” Ted Sorensen said, now standing beside Debra and looking down at William. “It’s the studios. Most of the people on board today are location scouts and pre-production people that will be looking over potential shooting sites around Moorea.”

“Are all these people going to be with us?” Deb asked.

“We have five boats chartered,” Ted answered casually, “so we’ll sail as a caravan over to Moorea then split up before we head out to Bora-Bora. We’ll spend a couple of days at each island, and William, I want you to spend some time with the location scouts this time, okay?”

“Me, sir?”

“Yes, sir, you sir,” Sorensen snarled. “You might as well get your feet wet, see what this business is all about.”

“Yessir.”

Sorensen growled again and walked aft.

“Stop calling him sir, would you?” Deb sighed. “It’s like you’re trying to piss him off!”

Taylor turned and looked out the window, the shrieking whine of the 707s engines drowning out the feeling of despair that seemed to have latched onto his neck, then he felt Deb sit down next to him and take his hand again.

“I’m sorry, William,” she said over the mounting roar of the four jet engines. “I keep forgetting…” 

“I don’t belong here,” he said softly.

“What?” she said. “I can’t hear you.”

“Nothing,” he sighed. “I’ll try to do better.”

Harlowton, Montana           18 December 1990

The Air Force people had completely sealed off the area where the missile silos had been – ever since the entire complex ‘disappeared’ a couple of weeks ago – and ever since that night the area just north of the Taylor’s house had been crawling with strangers in lab coats and hooded orange parkas carrying strange looking machines – all pointed at the earth.

Now that football season was over, William and his kid brother Frank went about their chores every afternoon after school, and after they got off the school bus that afternoon their father had asked them to ride out to the east pasture and check out the gates that secured the Harley pasture.

“I don’t know how those idiots did it, but I saw a half dozen head roaming north of the fence. My guess is one of those egg-heads must’ve opened the gate and left it…”

William saddled up Biscuit – who’d been his horse since he was a little colt – while his brother got Tad ready to ride, then they zipped up their heavy parkas and walked their horses out of the barn and into a raging blizzard. They followed the fence line for a half mile, then William got off Biscuit and opened the gap into the northeast pasture, the one his great grandfather had called the Ghost Pasture. No one had ever bothered to ask why, but the name had stuck.

William closed the gate and they followed the next fence to the gap that separated the Ghost Pasture from the Harley Pasture – and sure enough, the fence was open. William went over and closed the gap, then he noticed several hoof prints in the drifting snow – headed north – and one appeared to be a calf.

He groaned. They’d have to ride out and find the little fella and make sure he hadn’t wandered off by himself. Wolves would pick off a stray in a heartbeat, so he pulled his coat’s hood up and cinched the drawstring tight – to keep the wind driven snow from running down his back – then he mounted Biscuit and turned to his brother.

“Frank, you’d better head back. This shouldn’t take more than a half hour.”

Frank shook his head. “No way, Bro. What if you fall on your ass? And you know you can’t tell your ass from a hole in the ground without me…”

William shrugged and snarled: “Whatever, Dude,” before he turned into the wind and set off after the calf’s prints, his eyes following the track in the snow for several minutes…until…

“There he is,” Frank pointed, “over there!”

But William wasn’t looking for calves now. His eyes were locked onto what looked like a welder’s torch in the woods off to his left. There wasn’t anything capable of making light like that out here, and especially not in a storm like this. He turned to Frank in time to see him pointing to the calf and rode over to the snow-encrusted creature and jumped down to check him out. He didn’t need to be told what to do next.

The calf was about half-past dead so he roped him up and tossed the end to Frank: “Get him back to the barn,” he yelled over the roaring snow. “I’m gonna go check out that light!”

“What light?”

“That one,” William said, pointing to the forest a few hundred yards off to the north.

“What the fuck IS that?”

“You got me. Now git goin’, Slick. I’ll be right behind you.”

He got up on Biscuit and rode towards the light, reaching it in about ten minutes. He looked over the situation, more confused than ever – no way should there be a light this bright out here. 

‘What if it has something to do with the silo,’ he wondered. ‘But that would mean…’

“Well, one way or the other I’ve got to find out.”

He tied Biscuit off to a sturdy branch and grabbed his 30-30 before he walked into the forest, and the closer he got to the source of the light the warmer the air became, while the sound of the roaring storm grew distant, like a memory fading in the face of a raw new fear.

He pushed his way through drifting snow until he came to a large pine, and then he pushed aside a heavy branch – and gasped.

He saw two creatures, one laying on the ground and obviously injured, the other kneeling beside his injured friend, trying to help.

The one on the ground sat up when it saw William, and the other turned too. William had never felt such fear in his life.

“Ach, Leonída, póso théleis na steíleis móno énan Spartiáto!” the injured creature said, its voice a deep, soothing baritone. (Αχ, Λεωνίδα, πόσο θέλεις να στείλεις μόνο έναν Σπαρτιάτο!)

“I’m sorry,” William said, “I don’t understand.”

The kneeling creature stood and William gasped. It had to be ten feet tall and its body was covered with feathers, his belly feathers robin’s egg blue and his back a deep shimmering cobalt. “He is not Leonidas,” this one said, in English now.

“He looks like Leonidas. Are you certain?”

“I am certain. This one is scared. Leonidas never feared of us.”

William stepped closer to the standing creature and looked at him more closely. “Are you the ones who took the missile silos?” he asked.

The standing creature began to spread its wings, revealing killing talons about a third of the way out the leading edge of the wing…

…and William brought the Winchester up to his shoulder, cocking the hammer in one smooth, practiced motion.

“I do not see fear,” the injured creature said immediately. “Are you sure he is not Leonidas?”

“No, I am not sure. I see something in his eyes now.”

“Put the weapon down, Leonidas. We are not your enemy,” the injured creature said.

“What’s wrong with you?” William said, his eyes still trained on the razor sharp talons.

“This thing,” the injured creature sighed, pointing to his right leg. “We can not get it loose.”

William looked and saw the creature had stepped into a wolf trap, and the heavy spring-loaded arms had slammed shut on his leg.

“I tried to cut it off,” the standing creature said, “but the heat transfers from the metal to the flesh.”

William walked over to the wounded creature and looked at the trap; it belonged to poachers who had been working the area for months, and it was easy enough to remove – assuming your fingers could reach the release mechanism, that is. These creatures had fingers, but they were thick and about a foot long.

He bent down and hit the release and pulled the trap open, then he gently pulled the trap free of the mangled leg – which suddenly started bleeding.

The other creature knelt beside him and hit the wound with another light, a pinkish white floodlight or some sort, and the bleeding stopped almost instantly. “Can you help me get him to his feet, young Leonidas?” 

It took a minute but they managed to get the injured creature out to the pasture; William climbed up on Biscuit and the two creatures stood there, watching him as he put his rifle back in its scabbard.

“Is someone coming for you?” he asked them.

“Yes. Soon.”

“Okay. Well, nice to meet you,” William said, saluting and turning his horse towards the house.

“It was nice to see you again, my friend,” the injured creature said.

William stopped and turned to face them again. “Yes, it was. Be well.”

“Αυτό πρέπει να μείνει μεταξύ μας.” (Aftó prépei na meínei metaxý mas.)

“I understand,” William said. “Until next time.”

William Taylor rode back to the barn and helped get the stray calf warmed and bedded down for the night, and once he and Frank were inside and helping set the table for dinner, his father came in from the storm and sat by the wood stove to warm up.

“Your brother said you went after some kind of light. What was it, Will?”

“Poachers again, Dad. They had a wolf in a trap.”

“Will?” Frank said. “That sure didn’t look like no poachers to me. Not with that light…”

His father looked him over once then nodded. “You got some blood on you. Best go get that washed off before dinner.”

William looked down at his jeans; he hadn’t noticed the blood before and he didn’t remember where or when it happened. A minute later he didn’t remember the encounter in the trees or anything else that had happened out there. And neither did he appear to recognize the tiny blue sphere that hovered outside his bedroom window that night, and several more times in the weeks and months that followed.

0230 hours 23 December 1996       approaching Passe Teavanui, Bora-Bora, French Polynesia

Once the sun had set the afternoon trades set, too, and now there wasn’t a breath of air stirring the water’s surface. Henry Taggart had pulled in all the sails hours ago, then spent a half hour tying off halyards to keep them from banging into the mast. Still, sleep had proven elusive. It was just too damn hot down below – even when the air conditioner worked…which wasn’t often. He had finally given up and come back up to the cockpit, only to find the jock from ‘SC already sitting aft by the rail, his feet dangling off the stern. 

“Want something to drink?” Taggart said when he saw the kid…

“Huh…what?” Taylor barked, startled out of his reveries by the unknown voice.

“I said, would you like something to drink?”

“Uh, yeah. Thanks. A Coke if there’s any left.”

“Oh, I have a secret stash,” Taggart said as he disappeared into the galley, and he came back up  minute later with two ice cold Cokes – in glass bottles, no less. He handed one to Taylor and sat down on the seat built into the stern rail. “Too hot for you down there?” Taggart asked after he took a long pull from the bottle.

“My knee was bothering me, really throbbing, and I just couldn’t get comfortable.”

“I know the feeling.”

“You play ball?”

“Just high school. Middle linebacker.”

“Me too. Did you play any in college?”

“No, not really. I’d pretty much lost interest by then.”

“Where’d you play?”

“Newport Beach.”

“College?”

“Oh, a little school in the Bay Area for a couple of years, then I transferred to Claremont. Stanford for grad school, in computer science.”

“What are you doing out here? Mr. Sorensen tag you to come along?”

“Pretty much. He’s interested in sailing, and that’s been my main thing for a while.”

“Sailing? Really?”

“Yeah. It’s a nasty habit. Hard to break, too.”

“Is he going to buy this boat?”

“This piece of shit? Over my dead body. This is a French Clorox bottle, built cheap for the charter market out here.”

“It sure is big.”

“Despite rumors to the contrary, size isn’t everything.”

That was good for a chuckle. “I’m not doing too well in that regard, either,” Taylor sighed. “I think it’s the Percocet, but I can’t get it up.”

“You ever heard of Viagra?”

“Sure, who hasn’t…? I just didn’t happen to think I’d need something like that, you know?”

“I have plenty. Let me know if you want one.”

Taylor shook his head. “I couldn’t get on top for all the tea in China.”

“So? Let her get on top…”

“What?”

“Excuse me for asking, but how many times have you two made it?”

“A couple.”

“Ah. And before that? You have much experience?”

“Nope.”

“Where you from, kid?”

“Montana.”

“Ah, Montana. Where men are men…and sheep are scared.”

“What?”

“Nothing. So, let me just cue you in on something you might not be aware of yet. Next time the mood strikes just lie on your back and let her assume the position. Just straddle you, ya know? Like riding a horse. She’ll find her groove, and who knows, you might too.”

“Tell you the truth, man, I’m not sure I even want to do it out here, ya know? When someone farts it sounds like a cannon going off…”

“You’ll have to wait for her old man to go ashore.”

“I’m just too uptight, man. Her old man really bugs me, ya know?”

“No, I don’t know. What’s going on?”

“I don’t know how to describe it, man, but it’s like I know him, like I’ve known him – and I mean like forever.”

“Deja vu? Something like that?”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“Deja vu? Oh, when you find yourself in a situation and it feels like you’ve already been there before, almost like reliving something again.”

“Kinda, but not really. It feels more like I knew him…before.”

“Before? I’m not sure I’m following you, kid.”

“Like I knew him in another life.”

“Another life?”

“Well, more like I’ve lived a bunch of times and he always shows up, like we’re locked in a battle, in a battle we can never win…or even lose…”

“I’m not sure…” Taggart started to say, but then: “Pull your legs in! Now!”

“What?”

But Taggart didn’t hesitate now; he jumped over and pulled Taylor up until he was standing on deck – just as a large shark rolled under the yacht’s stern, thrashing the water in frustration as it passed, then sounding out of sight into the inky blackness below.

“Jesus H Christ!” Taylor cried. “What the fuck was that?”

“White tip.”

“What?”

“An oceanic white-tip shark – pretty big one, too.”

“That was a fucking shark?”

Taggart nodded his head. “This is their home, kid, not yours.”

“Jesus, shit, I was thinking of going for a swim a half hour ago…”

Taggart looked at the kid: his hands were shaking now and his voice was a faintly hoarse, crackling-tremorous wisp of a thing, so he grabbed the kid’s Coke and went back to the galley. He topped off the bottle with rum and hurried back to the rail, handing over the bottle again: “Here, try this.”

“What is it?” Taylor asked after he took a tentative sip.

“Rum. It’s required after your first close encounter – with a shark, that is. Hell, after any encounter with a shark. And no sipping allowed, kid. Chug it – you need it.”

Taylor stiffened at the mention of close encounters, then he shrugged it off and took a long pull from the bottle, making a grimaced, squinty-eyed face when he finished swallowing the stuff. “Shit, that tastes just about like the worst fucking cough medicine I’ve ever had.”

“You ought to try gin sometime. Tastes just like your old man’s after-shave lotion smells.”

“Yuk. No thanks.”

“You got that right, kid. Stick with rum. Grows hair on your balls.”

“Really? Can I have another?”

The breeze filled-in an hour before nautical sunrise and Taylor helped Taggart raise the main, then he took the wheel while Taggart unfurled the big sail up front, which he called the ‘genoa’, and the boat picked up speed after that. Taggart navigated around the north side of the island group, pointing out the highest peak – Mont Otemanu – as an amber sun lit the summit.

Deb came up from below and stretched as the wind caught her hair, sending it streaming aft and catching her off guard. “Geesh, is that a sight, or what?” she sighed as she looked at the twin peaks glowing in their very own rosy fingered dawn. “And look at the color of that water. Makes you want to dive in and swim for the beach…”

“I wouldn’t,” William replied offhandedly. “See that fella?” he said, pointing at the white-tipped fin cruising about fifty yards aft.

“What is that?”

“A very mean shark,” Taylor sighed. “Take my word for it. You don’t want to fuck around with him.”

Deb looked at William, the obvious question begging to be asked, but she could see his anxiety level now – almost like an aura of sparkling green with rosy gold traceries, then she smelled the overpowering essence of dark rum. She groaned inwardly then turned and looked at Henry Taggart and he smiled in that way of his, but already she hated this smug, sarcastic bastard, and she knew she’d have to limit William’s exposure to him – lest he undo all the progress she’d made with him so far.

Taggart headed in close, to within a few hundred meters of the northwest tip of the main group, the so-called Pointe Paharire and the little airport beyond, and he looked at the alarm on Ted Sorensen’s face when his head popped up the companionway.

“Aren’t you cutting it a little close?” Sorensen barked, the whites of his eyes clearly defined now.

“I guess if we hit something you’ll know for sure,” Taggart replied casually – but with his usual shit-eating grin splitting his face from ear to ear.

“Come on up, Dina,” Ted said. “This ought to be something…”

And then Dina the Architect came up the companionway as naked as the day she was born, and Henry Taggart thought – for a woman her age, anyway – she looked imminently fuckable…so of course his grin only grew bigger.

William Taylor looked away, aft – towards the rounded white-tipped dorsal fin roaming lazily in their wake, and he quickly tried to solve a few quadratic equations in his head…

While Deb seethed in unsettled anger, looking at Dina’s shaved nether regions and her father’s barely contained equipment.

But of course her father looked at Dina with something much more than simple pride of ownership in his eyes. He was in love – again – and he didn’t care who knew.

‘My-oh-my,’ Henry Taggart sighed, if only to himself, ‘but aren’t things looking up now? Ya know, with just a little bit of help, this trip could get real fun, real fast…’

Part III: The House With No Windows

Chapter 13.2

Povai Bay, Bora Bora, French Polynesia 24 December 1996

The French Clorox bottle lay at anchor in the southeast portion of the bay, a few hundred yards north of Bloody Mary’s, a popular watering hole on the main island named after a song of the same name from the musical South Pacific, and Henry Taggart was sitting in the cockpit updating his own personal logbook. He’d maintained this book since high school, primarily to keep track of his sailing adventures but also as a kind of roaming diary, logging his life’s milestones along the routes of his journeys. The first time he’d talked to Doris Day, the first time he’d taken his dad’s Swan out by himself – on a date, for God’s sake – and yes, his first kiss. All these big and not so big events were in this book – or series of books, because he’d filled up four logbooks so far – and while he enjoyed keeping them up to date, he also enjoyed thumbing through them from time to time. 

He filled in the usual information, the ship’s longitude and latitude, course and speed and water descriptions such as depth and other features like reefs or sandbars, but he also spent a fair amount of time painting a picture of his surroundings. He enjoyed writing about the people he sailed with, or at least he usually did, but on that score he was a little less certain this time out. Ted Sorensen was, if anything, a little meaner to people than his reputation suggested, yet his daughter was, if anything, the real mystery. She was weird, as in really strange. The first thing he’d noticed was her eyes; huge, dark brown and watery, with heavy brows that somehow seemed to remind him of a silent movie stars eyes. They were gorgeous, sensuous eyes, all the more so because they took everything in. He watched her watching her boyfriend and her father’s girlfriend, the nymphomaniacal Dina Marlowe, and Taggart had found himself wondering how long it would take for Marlowe to make a move on William Taylor. The way she stared at the kid’s crotch was almost too much to endure; he’d wanted to laugh the first couple of times he saw that show but really didn’t want to rock the boat.

He’d gone along with Ted and William on Moorea with one of the location scouting crews, looking for just the right house to set the scene for a pivotal moment in the script. The house had to have a proscribed set of features, all being clearly established in the original novel, but other more intangible elements had to be factored in, as well. Sun angles for establishing shots, especially sunsets. A needed rain scene had to have good views of the jagged peaks with clouds clearing the peaks. So the house had to have good porches. Ceiling fans a must. Then the fun part. Find the owners and work out a leasing arrangement. And Sorensen berated the kid incessantly, bullied him until it looked like the kid was about to break. Even the scouting crew noticed and Taggart wondered why the public execution. Was he trying to run the kid off? William obviously wasn’t Jewish – was that the reason why? Or was Sorensen just a hard taskmaster?

Or did it have to do with that battle the kid had talked about? The dejà vu thing?

Taggart included all these observations in his log, sometimes drawing little pictures on the margins, almost cartoons that seemed to capture the essence of the moment, in this case little colored pencil pastiches he’d created on the fly. ‘Gaugin on a Clorox bottle,’ he scribbled under one drawing; ‘Love will find a way,’ he wrote under a doodle of Debra and William sitting up on the bow, their feet dangling on either side of the anchor rode. 

They’d seemed lost up there, sitting side by side yet miles apart. Taggart had looked at the kid – all hunched over and miserable because her old man was using him like a punching bag – and it was all so unfair. The kid had never been out of the States before and here he was in paradise and so bummed out he couldn’t even look around and see where he was. And yeah, she was an empath – but so what? The kid didn’t need an empath right now. He needed to get laid, get drunk, get a million miles away from Ted Sorensen, but she was smothering the kid with all her clinging empathy and she just couldn’t see it. She couldn’t see that she was enabling her father’s continuing assaults, or that his love and concern for her was keeping him from standing up to her old man.

So Taggart had just convinced Sorensen and the nymph to go ashore for dinner, and after he’d run them to the pier in front of Bloody Mary’s he’d gone back out to the Clorox bottle and given the kid a BIG fuckin’ Viagra and some Tylenol then gone for a swim.

When he swam back to the boat about an hour later, he found them sitting on the bow, talking hand in hand. He swam up to the bow and chatted with them, noticed her knees were seriously red and he grinned, then asked if they wanted to join him for a swim.

The sun was about half a fist above the horizon but the water was warm, and Taggart held onto the anchor rode while the two went below to put on their swimsuits – and about that time he thought he felt a shadow passing underneath the boat so he slipped his mask back on and ducked his head under the water.

Nothing, just a few little reef fish and a ray skimming along the sandy bottom, then he heard Deb laughing and looked up in time to see her pushing William off the swim platform into the water, then diving in after him, almost landing on top of the kid. Taggart swam aft, back to the stern, and he found them there – now face to face with a large male orca.

Taggart got to William first and grabbed his arm, pulled him to the swim platform.

“Just be quiet,” Taggart sighed. “No sudden noises, okay?”

He swam back over to Deb – who seemed almost entranced by the male’s eye – and when he reached out to take her arm she shook herself free.

“Leave me alone,” she whispered.

“I can’t do that,” Taggart said.

“You have to leave now. I’ve been waiting for this.”

“What? What are you talking about…?”

“I’ve seen this happen, in my dreams – the last two nights.”

“I’ve seen a lot of shit in my dreams, Debra, but this ain’t no dream. That’s a killer whale, and they don’t call them that because of their friendly disposition, ya know?”

But then several female orcas appeared a few hundred yards away. Taggart counted five short dorsal fins and they were headed their way, and fast, and as they closed the distance the male moved between Debra and the boat, cutting her off – and when Taggart began to swim around the big male he shifted position to block him. When Taggart tried again the male swam over and nudged him to the stern, in effect pinning him there. 

William leaned over and pulled Taggart up onto the platform and they watched in fascinated horror as the females surrounded Debra and began swimming in ever tightening circles around her, the churning water a kaleidoscope of frothy phosphorescence. Debra seemed caught inside a strange amber light, her arms overhead and her body slowly spinning in the vortex the females were generating.

The sun slipped beneath the horizon and slowly the sky filled with stars, and it was as if the baby forming inside the womb of this night was destined to make her way among the ever expanding field of stars overhead. And now Debra drifted in open-armed embrace of the sea, dreaming dreams like the passing shadows, perhaps just like those who had traveled this way before.

Part III: The House With No Windows

Chapter 13.3

Povai Bay, Bora Bora, French Polynesia 24 December 1996

Taggart didn’t know what to think. He’d never run into an orca before, not like this and let alone one that seemed so consciously intent on controlling an otherworldly event like that taking place off the yacht’s stern. The kid was standing on the swim platform in open-mouthed wonder, thunderstruck by the sight of Debra surrounded by this pod of swirling orcas.

“What the hell is going on, Hank?” Taylor whispered, his muted words almost unheard over the sound of the thrashing water.

Taggart stood beside the kid and shook his head. “I wish I knew. It doesn’t make sense.”

“So you’ve never seen anything like this before?”

“Shit, Slick, I ain’t even heard of anything like this…”

Then almost as quickly as the orcas came the clustered females simply slipped under the water’s surface and disappeared – and the big male swam to Deb’s side and cupped her next to his body and carried her back to the swim platform. Taggart jumped into the water and took her from the male yet he could tell she was unconscious simply by the way her head seemed to bob along on the surface of the water. 

“Give me a hand, Kid.”

Taylor grabbed Debra’s hands and lifted her up onto the platform, then he laid her out and cradled her head on his lap as Taggart came up the little ladder.

“I’ll go get some towels,” Taggart added, darting below and flipping the breaker for the shower on the platform as he passed the chart table. When he got back she was shivering and just coming to, so he tossed the towels aside and turned on the shower and set the temp to a nice amniotic warmth and began hosing her down, warming her slowly.

She sat up and opened her eyes, saw Taggart and flung herself into his completely surprised arms.

“Are you okay?” Taggart whispered into her ear, holding her close.

Taylor grabbed a towel and began drying her and only then did she seem to realize she was in Taggart’s arms, not William’s. She pulled the towel close and wrapped herself up as Taylor handed her another.

And at that point Taggart realized the big male orca was still just off the stern, still looking intently at – Debra – and not knowing what else to do he walked over to the edge and knelt there, waiting. “What is it, boy? Something else you got on your mind?”

But the male didn’t move…he just seemed intent on watching Debra – and William – until, perhaps a few minutes later, it turned and looked at him.

“Now why do I get the impression you know more than you’re letting on?” Taggart said, standing now though still looking into the orca’s eye.

It swam over to him and then its head – and a third of its body – came out of the water…until they were eye to eye, staring at echoes of the reflections passing between them.

He saw a ball of stars in the orca’s eye, and out of the ball a pulsing light.

“What is it? What are you trying to tell me?” he said to the orca…

But then Debra stepped close to him, and then he saw she was holding her hand out, touching the side of the orca’s face.

“I hear you now,” she sighed. “Tell the others that I understand.”

And with that the big male fell away and slipped into the inky blackness and that was it, he was gone.

Taggart turned to her, his face a mirror of the wonder he felt: “Hear…what, exactly? Debra?”

But she shook her head, her hand still out as if still touching the orca: “He will be back for you, Henry. When you’re ready to see.” She turned and looked at William, her skin now beyond pale. “I think I need to go below,” she said – just before she collapsed and began falling again.

Taggart caught her and held her up until Taylor got an arm under her and lifted her up in his arms. “I’ll get your bunk ready,” Henry said as he dashed below.

+++++

“C’mon, everybody!” Ted Sorensen crowed, banging on the companionway hatch. “It’s Christmas…let’s open our presents!”

William turned to face Debra, both still under the sheets after a long night’s sleep: “I thought y’all were Jewish? We’re doing Christmas?”

Debra opened her eyes and her hands went to her womb, to the certain knowledge that something was now fundamentally different “down there.” She turned to him and smiled, brought a hand to the side of his face. “Good morning, my love.”

He kissed her hand – just as Ted opened the door to their stateroom and burst inside. “Come on, you two. Into the cockpit, now, or by golly someone is gonna walk the plank!”

“Dad? Would you mind if we get some clothes on first?” Deb sighed.

“You two naked? And not even engaged? Okay Taylor, you’re first off the plank!”

“Yessir.”

Sorensen shook his head and started topside. “Dina? How long ’til we have cinnamon rolls?”

“Five minutes!”

“Taggart!” Ted shouted. “You comin’?”

“Yeah, soon as I get Dina’s pubes out of my nose,” Henry yelled back.

That was good for a laugh all ‘round the boat, if only because Ted and Dina had kept everyone up all night with at least three repeat performances of the night before. And the night before that.

Henry dragged himself out of the forward v-berth and into the head, and after he brushed his teeth he made his way aft to the cockpit, carrying a large pitcher of OJ and some plastic cups as he went, and he found Sorensen sitting behind the wheel with a huge red velvet Santa sack full of wrapped presents. Dina came up behind Taggart, followed by William Taylor a moment later.

“Where’s Deb?” Sorensen asked. “Isn’t she coming?”

“She was right behind me,” Taylor sighed, turning around and looking down the companionway into the galley. “Deb?” he called out.

Nothing.

He dashed below, calling her name…

Then…silence. “She’s gone!” he cried as he made his way back into their stateroom.

Copenhagen, Denmark           13 April 1939

Walter Eisenstadt sat beside the wood stove with his oldest and dearest friend, Aaron Schwarzwald, in the cozy little library off the kitchen in his house. His fingers were stiff with age these days, the knuckles in his fingers now more than a little swollen, but he was still spry enough to make his daily walk along the waterfront, even on days like this one, even in deepest winter. He had just come in from his walk, and as was usually the case on Saturday mornings, he’d picked up Aaron along the way. 

Both made their walk in order to stop by the main fish market and to check the fresh salmon, and as was the case this morning, to stop and enjoy a coffee. Now they were in Walter’s library and he put a couple of pieces of wood on the fire and closed the fireplace door after giving the coals a good poke, and then it was time to sit beside his friend and talk about the world.

“We should have remarried, Walter,” Aaron said. “These spring mornings are too cold for such loneliness.”

“If I could sleep with a woman half my age, I think I might consider the idea.”

“If you could? Why can’t you?”

“I do not want to go to prison, for one thing. And besides, who wants to be seen with a woman so young? Everywhere we go we’d be told how lovely our daughters looked! Who needs such nonsense, my friend!”

“I do,” Aaron sighed as he rubbed his knees. “My old bed feels empty now. And so cold. And how good would a simple back rub feel…?”

Walter looked at his friend again and sighed. “What’s troubling you, Aaron?”

Schwarzwald took in a deep breath and slowly exhaled as he looked at the fire dancing behind the glass door: “All this talk of war. Perhaps I could bear the thought if…if there was not so much Hate directed at us this time.”

“So, why not leave? Why not go to America?”

“I’ve told you yesterday…”

“And I heard you yesterday, yet still I must ask. The war will end, Aaron. All wars end, eventually. Come back after the war. Resume your life, and…”

“And what? Turn tail and run away, only to return after all the maniacs have befouled our country? That is a coward’s choice, Walter, and you know it.”

“It is a survivor’s choice, Aaron. And you can not see to your patients if you are dead.”

“I can treat my patients when they need me most.”

“Alright then. Yet you seem to have answered your own question.”

“No, no I haven’t, Walter. And I have no answer to this Hate, nothing to explain such things.”

“Nor do they, Aaron. These Germans hate us without knowing what it is they hate, let alone why. They have been taught to hate, and probably by their parents, or by a friend or a teacher. It is like a disease that is passed from one generation to the next.”

“Do you really think it is as simple as that?”

“I don’t know, Aaron, and I really don’t if anything like this could ever be simplified. I do know that if you fill a man with hate and then give him a weapon he will use that weapon, and he will use it where he has been taught to use it.”

“That is my point exactly, Walter. Is not such a man evil, is he not a monster…”

“He is a man, Aaron. And all men are open vessels, to be filled with hate or love or a passion for learning or by a desire to kill that which is considered some kind of outsider. He is your fellow man, Aaron. He is the next patient waiting to see you, the man on the tram standing beside you. He is us, Aaron, just another man in all his imperfect glory.”

“Is that so? Evil is just some sort of permutation, something beyond the standard deviation? Or is evil in fact something more grim than that, a more singular thing, perhaps?”

“You mean…like innate evil?”

“Yes, exactly so! Something tangibly real, some lost soul beyond redemption…”

“And, Aaron, what if there is? What would you do?”

“Perhaps…no…I…”

“Is that what you wish to confront, Aaron? Evil itself? Is that how you want your life to be remembered?”

“I could care less how I am remembered, my friend. I want to look this monster in the eye. I want to see this evil for myself. Perhaps I might understand…”

“What? Why on earth…”

Aaron Schwarzwald sighed and looked down the mangled hand resting on his belly. “I think I have prided myself on being a rational man, Walter. A scientist. A surgeon, and now a psychiatrist. I have adapted to circumstance as my life changed,” he said, raising his ruined hand, “and yet this thing called Evil eludes me.”

“Eludes you? What do you mean, Aaron?”

“To believe in Evil, Walter, do you not first have to believe in goodness, in an Absolute Good. To believe in God, would you not also have to believe in His opposite? A destroyer of Goodness?”

“Since when have you believed in God, Aaron?”

Schwarzwald looked up at his friend and smiled. “Since you began speaking to me of this evil. If you are correct, if this evil is indeed something real – and not merely the product of an overactive imagination – then I want to see it for myself. I want to take a measure of this thing, I want to understand it for what it really is.”

Walter scowled, slowly shaking his head. “I’m afraid, Aaron, that the only way to truly know, let alone to understand such a thing, is to become as one with the thing, to embrace it fully. Is that what you want, Aaron? Truly?”

Schwarzwald scoffed, “Hah! So I am to be the anti-Faust, then? Is that how you see me?”

“That’s a fair question, Aaron, assuming this is what you want. Faust wanted to know everything, to possess all knowledge, and he was willing to make a deal with Mephistopheles to get it…”

“I do know the tale, Walter…”

“Oh? I wonder…do you, really? What you seek is almost the antithesis of Faust, Aaron. Can’t you see that?”

“Antithesis? How so?”

“You seek to know and understand Evil, so, in effect you wish to understand Satan, and I would have to assume that the only way you can approach such an understanding would be to petition God himself. To, in effect, strike a bargain with God…”

Again Schwarzwald chuckled. “Me? The Unbeliever? Petition God?”

“I don’t know how else you might expect to face Evil, Aaron, and walk away unscathed.”

“Unscathed? Walter, you have misunderstood me entirely. Surely one must assume that I would never embark on such a quest without knowing full well there would be no return…?”

Walter Eisenstadt looked at his friend and his hands began to shake, his vision grew dark and narrow: “You would stay here, in Copenhagen, knowing you will perish? Aaron? What is to be gained by such a…?”

Aaron smiled and shook his head slowly. “Ah, my friend, that is the bargain I must make, and the price I will have to pay…”

“To pay? Aaron, what are you talking about?”

“I must see to it that my Imogen survives this darkness, Walter. Nothing else matters.”

“Imogen? What has she to do with this?”

“Everything, Walter. Absolutely everything. And oddly enough, it is your granddaughter that will light the way…”

“My…what? Aaron? What are you talking about? I have no granddaughter!”

Aaron Schwarzwald looked away, looked to the sun rising over the city and he took a deep breath as the sheer majesty of the plan suddenly began to make sense to him, as inside that moment the staggering simplicity of his life grew crystal clear. “Oh, but you will, Walter. Only now…everything depends on her, and on what she does next.”

Povai Bay, Bora Bora, French Polynesia 25 December 1996

“What do you mean ‘She’s not down there!?’” Ted Sorensen screamed. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Where the fuck else could she be!”

Henry Taggart’s head poked up in the companionway. “Unless she’s hiding someplace I don’t know about, she ain’t down here. That’s what I mean by that, Ted.” Taggart added a little extra zing when he spat out Sorensen’s name, and the implied challenge was not lost on anyone in the cockpit.

“William! Get down there and find her! Now!”

“Yessir.”

Taggart came up the companionway and made his way out of the cockpit and up to the bow; with one hand on the jib fuller he stepped up onto the pulpit rail and with his free hand he shaded his eyes and scanned the water around the boat. Shades of turquoise and cobalt, and all the water in the bay was as smooth as glass, and that was all he could see…yet suddenly he thought of the orcas last night and once again nothing made any sense at all. He’d just seen her down below, snuggled up next to William and not at all wanting to leave the warmth of her bunk – and now…this happened? People didn’t just disappear. Did they? Yet – how many people had encounters with Killer Whales like the one Debra had just experienced?

He hopped off the pulpit and went aft to the swim platform and checked the pressure on his SCUBA tank, then went to the edge of the white fiberglass and teak platform and looked into the water. He sighed as he pulled his mask over his forehead and then fins on his feet; he hooked the regulator to the primary and zeroed out the dive computer attached to the rig before he hoisted the BC vest up on his back and secured the velcro band around his waist. He patted the weights on the strap once then stepped off the platform and into the water, his field of view an explosion of bubbles as he sank beneath the surface. He popped the valve on his vest then inflated it a bit and hovered about fifteen feet beneath the keel as he equalized the pressure in his ears – and he saw he was about twenty feet above the white sandy floor below – so he circled the boat slowly, checking the sea floor and, really more than anything else, looking for signs of something, anything, out of the ordinary.

But he saw little of interest – and nothing at all of Debra – with just a few small reef sharks a hundred or so feet away – lazily checking him out as he looked them over – and that was it. He popped some air into his buoyancy compensator vest and started to ascend when a flash of light caught his eye, something down deep near the sandy white bottom, so he hovered again and watched the area, looking for something, any movement that might help explain what was happening…

But then…

Out of the corner of his eye he saw the big male orca approaching, only now it was coming his way rapidly, almost urgently.

Then the male circled Taggart once, almost like a bird of prey bleeding off speed before he came in close – then almost cupping Taggart between his pectoral fin and his body, and in a gentle pushing motion he took Taggart to the surface. And this did not go unnoticed by Ted Sorensen and the rest of the people standing on the boat. 

“What the hell is going on down there, Taggart?” a red-faced Sorensen screamed, as the man was now clearly consumed with fear. “Are there Killer Whales down there!?”

But Taggart emptied his BC and sank beneath the surface again and the orca turned and tried to cut him off, to force him back to the surface, so he swam to the anchor rode and grabbed hold of it. Then hand over hand he pushed his way down to the sea floor, and all the while the orca swam in a lazy circle around him, with Taggart now looking warily at the orca.

Then he saw the shimmer once again, like light, or almost the opposite of light, drawing his eye to movement. An area along the bottom seemed to distort and grow dim, then a charged pinkish sphere popped into the space – and Taggart could see Debra inside – curled up like she was lost inside a deep fetal slumber.

And she was not alone.

Then the orca swam up to the surface and took a breath before coming back to Taggart – and in no uncertain terms he extended his pectoral fin, his body language telling Taggart to hang on. Taggart took hold of the extended fin and the big male carried him down to the shimmering sphere and dropped him on the sea floor – then it moved a few meters away and seemed to watch the sphere a little too expectantly. 

The creature Taggart saw inside was immense and covered in pink feathers, and it seemed to be waiting on him to do something. It seemed to beckon him, in effect asking him to enter the sphere, so he swam to the edge of the shimmering thing and settled on the sea floor next to it, not sure what to do. The creature seemed anxious now, using two hands to motion him to step inside, and Taggart really didn’t want to.

“But why?” he heard a feminine voice say – somewhere in the recesses of his mind. “Why are you afraid of me?”

“Who are you?”

“That is unimportant.”

“What is important?”

“There are too many people and we must get her back to a normal atmosphere now. Does this device you have provide a means for two people to breathe?”

Taggart picked up the ‘octopus rig’ clipped to his vest and held it up for the creature to see. “Yes, but she needs to be conscious to use it.”

“Come inside, now. We must hurry.”

Taggart heard something in her voice that felt like urgent concern and that was all it took; he stepped inside the sphere and knelt beside Debra. Her body felt warm, almost febrile, as he lifted her to her feet, then he cleared water from the octopus rig and put it into Deb’s mouth.

“Okay,” he said, “she’s breathing on my air supply.”

“We will meet again,” he heard the creature say – just before the sphere vanished…and then suddenly he was standing on the white sandy seafloor with Debra in his arms. Then Debra’s eyes popped open in disoriented panic and he held the regulator in her mouth until she settled down, and soon enough he popped some air into his vest to start a very, very slow ascent –

But the big male appeared by his side, offering his pectoral fin again, and Taggart grabbed ahold and held on tight as the orca slowly made its way to the surface. Debra closed her eyes as the saltwater began stinging, and Taggart felt her holding him tightly – tight enough to provoke a confused rush of emotion as she wrapped her legs around his.

The orca released them a few feet from the surface and Taggart finished the ascent, carrying Debra the last few feet up to the surface, and they popped into view about a hundred meters aft of the boat.Taggart added air to his vest and held her close when he felt her quietly sobbing, then she rested her head next to his and caressed his neck…

“Thank you for coming for me,” she whispered, her voice hard to hear over the waves rippling around them.

“Glad to be of service, Ma’am,” Henri said – perhaps a little too obsequiously for the moment, but she laughed and kissed him on the side of his face. “Maybe we better not do this, ya know? While boyfriend and dad are watching?”

“Okay.”

“What happened down there?”

“I’m not really sure, but it felt like I was gone for months…”

“Months? I hate to break it to you, but you’ve been missing for maybe a half hour…”

“I was on one of their ships, Henri. Earth was barely visible…”

“Okay…okay…let’s just get one thing straight right now. If you start talking about stuff like this your father is going to put you in the Funny Farm…know what I mean, Jelly-bean? Stop with the spaceship stuff right now…okay?”

“I know, but I think they wanted me to tell you. And only you. You fit into this somehow.”

“Into what?”

“I think I was pregnant, but maybe not now,” she sighed, and she took his hand and put it on her belly…

“Fuck-shit-damn you aren’t just kiddin’,” Taggart exclaimed in a rush. “You feel like well kind of big if you know what I mean.” He was looking at Sorensen and Taylor getting into the Zodiac and starting the outboard – without much luck…so far…

“I told you. I was up there for months.”

“Okay, I believe you, but here comes good ole dad. We’re going to need some kind of story to…”

“Dad knows about them. He’s met them, in the house…”

“What? Are you sure?” He felt her head nodding gently and he pressed his face into the wet hair on her neck, breathed her in. “God, you smell so good to me.”

“I know. You do too…to me, I mean.”

“We can’t do this, Deb. You and me, I mean.”

“Oh, don’t worry about all that. I already know what’s going to happen…to all of us. I’ve seen it all, everything that’s going to happen…”

“They…showed you?”

“Yup,” she said, sounding almost like a giddy little girl now…

He pushed her away and saw she in fact looked about five years old, yet within the span of a few seconds her appearance changed again, and in the span of a single heartbeat she looked to be a hundred years old…then in the next instant she was the girl he knew, no longer pregnant and her eyes full of infinite love.

“What’s going on, Debra? What’s this all about?”

She shook her head. “They’ll tell you when you’re ready, Henri, but you have to get away from my father. He’ll destroy you, just like he’s going to destroy William…”

“What? How do you…”

“You don’t know who you are, do you?”

But then they heard her father shouting over the sound of the waves and the outboard motor was sputtering to life, and soon they were alongside, then pulling Debra up onto the soft inflatable’s tube. William wrapped a towel around her and Sorensen gunned the engine and turned for the boat – leaving Taggart to swim back on his own…

And the orca appeared again, offered his huge dorsal fin – and Taggart beat them back to the boat. He was waiting for them by the swim platform just as the Zodiac pulled up…

“How’d you get…” Sorensen asked, dumbfounded. “I was going to come back for you…”

“No problem, Pard. Besides being extremely good looking and hot in the sack, it turns out I’m a pretty good swimmer, too.”

Dina Marlowe broke out laughing…but then again she’d just watched an orca circle Taggart and bring him back to the boat, and by now she knew that some really strange things were happening out here. She jumped down and helped Henry shed his tank and BC before climbing back onboard, and she looked him in the eye as they met on the swim platform…

“Think you could teach me to dive?” she asked. “That looked – interesting…”

“Sure. No problem,” Henry said as he turned and helped Debra out of the unsteady inflatable boat, and she smiled at him as she passed – and Dina didn’t miss the look in her eyes, or in Henry’s either, for that matter. Yet Ted and William seemed clueless.

“What happened to you, Debra?” William asked as she sat in the cockpit, pulling her towel close as she settled into a curved coaming.

“I was hot and needed to go for a swim, so I went out the forward hatch and dove in. Sorry, I didn’t mean to cause such a commotion…”

Sorensen looked at his daughter then at Henry – because the water here in the bay was exceptionally clear and he’d seen the shimmering sphere appear on the bottom, and both he and Dina had watched Taggart as he disappeared inside…

Yet it was William Taylor who had surprised him the most. Sorensen had watched as the Kid looked overboard and seen the sphere, but in his wildest dreams he’d never expected the reaction he’d observed.

Taylor had started shaking, then he’d whispered “Leonidas, Leonidas, oh – what have we done now. Can we never atone for our sins?”

It had taken him a moment to remember the name. Leonidas, the Spartan king. What was that all about, Sorensen wondered. And why the hell did it look like the Kid recognized that sphere? And atone for what sins?

He’d turned to look at Dina, to see if she’d seen what he had.

Yet she was staring at him, measuring him and his response to the Kid’s words, then she had started to smile at him.

“What are you smiling at?” Sorensen had snarled, unsure of the things he saw in her eyes.

“Sometimes you are still like a little boy, Ted. And yet there are times when I can only see the fires of Hell in your eyes.”

“And what? This is a surprise to you?”

She’d only turned away then, before she answered that question: “Maybe they are one and the same, Ted. The little boy might run from the flames, but you’ll grow old, just like the rest of us…and what happens then?”

“Just like the rest of us? That’s rich.” Ted had looked down into the sea again and he saw Henry and Debra emerge from the sphere. “My guess, dear Dina, is that, in the end, we all burn.”

“That’s what you want, isn’t it?”

He’d turned and looked up to the heavens and scowled. “We’re flawed, Dina. We shouldn’t even exist, yet we do.”

“And you’re going to change that, aren’t you? You’re going to bring us all down, make all of us burn in the fires you bring?”

He’d turned and looked at her, his eyes black and empty. Then he smiled – at her, at all humanity, and she’d felt her soul wither under the weight of so much Hate.

Part III: The House With No Windows

Chapter 13.4

Beverly Hills, California May 1997

Debra Sorensen’s baby never materialized, except in her dreams. 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 all these memories were suspect. There had never been a time since Henry Taggart brought her up from the sea that any of it had ever felt real, and how could it have? She’d been gone for – what? A half hour? Not even that long? And yet she’d been on some sort of spaceship for months? How was any of that even possible – except, perhaps, within the soft, womblike confines of a dream…?

Or worse. Were these the opening delusions of an onrushing madness?

And even William seemed different after that trip. Caught up in the trappings of wealth now, he absolutely loved driving around West LA in Debra’s Porsche, the bright yellow Cabriolet as flashy as a peacock, and that suited his needs completely. He’d loved showing up at Spring Training in that car, his teammates drooling in jealous envy as he got out from behind the wheel and jogged into the clubhouse. 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? 

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 was more than willing to help make that happen. Her father had actually encouraged this interest, however, but Debra could see this development for what it was: a means to control William…and so, in effect, 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. The other thing was that part of his life he still seemed most willing to obscure – his other life in Montana. He talked about his kid brother, Frank, a lot – and always in glowing terms – yet he 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 group, and once that discovery was digested and completely under wraps he decided that William Taylor would never marry his daughter. He might help the boy with his career because, hey, you never know. 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 sweetheart and get all that out of her system.

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 to visit them. 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 and 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 the end was near.

+++++

William sat across from Debra, in the middle row of the limo, 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.

He 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 a juggler. Ted seemed to accumulate problems the way a steer attracted hordes of flying insects, naturally and inevitably, and yet Ted never, ever seemed to be even remotely happy. And for some reason he found that odd, yet oddly comforting, too.

Comforting because all his work resulted in so much obvious wealth, and that wealth was an intoxicating attractant. ‘I can live like this,’ he told himself as they drove out Sepulveda to Imperial. As men came out to meet their limo and carry their bags out to Teds new Gulfstream IV. Everyone deferential, everyone 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. 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, and William Taylor could literally feel all these things happening as he watched Ted Sorensen.

And yet he wanted to be just like him.

Yet the 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 he hadn’t seen that coming. No, not in the least.

Neither had she.

But…her father had.

+++++

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 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 settled into the sea.

Deborah Eisenstadt-Sorensen took them to the patio, to where Anders sat, and the old man was wrapped in blankets to ward off a looming chill coming in on the sea breeze. 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 him and bade her to sit and talk with him…

“Hello, Pa-pa,” she said, as ever speaking in babyish coos to her favorite person in the world. “How are you feeling today?”

“Better, now that you are here. Tell me, how is school? Are you learning anything useful?”

“No, Pa-pa, nothing in the least useful.”

And he beamed. “Ah, that is good, that is as it should be. You look happy, anyway.”

“Oh, I am, Pa-pa. I have brought my 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 quite amazed. The last two times he’d visited Anders 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 high again, for the stars. “Can you smell the cedars? And the lavender? Deborah planted lavender on the hillside last year. 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! Why wouldn’t I? That’s your name, is 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.”

“Yessir.”

“So, you play linebacker, is that correct?”

“Yessir.”

“Middle, or outside?”

“Middle, sir.”

“Indeed. I am most unsure of this thing called a ‘Flex defense’…do you think you could explain this to me?”

“I’ll try, sir.”

“Thank you, Leonidas. It was so good to see you once again, even after so many years…”

+++++

“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 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 too 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.”

“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, 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 here. 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 he now watched all the time. What would he do, how would he feel when that voice grew still?

“Anyone hungry?” Sorensen asked, 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 ancient – yet almost rundown, too, and even the tiny restaurant seemed like a place lost in time. 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 found an open table. The proprietor came over and dropped off menus – and for some reason he seemed to remember Debra from another 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 them 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 in such trifling merriment, 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 olives and even Taylor seemed to get into the swing of things when the roast lamb arrived – 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 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 him and looked William Taylor in the eye: “So tell me, Leonidas, in this other world of yours, just who is my father?”

“Your father?” Leonidas said bitterly. “He is our father, as if you did not know this!”

“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 ever forget the man, or his name…”

And when he heard the name, Ted Sorensen felt caught in 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 our 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 fool 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 his father, oh-so-slowly going insane…

Again…

+++++

When he crawled out of bed the next morning he realized he was in a hotel room. The Schumacher Hotel, and he was, therefore, in Haifa, and now, 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 five minutes.”

The hospital was nearby and the mid-morning traffic was light; they were at the emergency entrance within minutes and Deborah met them 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…because it was a little like dejà vu all over again.

Part III: The House With No Windows

Chapter 13.5

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 into the upper atrium koi-pond – his hands hanging limply by 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 growing 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.”

“Dad?”

“Yes?”

“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 self abuse, don’t you think?”

“Self abuse? What do you 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.”

“What night?”

“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 does that mean, Dad?”

He took a deep breath and held it 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?”

“Okay, Dad.”

“Are you going to see Leonidas today?”

“If you mean William, then yes, I am. We’re going diving with Henry Taggart down in Newport Beach.”

“Taggart?”

“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.”

“Diving? You mean…with tanks and all that…?”

“Yup, he’s an instructor, but we’re going to meet our diving class 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.”

“Saturday? Already?”

“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 link to his father, and to that vacated 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, but now he seemed to be growing paranoid, too. 

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 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 them 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. 

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.

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 Deb had called Taggart and he’d 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 that so he decided to go along with it and see what developed.

Deb drove up 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 going out with a rich chick sure had its privileges.

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.

“That’s the way to Disneyland, right?”

“Yup.”

“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, 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.”

“Dive tables?”

“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 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?”

“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; 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.”

“Who? Boeing?”

“Yup.”

“It’s huge.”

“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 get up on 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.

“Two? Really?”

“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. 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 then again 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.”

“Huh? What?”

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.” And 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 my next door neighbor. Man, did I have the hots for her.”

“No shit?” Taylor sighed, but Taggart could tell the Kid was on the verge of tears.

“To the right, yeah, 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.”

“Old money?”

“The really rich people, Slick. And on the left, that’s Bay Island, where the serious sailors live.”

“And you left all this behind?”

“Not my think, 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.

“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 watched William’s body language…

“He’s mean, Henry. I mean 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?”

“Yeah, maybe, 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 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 now is grow a pair, right?”

“Big brass ones, Bill.”

The boat made a hard right turn and accelerated a bit, and Taylor looked 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 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 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 White sharks 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.”

“But they 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, and 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 nice fat 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 people keep them on their boats in case they need to go down and retrieve an anchor, stuff like that. Other people 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 go below and 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 said to his group, “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. 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 bottom with large 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? Remember your hover?”

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 about fifty feet. Once were down there gather on me, then we’ll go and see if we can find Waldo.”

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 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 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 really wide-eyed and out of her element 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 to 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 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, but they aren’t as mean as they look. 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 tips of the can 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, 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 Rosenthal 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 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 more and more difficult these days. It wasn’t simply the cloudy cataracts that obscured his vision, nor had the more hostile German intervention been the cause. 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, and these people would get word to the Gestapo. 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 all that…because time was on his side.

And now Aaron sat in his kitchen, coming to terms 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 in all this – to insure the safety of his daughter by keeping her out of Germany – was now just one more broken dream, a shattered epilogue to a 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 – she was lost, 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.

Aaron Schwarzwald had never been a small man, but these days his appearance was almost 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 deepest, 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 and handing them over to Aaron. “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.”

“Indeed.”

“Should you not relinquish the residence by 0900 tomorrow morning you and any other residents will be forcibly removed.”

“How nice.”

“Excuse me? Do you not understand what I have told you?”

“Of course I understand you, you stupid boor,” 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 that led to the street.

Automobile doors opened and closed, troops came running to von Schellenberg’s assistance – but too late, and the 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 him.

“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 killed.

“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 rusty 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 walked to his Mercedes and the driver closed the door behind him, and a moment later his Mercedes drove off. A few minutes later 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 field outside of the city.

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 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 occasions and heated discussions over the many years of his brief existence, yet he knew deep down 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 down the crowded streets of 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 males 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!”

“On it!”

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.

It looked clear but the sun’s light was now almost completely gone, but he could still see Spree’s stern in the last of the light so 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 the spearfishing idiots were – and she looked hungry. And a little pissed off.

‘And guess what, Henry? 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, and 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 that singularly black eye as she swam past…about five feet away. She swam on, out to maybe fifty feet, then she turned again and started back their way.

Taggart popped some air into his BC and continued their ascent, but he kept facing the White, and that eye, as she closed on them once again – only this time she came in close and nudged Taggart, trying to see how he’d respond – then she swam off again and he looked up, guessed they were still only about halfway to the surface…

The White’s back arched a little, a sure sign she was getting ready to attack, as she turned to make her run, and Taggart pushed Debra towards the Divemaster waiting by the ladder – then he 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 off…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 orca slammed into the White, right into her gills, and the shark wheeled and lashed out at…emptiness…and 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 dipped down and disappeared into the night, smiling at a pulsing star just overhead before he turned once again and continued his journey north.

Part III: The House With No Windows

Chapter 13.6

Beverly Hills, California August 1999

“So, what’s this going to be? Your twenty-first?”

“Yessir,” William replied to Sorensen. “I started school a year early.”

“Oh?”

“I think because I was so tall.”

Ted looked up from his morning Wall Street Journal and nodded. “Understandable. Heard you went over to Fox on a class project. Did you meet Lucas?”

“Yessir.”

“And…what did you think of him…?” Ted added, returning to his newspaper.

“He’s kind of like a genius, if you know what I mean. He’s got this vision…”

“Yes, yes, I think I understand that, but personally…how did he strike you.”

“Down to earth, very low key.”

“Compare him to Coppola. What are the key differences in their approach to making movies…?”

“They’re really pretty similar, sir, only Coppola should have been a farmer. He’s basically not real happy unless his hands are in the dirt.”

“The dirt?” Sorensen said, looking up from the paper again. “What does that mean?”

“Just that, sir. I think at heart he’s a farmer. Making movies was a means to an end for him.”

“And farming is his end?”

“I think so, sir.”

Sorensen nodded, filing that little tidbit away – for the time being, anyway. “What time does your brother’s flight get in?”

“Four-thirty, at LAX.”

“And you’re going to take him up to The Chart House tonight?”

“Yessir. I was kind of hoping you could make it.”

Sorensen nodded. “We’ll see. I’ve got a meeting up in the city tomorrow morning.”

“Yessir.”

“I heard a couple of scouts from the Forty Niners were looking you over. That true?”

“Yessir. Two days this week, and their team orthopedic surgeon looked at my knee.”

“And that means what, exactly…?”

“They usually don’t do that unless they’re serious.”

“Oh? Well, how’d the exam go?” 

“Fine, sir.”

“You still running ten miles a day?”

“Yessir, about.”

“About?”

“We run from Venice up to Sunset, then back down to the breakwater at the marina before turning back for Venice. It’s about ten miles, I think.”

“You run on the boardwalk down there?”

“Some, but more out on the beach. It helps the knee, sir.”

“You said we. Who do you run with?”

“With? Oh, with Deb, sir, and we’ve got a regular group from the team that joins us.”

“Deb is running ten miles a day? Seriously?”

“Oh, yes sir. She’s got better wind than me, too. She could easily do a marathon, sir.”

Sorensen looked up when he heard that, because the Kid had his full attention now. Debra had been plagued with respiratory issues her first five years, from asthma to chronic bronchitis, and he remembered her ENT telling Kat she’d always have issues…so this was another new development, a new and quite unexpected wrinkle in the continuing repercussions of her “visits” by the feathered creatures. Like the unexplained stretch marks on her belly, and her Ob-Gyn calling to ask why she’d been nursing an infant recently.

Too many questions. And still no answers.

And now this. She was ready to run marathons?

Nothing was adding up. Nothing at all, and these days even his mother was of little use. She’d retired and sold the house in Brentwood and moved up to an assisted living facility in Ojai, and some days were definitely better than others where her mental acuity was concerned.

He shook his head at that. “Marathons, you say? Why don’t you run the hills up above Sunset. Probably get a better workout that way.”

The Kid nodded. “I’ll mention that to her, sir, but Venice is so convenient.”

Sorensen had bought a little bungalow down there for her, because – or so she’d said at the time – she needed some space. Whatever the hell that meant? The little shack was cheap enough, that much was certain, so he’d demurred. Besides, one of the security heads at the studio lived nearby and he’d been fine with keeping an eye on her…well…them. Because while Taylor still officially lived on campus he was for all intents and purposes living with Deb now, and while that complicated matters somewhat Sorensen had expected that development. Still, he knew the inevitable breakup, when it came, would shake his daughter up, probably seriously so. But that couldn’t be helped, Sorensen knew. The Kid just wasn’t right for her. Never had been, never would be. Redneck white-trash…that’s what he was and probably all he’d ever be…

But he knew better, and he had ever since that night in Haifa.

‘Leonidas…Leonidas…and the boy-king ascended to the throne on the shoulders of his brother, his brother the deposed king. And that would be…me? Leonidas deposed…me? What the Hell is going on? What does it mean that William is here, now, lurking in the shadows? My shadow?”

A blue sphere in the room, no larger than a mote of dust, glowed briefly then disappeared.

+++++

Frank’s grades were never good, and college had never really been an option, at least not by way of academic merit, anyway. Perhaps if he’d been even half as good a football player as his brother some school might have tried him out, but no, that was not the case, was never meant to be. Frank was, however, a good hand on the ranch. He was good with horses and could handle most of the routine physical chores that went with running cattle in north central Montana…one of the coldest, if not the coldest environments in the lower 48 states.

Bookkeeping? Not so much. Running a combine? No, not really, but then again these days wheat harvests were increasingly being outsourced to large operations that started in the far north then worked their way south through the Great Plains, with just a few dozen large operations harvesting most of the wheat in the country as they followed the growing seasons. 

And William knew their father knew the score. Frank would never be able to handle the ranch, so it was time to think about letting one of his own brothers take the reins for a while. Such a move would hurt Frank, and deeply, but then again their father had always made it clear he expected William to take over when the time came.

But their father had never expected his firstborn to be such a jock. And a good one, as it happened.

Yet there had been one other bump along the way, a bump in the second semester of his senior year in high school.

Montana is a peculiar place. Fierce independence born of relentless isolation is certainly a defining characteristic of life there, but so too is a deep, abiding thirst for knowledge. Montana has produced more than its fair share of writers, and a bunch of those writers started out as teachers. Most of them go back east to school, to places like Harvard and Dartmouth, yet almost all these souls end up back in Montana. Maybe it’s the mountains. Maybe it’s because the sky really is bigger there. Who knows? But one of those souls ended up teaching at the high school where William Taylor was a student.

She taught History, and she saw something in him. Something almost gifted, but a gift grounded in a real desire to work hard at whatever he put his mind to. William was in her US History class during his junior year, and with a nudge here and a little encouragement there he started to turn in excellent work, so much so that she invited him to join her Advanced Placement US History course in his last year there. And this proved pivotal.

Most jocks don’t take AP classes, and fewer still ace the national AP exam – yet Taylor did. And taking that class, let alone doing as well as he did on the exam, made the admissions office at USC sit up and take note of the hulking jock from Nowhere, Montana. Taylor won a full-ride scholarship on the merits of that achievement, and he had done so well at USC that he would have been admitted to the film school even without Ted Sorensen’s intercessions. And now that it looked like he was headed to the pros he was fast becoming one of the biggest names on campus.

Yet, and Sorensen had checked on this more than once, Taylor remained steadfastly loyal to Debra. He professed undying love for her, and Sorensen knew the Kid wanted to marry her. The trouble with that, as far as he was concerned, was the boy’s parents. His father was way out there on the lunatic fringe, a born again neo-Nazi right out of some kind of perverse comic book, while his mother was a born again sky pilot who saw Jesus in cloud formations. And now she was painting these visions, too…on black velvet canvases. 

Even Debra was a little concerned.

She’d told her father about the things William had said on that dive trip to Catalina. That even he was ashamed of them…

Maybe that was the key to the whole dilemma, Ted had thought, at least for a while. Maybe the Kid would, in effect, renounce his parents, but then what? Would he drop his objections to the Kid marrying Debra? 

So…Ted had picked up all these tidbits long before Frank Taylor flew down to LA for his big brother’s 21st birthday, and sitting beside Debra looking out at the sea he was really only half aware of the conversation going on between the three of them.

“So…you make movies?” he heard a voice saying, and he turned to see this strange boy staring at him.

“Me?” Ted replied. “Well, you might say that.”

“Bill says you were the one behind the Star Force movies. Those are my favorite!”

“Bill said that? Really?”

“Yeah. I just wanted to tell you how much I admire your work,” the boy said, holding out his right hand.

And Ted took it. “Well, thank you so much. That means the world to me.” He tried not to flinch when Deb kicked him under the table, though he did turn and give her “The Look.” The look that said ‘Don’t you ever do that to me again or I’ll disown you…’

But she’d already turned away by then. 

“Will you be able to come with us to Disneyland tomorrow?”

“Sadly, no. I have to be in San Francisco.”

“Oh. This is good beer, ya know?”

“I’m glad you like it. Why don’t you kids head on up to the salad bar and rustle up some rabbit food?”

“Rabbit food!” Frank cried, slapping the table – and loudly. “I love it!”

Ted smiled. “Have all you want, my boy!”

He cringed after they left for the salad bar, and he cursed the day Debra had met that fucking redneck.

Billings, Montana           23 December 1999

She was a little miffed that her dad hadn’t let them come up in the Gulfstream, but he’d only shrugged that away. “Don’t pout,” he’d goaded her. “It spoils the lines of your face.”

So they’d flown to Salt Lake City and now they were crammed in some kind of Canadian ‘regional jet’ – a euphemism for cramped and uncomfortable if ever there was one – and to make matter worse the weather was truly horrendous.

She was sitting next to the window in 1A, her left knee pressed into the boarding stairs, and William was grinning like a fool. The bottom dropped and the left wing jerked up then the jet yawed hard and the power came on suddenly, and powerfully, and Debra was just about sure this was the end. The she looked at the flight attendant sitting just ahead, facing her too, and the woman was yawning and filing a fingernail.

Then it felt like something huge had just kicked the bottom of the little jet and even the stewardess looked up at that, just in time to see her cart – loaded with cans of soda pop – spew it’s contents all over the galley. And about that time, some unfortunate soul spewed the contents of their stomach all over the cabin, and the stench hit everyone at about the same point; Deb reached for her barf-bag and opened it wide, feeling the bile rise in her throat just before the sweats began, in earnest this time. An invisible hand shoved the aircraft down, hard, and the power came on hard again, only to come off a little, and she turned and looked out the nauseatingly small window, hoping death would come quickly…

But no, she saw city lights, and pretty close, too, then she felt the bump-bump-chirping sound of the main gears kissing the earth again and she did what everyone else on the little jet did…she broke out into wild applause…

“Woo-hoo! Man, that was great!” William shouted. “That was almost better than Space Mountain, darlin’!”

She smiled, then brought the barf bag to her face.

+++++

She walked up the Jetway, her head still down, and she’d never felt so embarrassed. 

Here she was, about to meet her future in-laws – with barf on her breath! And then she saw bits of barf on her sweater and wanted to run away…

But no…there was Frank. Standing next to two of the most ordinary looking people. She’d been expecting they’d be holding up pitchforks maybe, or that they’d have red skin, horns and split tails? But no…for some reason William’s father reminded her of Glenn Ford. Steel-gray crew-cut hair, genial smile and fit as a fiddle. Pressed jeans and Reeboks…and no cowboy boots? He was wearing a green John Deere ball cap, but that was hardly unexpected, and he came forward and gave her a hug, too.

“Hi there,” he said – genially. “I’m Bill Taylor, and this is Wanda, my better half.”

And Wanda stepped forward, almost shyly, and she gave Debra a polite little hug.

“I’m so pleased to finally meet you both,” Deb said, now acutely aware that her breath just had to smell almost as nice as the urinals in a busy truck-stop – and that was precisely when Wanda took out a tissue and picked a couple of chunky bits of barf off Deb’s brand new cable-knit cashmere sweater.

“Must’ve been a nice flight,” Bill Sr said. “About half the folks coming off this plane look green.”

“Oh, Dad, it was a kick in the ass! You’d’ve loved it!”

“Watch it, son. You’re in polite company,” Bill said, his scowl hard and final.

“Yessir.”

“We thought we’d make a night of it,” Bill continued. “Whenever we come in for a special occasion like this we like to head over to Outback. Anyone feel like a steak tonight?”

“Sure!” Deb said, her stomach doing another barrel roll. “That sounds great!”

She sat in the back, between Wanda and Frank, while the two Bills sat up front, with Bill Jr. doing the driving…

“I got cataracts,” he explained as he watched his oldest boy drive. “Gonna have ‘em fixed this winter, so meantime I don’t drive much at night.”

“I hear it’s an easy operation,” Deb said helpfully.

“Hope so,” Bill Sr said, and that was about all he did say for the rest of the evening.

After they were seated at the restaurant she waited to see what they ordered to drink – both opted for ice-water, but both Frank and Bill Jr went for iced tea, so she went with an iced tea, as well.

The boys ordered huge ribeyes while the obviously frugal parents ordered chopped steak – hamburger patties – off the seniors menu, so she ordered a salad topped with slices of steak, and Wanda appeared to approve of her just then.

When they left the restaurant they had to backtrack into the main part of Billings and Bill Sr made sure they stopped and topped-off the Suburban’s main fuel tank, “because you never know when you’ll need extra gas,” then it was up a long incline and they passed the airport as they left town…and then, within the span of a quarter mile, they were out on an endless expanse of snow-capped prairie. The way ahead was lit by two inadequate headlights, and as far as she could tell there wasn’t another living human being in sight…in any direction. Not even a streetlight…

“You know,” she said to Frank, “this is the exact opposite of Los Angeles.”

“I told ya!” he cried. “Remember when we was driving down to that Disneyland? I think I said pretty much the exact same thing…like this is the exact opposite of home…and it is! There’s nothing but people everywhere you look down there, and here…”

“I don’t see anyone out there,” Deb sighed.

“Not much out there this time of year,” Bill Sr said. “We winter most of our herd down in Texas or New Mexico, then bring ‘em back here for the summer grass, to fatten ‘em up before market. Only thing out there right now is prairie dogs and rattlesnakes, and they’re all deep in the ground, sleeping ’til the ground warms up again.”

“So there aren’t any snakes around here right now?” Deb asked, which prompted laughs all around.

“Snakes dip into their holes whenever it dips below fifty five. Lay their eggs down there, then they all come up in June, hungry and mean as can be.”

Deb shivered.

“You cold, dear?” Wanda chided.

“A little, yes.”

“Bill, turn up the heat back here, please,” Wanda added.

“Yes, mother,” Bill Sr replied. “Supposed to get about a foot tonight. I think you two were flying through it on your way here.”

“A foot?” Deb asked. “Of what? Snow?”

“Yup. But that forecast is for Billings. We’ll get plenty more.”

“More?” she said incredulously. “How much more?”

“Don’t much matter,” Bill Sr sighed. “William, I’d appreciate the help while you’re around.”

“Yessir. You got the plow on the F-150?”

“Yes, of course, but I picked up a 350, a dually. And yes, I’ve already got the chains on her.”

“Just the main drive and the barn?”

“Yes, but I’d like you to go down and do Walter’s driveway. He just had prostate surgery and the doc don’t want him on his feet just yet.”

About ten miles out of Billings the snow really started to come down at a steady clip, and by the time they made it out to the ranch there was already six inches on the highway, and to make matters even more interesting the power appeared to be out.

“Frank? Go see why the generator didn’t kick in. William, you and I will need to check the cows, and you might as well take a pass with the plow.”

“Yessir.”

“Debra and I will take care of the bags, Bill,” Wanda added.

William parked the Suburban after he helped get the bags out of the back, then he walked out to the dairy barn to help his dad.

“Generator didn’t kick in here, too.”

“How old is the fuel, Dad?”

“Got it last winter.”

“Did you put the fuel stabilizer in, like I told you?”

“Stabilizer?”

“Yeah, pops, to keep algae from growing…”

“Don’t call me that, son.”

William ignored his father, for the time being anyway, but then he turned and shook his head in despair as he walked to the storeroom, getting two fuel filters that were – right where he’d left them a year ago. He made his way out to the main generator first wondering about his dad, then he changed the filter and he primed the diesel. She fired up on the first try and power to the house returned, so now he made his way back to the dairy barn and changed that filter. After that unit was up and running he went to check on his father.

And his dad was waiting for him in the main part of the barn. He almost looked lost, like a little boy who’d lost his way inside a huge department store, and the sight bothered him. Was his father losing it? 

“Didn’t freeze in here so I think we’ll be okay here,” his old man finally said. “The keys are in the -350 if you want to get a start on the driveway.”

He looked at his father, at the lonely, bare-faced emptiness within the crusty old shell of the man, then he just shook his head and made his way through the drifting knee-deep snow to the new Ford. He checked the hydraulic lines and connectors then stepped inside the cab and got the diesel running. He worked the controls for the snowplow then started on the area between the main house and the dairy barn, the deeply ingrained rhythms of his daily grind coming back to him without any conscious thought. It still didn’t take long, didn’t take a lot of conscious thought on his part, and after he finished the main drive made his way down the highway to his Uncle Walter’s place. It was late now but all the lights were out in the old house so he went to the door to check on them. Yes, the generator was out and so, yes, he changed the filters there got that house up and running, too.

By the time he made it back to the house it was long past midnight, and he realized he’d been at it for almost five hours. He felt a little chill and looked at his clothes, at the flimsy shit he’d put on back in LA., and he shook his head at the shifting realities he called his life. But then he found that his mom was, just like she had been since he’d been old enough to tie his own shoes, waiting for him in the kitchen – with piping hot cocoa and a dozen freshly baked oatmeal raisin cookies. He came into the kitchen and plopped down in his assigned chair and put his hands around the mug of cocoa, warming his hands before he took his first long pull.

“Thanks, Mom. You’re the best,” he sighed, but there seemed to be something different about her, too. Not just older, but a haunted expression lurking just under the skin, something about the way her eyes moved.

…and yet she smiled and her smile looked as it always had, but then she looked away. “Your father told me about the filters,” she said, shaking her head.

“Is he forgetting stuff like that a lot, Mom?”

She looked at him again but then hesitated and simply shook her head. “Oh, not so much, really. Little stuff. You know, not the big things.”

“Great cookies. I love ‘em when they’re still warm like this.”

“I put some of those tiny chocolate chips in this batch. Can you tell the difference?”

“Yeah, I thought I tasted something new. I like ‘em.”

“Are you really going to stay down there with all those Jews and those…negroes?”

William sucked in his breath but decided to let this one slide. “I’m happy there, Mom.”

“But you’re needed here, son. You can see that, can’t you?”

“Frank can handle it, Mom.”

But she vehemently shook her head: “No, he can’t. He’s not bright, Bill, not like you. He can hardly remember how to put on his clothes, let alone run this place. You belong here, William.”

He’d never heard her talk with such anger before, and especially not about his little brother, so he was a little shocked when he heard the derision in her voice. “Frank’s alright, Mom. Why all the anger…what’s been going on?”

“You belong here, William. We built the ranch up for you, and now you’re turning your back on everything we’ve built…”

“Mom, no…I…”

“It was that Jew-girl, wasn’t it? That History teacher in town? She infected you! Can’t you see that? Ever since you took that class of hers you’ve been different. Real different…”

“Miss Eisenstadt? Mom? Are you serious?”

“They ran that Jew out of here a year or so ago, you know. She’s over in Bozeman now, over there with all the other Jew-lovers.”

“She was a great teacher, Mom. She made a real difference in a lot of lives.”

“Goddamn Jews. They’re tearing our world apart, William. Piece by piece, bit by bit, just like they did to the Germans.”

“Mom…?”

“And now you bring one of – them – into our house! I just don’t understand, William. Don’t you know what you’re doing to us? You’re tearing our world apart a piece at a time, tearing our hearts apart…”

“I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying, Mother. That because Debra is Jewish all the bad things in the world are happening?”

“Look what she’s done to you, Son. You’ve become a Jew-lover. You’ve turned your back on everything we’ve held dear…”

“Sorry you feel that way, Mom. I really am, but you don’t know what you’re talking about and I really don’t want to listen to this. I’ll see you in the morning, okay?” He took another sip of cocoa and finished his second cookie, then he smiled at his mother and went up to his room.

Debra was, of course, not there…so he went up to the guest bedroom on the third floor, in the attic; he heard her gently snoring away as he tip-toed up the ancient timber steps, and he found her bundled up in an old quilt, yet she woke when he opened the door and sat up in bed. She rubbed her eyes while he sat on the edge of her bed, then she looked at her watch and sighed.

“William, it’s almost two in the morning?” she whispered. “What on earth…?”

“And I gotta get up at six. I think tomorrow is going to be a real ball-buster,” he sighed.

“Can I come with you?” 

“Sure. Just dress warm, ‘cause it’s gonna be a cold one.”

“Like how cold is cold around here?”

“The high is gonna be like 15 below.”

“Shit! Are you fucking serious?” she cried.

“Serious as a heart attack, baby. Montana don’t much suffer city folk or sissies, ya know?”

“Sweet Jesus…” Deb sighed. “Fifteen below!”

“And don’t talk like that around my mother – or world war three might just break out…”

“Right. I forgot.”

“Breakfast is at five-forty five. What time do you want me to get you up?”

“I don’t know. What do I need to wear?”

“Everything,” he said, grinning like a madman.

+++++

Breakfast was eggs and freshly baked bread, bread made from wheat grown on Taylor land, eggs from laying chickens in Taylor coops. Hands were held all ‘round the table as prayers were said and the meal was eaten quickly and in utter silence – until Bill Sr handed out everyone’s marching orders, that is.

“Frank, you’d better ride the east fence. I can see a couple steers out there already, so try to fix the fence right this time. William…Aunt Ducey called and she can’t even get to her plow so after you get ours done you go on out and get hers done before you…”

“Got it, Dad.”

“Now Debra, can you stay here and help Mother get lunch ready?”

Deb looked at William, who spoke up then: “Actually, Dad, I was hoping she could ride with me today…”

“She’s not needed out there, boy, and your mother could use the help getting ready for Christmas Eve. We’re going to have the whole family here tonight, remember?”

William nodded. “Yessir. Sorry Deb, but he’s right.”

She felt a little uneasy just then, more of an outsider than she’d ever thought possible, and the idea of helping prepare some kind of Christmas Eve dinner simply didn’t ring true. No, she felt like she was being maneuvered, pushed aside and shunted under a microscope – like something to be examined once before it was discarded.

“Dad?” Frank said. “That’s not exactly fair, ya know?”

“I don’t recall asking you, Frank,” his father said, quietly, calmly, menacingly. “Now I think you boys need to get to work. Company’s coming at five o’clock,” he said, looking down at his wristwatch, “and we’re burning daylight. William, when you get back you better come on out to the barn.”

+++++

She watched William driving the Ford around all the driveways for a moment, then he made a couple of passes out the driveway before turning north on the highway – and then he disappeared inside translucent veils of wind driven snow.

“Can you help with the stuffing?” Wanda said.

“Excuse me?”

“The stuffing. You do know how to cook, don’t you?”

“No, not really.”

Mrs. Taylor stopped in her tracks and stared at Debra for a long time, apparently not sure what she’d just heard, let alone what to say next. “You do eat, don’t you?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Well then, who cooks the food around your house?”

“We have two people, a chef and a cook’s assistant.”

Mrs. Taylor’s eyes blinked in confused incomprehension. “You…what?”

“My father has two people cooking at the house, as well as two housekeepers. I’ve never cooked anything in my life.”

“Do you know how to run a vacuum cleaner? Dust a table?”

Debra shook her head.

“I’m sorry, but just what can you do?”

But Debra just smiled, refusing to be drawn into any kind of argument with this woman. “If you’ll show me what you need me to do I’ll be more than happy to lend a hand,” she said – quietly, calmly, menacingly.

Wanda Taylor knew that look, understood the people who wielded that kind of inner strength, so she just looked away and nodded. “Is this the kind of life you think you’ll have with my boy?”

“And what kind of life would that be, Mrs. Taylor?”

“Cooks, servants, that kind of thing?”

“I would imagine we will lead the kind of life we want to, Mrs. Taylor.”

“I see.”

“I wonder. Do you?”

“He’s a good boy, you know. And you’re ruining him, taking all this away from him,” she said, holding her arms wide, indicating this house and all the prairies and the soaring mountains that ringed the approaches to their little citadel.

“Yes, he is a good man, but what you don’t seem to understand is that he’s bigger than all this. And I think that scares you. It always has, hasn’t it?”

And Wanda Taylor exhaled deeply, deflating as she sat in her chair beside the kitchen table. “I’m so tired of worrying about him. Both of us are. Maybe because there’s nothing we can do, I suppose.”

“But you must know…he’s already leading a magical life, a life full of meaningful accomplishment. It looks like he’s going to be playing in the NFL, and he already has good contacts in the entertainment business. The sky really is the limit as far as William is concerned, and I love him. I want to be a part of that life, to help him achieve all those things he never could here…”

“Your children. They’ll be Jews, won’t they?”

Debra looked at this woman and all the tumblers fell into place. “Is that what this all comes down to, Mrs. Taylor? You hate me because I’m Jewish?”

“I hate you for taking him from us. I hate you because this life you’re planning for him is not the life he was supposed to live. And yes, I suppose I hate you for taking our grandchildren from us, because they might as well be negroes. We’ll never love Jews, no matter who their father is.”

“I see. Thank you for that. I appreciate your honesty, but don’t worry, Mrs. Taylor. We Jews stopped eating our children years ago, so if you ever change your mind you know where to come.”

Maybe her little jab was undeserved, but in that instant Wanda Taylor’s heart filled with an immeasurable Hate. She stood and went to her bedroom, slamming the door shut behind her – leaving Debra alone in the kitchen.

“My, my,” she sighed, “but that went well.” And with that she went upstairs and found a telephone. She spoke with her father for almost an hour then went to the third floor attic to pack her suitcase.

+++++

When the boys came in they were greeted by stone cold silence.

Wanda was still in her bedroom. Debra wasn’t helping make dinner for Christmas Eve. Lunch wasn’t on the kitchen table, and Bill Sr marched off to his bedroom to see what had gone wrong with his little world.

William stomped up the creaky timber stairs to the attic. Quietly, gently, menacingly, and not at all sure how to feel, because this was, after all, Christmas. This was supposed to be a quiet night together with family, and besides, he wanted to make a special announcement this night, of all nights. Because Christmas Eve was a special time, and asking Deb to marry him in front of his family was the most special thing he could imagine sharing with these people. And the first thing he saw when he went inside the little attic guest room was her packed suitcase, and he knew then, knew what had happened and he sighed in utter defeat.

She was in the bathroom, presently blow-drying her hair, and he sat in the little room, deciding to wait for her, to wait for the confrontation he knew was coming.

‘Maybe I should have told her more. Maybe I should have told her more about mother,’ he thought, his confusion complete. A few minutes later she stepped out of the tiny bathroom and she even seemed surprised to see him, yet she finished putting on her clothes in absolute silence, then she came and sat on the edge of the bed beside him. 

“I don’t belong here, William. I never have.”

“But I do. Is that what you’re saying?”

“I don’t know, but maybe the answer is all around you.”

“You’re wrong, Deb. I belong with you, we belong together, and you know that’s true.”

She nodded. “I did, yes, until this morning. But William, this is who you are, where you belong. Can’t you see that?”

He shook his head. “No. No, I can’t. I can’t wait to get back to LA. I can’t wait to get away from this place, from her…”

“Who? From your mother?”

He nodded. “Yes. And everything she stands for, the hatred, the narrow-mindedness, her walled-off view of the world…”

“Don’t you think she needed all those things simply in order to survive out here? To keep all those things she would never have out of her mind? She had to live walled off from the world, William, so her desires wouldn’t drive her mad?”

He shook his head. “No, that’s not in the least bit true. Don’t glamorize that stuff, Deb. Her world is inside one little book, her Book of Numbers, and nothing else matters to her. Everything that doesn’t fit inside that little world is something to be put down, to be shunned…”

She nodded. “You can’t see it yet, can you?”

“See what?”

“We’re too far apart. From two different worlds, close…but not touching.”

He looked down, felt alone, like he didn’t belong anywhere now. “What do you want me to do, Deb?”

“Take me to the airport, please. Dad’s coming to pick me up.”

“Oh? So…Daddy’s coming to rescue his little princess? And where does that leave me, I wonder? Some garbage to be tossed out on the side of the road? Just drive off, fly away and just like that you’re done with us? With me?”

“This isn’t really all that complicated, William? At least it doesn’t have to be. Dad has plans for you, so don’t worry about all that.”

“You two must have had a lot to talk about while I was out there pushing snow around.”

“Can you carry my bag down, please?”

“Can I at least pack my stuff? I’m coming with you.”

“Bring your airline ticket.”

“I see. So that’s it?”

“You should stay here, William. Be with your family.”

“You are my family, Debra.”

She shook her head, picked up her bag and headed for the creaky stairs. She found Frank down there and asked him to drive her into the airport.

“What about William?” he asked, and when she shook her head Frank groaned inside. “Okay. Let me get the keys.”

By the time William came running down the stairs with his suitcase the old white Suburban was already heading out the driveway and turning onto the highway. “Goddamnit!” he yelled.

“What’s going on, son,” his father said, coming out of his bedroom.

“Deb’s gone, on her way to the airport…”

“What? Why?”

“Something happened with Mom. She packed her bags – and she just broke up with me.”

Bill nodded. “I’ll get the keys to the old 150. We can catch them before they get to the airport.”

They ran out to the truck and started for Billings, and they too were now off into the blinding snow…

+++++

Bill Sr expected to find the Suburban at the FBO on the east end of the Billings airport, at the Edwards Jet Center, and he was correct. He drove into the parking lot and they found Frank and Debra sitting in the truck, with the engine still running. Debra’s face was a wreck, her eyes bloodshot from the nonstop tears that had been running down her face since she’d left the house, and when the old Ford pulled in next to her she seemed almost happy. For a moment, anyway.

William came to her door and she rolled the window down.

“What are you doing here?” she said to him, trying to hide the relief she felt.

“Trying to stop you from doing something really dumb,” he said, trying to smile but still very confused.

“Dumb?”

“Yeah, dumb. Your dad’s trying to break us apart, Deb. He has been for a while, but now that my mother has gotten in on the act you’re feeling a little of what I’ve been through. Can’t you see that?”

“They wouldn’t do that, William. Really, he wouldn’t…and your mother needs you.”

“Deb…don’t let them do this to us. Don’t throw what we have away. We can make this work.”

They heard a jet land in the snow and everyone turned to look…but it was a Delta CRJ landing and turning for the commercial terminal…but then Bill Sr stepped close and he looked at Debra.

“Little lady, I know we’re a little rough around the edges but William is a good boy and he loves you. I just spent an hour listening to him go on and on about you and how much he thinks of you, and I’d sure hate to see something as silly as Wanda spouting off about God and all that stuff she’s into come between you two.”

She looked at Bill Sr and nodded. “I understand, Mr. Taylor, really I do, but…”

“No buts, Debra,” Bill Sr said. “You two need to go sit somewhere and talk. This is big stuff and no one needs to go off half-cocked. William? You two go on inside and wait for her father. Frank and I will be right here if you need us.”

Another jet landed, and this time William could see Ted’s Gulfstream slowing on the runway, the thrust reversers kicking up a dense flurry of snow on the runway before it turned onto a taxiway and headed for the FBO.

“Dad, Frank, would you come with me, please. I’d like you to at least meet Mr. Sorensen. Deb? Are you okay with that?”

She nodded and followed the boys into the base, walking up to the ramp door to wait for her father. And it didn’t take long for the Gulfstream to taxi up to the business jet terminal and come to a stop. A fuel truck pulled up to the jet and quickly began refueling the aircraft, then the main airstair opened and the co-pilot came down to the ramp and jogged to the door.

“Miss Sorensen, you’re to come with me, please. Now.”

“I’m bringing William,” she replied.

“I’m sorry, but he is not invited.”

She nodded then turned to William, and she handed him her purse. “Buy a ticket and come straight to L.A.; I’ll pick you up at LAX as soon as I can. If you don’t hear from me, go to the beach house and wait for me there.”

He took her purse and kissed her on the lips, and then she turned and walked out to the waiting jet. As soon as she was aboard the airstair closed and the jet remained there while the refueling operation continued, then the engines started and the jet taxied out to the runway. A minute later he and his brother and father watched the jet take off and climb into the snow-filled clouds, and William felt a sudden shattering emptiness, like everything he’d expected his life to be had just come undone. Now completely overcome, the man-child looked down and started to cry.

And his kid brother came over and grabbed him by the shirt collar and shook him. “What the hell is the matter with you, bro? Let’s get you over to the terminal and on your way…”

“But…it’s Christmas,” he whispered, “and Mom will be so disappointed…”

“Fuck her and the horse she rode in on,” Bill Sr said. “Get your shit together, son. You’ve got your work cut out for you, so let’s get you to it.”

Part III: The House With No Windows

Chapter 13.7

Venice Beach, California 24 December 1999

William walked up to the door of the little bungalow on the boardwalk in Venice Beach and he looked in the door, There was no furniture inside now, nothing, not even the coffee maker on the kitchen counter. Everything had been packed up and cleared out – in a little over 24 hours. Debra had not been at LAX to pick him up, and now…she wasn’t here, either.

He walked down to a bench on the boardwalk and sat down, looked at the bikini-clad girls on rollerblades and the guys pumping iron in their many-colored Speedos and nothing he’d seen hardly made sense. Snow and twenty below just a short airplane ride away…but here? People were cooking burgers on the grill on their front patios, looking at the setting sun and the little world he and Deb had built down here had been dismantled literally overnight.

And lost in such thoughts he saw a shiny black Porsche Carrera pull into the parking place behind the bungalow, and a moment later Ted Sorensen stepped out and walked along side of the house right up to him, and without asking or any sort of preamble he simply sat down beside him.

“Bad day, William?”

“I reckon so, but then again I assume this was all your doing?”

“Of course. I had to, as you well know.”

“You hate me that much?”

“Not at all, Leonidas. I’m simply protecting what belongs to me.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Alright.”

“Where’s Deb?”

“Someplace where she can think for a while.”

“Is this what she wanted?”

“No. No, as a matter of fact I think she’s quite angry with me.”

“So? Why do it?”

“I will not be deposed, Leonidas. Not again. And you of course must remember the old saying…keep your friends close, but your enemies closer still?”

“I’ve heard that before, yes.”

“Well, I think that just now you fall into the latter category. So, I’m going to keep you closer still.”

“Why do you think I’m your enemy?”

“Memory is a strange thing, Leonidas. What did Mann say? Deep is the well of the past…so deep that may we not call it bottomless?”

“I’m not sure I follow you.”

“Good.”

“Good?” William sighed. “Is there anything else you wanted to gloat over, Ted?”

“Holy shit, Bill. You finally called me Ted. I am fucking impressed.”

“I’m so glad.”

“Well, let me come to the point. When the NFL draft comes along later this winter the Forty Niners are going to take you in the seventh round. They’re going to try to sign you for ten million, but if I were you I’d hold out for fifteen. Your worth it, you know?”

“I guess I should ask how you know that, but it really doesn’t matter, does it?”

“No, it doesn’t, not in the least, but for your information I now hold a significant ownership position in the team.”

“Of course. That makes sense. Good for you.”

“Excellent. Glad you approve. Next, when you finish playing football you’ll have a position waiting for you at the studio.” Sorensen reached into his coat pocket and pulled out an envelope and handed it to Taylor. “This is the contract, should you chose to exercise the provisions. Oh, the title and all the other paperwork for that Porsche is in there, too. It’s yours now.”

Taylor looked at Sorensen and sighed. “So, this is it? The payoff? Is that what you call it?”

“Oh, you could look at it that way, but Bill, I prefer to think at you as an investment, and my terms are simple. You stay away from Debra for now, period. And don’t try to get in touch with her without talking to me first. And in exchange for that, Bill, you’re going to get to lead the kind of life that ninety nine percent of the people in this city only dream of.”

“Simple? You really think this is simple?”

“You don’t really need to concern yourself with what I think, Bill. You can either accept the terms of the offer, or not.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Of course, if that’s your choice, but I’d rather not talk about that. Oh, I had a call from your father. Frank has been in an accident of some kind and he’d like you to call as soon as you can.”

“What? Is it serious?”

“He didn’t say, Bill.”

“Jesus. Uh, look, I have Debra’s purse. I didn’t have any money for a…”

“In the envelope, Bill. There’s an American Express Black Card. No credit limit and I’ll pay the bills until you start with the Forty Niners, so stop worrying about money, okay? Like I said, I consider you a long term investment, and I take care of my investments, alright?”

And with that, Ted held out his hand.

William Taylor took a long hard look at the extended hand, then he took it.

On the flight back up to Montana he considered that moment over and over as he looked out the window. How cold Sorensen’s flesh had felt in his hand, and how cold his eyes were. Hard and cold – and almost black, a little like a sharks. Or Satan’s, as his mother would no doubt chose to say.

He shook his head, and he wondered how Frank was doing – as Ted’s Gulfstream descended through snow filled clouds on its approach to Billings.

Part IV: The Music of the Spheres

Chapter 14.1

San Francisco, California           9 September 2001

Ted Sorensen looked at the sliver of lime twirling inside his glass of San Pellegrino and smiled, perhaps because he felt a sense of serenity, almost a gentle calm. He was in San Francisco again, this time at Candlestick Park, ostensibly to see the Forty Niners play the Atlanta Falcons. Debra had joined him on an extended trip to the east coast, and now here she was watching the game with a pair of Steiner binoculars held up to her face. And she was, naturally enough, watching William Taylor down on the field. Taylor had just literally broken through the line and run down the Falcons quarterback, a hapless Chris Chandler that afternoon, as the quarterback dropped back to pass, and Sorensen heard the roar of the crowd when Taylor sacked Chandler for a big loss and so he too looked at Taylor down on the field. He watched Debra jump up and cheer and, quite perversely, he smiled at her lingering enthusiasm for the boy. Still, he had plans for the boy – just as he had plans for his daughter – and the time was fast approaching when he’d begin to set the first part of that plan into motion.

He turned back to his glass of water and watched bubbles form and rise to the surface…then disappear as, one by one, they hit normal atmospheric pressure – when their time was up – and disappeared. Then he looked up at all the people standing around him in this lavish owners suite, then he imagined he was looking into the eyes of all the faces of the sixty-six thousand semi-deranged souls dressed in red and gold, crammed together just outside this suite, standing shoulder to shoulder in these stuffy, putrid smelling stands, screaming for sweating jocks as they knocked each other senseless, all for a bunch of semi-literate Neanderthals strutting around like amped-up gorillas. While he watched one player down on the field banging in his chest after a play he thought of Jane Goodall cataloguing the varieties of primate dominance rituals, and that only hardened his resolve…

 What kind of people really enjoyed this shit, he wondered. They were somehow considered normal, but really, were they? Maybe nothing really ever changed, not since gladiators fought for the emperor’s pleasure in ancient Rome, but…did all that really matter anymore? Everything was still money changing hands, now as it was then, but putting a kid like William Taylor up on some kind of pedestal seemed the height of idiocy. Yet this society worshipped kids like Taylor, while not one could name even one of the many brilliant transplant surgeons performing real miracles all around the globe – every day. What was wrong with this picture? Had it always been this way? Did kids in ancient Germania really worship their warriors?

He looked at Taylor after the next play, watched him get up and walk back to the defensive huddle, then Sorensen leaned forward in his chair as Taylor lined up almost right over the center. On the snap the two lines slammed together in a concussive shock he could feel all the way up there in the suite, yet Taylor somehow slid through an opening and tackled the ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage, resulting in another loss of yards for the Falcons, who now had to punt. And once again…the crowd went wild, only now most of the Forty Niner’s began chanting TAY-LOR, TAY-LOR…and so loudly that Sorensen’s ears began to hurt. And…Debra seemed beyond elated?

Yet Taylor stayed on the field, working special teams this season as well as middle linebacker, and when the ball was snapped Taylor broke through the line again and made it deep into the backfield, where he blocked the kick. He rolled once and came up with the ball and ran it twenty one yards into the Falcon’s end zone, scoring an important touchdown – and his teammates swarmed all over him as he carried the ball to the bench, determined to keep it in a special place for the rest of his life. Very few players managed to do what he’d just done, and even the coach came over and slapped his ass.

Yet all Taylor could think about – as he sat on the bench to catch his breath – was his little brother Frank, and how much he might have enjoyed looking on from the stands. He’d invited his parents, of course, but they always begged off, they had other things to do – and that was the end of that, he knew. After Frank’s funeral he’d made it clear he’d never come home again, and no matter the reason, and he pointedly told his mother she was nothing more than some kind of demon-haunted creature who belonged in a mental hospital. She’d blanched and turned away, yet curiously his father had just nodded before he turned to walk with Wanda to their truck.

He never heard about the words that had sent Debra packing, not from Deb and not from his mother, but he somehow never blamed Deb. Because he loved her, and he always would. He kept the little black Porsche now because it was a symbol of something, a talisman. The car was the essence of his capitulation, and every time he slipped behind the wheel he was reminded of the bargain. Maybe he would have tried to find a way to say hello to Debra that afternoon – had he even known she was at the game. But he didn’t, it wasn’t time – yet. Because a meeting wasn’t part of Sorensen’s plan.

So Ted got up and walked over to the little buffet the owners enjoyed, and as he had a plate of prime rib and crab prepared as a snack he listened to the crowd as they continued chanting William Taylor’s name. Even Debra had gotten into the spirit and was now jumping up and down, clapping her hands like some kind of love-addled teenager. She was still naive enough to think that love lasted for more than a few minutes, and he shook his head as he took his plate and walked back to their table, watching Taylor on the sidelines as his teammates came up and congratulated him. Again.

And a week from now, Sorensen sighed, no one will remember any of this.

“What a waste,” he said to no one in particular.

“What’s a waste, Daddy?” Debra said, smiling quizzically his way.

“Oh, you know…prime rib without creamed spinach,” he lied, returning her smile with a twisted grin all his own. “But that’s life in the big leagues, I guess.”

He watched Debra watching William Taylor and a part of him really didn’t understand what the attraction was between the two of them. He was the exact opposite of her, physically at least, but even emotionally and perhaps intellectually as well. She’d never been interested in sports, not even at Harvard Westlake, when participation had been required…so to end up dating an überJock like Taylor had come as a surprise. And while she’d never expressed any interest in the movie business, he’d made sure she took the classes she’d need to function at the studio, and in that she was once again the exact opposite of William Taylor. And she’d been going on and on about astronomy for years now, to the point she’d taken enough courses in the subject to declare it as her “minor” area of study. And while he’d convinced her to take her degree in economics, she had no interest in further study in the field – yet when her father suggested she look into graduate study in astronomy she had jumped into action.

So he had called his “step-mother” Deborah Eisenstadt and sought her advice and counsel…

“Bring her to Boston. Let me sit down with her and discuss the matter, and I will assess the state of her practical knowledge.”

So…after the Forty Niners beat the Falcons – in “Sudden Death” overtime, for heaven’s sake – they had driven the short distance to SFO and boarded the Gulfstream.

“Will we be home in time for Letterman?” she asked as the little jet taxied to the runway.

“No, I’m afraid not. I’ve got to be in Boston tomorrow, and then New York on Tuesday, and I’d like you to come along.”

“Oh? Okay, sounds fun.”

“Fun. Yes indeed, fun,” he said, grinning as the plan took shape in his mind.

Boston, Massachusetts                   10 September 2001

After his father’s death, Ted Sorensen’s stepmother, the physicist Deborah Eisenstadt, had emigrated to the United States to take a position at MIT. She was getting old now though her mind was as sharp today as it ever had been, yet recently she had been preoccupied with a new problem.

After that impetuous pianist from Harvard, the curiously named Liz Bullitt, had demonstrated her ability to bend the rules of time by manipulating acoustic harmonic structures – and just last week, Eisenstadt had been lost in thought. What was limiting these travels to observations only? Why couldn’t the girl interact with elements in the past. What good was moving through time to simply observe events that had already happened? For historians the appeal might be obvious, but the more obvious concern, at least to Eisenstadt, was the possibility of actual interaction with the past.  She understood the obvious concerns surrounding the so-called “paradox of time travel” too, and while the idea bothered her it did so secondarily to her main concern. 

If this girl – or even this teacher of hers, some sort of homicide detective in San Francisco –       could time travel, what might happen if either or even both of them stumbled upon a way to actually manipulate events in the past? Like ripples spreading across a pond, Eisenstadt understood that it was only a matter of time before others became aware of this ability, others with – perhaps – more resources or others less scrupulous who might begin to study the matter in more depth, and, again, it would simply become a matter of time before some other group began to manipulate time to their own designs.

So Eisenstadt’s first concern was to study the matter…to see if such a breakthrough was even possible. If she found such a move was theoretically not possible she could relax…yet if she found a way past the limitation she knew it would be possible for others to exploit this breakthrough…and then the nature of time itself, indeed, the very fabric of the universe might be under assault. 

And this she had to stop.

She came in from her first class of the day, an introductory class in quantum mechanics, and looked at her calendar, then her shoulders drooped and she sighed. Ted was coming by for another one of his chats about estate matters, and he’d added that Debra was coming along, and that she was interested in graduate work in astronomy.

Astronomy? Debra? She scoffed at the idea, if only because Debra had always appeared to be an intellectual lightweight, yet she had graduated Magna Cum Laude from USC and had taken a minor in astronomy…so maybe she’d been wrong about the girl. She had to consider that Ted was serious when he’d mentioned bringing Deb along for an evaluation of sorts, but, as usual where Ted was concerned, what pound of flesh did he expect in return?

Because, she knew with Ted there was always a price to be paid, a toll exacted. Yet…wasn’t she the one performing the favor? ‘Ah…he is expecting my help, so he must be here to get Debra into MIT…’ she thought, sighing at the thought.

The department secretary buzzed her on the intercom, announced that the Sorensens were waiting and were ready to see her when she was free, and so she rubbed her temples a bit then told her to send them in…

+++++

“You’ll pardon me for saying so, Deborah,” Ted began as he sat across from Eisenstadt, “but you look troubled today. Is everything alright?”

“Actually, no. A colleague of mine,” she began, but then she stopped and seemed to consider how best to proceed down this thorny path: “Well, perhaps you have read about the matter in the papers, but a friend of mine here in the department climbed the Matterhorn over the summer and his party met with tragedy. Two of his closest friends fell to their death and he has been particularly troubled since his return. I just stopped by his office and spoke with him, so excuse me if I seem burdened.”

Debra spoke first: “Yes, I remember reading about the accident. I can’t even imagine how he must feel, how watching something like that unfold right in front of you…”

Ted shrugged. “Risky business, climbing. He’s only got one leg, I seem to recall?”

“That’s correct, Ted,” Eisenstadt said, shrugging impatiently. 

“I also read he started a company to make climbing gear for amputees. Smart move. He probably picked up a fair amount of publicity, needless to say.” 

Eisenstadt blinked through her ‘Coke bottle’ glasses, and Ted was struck once again how much like an owl she looked when she blinked like that. 

“Of course, it was a horrible tragedy,” he added…

“What can I do for you, Ted?” Eisenstadt said, as ever finding this so-called step-son of hers as reprehensible as ever.

“I wanted to make a sizable donation to the Jewish Home for the Aged in Los Angeles, and I’ll need your signature to draw from the trust. I wanted to clear the move with you before Northern Trust calls you.”

He could have done this with a call, so the only reason he was here had to concern his daughter. So…this matter was important to him, but why? “Of course. I’d be most happy to do that. Now Deborah, I see that you took a minor in astronomy? Are you interested in further study in this area?”

Debra looked at her father, then at Eisenstadt. “I am, yes.”

“Have you given graduate studies much thought?” Debra looked away for a moment, then she looked at her father again – and that was really all Eisenstadt needed to know. “Ted? Why don’t you leave Debra with me for a while?”

“Certainly. Have your secretary call this number when you finish up.”

Eisenstadt waited for Ted to leave, then she came around and sat next to her. “I don’t think we’ve had a chance to speak since the funeral. How are you doing, Debra?”

Maybe it was Eisenstadt’s warm voice, the obvious caring behind her words, but whatever it was she couldn’t help herself anymore and the dam broke. All the anguish she felt about her father’s overt control over her life came to the fore and she started crying. Eisenstadt put an arm around the girl and let it all come out…

The things she had felt after her father engineered William Taylor’s exit from her life – and the way he had taken direct control over everything she did in the aftermath – had almost completely undone her. She’d withdrawn from life after graduation. She stopped running and then started eating self-destructively. She’d gained sixty pounds and now she only hated herself all the more, hated her life and even – ironically – hated William for walking away from what might have been…

Debra laid it all out there, and Eisenstadt listened. She listened very closely, because her life had taught her how to look behind the patterns presented by the universe.

“So,” Eisenstadt sighed, “tell me about astronomy. This is a sincere interest, or a passing fancy?”

“Actually, it’s a kind of passion, if you know what I mean?”

“I do indeed.”

“It’s just that I never thought this was something my father would let me do.”

“Let you do?”

“Yes?”

“My goodness, Debra, but you speak as if he owns you. What keeps you from simply stepping out from behind this shadow he casts over your life, from moving out of his house and beyond his control…?”

“Deborah…he has me followed, everywhere I go. I can’t go to the grocery store without a security detail shadowing my every move.”

“Are these men here today, even now?”

Debra shrugged. “I have no idea, but if they’re good you don’t even know they’re around.”

“Dear God.” She looked on helplessly as Debra cried softly now, and Eisenstadt handed her a tissue and patted her knee. “So, what is it about astronomy that kindles such passion?”

Debra threw away the tissue and looked at Eisenstadt: “I know this might sound trite, but I have this thing for globular clusters. The first time I saw one of those Hubble pictures I wanted to know everything there was to know about them.”

“Globulars? Really? Now that is interesting. That is Gene Sherman’s area of expertise.”

“Who?”

“My friend, from the Matterhorn incident this summer…”

“Oh, I didn’t know that.”

She went back to her desk and looked up his extension and called. “Gene? Could you drop by my office right now? I have a young astronomer from USC here, and she’s interested in your clusters…”

Sherman knocked on her door a few minutes later and she told him to “Come on in!”

“Gene, this is my stepdaughter, Debra, and she minored in astronomy at USC. I’ve just gone over her transcripts and she’s a solid student.”

Sherman squinted as he took the offered documents and he looked them over. “Have you taken the GREs?” he asked.

“Yessir. The score is there, on the bottom right.”

His eyes shifted and Sherman whistled. “So, two years of calculus, and you took both quantum mechanics and celestial mechanics from Bars?”

“I did, yes.”

“A+ in both, too, and I know how he grades…tough. Well done you.”

“Thank you.”

“So, you’re into globs? What got you?”

“We went up to Lick when I was in high school, and I got a peek at M13 through the…”

“Through the 20 inch?”

“Yessir. Why? What about you?”

“That’s what got me, too. High school trip and looking through the 20. They’d just collimated the main cell and the view was surreal.”

Debra beamed, because she finally found someone who understood. “At Lick?” she asked.

“Yeah. Helluva piece of glass, ain’t it?”

“Oh, yessir. I could have looked at it all night. I’m just curious, but did you see the pulsing in the Sagittarius cluster this summer?”

Sherman stiffened, but he nodded. “Yes. I was in Switzerland at the time so I didn’t really get a chance to…”

“I recorded it. Almost all of it,” Debra blurted out.

“You what?”

“I recorded it, from the roof of our house. I have an 9.25 inch Celestron astrograph on a German equatorial mount. I recorded everything direct to a hard drive through an electronic eyepiece.”

“You have the raw data?” Sherman said, now interested in the girl very much indeed.

“Yessir.”

Sherman turned to Eisenstadt and paused. “So, Dr. Eisenstadt, I called the number you gave me. I’m having dinner with him this evening. Uh, Debra, what are your plans today?”

“Nothing until this evening.”

“Well, maybe the three of us could go grab a bite to eat. I assume you’ll be applying to enter for the winter term?”

Debra shrugged. “I haven’t decided on a course of action just yet, sir.”

“I see. I’m just curious so tell me if I’m out of bounds here, but why not?”

“It’s complicated, Gene,” Eisenstadt interrupted, “but I’m free for lunch as well. Debra, why don’t you call your father and see if he’d mind if we borrow you for a few hours. I think we need to drive out to Haystack, don’t you, Gene?”

“To the radio astronomy center?” Debra cried. “Ooh–yeah!”

+++++

Ted didn’t have a problem with that – no, not at all.

As a matter of fact, he had been counting on it. 

Because this afternoon he was meeting with several mass media consultants, discussing a project he’d had on the back burner since his plan began to take shape in his mind. He had, over several years now, been purchasing small, independent television stations all over the midwest, and he’d recently purchased several small stations in the Portland, Oregon and Puget Sound markets. The first group he was meeting with today would recommend stations in the Boston and upper New England region to acquire, while the second meeting later this afternoon would be to look over stations in the Mid-Atlantic and Deep South regions. If all went according to plan, by this time next week he would own a coast-to-coast network of unaffiliated television stations whose net value was, comparatively speaking, next to nothing.

And a year from now, if all went according to plan, he’d be in charge of a massive unified network broadcasting evangelical programming 24/7. Within five years his new Eagle Network would be hosting hard right wing opinion shows, and the network’s specialty would center around the most purposefully divisive fear mongering anyone had ever dared to put on the public airwaves.

New York City, New York                   11 September 2001

The Gulfstream’s pilot was on the intercom just now, describing the passing scenery along their approach into New York City. “We’re passing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge right now, then turning north to go up the Hudson. We’ve been cleared to land at LaGuardia and we’ll have a great view of the city to the right as we fly up the river. It’s eight forty five now, and we expect to be on the ground in five minutes, so Carol, make sure the doors are clear and that everyone’s ready to land.”

Carol Lindstrom, the Gulfstream’s lone flight attendant, checked that the main airstair was clear and that the slide was armed, then she walked down the aisle to check on Mr. Sorensen and his daughter. They were now sitting on the right side of the aircraft, both staring intently out the window as the jet came up on the New York skyline…

“Dad? Did you see that?” she cried.

“Yes, it kind of looked like…oh, shit!”

Sorensen got out of his seat and ran up to the cockpit, and thankfully the door was open.

“Gordon! An American 767 just hit the North Tower!”

“Sir?” Gordon Gabbert said. “Did you say the North Tower?” Gabbert had been Sorensen’s pilot for almost ten years, and he knew The Boss would never say anything like this unless it was real.

“Yup. Deb saw it too.”

“LaGuardia Approach, this is Gulfstream Two Two Bravo, we’ve just observed an American 767 impacting the North Tower of the World Trade Center.”

“Ok Two Two Bravo, will relay information and you are cleared to land runway one three, report any other information to tower on one eighteen seven, maintain three three hundred to the turn, and good day.”

“Eighteen seven and three three double-oh to the turn. Two Two Bravo.” Gabbert turned to Sorensen then. “You’d better get belted in, sir. Hard right turn in about thirty seconds, then that steep approach.”

“Got it.”

When Ted got back to his seat Debra seemed pale, almost in shock, so he sat across the aisle from her and held her hand. Her skin was cold and clammy and he shook as flashbacks of the shadowy moment played over and over in his mind’s eye.

“Daddy?” she cried. “Was that real?”

“I saw the same thing you did, honey,” he said gently, “and it sure looked real to me.”

“Oh, Daddy, how many people…” she tried to say, but then she reached out as if she was literally warding off unseen blows – just before she passed out. Her body slumped over just as the Gulfstream banked hard right, and her head arced about before it slammed against the window. When she came to she was bleeding badly from a laceration over her right eye, yet Sorensen couldn’t see it from his angle. 

But Carol did, and she grabbed a gauze pad from the first aid kit and dashed to Debra’s side, putting the makeshift compress over the wound and holding it there while the jet landed – and Ted saw the look of real concern in Carol’s eyes – and he wondered where such people found their reserves of humanity even as the images of the airliner slamming into the side of the North Tower replayed again and again in his mind’s eye.

It couldn’t have been an accident, not at that speed and most especially not at that altitude.

Then his mind went back to the mid-90s… to Islamic groups aligned with some kind of radical cleric that had parked a truck bomb in the basement parking garage of one of the towers. And that rich Saudi radical, the one behind the embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania, he’d recently been reported to be planning some kind of attack on the US. But why?

Oh yes. When Bush had been running for president in ’99 and 2000 he’d come out against a two state solution to the Palestinian “problem” and a lot of foreign policy pundits had been warning of Saudi reprisals ever since. The warning lights had started blinking over the summer, and even network news reported that W had been apprised of the heightened potential for an attack. Well, it looked like some analyst in Langley had gotten that one right.

The Gulfstream landed and taxied over to the GA ramp on the west side of the airport, and Carol ran up to the cockpit to get Gordon to call for an ambulance, and after he’d done that the pilot came back to see what had happened – because there were reports that would have to filed now.

“She passed out,” Carol said, “right when we made that last turn onto final.”

“She passed out?” Gabbert asked. “What happened?”

“She saw the impact,” Ted sighed. “I did too. It was fucking awful.”

“We could see the smoke from the cockpit when we pulled in here. Heavy black smoke, so lots of jet fuel involved.”

“Gordon!” the co-pilot cried. “There’s been another impact. Newark Tower reports a United 767 hit the South Tower!”

Ted felt his heart beating harder, and he also felt an impossible anger welling up deep inside as he turned to his chief pilot. “Gordon, make sure our fuel is topped off. Carol? You ride to the hospital with Deb but get her back out here to the aircraft as soon as you can. I mean…fast. Gordon, see about filling a flight plan for London, or maybe Copenhagen. I’m not sure what’s going on now, but this may not be the safest place to be right now.”

The co-pilot called out again: “Mr. Sorensen, it looks like your limo is here.”

“Thanks, Paul,” he replied before turning to his crew: “Any questions? Either of you?”

Both shook their head.

Paul Bartok was extending the airstairs now, and when the locking mechanism clicked into place Ted ran down to the waiting Mercedes and disappeared into the city. An ambulance pulled up moments later and EMTs rushed aboard; they decided to carry her to a nearby Urgent Care facility close to the airport, leaving Gordon to file a flight plan for London Stansted and racing to get the aircraft refueled. By the time airspace over the continental United States was closed two hours later, the Gulfstream was already wheels up and outside of the continental North American ADIZ, the Air Defense Identification Zone; they were paralleling the Massachusetts coastline while climbing for forty-one thousand feet and well away from US airspace.

Only now there was an additional passenger onboard.

And Carol thought he was the most dangerous looking human being she had ever seen in her life.

Part IV: The Music of the Spheres

Chapter 14.2

Gander OCA, NAT D Track TOBOR  Fight Level 410    11 September 2001

Debra Sorensen squinted hard, tried physically pinching her eyes shut, desperately wanting to shut out this new world, but the more she tried the harder it became. And just then her father leaned close and whispered in her ear…

“What is it, honey? Does it still hurt?”

She shook her head – but the motion produced another concussive round of pressure behind her eyes, then an even more intense kaleidoscopic explosion of splintering light. “I think I need to lie down, Daddy.”

“Carol? Could you help us here, please; maybe get her back to the bedroom?”

The flight attendant came and helped her to the little bedroom in the far aft section of the Gulfstream’s passenger cabin. She helped Deb get settled on the bed, covering her with an ultra soft duvet, but she could tell that something was very, very wrong: “Can I get you something?” Carol asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe a Tylenol, or some water…I don’t know…?”

“I’ll be right back. Just sit tight…”

But as soon as Carol left Deb sat up and looked through the open passageway into the main cabin, to the stranger sitting across from her father. He looked quasi-human but his form was covered by a dull, shimmering blackness…but no, that wasn’t quite right. The blackness was almost like what she’d always imagined an aura might look like, but this oozing thing surrounding the man seemed to be pure black, almost like oil. But no, it was more like he was surrounded by this blackness, yet in a way it was also attracted to him, like the man was sucking up this stuff, absorbing the goo-like substance right out of the air…

Then she saw Carol walking her way and as Debra watched Carol’s body seemed to be surrounded by intense green and gold bands of pulsing radiation, and these bands were shooting out curly verdigris gouts of arc-like electricity, and she pinched her eyes shut again as the sight was just too much to handle. Yet even as she closed her eyes she tried to turn away from lingering after-images, only they didn’t leave. Instead, the fragmented light lingered like towering walls of waves breaking against a seawall, the refracted echoes bouncing off shadows inside of her mind…

“Jesus, Deb, it sure looks like you’re in a lot of pain,” Carol said as she closed the door behind her, turning on a small overhead reading light as she sat on the edge of the tiny bed. “Can I see your forehead? I need to check that bandage…”

Deb rolled over on her back and she felt Carol fiddling with the bandage for a while, then pressing new tape back in place.

“Think you can sit up for me?” Carol asked. “Let’s see if you can get this down?”

“What is it?”

“Just two Tylenol and some Pellegrino. Are you hungry?”

“God no…”

“I didn’t think so. You took quite a hit, but apparently the doctor didn’t think it was a concussion.”

“Where are we?”

“I think we just passed St. Johns, like maybe a half hour ago, anyway.”

“Newfoundland?”

“That’s right. Gordon says we have a pretty good tailwind so we should be in London in about five hours. Now, let’s get those pills down and see how you feel, okay? I’ll check in an hour.”

“Right.”

“Does it feel better with the lights off?” Carol said, standing to leave.

“I think so, yes.”

“Okay…I’ll close the door, but it might be a little louder that way.”

“I’ll be alright.”

“Hit the call button if you need me,” Carol said as she smiled, then she closed the door behind her…and Deb turned on her side, looking up into the sky on the other side of the glass. Though it was only early afternoon, she closed her eyes and was soon fast asleep.

+++++

She woke with a start, felt like she was tumbling through the air and her first thought was that the airplane was about to crash…so she lifted her head and felt a little relieved when she saw a black-green landscape passing by beneath the wing. Then Carol came in and helped her out to the main cabin; soon she was buckled into a seat behind her father’s and then Carol went forward to her jump seat beside the cockpit door.

Deb looked out the window, saw the moon rising behind black, backlit clouds, and the few stars she saw seemed to be hollow balls of ice falling down to a sunless sea…and she wondered again what was happening to her mind now. All the usual noises followed – the flaps extending, the landing gear coming down, then the bluish-white strobes bouncing off the runway threshold just before the little chirping sounds as the jet touched down – but still everything felt surreal. A few minutes of taxiing passed then men and fuel trucks surrounded the jet as the airstairs came down, and the cabin suddenly filled with inrushing warm air and the clinging smell of jet fuel.

She watched her father stand just then and recoiled in horror – because he too was surrounded by the same oozing black aura as the evil looking man – and now she watched both of them deplane, her father not even acknowledging she was still on the airplane as he left – and Carol came back to help her stand and walk down the stairs.

“Your father is going into the city now. He asked that I help you get to the hotel and settled in.”

Deb nodded. She understood. He’d always been like this, yet she’d never felt quite so intently dismissed, so much so that she felt like a discarded prop from one of his movies, or maybe like something he used from time to time to trot out in front of people just to prove his manifest humanity. She stood and another explosion of light wracked through her head and she felt light-headed and dizzy as she reached out to catch herself on a seat back.

“Oh, no, you’re not alright,” Carol said as she helped steady her hand on the seat. “Let me go get Gordon.”

She sat again and watched Carol walk away and she saw the same green and gold aura, only now it was flecked with little blue streamers of sparkling electricity, then she saw Paul, the co-pilot hurrying aft – and his aura was intensely blue, a deep shimmering cobalt color that completely disoriented her. 

Paul Bartok saw her eyes roll back in her head, and he just got to Deb before her body went limp and started to fall…

+++++

“Where am I?” Deb asked.

“University College Hospital, the neurological services,” some sort of technician said. “You’re going to feel a little pinch as I’m starting a line on the left side of your neck now.”

“What am I doing here?”

“You lost consciousness and were brought in by emergency services. And you are an American, I understand?”

“Yes.”

“What happened to you today? Do you remember anything?”

She closed her eyes and turned away from images of airliners smashing into skyscrapers, then she felt echoes of a sharp pain in her forehead then of falling and falling and now she was laying on a cold steel gurney inside a cold gray room, then she tried to put all that into words.

“You say you saw the airliner hit one of the World Trade Center towers?” the young man asked.

“Yes.”

“Where were you?”

“In my fathers jet. We were on the approach to LaGuardia at the time.”

“And that was when you hit your head?”

“I think I passed out first,” she whispered, “and I think I fell after that.”

“And these auras started after all that?”

“Look, I don’t mean to be rude, but who are you?”

“Ah, sorry, Justin Holroyd. I’m one of the neurologists on floor duty tonight.”

“So, you’re a doctor?”

“Yes, again, so sorry. I should have told you that.”

“That’s okay.”

“So…what kind of aura do you see around me?”

“It’s gold next to your body, then it goes from emerald to kind of lime green – with red splotches here and there.”

“And you say it shimmers?”

“Not right now. When you came close and started to introduce yourself it changed. Like it went from nervous to calm, green to blue.”

“Okay,” he said as he swabbed her neck with some sort of alcohol pad. “Here comes the pinch.”

She felt him insert the IV catheter and get it taped down, and all the while his aura changed, depending on what he was doing.

“You did well, considering,” he said reassuringly. “You’re not too bothered by small enclosed spaces, I take it?”

“No, not really.”

“If you are I can sedate you a little. Just let me know.”

“Excuse me, but are you nervous right now?”

“I am, yes. Can you see that?”

“I think so, yes, but why are you nervous?”

“I’m not sure. What do you see?”

“The red splotches are getting bigger now, and very active.”

“Fascinating.”

“Not really. It’s actually very disconcerting.”

“Disconcerting? How so?”

“I’ve been nauseated since all this started, and it almost feels like I thought vertigo might feel.”

She saw him writing notes then he looked up at her and smiled. “Okay, I’ll be in that little room there. Just speak up if you feel claustrophobia coming on. This should only take a few minutes.”

+++++

She woke up in reeling darkness. She needed to pee so bad it hurt – but when she sat up in bed the room started spinning, the kaleidoscopic pulsing started beating in her head and she almost passed out from some sort over overload. Alarms started pinging at the nurses station and several came rushing into her room – but when they saw the girl they came crashing to a stop…

“What the bloody fuck!” one of the nurses growled. “Do you see that?”…

And everyone did, because the girl’s body was glowing brightly, and yet it appeared as if the light was coming from inside her body. Worse still, the glow was pulsing through a disjointed spectrum of colored light – from pinkish-amber one moment to blue-green the next…and it seemed to everyone watching as if the light was cycling between these two distinct phases of light over and over again.

“Is Dr. Holroyd still here?” the charge nurse whispered to a nurse-assistant.

“I think so.”

“Go…get him…quick…”

Holroyd was wiping sleep from his eyes when he walked into Deb Sorensen’s room, but after looking at her pulsing body – and almost in a state of shock – for several seconds, he rushed to her bed and grabbed her wrist…

And as soon as he touched her the pulsing light simply stopped. Completely.

“Fucking-Hell,” he muttered.

“Do you have any idea what that was?” the charge nurse said as she stepped closer to the bed.

“I have no fucking idea,” Holroyd sighed.

“Uh, excuse me,” Deb said, trying to sit up again as she spoke, “but I really need to pee?”

“Yeah?” Holroyd said. “Well, join the club.” 

National Hospital, Queen Square, London 13 September 2001

Justin Holroyd was standing before a large screen, and several sections from the MRI of a human brain were on the main display. A dozen neurologists and neurosurgeons were gathered around a table in a small conference room, and all were staring intently at the image on the screen.

“Just for reference, here’s an image from a normal optic tract within the brain, showing the lateral geniculate nucleus pairing, and here’s the image from Sorensen’s MRI on admission.” Using a green laser pointer, Holroyd pointed at the area of concern: “As you can see here,” he continued, taking time to let the image sink in, “there is an additional lobe on nucleus, bilaterally – as I think you can readily see. Additionally, there are no tumor markers in the patient’s chemistries, not on admission and not as of this morning, and this is just an opinion but I doubt any sort of known lesion would manifest with such perfect symmetry.”

“So, what you’re telling us, Dr. Holroyd, is that we’re looking at some sort of naturally occurring structure? A mutation, perhaps?”

“We’ve performed two F-MRIs and these additional structures light up like a Christmas tree when the patient observes these so-called auras…”

“What about encephalographic studies,” one of the senior neurologists asked.

“Yes, I’ve completed two to date. We ran a frequency domain analysis on the first run, with both linear prediction and component analysis on the second. Same conclusion, I’m afraid. Massive SNR on aura initiation, almost an overload state with peak waveforms off the scale. If you get five or more people in a room with her she does in fact go into a neurochemical overload of unknown etiology, and, well, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“I dare say no one has, Holroyd,” the Head of Service stated. “The physical manifestations are without precedent, yet the implications of these visual phenomena are staggering…”

“You mentioned mutation?” one of the surgeons asked. “What about reversion analysis and sequencing? Have you considered these?”

Holroyd sniffed once and rubbed his nose. “Indeed so, yes. I’ve asked Lucille St Cloud from Cambridge to come down for a consult.”

There were murmurs and nods of approval all around the table on hearing that.

“What about the patient?” the surgeon continued. “Is she in discomfort? What happens during these swarms?”

“She reports anxiety, almost like being overwhelmed with cascading stimuli, but no real pain.”

“Remarkable,” the surgeon muttered. “What about removal of the additional nuclei?”

“And what if these are normal structures?” Holroyd countered. “What might that do to…”

“Normal?” the surgeon cried. “Are you listening to yourself, Holroyd? If these structures are normal, well then, uh, then this represents a new species, doesn’t it?”

The blue mote pulsed once before it disappeared from the conference room.

+++++

“Dad, can we go home?”

“They still don’t know what’s causing all this, honey…so I’m not sure we…”

“They aren’t going to find anything, Dad.”

“How do you know, Debra?”

As she watched her father, the shimmering black swarm around him grew more opaque, almost more dense, and swirling vortices of energy seemed to appear around him, and she thought they looked a little like those vast loops of coronal matter that occasionally are spotted vaulting up from the sun’s surface, only these flared then abruptly withdrew back inside her father, and she squinted hard and turned away from the sight.

“Is it happening again?” he asked.

“No, it’s just a headache. I’ll be alright in a minute.” She was learning, day by day, to tune out the extraneous material in this new world, to focus on the people around her she thought she most needed to pay attention to, and she considered it was a little like her brain was trying to come to grips with an entirely new set of sensory skills. Like learning to ride a bicycle, whatever was happening to her didn’t come naturally, at least her mind hadn’t reacted like it was normal, so she was beginning to think it would take time for her mind to come to terms with all this new sensory data…

“Why do I get the feeling you’re not telling me everything?” her father added – and she watched his dark vortices reach out for her…almost like the tentacles of some kind of energy absorbing beast – and she wanted to turn away from the smooth coercion in his voice. “Deb? What’s happening? Why won’t you talk to me?” A tentacle reached her and she felt her Will retreat – and then she realized she was watching the physical manifestations of what amounted to a kind of psychological assault. She was supposed to trust her father, wasn’t she? So…why did she feel this way now? Why were his tentacles reaching out for her?

“Dad? Go find that doctor. Tell him I want to go home.” She watched his tentacles retreat, but she felt like he was pulling energy from her body and feeding his own as he did, and the idea was nauseating – yet, she was watching it as it happened!

“Okay, okay. I’ll see if I can find him…”

“I want to talk to him, Father,” she said, a deep force like anger emanating from within as she spoke, and she watched his tentacles wither then retreat inside his body, and for a moment his aura shifted to a deep cobalt color before the miasma of his darkness returned.

When Holroyd appeared his aura was blue-green, but when she asked to be discharged it changed to orange with dancing yellow fringes. “We still haven’t nailed down any kind of diagnosis, Debra. I think it’s too soon to talk about going home yet.” 

“Am I physically ill, doctor?”

“We’re not really sure what the issue is.” The orange shifted to red as little sparklers of anger appeared.

“Then you have no idea if or even whether you can offer any kind of treatment? Is that about where we stand?”

The red began to shift to a deeper crimson, only now she saw black flecks appear. “I’m not sure where you’re going with this, Debra.”

“Going? I want to go home, and unless you have some kind of proof that my doing so would constitute a danger to myself or others, I’m not sure you have any right to prevent my leaving.”

His aura went from crimson to almost pure black, but almost as quickly it receded into the cool blue eddies he normally exhibited. “Yeah, well, that’s probably true, but that’s not the whole truth, you see? Because, well, the thing is, well, I think you’re cute and I was kind of hoping we might, you know…”

His aura danced between cool blue and pink now. He wasn’t being disingenuous, he was being truthful…

“…maybe go out to dinner once you get out of here…”

“Dr. Holroyd? Are you asking me out on a date?”

“Well, yes, I mean, if you wouldn’t mind…”

His aura went reached into the violet spectrum pretty quickly, then fell back to the blues…

“No, I wouldn’t mind.”

“Good.”

“Good.”

“So. Do you like Indian?”

“I do if you do.”

He nodded. “So, California? Is that home?”

She nodded.

“Are you…watching me now? I mean, like my aura?”

“I can’t turn it off, Justin.”

“So, you can see…”

“I can, yes. Everything.”

“Oh, dear.”

“Yes, sorry.”

“No way to lie around you, is there?”

She shook her head slowly.

“You know what’s behind this, don’t you?” he asked.

She nodded and grinned.

“And you’re not going to tell me, are you?”

“No. Not yet.”

“Do you have any idea why it just started now? You haven’t always seen the world this way, have you?”

“No, not really, but I guess it has something to do with hitting my head…”

“Or seeing what you’d just seen?”

“Oh? What do you mean?”

“The airliner…all those people…”

She looked away, seeing that moment play out again, and then she saw all that human disbelief shrieking through the air before the building was enveloped in blackness. “That’s probably true,” she sighed evasively. “Now, could you help me get dressed, please? I really want to go home now.”

Part IV: The Music of the Spheres

Chapter 14.3

Red Mountain Road, Pitkin County, Colorado    12 April 2002

Debra was sitting in the sun, enjoying the unexpected warmth slanting through her living room windows. There was a eight month old Golden Retriever puppy curled up on top of her thighs, and Deb gently rubbed the puppy’s little pink belly, and sure enough the pup rolled over and stretched, probably startled out of dreams all her own – while enjoying their mid-morning warmth together. Winter had come early and was showing no signs of leaving just yet, and there was still more than four feet of snow in her yard. So of course yet another massive winter storm was expected overnight. 

Her shoulders felt tight, her neck like a hot steel rod had replaced her spine, and she wanted a Xanax – because the temptation was so strong – and the impulse to reach for another pill was always there now, an itch she could never quite reach. The pup had seemed like a good idea at the time, just like this house had – once upon a time – but now, after a long winter wrapped up in this stone and varnished timber cocoon, she was tired of the short days and the oh-so-long nights and ready to go somewhere. Anywhere.

But that wasn’t really possible now, and she knew it.

Because seeing people had become an overwhelming cascade of unwanted information, and after just a few days at her father’s house the city had left her a breathless, anxious wreck. Even getting in her Porsche and running over to Gelson’s for just a few things to make a sandwich left her reeling – because every soul she passed, whether in a car on the street or walking down an aisle in the supermarket – projected streams of relentless, undeniable emotional overload. 

Someone overcome with grief? She could not only see it, she soon realized she was feeling the other person’s grief. Then she realized she wasn’t just an empath…no, now she was like some kind of amped-up vacuum cleaner, sucking up moldy old emotions everywhere she went. And while she’d always been something of an empath, now there was no way to turn off the stream of incoming information, no way to shut down the input – without first walling herself off from the rest of humanity.

She’d told her dad she wanted to move up to the mountains, maybe some place with clean air and close to someplace where she could ski in the winter and go hiking in the summer. So of course he’d called Dina Marlowe. And it happened she’d built a place just outside Aspen back in the 90s but she never used it and yada-yada-yada. They all hopped in the Gulfstream and flew into Sardy Field, and Dina showed her around the huge estate. She’d originally designed it for an actor – and no, she would never reveal who – but then he’d had a heart attack and that was that. His widow had objected but the actor had left the house to Dina and yes, that too was that. She was, Dina hastened to add, still a rather striking looking creature and, well, she just had to leave the rest to their imagination.

“How does five sound?” she asked.

But Ted had just smiled. “Sure. Why not?” he said.

And the sight of them had left Debra revolted. His swirling black vortices intermingling with her purple greed had sent her out for fresh air then down to the road – and, wanting to get away she’d taken off up the road. ‘Maybe a fucking bear will come eat my fucking ass,’ she snarled as she walked along, her brand new hiking boots kicking up tawny rivulets of dust on the side of the gray gravelly shoulder of the road. But no, after a couple hundred yards she came to a house and a happy enough looking family was out front, and just then a little girl held up a puppy and shouted at her…

“You here for a puppy!” the girl asked.

“What?” Deb said, smiling as she took in the girl’s innocent powder blue aura.

The girl’s mother turned and looked at Deb. “Sorry. We had an unexpected litter and we just put an ad in the paper…”

Deb walked down and looked at the puppies and then at the pups’ mom and dad. “They’re gorgeous,” Deb sighed, marveling at the fact that all the little puppy auras were tiny and uniformly silvery blue. “Which one is your favorite?” Deb asked the little girl.

“This one,” the little girl said, and Deb knelt down beside the girl and rubbed the pup’s head.

“She’s really pretty. Have you given her a name yet?”

“Daisy. Isn’t that good name?”

“It sure is. And you know what? I’m buying the house just down the hill so anytime you want to come visit Daisy you can. How does that sound?”

The girl had jumped up and down at that…

…but her parents were a little sanguine about situation.

“Look,” her mother whispered, “if it doesn’t work out just bring her back. No questions asked, okay?”

“Have you ever had a pup before?” the girl’s father asked.

“Nope, but I always wanted one.”

The woman nodded, perhaps a little too knowingly, but then again Debra could see the woman’s reluctance. Her aura turned bright lime green flecked with red, but it was a subdued display, almost trustworthy, and after Deb promised to come right back with her wallet she took off down the road back to Dina’s house. Well, to her house.

And she’d decided to stay at the house that night, no matter what. Dina took a guest room across from her father’s room, leaving Deb to sort out her things in the huge main bedroom. Dina taught her how to start a fire and how to work the appliances; she’d even made out a list of all the people in Aspen who could be counted on in a pinch, a list most notable for including not one plumber or electrician. Daisy, however, knew how and where to pee. Which made the stone floors all the more practical…

And so, the very next day her father and Dina left and she watched the Gulfstream lift off and fly down the valley, the jet turning to the left over a big red mountain and disappearing behind another wall of mountains, these kind of green, but a scraggly sort of green. And just then she realized she didn’t have a car, and that the nearest market was just about a ten mile walk away.

She went inside and found a telephone book and looked under Automobile, and yes, there it was. A Land Rover dealer in a place called Glenwood Springs. She dialed the number and asked to speak to a salesman, and a few minutes passed before same guy named Joe picked up the line.

“I’m looking for a new Defender.”

“Yeah? Who isn’t?” the salesman’s voice snarked. “So. What are you looking for?”

“A Defender.”

“Yeah, yeah, I get that, but what kind? Three door or five? Inline six or turbo? Pickup bed or not?”

“What do you have in stock?”

“I got a basic three door with the inline six.”

“Uh, this might seem like a silly question, but do you deliver?”

“Excuse me?”

“And…do you take American Express?”

And three hours later she and Daisy Jane drove into Aspen in her shiny new Defender. This one was kind of slate gray with a cream-colored top, and it turned out that Daisy could pee just fine on her new seat, too.

+++++

Skiing was fun. At least she’d always thought skiing was fun, but then again…she’d never tried skiing alone. As in…by herself, because dogs weren’t allowed on the slopes, and anyway, Daisy was still too young to take up the mountain.

But that had been her life in late autumn, and now it was spring. 

Now she had cabin fever. 

So did Daisy. 

And after about a week in the house the walls had started closing in. And the idea of calling her father and going home for a visit seemed a little like admitting defeat. Not to mention that being in Los Angeles was just asking for it. It, as in trouble. Yes, real trouble, because trouble had come calling in the form of little .5 mg tablets of Xanax. She’d started taking the smaller dose, .25 mg tabs the shrinks at UCLA had prescribed after she came back from London; soon she was popping the larger dose before heading into town to do her grocery shopping. And who knows, maybe these larger pills worked. At least they might have, in the beginning. But soon enough she grew tired, then depressed, and then soon enough she was taking a .5 mg tab first thing in the morning and another one in the evening – whether or not she went into town. She slept more, and the fifty pounds she’d gained after breaking up with William turned into a cool one hundred pounds, and that was before Christmas. Dina and her father came up to ski at Christmas and after taking one look at her Ted called the studio and sent for a personal trainer. It was time, he told Dina, to take matters in hand before things got out of control.

The trainer, a hard bodied surfer-girl named Stacy, had probably been a Marine drill sergeant in an earlier life, and by the time she returned to LA, in late March, even Daisy Jane was drinking spinach and kale smoothies for breakfast. Stacy had ferreted out all Deb secret stashes of both Oreos and Xanax and after that Deb couldn’t find a doctor in Colorado willing to write a prescription for the drug. Period. And she knew, because she’d tried all of them. And even a few in Utah, too.

And now she was, well, in a word – bored. And, yes, she was ready to spend some quality time with a someone of the opposite sex. Or even the same sex – if the first option didn’t work out. But…William Taylor was…well, that was out of the question.

And that left…who exactly? 1-800-Call a hunk?

But…what about Henry. As in…Henry Taggart?

So she called the studio, talked to one of her dad’s secretary and a few hours later she had a number. So what if it had been almost four years. 

At least he’d remember her. 

Wouldn’t he?

She dialed the number. 

Her stomach started doing cartwheels. 

Then a few barrel rolls.

“Yello.” Well, she thought, it even sounded like him.

“Henry?”

“Yo.”

“It’s me. Debra.”

“Sorensen? No shit?”

She laughed. He laughed. It felt good.

“No shit.”

“How are you?” he asked.

“Old and lonely.”

“Lonely? What happened to…? Oh, I probably don’t need to ask that one, do I? Your dad ran him off, right?”

“Pretty much. Yeah.”

“Damn. I was hoping he’d finally grow a pair and stand up to the bastard.”

“Everyone has a price, Henry.”

“Oh, no. Now that I didn’t see coming.”

“Neither did I. And my guess is neither did he.”

“Geez, I’m sorry to hear that. So what’s up? How’re you doin’?”

“I think I just wanted to hear your voice, know you’re still alive.”

She heard him sigh. “Okay. Try again.”

“What do you mean, try again?”

“I’m not buyin’ it, Sorensen. If you’re gonna lie, at least make it a good one.”

“Damn. I never could fool you.”

“Okay. So…”

“Do you ski?”

“Water, or snow?”

“The white stuff.”

“Not too much these days. Bad knee. Wanna go sailing?”

“Any sharks involved this time?”

“Nope. Just me.”

“Mind if I bring a friend?”

He hesitated. “I don’t know. Hum a few bars and I’ll see if I can follow along.”

“She’s a Golden Retriever. Her name is Daisy Jane.”

“Ah, a ‘flyin’ me back to Memphis’ kind of Daisy Jane?” he said, and she could feel his smile through the line.

“How did I know you’d be the only one who’d know that?”

“Because I’m the only person in the world who knows you, kiddo. I mean really deep down knows you.”

“Why do you think I called?”

“Oh, ya know, I was just wondering why it took you so long?”

Lake Union, Seattle, Washington 15 April 2002

“Is this yours?” she asked when she saw the boat, a Vindo 49.

“No, it’s a dealer demonstrator but they charter her out from time to time. I made ‘em an offer they couldn’t refuse.”

“She’s not like that boat in Papeete, that’s for sure.”

“The Clorox bottle? No, she’s not. Uh, you didn’t happen to bring a life vest for the pup, did you?”

“No, not many places in Aspen for those.”

“Okay, another item for the list.”

“How long did you charter her for?”

“A month. Sorry. Was that presumptuous?”

“Yes. But then again, I was hoping for two.”

He nodded. Then he grinned.

“So, where we headed?” she asked.

“Once we head out, or right now?”

“Out there.”

“San Juans. Maybe Friday Harbor, then up north…assuming you brought your passport.”

“Yup.”

“Puppy chow?”

“Yup, in her suitcase.”

“I shoulda know’d it,” he said, chuckling as he helped them aboard.

+++++

Sitting in the sailboat’s pilot house after dinner, Debra told Henry about the events she’d experienced on and after 9-11…from falling to waking up and seeing intense auras and even the rather interesting results of her MRIs.

“So, let me get this straight?” Taggart said, “this doc actually comes right out and tells you that, possibly, you represent some kind of new species, or sub-species?”

“Yup,” she sighed, gently rubbing Daisy’s belly under the light of a flickering oil lamp. “You know, it’s amazing down here, like a whole other world hiding in plain sight.”

Henry nodded. “Sailboats are weird. They’re like the opposite of a time machine.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. It’s more like they get us in touch with something we’ve lost. We move too fast these days, probably too fast for our own good, but then along comes a sailboat…moving about as fast as ketchup coming out of a bottle. Hell, some people jog faster than most of these things move.”

“Why don’t you have a boat yourself?”

“If you can’t use something every day there’s really no point in having it. You don’t own a sailboat, by the way. The boat owns you, and if you can’t get into that kind of relationship with a thing like that you’re probably better off – with a puppy.” He smiled at Daisy, then at Debra. “You know, she almost as cute as you.”

“I’m not cute, Henry. I’m frumpy.”

He chuckled at that. “Been a rough couple of years, has it?”

“I don’t think I’ll ever get over the way Dad manipulated us.”

“Why do you think he did it?”

“Oh, I’m not sure, really. Once I thought it was because William wasn’t Jewish, but that doesn’t make sense. Not really. I thought about it a lot this year and I keep coming back to the idea he doesn’t like to see other people happy.”

Henry nodded. “I know the type.”

“Do you?”

“Yeah. And they are more of them out there than you’d think.”

“What do you think makes someone feel like that?”

Taggart sighed, then took a sip of his ever-present rum. “I don’t know. Maybe some people are born that way, or maybe others just run up against people they’d like to trade places with and realize that can never happen…”

“So, like jealousy?”

“Yeah, or maybe something more like envy. It’s a problem as old as mankind, and it’s one of the seven deadly sins with good reason.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, think of things like putting someone down, trying to ruin their reputation, or even finding joy in someone else’s troubles. Everyone from Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas has recognized there’s a big human tendency to do these things, to act this way, so they tried to enact rules to curb the tendency.”

“So it isn’t really a stretch to think Dad did this just to watch us suffer?”

Taggart shrugged again. “I don’t know, Deb. Maybe. Or maybe this is how he views all people.”

“Doesn’t that sound a little like Hate?” she whispered.

“It sounds a lot like Hate, Deb, but think about all the people you pass out there on the street who walk along with a deep scowl or frown on their face. Frowns…like they’ve been etched in stone, frowns that never go away. I doubt those frowns are grounded in Love, ya know?”

“When I first saw Dad and that other man on the plane their auras were black, but it was worse than that, Henry. Their auras were almost alive. At one point Dad’s aura tried to reach into me, like it was looking for something…”

“Energy.”

“What?”

“It was looking for energy, at least that’s one explanation.”

“You mean you’ve heard of something like this before?”

Henry took another pull from his rum. “Oh, yeah. The Games People Play.”

“What?”

“A book I read once, The Games People Play. Eric Berne, a psychiatrist, wrote it in the 50s, I think, or maybe it was the early 60s. Something called Transactional Analysis, like Freud in a way but he looked at psychopathologies arising out of dysfunctional parents. Anyway, I took a social psych class and that was one of the texts. The other was this huge comic book, like 400 pages, called something like The Adventures of Con Man, which, kinda like the titles suggest, lays out all the ways children learn to manipulate their environment. In essence, we learn to con each other at a very early age, yet some cons are accepted by society while others aren’t.”

“That sounds cynical…”

Taggart nodded. “Psychology is pretty cynical, when you get right down to it. Slapping labels on everything. Not my thing. The problem is, I think we’ve all become cynical, and maybe because we’ve grown cynical because we’re being conned all the time. I mean, really, look around and think about it. We live in a culture that’s absolutely defined by sets of ongoing cons, from selling stuff people don’t need to political parties that promise things we all know they have no intention of doing. Or try ‘Flying the Friendly Skies’ to the City of Brotherly Love on for size. Call it salesmanship if you want to, but we all live out our lives surrounded by an infinite variety of con artists and that’s not all that surprising because from our earliest upbringing we learn to con others to get what we want. Babies don’t usually cry from pain, do that? No, they cry because they want attention, and they want attention because they want something they need from someone else. Our humanity is rooted in that con artistry.”

“I was talking about my dad and you said ‘energy’; what did you mean?”

“Yeah. Ever hear of a book called The Celestine Prophecy?”

“I think so. Some kind of adventure story, wasn’t it?”

“Almost but not quite; the story starts out and builds on the same set of concepts, energy transference, or in other words people con because we want or need to steal energy from others. Take ‘drama queens’ and the ‘oh woe is me’ type, or even simple bullies…because in the end everyone is out there trying to pull energy from other people. We say things like “oh, it feeds his ego” or “that really brings me down” – but what we’re really referring to are our energy states.”

“Energy states? Come on…”

“Sounds far-fetched? Well, do you think ‘depression’ is an elevated energy state? Or what about feeling happy, even excited about something? Think those are low energy states?”

“No, not really…”

“Yeah, and that’s the problem, Deb. When someone isn’t feeling ‘up’ an easy way to get a boost is to steal someone else’s energy. To, in a sense, con them into giving you some energy of their own, so when someone does something that makes you feel lousy, watch how they react after they’ve pulled that off. Strutting around a little more? Becoming an even nastier bully? And think about it! All this goes back to our earliest recorded history. Remember how the whole envy thing became such a problem? A big enough problem to make it into the ten commandments? Well, we’re talking about theft alright. The theft of energy.”

“What?”

“Yeah, thou shalt not covet thy neighbors wife? Covet is just another word for envy, Deb, and envy is another kind of energy.”

“So…as far as energy goes…?”

“Those black tendrils reaching into you? My guess is you’re actually observing an energy transfer of some kind.”

“Oh, that’s just weird, Henry.”

“Hey, it’s just a thought, ya know. Unfortunately I took a bunch of psych classes, so weird comes naturally to me.”

“In a way it kind of makes sense, though.”

“Maybe. But here’s the thing. You are probably in the best position of anyone in human history to validate this, because you can see this stuff happening in real time.”

“Yeah, okay, but what if I don’t want to?”

Taggart leaned back and smiled. “Who would, Deb? I mean, really, I’m assuming you can’t just flip a switch and turn this off, so going anywhere entails exposing your senses to all this extraneous information…”

“And now everywhere I go I’m going to realize I’m watching nonstop con artistry and there won’t be any to shut it down, to turn it off…”

“Okay, lets change the subject for a little bit. I’m tossing out some kind of aura right now, right?”

“Yup.”

“And?”

“Cool blue. As in laid back, no anger, just kind of mellow.”

“What about Daisy Jane?”

“Pretty much the same thing all the time with her, except when she needs to go outside or when she gets hungry…”

“And then what happens?”

“Oh, shit! You’re right. Her color goes from pale blue to cobalt, sometimes with little red flecks inside the same spreading tendrils…”

“And where are the tendrils? What are they doing then?”

“Reaching out to me. Oh no, Henry…it does make sense now.”

Henry nodded as he looked at his watch, then he sighed. “Well, we need to be up around four to make the tide at Shilshole. And that means we’ll need to make it to the locks before the heavy traffic, so we really ought to hit the hay.”

“Would you mind if Daisy and I stay with you tonight?”

“Ooh, you got to be kidding, right?”

Friday Harbor, Puget Sound, Washington 17 April 2002

The Vindo 49 sat on her mooring ball in the fairway between Brown Island and Friday Harbor, and a little Zodiac was tied off her swim platform, adrift in the tidal stream flowing past the stern. Deb was sitting on the lowest step on the platform, her feet dangling in the water, and daisy was sitting beside her – looking intently at a sea otter swimming by. The otter rolled over on its back, revealing a clam in its shell sitting on her belly – and the otter took a rock and began pounding on the shell until broke open. The otter ate the clam nestled inside and Daisy sat up, whimpering at someone else getting something to eat and realizing that someone – wasn’t her! She sat bolt upright and barked once, causing the otter to slip under the water’s surface and disappear.

“Care for some salmon?” Henry said as he came up the companionway.

“Sure. Is it smoked?”

“I got smoked and some sashimi.”

“Wasabi and soy?”

“You know it, Babe.”

“Any more riesling?”

“Coming up with the next load. Got bagels and cream cheese too, if that sounds good.”

“Save it for breakfast, okay?”

“Right,” he said as he disappeared down below again. He came up with a fresh bottle and two glasses and set them out on the cockpit table, then he walked aft to the swim platform. “Okay, chow’s on,” he said. “Need a hand?”

“Yes, could you take her, please?”

“You do know she isn’t exactly a puppy anymore, right? I mean, did you see the size of those turds?”

Deb laughed. “She’s got big feet.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“She’ll be a big girl when she grows up.”

“Man, I hate to break it to you, but if she grows much more you’ll go broke trying to feed her…”

“So, what’s on the menu tonight?”

“I got some good cheese in that shop, some hummus and olives too.”

“Brie, and what’s the other one?”

“Emmentaler. I wanted something firm and nutty…”

“Like you, you mean?”

“Oh, am I…firm?”

“Now I know what being saddle sore feels like…?”

“Excellent. Damn! I forget the soy…”

“I’ll go down. I need to wash my hands.”

“Okay if I give Daisy some salmon?”

“I feel sorry for you if you don’t…”

“Come here, girl. Want some nice grub for a change?” Daisy sat up but she ignored Henry, and the salmon, instead looking aft to where the sea otter had been. “What is it, girl? Do you feel something out there?”

Daisy’s head tilted to one side and she sniffed the air, her eyes squinting a little as errant breezes woke up long dormant instincts, then she stood and pointed at something behind the boat. Taggart turned and looked – but even though he didn’t see a thing, he was hoping…

After they finished dinner and when the galley had been squared away, Taggart started the engine and cast free of the mooring buoy, taking the Vindo outside the harbor first to the east and then south. They made their way to North Bey, just a few hundred yards north of Dinner Island, and he set the anchor in the rocky mud – just where he had last summer on his trip from Vancouver to Seattle on the new Swan. Daisy came up to him, her feathered tail swishing through the air – creating little hurricanes around his ankles – the he bent down to her level and rubbed behind her ears.

“You ready for a walk on the beach?” he said – and that was all it took. She dashed aft and literally dove into the Zodiac.

“You taking Daisy now?” Deb called up from the saloon.

“Yup. Why don’t you slip into that shorty now?”

“Now? The sun’s going down?”

“I know, but there’s someone I want you to meet.”

“In a wetsuit?”

Henry stepped into the inflatable and started the little Yamaha outboard and puttered over to a rocky beach and Daisy hopped ashore, checking every rock and piece of driftwood for just the perfect place to pee, then she circled twice and dropped a load…

“God damn, Daisy! No more sushi for you!”

She looked crestfallen and turned away in stone cold embarrassment.

“Aw, sorry girl. Come here…give me a kiss. I know, I know, mine doesn’t exactly smell like a bed of roses…” They walked up and down the beach for about fifteen minutes, then Henry stepped into the Zodiac and Daisy followed without being asked. “Golly, you are such a good girl,” he said, rubbing her chin as he clipped her collar to a safety line. “Ready to go?”

The moon was coming up beyond Mount Baker and he watched Daisy watching the full moon and once again he wondered what kinds of instincts such sights might arouse in her? Where did these instincts reside? Inside a chemical chain on component strands of RNA? After all, she hadn’t been raised by a pack of Golden Retrievers that had somehow passed along such knowledge…no, the information was encoded in something within the history of the breed and that something only came into being when Daisy came into being. It was really kind of magical, Henry thought…

And, he wondered, what was being encoded within Debra now? What changes to the species would she engender? The ability to read people by seeing within them? How would that change us, he thought? When you could actually see someone lie to you, or when you could feel genuine love? When layers of deceit could be peeled away in a glance, as easily as an onion’s layers? Everything about us will change, won’t it? When we can read envy or greed or lust just as easily as we read a newspaper…what will become of deceit? Will it simply cease to be?

But…

“What happens to us,” he mused aloud, “to people like me who can’t see the world the way she does? How will we survive in her world?”

Daisy turned and looked up at him then, and he saw sadness in her eyes…like she had understood the nature of his question…and she knew the answers, too.

+++++

“What are we doing back here?”

“Oh, I thought you might like to go for a swim?”

“Are you nuts?” Deb cried. “That water’s like ice!”

“Yup.”

“You said you wanted me to meet someone. Who, for heaven’s sake?”

And as if right on cue the male orca slid up into the moonlight, his face a couple of yards off the Vindo’s stern.

“Oh, no…you’ve got to be kidding…”

“Nope.”

“Is that the same one from…”

“From Bora-Bora, and Catalina too, for that matter.”

“How do you know?”

“I just know,” Henry said as he slipped into the water. “Come on. I want you two to have a little chat…”

“A…what?”

“Just come on in, would you? If you stay close to him the water will be warm enough.”

She slid into the water – but Daisy wasn’t having any of it so she jumped in too – but the orca swept Deb into a kind of embrace and took off with her…leaving Henry and Daisy alone in the water, both looking at Deb as she disappeared into the far reaches of the sound.

+++++

She came back to them a few hours later. Henry took one look at her and dove back into the water, taking her from the male and pulling her over to the swim platform, then hoisting her up on deck. She seemed comatose, or at least completely to of it as he got her to the cockpit, covering her with blankets then holding her close. She came to slowly, her movements glacial even after her eyes opened. She tried to speak but no words came so he pulled her closer still.

“Deb? Where were you? We couldn’t see you?”

She lifted her hand and pointed to the sky.

“What? What are you trying to say?”

She tried to speak again but her words seemed choked and dry, so he reached for a bottle of water and popped the top, holding the bottle to her lips as she tried to sit up. She took a tentative sip or two then coughed it all out, shaking her head slowly as her body rebelled against her surroundings.

Then her head fell back a little and she seemed confused for a moment.

“Do you know where Sagittarius is?” she sighed.

“The teapot? Yes, that’s it, right over there…” he said, pointing at the center of the Milky Way now just coming up over the central Cascades. “The asterism there, the teapot with the steam coming out of the spout? That’s it right there…”

She gasped once and nodded, then she spoke again: “That’s where we were, Henry. All of us. Right there.”

“All of us? Who else was there?”

“I don’t know, but there were two women there, and they were, well, they’re waiting for you.”

Henry heard the orca surface again, then he heard his blowhole open and he exhaled – just before Daisy ran for the rail and leapt into the water…

Chapter 14.4

Beverly Hills, California     7 June 2002

Ted Sorensen picked up the telephone and dialed Deb’s number at the house in Aspen – and still it just rang and rang. After twelve rings he gently replaced the receiver and wondered what he ought to do next. The private detectives he’d hired to run her down had followed the trail to Seattle Tacoma International, but the trail had gone cold right there at the airport and that had been six weeks ago. And that meant she’d been in contact with that fucking computer geek, Mr. Know-it-all Henry Fucking Taggart – but then that trail led nowhere, too – and fast. A quick check at the start-up he was working for had produced no leads, only that he’d taken an indefinite leave of absence.

So…she was with Taggart but they were both otherwise “off the grid” – using cash and doing whatever they could to keep it that way.

And, he had to admit…he really didn’t give a shit what she did, or who she did it with, but she was living in his house and keeping him “out of the loop” like this was in effect a declaration of independence. “So be it,” he sighed angrily, looking up the number for the largest realtor in Aspen, before deciding to call Dina Marlowe.

“She’s just vanished?” Dina said, chuckling a little. “Imagine that.”

“Look, I don’t appreciate you laughing at me,” he snapped.

“Oh, Ted, I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing with you…”

“With me?” he snarled. “What’s so fucking funny about this?”

“Well, for one…you are, at least the way you’re overreacting to this is kind of funny.”

He wanted to slam the receiver down but in truth Dina was about the only person left in LA he considered a friend, and you didn’t do that to friends. “You think I’m overreacting to all this?”

“Ted, she’s a big girl now. No more pony rides at her birthday party, okay? She’s stretching her wings, learning to fly, so just let her be. She’s been needing to do this for years, so just sit back, take a deep breath and let her fly for a while. Everything will be alright.”

He took a deep breath and shook his head, not sure how to proceed now. “Look, I called because I’m angry about the whole thing and I was thinking about selling the house in Aspen…”

“What! Don’t you dare!”

“Excuse me?”

“No, Ted. That’s almost…infantile! Punish her for trying to grow up? What are you trying to accomplish? Keep her in diapers? Maybe hire a nanny to breast feed her for a few more years!”

“What…I…”

“Really, Ted…seriously, just let her be. She’ll be okay with Henry. He’s good people, and you know that as well as anyone here in LA.”

“You think Taggart is a good person?”

“Are you kidding? He saved her life, Ted, in case you’ve forgotten all that crap in Bora-Bora, and I’m not even supposed to mention Catalina but he saved her life again out there…”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“Look, I promised Deb I wouldn’t tell you so just take my word for it. Henry Taggart is a decent human being and leave it at that, okay?”

He sighed and involuntarily shivered, and then his right hand started to tremble. “Lunch today?”

“I’m free if you are.”

“Gladstone’s? In an hour?”

“As long as I don’t have to have that She Crab soup…”

“I love that stuff…”

“What’s not to love? It’s nothing but butter, heavy cream and sherry…”

“God, I love it when you talk dirty like this…”

 Vindo 49 \\ SV AquaTarkus   Desolation Sound, BC, Canada  7 June 2002

Deb stood on deck, taking the fuel hose from Henry standing down on the dock, sliding the fill nozzle into the opening with practiced ease. 

“God, I love it up here,” she sighed, standing now and taking a deep breath.

“Yeah, I love diesel fumes as much as the next guy, but I smell cinnamon rolls.”

There was a fishing boat at the other fuel dock and a passing fisherman heard that and stopped to chat. “Good place up there on the hill,” he pointed, “in case you don’t know about Annie’s.”

“Annie’s? Good cinnamon rolls?”

“Yup, and I oughta know. I married the woman thirty years ago, and probably because of those damn things,” he added, rubbing the ample gut under his red flannel shirt.

Henry grinned at that. “We’ll go check ‘em out. You wouldn’t happen to know a place around here where we could pick up some fresh salmon, would you?”

“I got some fresh if you don’t mind cleaning ‘em yourself. How many you need?”

“Oh, two or three ought to do us for a few days.”

“Okay, I’ll go get you a couple. Just out of the water this morning, too.”

“Excellent!” Henry said as he looked up at Deb – who had out of habit turned away so the fisherman’s aura wouldn’t bombard her senses – but then she turned around now and smiled at him.

“Sounds good,” she said.

Daisy Jane sleepily bounded up the companionway and took a quick look around, then settled into her perch in the cockpit, secure as she omnipotently surveyed her new domain.

“Hear that, Daisy? Fresh salmon tonight!”

Daisy’s tail started to thump-thump, indicating her solid approval of the measure, and when the fuel filler snapped in her hand Deb topped off the tank with two more squirts then handed the hose back to Henry. The fisherman came by with three fish as long as Taggart’s arm, and he passed them up to Deb while Henry pulled out his wallet and settled up for the fish and the fuel.

“You can leave your boat here if you’re just gonna run up to the store for a few minutes,” the man added. 

“Thanks,” Henry said as he turned to Daisy. “You ready for a walk, girl?”

Daisy grabbed her leash and hopped over the lifelines in one fluid motion, and the fisherman gawked at that.

“You teach her to do that?” he asked.

“No, no we didn’t. She’s just a bright dog and really loves her walks.”

“Bright? Hell, I can’t get my teenaged son to do that, and I’ve never seen any dog do anything like that before.”

“Well then, you’ve never met Daisy Jane, have you?” Henry leaned over and snapped the leash to her collar then he turned to her. “Daisy, say hello to the nice man, would you?”

Daisy ambled over and sat down in front of the fisherman, then she extended her right hand as she looked up expectantly at him.

“I’ll be damned,” the man said as he leaned over and took her paw. “You’re right. Never seen anything like that before.”

“She’s a good girl.”

Daisy turned and “woofed” once, then looked at the trail that led into the woods, and she looked excited now, too.

“Alright, alright, don’t get your panties in a wad. I hear you, let’s go…”

+++++

They anchored out and Henry cut up one of the salmon, slicing some sashimi and cutting up a few large filets to broil that evening, and about that time Deb called out that she and Daisy were going to take the Zodiac over to the waterfall and go for a walk.

“Take the bear spray, okay?”

“Got it already.”

“Have fun!”

He heard her start the outboard and smiled. She really was getting into the groove of life out here on the water – almost as much as Daisy Jane had. But that was a different story altogether.

Because Daisy was different after her night with the orcas. Different, as in smarter. Different, in that Deb reported the pup’s aura had changed – and significantly. It wasn’t just brighter; no, she displayed more colors now, like the range of her emotional expressiveness had changed, that somehow being with the orca had altered her in profound, unknown ways. Had her base of emotional understanding been changed, too? Perhaps more human? There was no way to know for sure, but where interaction with this pod of orcas was concerned, Henry was learning not to question even his most basic assumptions, because something very odd was going on now. Something – that felt kind of like a plan unfolding in slow motion.

Still, this idyll had to come to an end, and probably sooner rather than later. He couldn’t just quit work, at least not yet, but on the other hand he wasn’t sure he wanted this thing with Deb to end. She’d made it clear she loved him and he was pretty sure he loved her too, but, then again, that really wasn’t the problem. Or problems, he now knew.

Her father was just the first one. He always had been, and until she changed that dynamic, until she declared her independence from him – to his face – she’d always be compromised emotionally…and Ted Sorensen was too dangerous to cross. Again.

Because, yes, he’d already crossed the man once.

After Papeete and after sorting through all the bogus claims about Ted wanting to get a boat, Sorensen had asked Henry to come to work at Paramount. And his offer was staggeringly generous, too. So he’d done his due diligence, had asked around about Sorensen and what he’d learned had been enough. He declined, and in declining he had offended Sorensen. Soon after his dad had called and warned him off, told him to leave town and let things blow over, so Henry had returned to Seattle. He’d only come down to do the dive class with Deb and the Kid because she almost begged him to, but he’d left LA as soon as he got Spree III docked and washed down.

Then she’d called two months ago and this time her call really had been unexpected, like out of the blue unexpected, but it was the little sound in her voice that had gotten to him most of all. Like there was some kind of deep damage involved, like she was pleading for help, for rescue…but then again he realized that was what he’d been doing with her ever since he’d first met her. Maybe that was all he was supposed to be to her, too. Her knight in shining armor, on call to ride in to the rescue, to save her from her father.

“But that’s not the role I want to live for the rest of my life,” he said aloud. 

Taggart was also smart enough to understand he was getting on in years and Deb was probably his last chance to do the whole settle down with a wife and have kids kind of thing, yet it just didn’t feel right to him, at least not with her. Yeah, he loved her. Yeah, she was cute in a measured kind of way, even if she was a little frumpy around the edges – at least according to the standards of Hollywood royalty she seemed to always compare herself to. 

But then, yeah, the whole aura thing was pretty confusing, too, if only because her ability made for a kind of lopsided view of their world together. He was, comparatively speaking, almost blind where her abilities were concerned, and he’d found it more than a little unnerving to find her staring at him and then feeling like he was being analyzed – maybe because he was!

And now he wasn’t so sure that Daisy didn’t have the same sort of ability – or abilities. Ever since her night with the orcas he’d caught her staring at him – and he could literally see her reacting to him…even when he was sitting perfectly still. Then he’d found a paperback and started reading, his emotions tracking along with the story’s ups and downs, and he’d watched as Daisy reacted right along with him. After that he’d felt like he was under continuous scrutiny from them both, and he really didn’t like the way that felt – which of course created a whole new feedback loop of observation and assessment…so…where would it stop? 

Indeed, could it stop? 

And if not, what kind of future was there for any relationship grounded in a kind of insurmountable iniquity?

The market at Refuge Cove had great produce and he’d gone wild buying cherries, pears and Brussel sprouts, because with sprouts on hand he’d had to buy cherries…and so now he had everything he needed for dinner. He diced some bacon and put it on a low heat, then he cleaned and halved the sprouts and put them face down in the skillet with the bacon…with a little butter and some brandy. He pitted and halved a handful of cherries and added them to the skillet; he covered the skillet and lowered the heat to a bare simmer while he prepped the salmon with soy and freshly grated ginger, then he waited for Deb to get back, opening a fresh bottle of riesling and slicing some kind of local cheese the owner had recommended. He heard the dingy arrive and set the salmon under the broiler just as Deb cried: “Help!”

Because – Daisy had found a skunk. And Daisy had decided the skunk needed to be investigated, and before Deb knew what had happened Daisy came running in crazed circles out of the woods smelling like, well, just the secretions secreted by a skunk’s anal glands. 

And he could smell the true dimensions of the problem even before he made it up the companionway steps. So…he stopped and turned off the broiler and the fire under the sprouts, found the box of baking soda he’d put in the ‘fridge and two large bottles of tomato juice – then pinched his nose and crawled out to the swim platform.

“What do you expect me to do with this stuff?” Deb squalled.

“Give her a bath!”

“Where?” 

“Right there. And for God’s sake don’t let her get below or one of us will have to buy this boat! You can’t get that smell out once it gets down below…!”

“I don’t know how to do that!”

Henry shook his head – because he realized there was no getting out of this one – then he took off his t-shirt and hopped down into the dingy. He poured one bottle of the tomato juice all over Daisy and let that soak in for a bit, then he grabbed her by the scruff and dipped her into the sea. He pulled her up and took the baking soda and massaged it into the skin where the skunk’s spray had hit, then he dunked her again. “Okay. That was round one. You do round two.”

“But you’ve already got that stuff on you now…”

“Yeah? So do you. You might as well go for a swim now, too…before I toss you in…”

“You wouldn’t dare!” She looked at him for a moment – then decided to jump in.

“Hmm. That aura thing works rather well, I do think.”

Malibu, California     7 June 2002

Ted leaned back and sighed. “Damn if that didn’t hit the spot!”

“Which one?” Dina quipped, grinning.

“You and your Caesar salads…are you always watching your weight?”

“Yes. Always.”

“Doesn’t that get boring?”

“Fat is boring, Ted. And fat means no more dating and probably no more clients.”

“You’re not serious.”

“Oh yes I am. Architecture is all about appearances, Ted, and my personal appearance is just one part of the overall package.”

“You sound like you’re selling yourself, Dina.”

“And don’t you think for one moment that I’m not, Ted. From the moment a potential client walks in my door until my proposal is accepted and signed-off on, everything I say and do is judged, as is the way I look, and you know better than anyone that’s especially true in this city.”

He nodded. “Do you sleep with many of your clients?”

“Never, at least not until I met you.”

“Oh? Why me?”

“Because we’re simpatico, darlin’. In case you didn’t know that already.”

“And you say that because…?”

“Just a feelin’ I had when we met. That’s why I invited you and Deb down to the house, and that’s why whenever you have a problem you can’t get a handle on you call me.”

“Do I do that? Really?”

“Really.”

The waiter brought his credit card receipt and he signed it and took his copy, then he looked up at Dina. “Wanna take a walk?”

“What? Down there?” she said, nodding at the beach.

“Yeah.”

“What’s wrong, Ted? Is it Deb?”

“Huh? Oh, no, not really. I was thinking about us while I was driving down here.”

“Us? As in you and me?”

“Yes. As in.”

“Uh-oh…this sounds serious,” she sighed.

“You know, in a way I think it kind of is. You’re the only real friend I have here, Dina. You’re the only person I know who isn’t working some kind of an angle on me, who doesn’t want something from me…you know?”

“I know.”

“I’m just curious, but does that mean anything to you?”

“Yes, it does, Ted. It means the world to me, actually.”

“Come on, let’s hit the sand.”

She nodded and slid out of her side of the booth, and he casually came up and took her hand as they walked out…and this was something new, something that hadn’t happened before…and never had when they were out in public view. He wasn’t on the usual paparazzis’ radar, but they staked out this place and he knew that…so…what was he up to…?

He took off his shoes and she held on to him while she slipped out of hers, and they started down the beach towards Santa Monica among the last of the day’s sun-seekers and die-hard surfer-dudes.

“LA wouldn’t be LA without all this,” he sighed, watching a surfer riding a little two-footer into shore.

She squeezed his hand gently, felt the return pressure and smiled. “You sure it’s not the She Crab soup?”

“That’s a Carolina thing. I never knew that, but there you go.”

“Something’s bothering you today, Ted. You want to talk about it?”

“Oh, I was just thinking, you know. I woke up this morning worried about Deb so I called you. And yeah, you talked me down. But then again, you usually do. Maybe I’m a hot-head, I don’t know…”

“You do have a temper, Ted.”

“I know. But the point is, well,” but then he stopped talking – and then he looked down, almost like he was gathering his thoughts. “I woke up this morning and it was like I looked around and here I am in this huge house and it’s just me in there. No wife. No kids. And no grandkids. And yeah, I know four other people live there but, yeah, they’re on the payroll so that doesn’t quite count, does it?”

“Probably not.”

“I think it’s the empty bed, Dina. Waking up to an empty bed, to that empty bedroom. That house. It’s like an insinuation now, an open sore that won’t heal.”

“I know.”

“And yeah, I remember you tried to talk me out of building it, that a more open plan would have made more sense, but right then it didn’t…”

“And now it does?”

“I don’t know. I’m not a romantic, at least not in the classical sense of the word, but I think I’m realist enough to admit that a house, any house, doesn’t keep someone from loving. Or even keep out all the prying eyes. Maybe that was naive…”

“Or wishful thinking?” she added.

“Or wishful thinking. Yeah. But every now and then I ask myself what impact that house has had on me. And on Debra.”

“I’m not sure you’ll ever find an answer to that question, Ted. It was always going to be an inward looking design – because you were turning in on yourself after Kathy passed, and even Deb was old enough to see that. And who knows, she probably even understood the reasons way. I doubt she understood why the house is the way it is, at least not at the time, but she does now.”

“That’s right. You two talk a lot, don’t you?”

“I wouldn’t say a lot, but…”

“But she trusts you, right?”

“I think so, Ted. Why? Is that so important?”

“In a way, yes.” He started walking along again, but he moved a little closer to the water’s edge, and every now and then the remnants of a wave made it far enough to cover their feet for a moment.

“In a way?”

“Well, say we were to, well, suppose, just for the sake of discussion, say we were together. She wouldn’t exactly rebel against the idea, would she?”

“Together? Like what, married?”

“Married, living together…whatever…she would accept that, right?”

“You might ask her, Ted, but I think she’d be okay with it.”

“What about you?”

“Yeah, I’d be okay with that, too,” she said, squeezing his hand again. “Have you ever ridden the ferris wheel at the pier?” she asked, looking down the beach to the Santa Monica Pier.

“You know, we never went, even when Deb was little.”

“Your mom never took you?”

“My mom was a shrink, Dina. There was never any talk about amusement parks and ferris wheels around our house.”

“Then your mom probably needed a shrink.”

“Probably, but she’s always been concerned about appearances. The front lawn had to be immaculate but who cared what the kitchen looked like. Unless company was coming over, that is.”

“Ah, that explains why you’re so neat and tidy.”

“Yeah, maybe, but more than anything else I think I craved order. Everything in its place…”

“That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, Ted.”

He nodded. “I know.” He shuffled his feet through the surf a little, then he turned and looked at the setting sun. “You know, when that kid came here for William’s birthday, his brother…he asked if, no, he invited me to come along to Disneyland…and the funny thing is I think I wanted to…”

“You have been, right?”

He shook his head. “I think there was a class trip every year I was at Harvard-Westlake, but Mom never signed off on the idea. So yeah, I never went.”

“So…you’ve never been? Not ever?”

“I’ve seen the Matterhorn from the Interstate…if that counts?”

Dina sighed. “Well, that settles that. I know what we’re doing next weekend.”

“Dina,” he sighed, his voice tinged with regret, “I’m not sure I know how to laugh anymore.”

She stopped in her tracks and pulled him around until they were standing face to face. “Well then, Mr. Sorensen…I think it’s high time you learned again.” And she pulled him closer still, until there was no room at all left between them.

And off in the distance they heard someone call out “Get a room!” and they both had a good laugh at that.

“The idea has merit, don’t you think?” she whispered as she nibbled his ear.

“We could drive to Vegas, you know? Go to one of those wedding chapels on the strip?”

“Oh Ted, when all is said and done you really are a wild-eyed romantic!”

“What can I say? You bring out the Elvis in me…”

“What is it…a five hour drive?”

“Something like that.”

“You really want to?”

“No more empty bedrooms for me, Dina. I’ve had enough of all that.”

“Let’s drop off my car at your place,” she said.

“Our place,” he corrected in his best Bogart voice. “As in…from now on, it’s just you and me, kid.”

They turned to walk back to their cars, still holding hands, still lost in the moment. Speaking to the silence of their need, friends for so long now that words hardly mattered. Her skin felt good on his and that seemed to be the measure of the moment and even the moment had nothing more to ask of them. They walked up to the valet parking stand and he paid their fares and they stood in the little line there, waiting. Waiting…as he always seemed to…

“Hey, Sorensen!”

He turned to the sound of the voice like some turn to face the music and he almost had time to recognize the man, to put the face to the voice, before the first shot rang out. People scattered, a woman screamed, then he heard a second shot and he felt this one. ‘I’m burning,’ a little voice inside said. ‘I feel hot.’ His eyes were wide open now but everything was white and that didn’t make sense.

No, nothing made sense now. 

‘Why am I laying down?’

There were two more shots, then sirens.

“Dina?” he managed to say before the darkness came, but soon all he heard was a deafening silence that came on in a roar that sounded a little like surf crashing on old rocks.

Chapter 14.5

Basin F, Marina del Rey, Los Angeles, California   15 November 2008

aboard SV AquaTarkus

Debra Sorensen sat in the cockpit of her boat rubbing Daisy-Jane’s tummy, both enjoying this crisp Saturday morning’s breezy sunshine. She had squeezed a half dozen oranges into a glass and had just returned from taking Daisy-Jane out for her morning walk, and it felt good just to sit back and relax. The past month had been hellish for everyone in the country – but in a heartbeat the national mood had changed, a seismic shift, really, when the presumptive next president, John McCain, had lost to the junior senator from Illinois, a willowy-wisp of a kid named Obama. Now it seemed like half the people in the country were up in arms and the other filled with hope, but despite all that everything was kind of crazy because the economy had been in a free fall for almost two months and the national mood was tense. GM was done for, and the old saying was As Goes GM So Goes The Nation. And ‘scared’ didn’t even begin to describe things on Wall Street.

Debra was now working for an upstart new television network – The Eagle Network – as a producer, and she was in charge of two teams of reporters and cameramen, working up stories and bringing everything together in time for the network’s primetime evening news broadcast. To say she’d been busy was almost funny. Almost, but not quite.

Deb leaned back and closed her eyes, let the warming sun work its magic on her face and she took in a deep breath, tried to relax. Maybe it was time to take off a week, go up to the house in Aspen and let Daisy Jane run free for a week or so?

She’d spent the last week in the run-up to the election following the McCain campaign, and she’d been hopeful he’d win. She had always thought McCain a decent, honorable man, and a man that history had turned to in this moment. He was the perfect choice to lead the nation during such a perilous period, but then he’d picked a barely literate unknown to be his Veep and in one fell swoop his entire campaign had been called into question, and what should have been a close election had turned into a rout.

Yet for the past week she’d been traveling around the country measuring the reaction to Obama’s election, and what she’d observed, and listened to, had badly shaken her faith in some very basic assumptions. Half the country really didn’t seem to care that Obama identified as an African American, while the other half couldn’t see past the idea that the country was going to have “one of those people” in the White House, and Deb couldn’t help but feel that a rough beast had been roused from a long sleep.

Daisy Jane rolled over and looked to the finger pier, and Deb turned and was a little startled to see a man standing there, and he was looking up at her.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“Oh, no. Sorry to bother you, but this looks like such an impossibly nice way to spend such a glorious morning, and well, I think I was a little envious.”

He was an older man and he looked out of place, almost like he was from another time, and his aura was closed off to her. He was wearing a loden cape and had the oddest looking cane in his right hand…deeply varnished wood with silver filigree that seemed to look like bolts of lightning…and there was something about his eyes, too. Not exactly kind…but knowing eyes…like nothing could happen that might surprise him.

“I have some fresh orange juice. Would you care for some?”

“You wouldn’t mind?”

“No, of course not. Please. Just use the steps right over there,” she said, pointing to the entry gate in the lifelines.

He stepped aboard carefully, yet he moved with a carefree agility that belied his age, and he made it back to the cockpit with an almost practiced ease.

“What a beautiful vessel. Is she Swedish?”

“Yes. How’d you know?”

“Vindo is a Swedish town, is it not.”

“Ah, yes. So you’ve traveled a lot, I take it?”

“Me? Oh yes, but then again my family came from Denmark.”

“What? Mine did too! It’s a small world…”

“…After all! Yes, yes it is. Copenhagen, perhaps?”

“Yes! Yours as well?”

The Old Man nodded. “We came over right after the war. Yours?”

“The same!”

“You mentioned orange juice? My sugars feel low, so perhaps, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble?”

“Oh! I’m sorry. Let me go below and get a glass.”

Daisy-Jane came over to the old man and sniffed his hand, then she hopped up on the cockpit seat beside him and she stared into his eyes. She leaned in to look him over, then scented him almost inch by inch.

“Your pup seems most interested in something about me,” the Old Man said as Deb came back with a fresh glass of juice and a banana.

“She’s very curious about people, especially people she’s never met,” Deb started to say…

…but just then Daisy backed away from the Old Man, and the hair on the back of her neck began to stand on end…

And then Deb began see his aura. And, she thought, maybe he’d been trying to conceal it? So now she began to study the Old Man’s aura…pale blue at first…but soon enough she saw the blue was flecked with dark gray streaks…and she’d rarely seen that before. Because such people were usually hiding deep secrets, and now she looked up into the Old Man’s eyes again. Knowing eyes, yes, but hard. Cold and hard.

“So,” she sighed, “this meeting is not an accident, is it?”

“I’m afraid not.” The Old Man sipped the juice and smiled. “Fresh squeezed? I’d forgotten this taste. Such a miracle, so many miracles gone now. So many things we took for granted.”

“You’re losing me.”

“Unimportant, I’m afraid. Something quite extraordinary is about to happen. A ghastly tragedy and then something of a miracle. You must be ready.” 

“Ready? Ready for what?”

“Thank you for the juice. Remarkable stuff, really.”

“Look, I…”

“Do you remember Gene Sherman? The astronomer at MIT? You met him the day before, well, the day before your last trip to London.”

“How could you possibly…?”

But he held up his hand, stopped her question with an unspoken admonishment. “I understand he’s coming to Loyola Marymount soon, so perhaps this would be a good time to return to school.”

“Are you telling me I need to be ready to go back to school?”

“You have a remarkable dog, Miss Sorensen. Do take care of her.”

“What? What are you…? Is that a threat?”

But the old man twice tapped the tip of his cane on the teak deck and without further sound he simply disappeared – and Debra jumped back from the spot where he’d just been, not able to believe her eyes – even as Daisy ran below, her tail suddenly tucked firmly between her legs…

And just then her cell phone chirped, literally making her jump as the unexpected sound further jolted her senses.

It was Delbert Moloch, the CEO of Eagle Networks. 

“Ah, Miss Sorensen. If you’re not too busy, I have a number I need you to jot down.”

“Okay, let me get a notepad,” she sighed, running down to the chart table and picking up a pen along the way. “Alright, fire away.”

“I’ve heard rumblings about an orthopedic surgery group out in Thousand Oaks. The stories I’m hearing seem to indicate that a lot of illegally prescribed painkillers are making their way into the hands of several prominent players in the NFL. Think you could have one of your reporters look into it?”

She copied down the relevant information, including what little information Moloch was willing to divulge about his sources, then she rang off – and Daisy Jane was waiting to hop up on her lap the moment she put her little phone down on the chart table.

“Well lookie-here. Who’s upset this morning?”

“Woof!” came the pup’s deep reply.

“He was a strange man, wasn’t he?”

Daisy licked near the bottom of Deb’s neck, a sure sign that something wasn’t right, then she bounded back up to the cockpit, the hair on the back of her neck standing on end again – and Deb ran up to see what the trouble was…but…she saw not a thing out of the ordinary, not even a faint whisper of danger.

But Daisy was sniffing the air, her face turning into the wind before she dashed to the rail and looked down into the water – and when Deb looked she saw the barest outline of something shimmering in the water…something that almost looked like a shimmering blue sphere – but in the next instant the sphere too simply disappeared…

…and Daisy fled down the companionway steps once again.

And she too was rattled now. First the Old Man, then the sphere? Two extraordinary events, and both coming within the span of only a few minutes?

But there was something about the sphere that troubled her deeply. Was it a memory, and if so, where from? Was it…from Bora-Bora? The trouble with that was simple, though. Within hours of Henry bringing her up from the bottom she’d begun losing her memory of the event, from the staggering loss of almost an entire year to the echoes of an unremembered childbirth that had, apparently, been experienced as just a half hour by everyone else, and by the time they’d sailed back to Papeete almost the entire episode had been wiped from her mind – yet now, when she experienced memories of this period they came to her as unexplained streaks of memory, their passage causing serious confusion and even physical disorientation.

So when images of Bora-Bora popped up in her mind she felt light headed, almost vertiginous. She felt her own boat underfoot but she was also experiencing visual and auditory overlays of that other boat – the French Clorox bottle, as Henry called it – at the same time, and when Daisy came up on deck and saw Deb reeling she came close and helped her settle down by the wheel.

And a moment later she felt Henry Taggart by her side…

…but that was impossible!

They hadn’t seen one another in years, literally years, though she still called him from time to time…so this had to be a part of the echo she was experiencing…

But he was sitting beside her now, holding her up, whispering in her ear…

“It’s alright…I’m here, I’m here…”

“Oh, if only you were…”

But then she looked over and Daisy was slathering him with kisses, and he was holding the pup in one arm and her in the other…

“Henry? What are you doing here?”

“I’m not sure, Deb. I had a bad feeling last night, like something bad was coming for you…”

She flung her arms around him and kissed the side of his face as she started murmuring all her unintelligible grief: “Oh God I’ve missed you oh how I’ve missed you oh please don’t leave me ever again…” and her words came out in tangled gasps and as sodden pleas.

They’d gone in for cinnamon rolls and salmon again and her father’s assassination was all over CNN that faraway morning. A disgruntled actor pushed off a project and in the aftermath he had found himself blacklisted; soon unable to find work anywhere the man had simply come unhinged. Mindful of Sorensen’s security detail, he’d cautiously started tailing both Ted and Debra Sorensen, at least until Deb moved away, and when he’d watched and learned Ted’s weekend habits all he’d done was bide his time and laid in wait.

Dina Marlowe had been killed outright, and Ted would have been killed had not a kid with a surfboard seen what was going down and intervened. Nearby paramedics arrived and got Ted to UCLA a little before too late, and Taggart got Deb on a seaplane to Vancouver that very same morning. He sailed the boat back to Seattle with Daisy Jane, and by the time he made Lake Union the boat was a total wreck, beyond filthy. The brokerage had been understandably pissed off – until Henry told them that either he or Deb would buy the boat “as is” – and, in the end, Deb had decided she wanted her. She even kept the name Henry had given her.

So the three of them eventually sailed the Vindo down to Marina del Rey, stopping in Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara on their way down the coast, and Deb had made it clear she wanted him to stay. To get married.

But her father needed her now, and that much was clear to them both, so he’d returned to Seattle, and not long after his life had changed completely as other events took over. He stopped calling her. He even stopped calling his own father. He was never around anymore, and after a while she stopped expecting him to turn up again. Her father’s health improved. He asked her to go to work at the new network and for some reason the work helped make all the pain go away. And by then it seemed that Henry only came to her in her dreams.

But now…here he was.

And while Daisy was still in total thrall to her bestest friend, her tail beating away in furious joy, he turned his attention to Deb now. “What’s going on?” he whispered. “Something doesn’t feel right.”

And so she told him. About the Old Man. About his warning. Then – about how the Old Man had literally just vanished before their eyes…

“What do you mean by ‘vanished?’”

“He tapped his cane on the deck, and Henry, he just disappeared.”

“What happened next?”

“I took a call from work then Daisy ran up here and she saw this thing in the water…”

“A thing?”

“It looked like a big blue sphere, maybe two or three feet beneath the surface…”

“How big was it?”

“What? Like the diameter?”

“Yeah. Diameter, circumference, any kind of reference…”

“I’d guess fifteen, twenty feet across…”

That didn’t sound right, and Taggart sighed. “What’s the bottom depth here?”

“Depends on the tide, but anywhere from seven to ten feet at this end of the basin, and like twelve to fifteen in the middle of the fairway. But…wait…that can’t be right…?”

Henry disentangled himself from the girls and walked over to the rail. “Where was it?” he asked.

She came and joined him, then led him forward. “Right there,” she said, and they both leaned over and looked down into the water. The water was murky but just clear enough to see the bottom, and sure enough the soft muddy bottom appeared to have been scooped out by a perfect sphere – and Henry just sighed as he tried to estimate the sphere’s maximum diameter. Fifteen feet was entirely possible, and that was indeed troubling – because he’d been seeing spheres at least that big all around the air base in central Washington for at least six months now.

“So what the hell are they doing around here? And why now?” he muttered.

“What are you saying, Henry?”

Taggart took in a deep breath and looked around, then he slowly exhaled. “You ever go up there, to the Warehouse?”

“The restaurant? Yeah, sure, all the time. Usually when the team wants to meet up for lunch, on weekdays. It’s close, and some days I like to work from the boat.”

“They open now?”

She looked at her watch and shook her head. “Saturday brunch starts in a half hour. You hungry?”

“Yeah. And I feel a little…exposed…down here.”

“Exposed?”

“Yeah, like I’m not sure I want to be out in the open like this, ya know?”

“Henry? What’s going on?”

But he just shook his head and put a finger up to his lips. “It’s good to see you, kiddo. You’re looking good. Start running again?”

She nodded, but his shifting moods and the way he was changing subjects was more than a little disconcerting. “Yeah, I’m back up to five or six miles a day.”

“I bet Daisy loves that!”

“Sometimes I think her hips are bugging her.”

“Oh? Taken her to see a vet?”

“No, not yet.”

“Not sure I’d put that off, Deb.”

“Henry?”

“I still have some clothes here?”

“Yup, still in the port bedroom.”

He nodded and then, without saying another word, went down the companionway steps and up to the forward head. He got out of his clothes and jumped into the shower, rinsing the morning’s travels away before he went to the guest stateroom and rummaged through a drawer for clothes that looked exactly the opposite of what he’d been wearing…

And he came out of the head wearing Hawaiian print swim trunks, a grungy old Led Zeppelin t-shirt and bamboo flip-flops. He put on his Wayfarers and the transformation was complete.

“Jesus, Henry…!” Deb said, stunned. “It’s – the Dude!”

“I’m going for a little walk. I’ll meet you up there after they open,” he said as he disappeared up the companionway, and by the time she came up he was halfway down the pier, looking at boats and acting just like any other boat-bum. She sat and tried not to look after him as he walked out into the parking lot, and moments later he was gone.

“Damn,” she sighed, “this is too fucking weird for words.”

The longer he’d stayed onboard the greener his aura had grown, and when it shifted into the red she could see his anxiety level spike, just as he came out of the shower. Then he was magenta with green and yellow sparklers flailing about even as he walked away. Even Daisy had seen it, because she’d stepped back from him as he came out of the head and made for the companionway. 

Now Deb grabbed her leash and took Daisy topside for a quick walk along the parkway, then they made their way to the restaurant and arrived just as the front door opened.

“Well hello there, Miss Daisy,” the hostess said as she took them to a dark corner booth. Deb and Daisy were regulars and despite the no dogs restrictions Deb had come to “an arrangement” with the owners, but that only worked because Daisy had turned-out to be so well-behaved. “Is it just the two of you today?”

“No, I have a friend coming.”

“Oh? Okay. Well, could I get drinks coming your way?”

“He’ll need a Mai Tai. I’ll have my usual.”

Henry turned up a few minutes after his Mai Tai arrived, and he slammed it down in one long pull. He pointed at the empty glass as their waitress approached and she went off to fetch another.

“Thirsty, are we?”

“Yeah, but I’d better pace myself. Burt always poured a mean Mai Tai.”

“That’s right. The original was down in Newport Beach, wasn’t it?”

“You know, I’m not sure which one opened first, but the one off Lido was like the closest place to the house. Dad and I used to run down in the Zodiac after a race. It was The Place for a while. John Wayne used to hang at the bar, so did Robert Goulet. Hell, Nixon and Haldeman had a regular place at the bar…”

“Yikes…”

“Yeah, but that’s all gone now; the doors closed a few years ago. At least The Crab Cooker is still there.”

“The one constant in an ever changing universe.”

“I know, I know, but even so – change sucks. That’s the one thing I hate about this country…we tear down our traditions before they get a chance to take root and grow.”

“Are you sure you’re talking about our country…or are you talking about your life?”

He chuckled. “Probably both, kiddo.”

“So, what spooked you back there? The sphere?”

He nodded as his second Mai Tai arrived. “That’s right,” he said as he took a slow pull. “I’m working on something, kind of an ‘off the books’ project, and these spheres started showing up a few months ago.”

“What? Are you sure they’re the same?”

“Shimmering blue sphere, right?”

“Yeah, but for some reason Bora-Bora came to mind…”

“Goddamn!” he said, rapping the table with his knuckles. “Of course!”

“What? What is it?”

“That’s the first time I saw one of ‘em. Down there, when I…”

“Down where?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Henry, I’m not sure I remember any of that stuff now…”

“What? You mentioned…you mentioned…”

But the memory he’d seen so clearly just a moment ago began to fade away.

“Henry? What is it?”

“Hmm? Oh, I don’t know, just a thought.”

“Bora-Bora? The sphere?”

He shook his head, clearly frustrated now. “Man, it’s like there’s this memory right there, like I can almost reach out and touch it, but then it just slips away…”

“I know what you mean…”

“So,” their waitress asked, stopping by to take their order, “do you need more time or have you decided?”

“Eggs Benedict for me, with the fruit salad, please,” Deb said.

“Make that two if you can, and maybe we better get another Mai Tai ready. I think I see a hole in my glass…”

The waitress smiled as she turned back to Debra. “And what will Miss Daisy be having today?”

“The usual, I guess. Hamburger patty medium rare. And no salt and pepper, please,” Deb added.

Neither saw the microscopically-small pink spheres settling in their drinks, so neither had the slightest idea what was degrading their memory. And yet…while Daisy saw these things she didn’t know what to make of them…at least not yet.

+++++

Taggart spent two days in LA, first rigging up a security system on aquaTarkus then taking Deb to a shooting range, familiarizing her with the small Kimber he’d picked out for her. Next, he insisted she pick up one of the new 3G iPhones so that she could more easily keep in touch with him, and he helped her set up an Apple email account before she drove him back over to LAX.

“Thanks for all you’ve done,” she said as he stepped out of her gray Defender. He walked around to her window and leaned in to give her a kiss, but Daisy Jane got there first and gave him a heavy tongue lashing.

“It’s okay, Daisy Jane. Anytime you need me you just get your mama to call and I’ll be right down, okay…?”

But Daisy wasn’t just reading his aura now, she was watching his future unfold – and what she saw scared her. She whimpered once then licked him again, because she loved him, and she hated it when he was gone.

Irving, Texas         23 November 2008

She hadn’t flown with her father in years, and had no idea he’d disposed of the Gulfstream. Now he had a BBJ, a Boeing Business Jet – which was nothing more than a Boeing 737-800 converted to carry around twenty people in sybaritic comfort instead of the usual hundred and sixty people packed in like sardines. And he’d even picked her up on the way out to LAX, though he seemed to be more interested in his conversation with Delbert Moloch than anything she had to say.

Carol was still working for her father but now there was a proper galley and an in-flight chef to handle the cooking chores, and as she boarded Carol escorted her to a seat looking out over the right wing.

“Is Gordon still flying?” Deb asked her.

“Oh, yes. He and Paul are both still up front.”

Deb smiled. “That’s great. How’ve you been doing?”

“Just perfect. And I hear you’re doing big things at the network? You enjoy working there?”

Deb smiled, but she still really didn’t know how to answer that question. “I do,” she said, but she knew Carol had seen through the lie when her aura thickened and sputtered. “But I guess like anything, it has its ups and downs.”

Carol smiled and her aura subsided – a little. “Would you like something to drink before we head to the runway?”

“Oh, I don’t think so. What’s with the huge galley?”

“Your father has a proper chef working up there now, so no more airline food. He’s making a Lobster Newberg to go with your father’s She Crab Soup.”

“Dear God…our arteries won’t survive the trip.”

“Oh, he’s made a fresh Caesar Salad too. We’ll survive!”

Moloch stepped aboard and Debra looked at the ogre and his malevolent ooze, as always his sputtering black aura spitting gouts of putrid hate as he slithered to his seat. She still couldn’t believe her father had gone into business with this odious cretin, yet the network was a popular and financial heavy hitter, and so she’d not been too surprised to learn that when her father traveled these days Delbert Moloch was never far away. 

She watched her father now as he stepped aboard, and she shuddered and turned away as he looked her way. His aura was deep black tinged with oozing purple sores, and to make matters worse he was bathed in black…black suit, black shirt and tie, heavy black wingtips…so it was hard to tell where the man ended and the aura began. But as he came her way she saw his eyes were now pure a filmy obsidian veil, even the whites of his eyes – and she’d never experienced seeing like this before. Was this a change within her, or did this sudden manifestation mean something new and unexpected had happened to him?

He barely acknowledged her before he sat across from Moloch, and then, as Carol brought their flutes of perfectly chilled Dom Pérignon, she watched as Carol’s aura morphed as she approached the two men. Near the galley it had looked deep cobalt, almost like she was forcing some sort of meditative calm as she carried the flutes aft, but the closer she came to her father the more crimson-violent her appearance became. First her usual cobalt shifted into the red, then a violet tinged with red appeared – before finally settling into a frantic looking silvery thing that looked like frozen mercury. Deb could see the woman was literally terrified of her father…but why? He’d always been so generous to her. He’d cared for her and her little daughter when she fell ill after a long trip abroad with him, so…what was this all about?

The Boeing taxied out to the active and took off to the west, turning south then east once they passed Palos Verdes, and she could see Catalina as the jet settled on her new course, so of course her thoughts drifted to Henry Taggart…again. She’d called him like three days ago, after her father asked her to come with him to Dallas. Could he, she asked, come down and boat sit while she was away? 

“Did Daisy put you up to this?” he’d replied.

“Of course. Why else would I call you?” she’d quipped, zinging him where it counted most.

“Well then, I’d be delighted to do this for my best friend,” Henry had fired back.

So she’d left him with Daisy at The Warehouse and walked out to her father’s limo and now here she was, wishing she was anywhere but here. Wishing she was on the far side of the universe so her father couldn’t find her. Wishing she was with Henry, because that was the only place she really wanted to be. With Henry and that silly dog – who also just happened to love him.

What was it about Henry, she wondered. His down to earth frumpiness, his every word and deed grounded in easy going, floppy kind of honesty? He never dated, never went out with other women and never talked about the future, so he was more like a man who had somehow missed out on getting caught up in the usual stream of life. But now it felt to her that he was just drifting along by himself…waiting for…something…

Yet she knew he loved her, and it wasn’t just because she could see all the obvious markers. No, she could close her eyes and feel his love, feel his love like it was a living thing, like a vine that sought her out for nourishment.

‘So…why have we come to nothing?’ she wondered. ‘Why won’t he commit to me? To us?’

He’d mentioned how ill at ease her perceptions left him, but that wasn’t it. He’d never made a move for her after William was gone from the picture, before ‘the change’ happened to her, at least not until she made the first move. Was he just a bachelor through and through? He was certainly committed to her – as a friend…but was that all there was to it?

“Time for lunch!” Carol said as she set out a small linen table cloth on her adjoining table, then she set out a full set of sterling flatware. “And to drink? Pellegrino?”

She thought for a moment, thought about what Henry usually drank…

“Do you have a Piesporter?” 

“We do. I believe it’s the Havemeier, and it’s a Spätlese, I think.”

“Perfect.”

“Do you want to skip the soup?”

“Please. Salad for now.”

Carol smiled and turned away, her aura a soothing cool blue once again, but was that because her father was in the head, and so she hadn’t seen him…? What had Henry said? That people tried to steal energy from others? Was that what Carol was reacting to?

“So…no soup, huh?” her father said, sitting down now and right across from her. “You running again?”

“I am. Up to six miles a day.”

He shook his head. “I’d better get extra medical insurance…for your knees.”

“Oh, they seem to be holding up well enough? How are you doing?”

“Been busy, but I hope we have time to talk after the game.”

“After?”

“Yeah. I’ve got a three o’clock tee time this afternoon and an event at the station downtown after, then an owners meeting in the morning at the stadium…”

“Okay Dad, I get it…”

“Well, you see, I have a few ideas I wanted to go over with you and I was hoping we’d have time on the flight home, after the game.”

“Okay.”

“You really should try the soup. Enrique is a magician in the kitchen. The real deal.”

She smiled and nodded and he walked back to the conference table where Carol had set up their lunch, and Moloch walked by without so much as a glance…yet she felt him pass…felt him as he walked by, tentacles of hate reaching into her, pulling at her soul, trying to crush her…

But why? Why so much hate?

Enrique’s Newberg was indeed magical. Thick and heavy with cream and butter, after she finished eating this lunch it was all she could do to keep her eyes open, and after a few minutes she stopped trying. Her eyelids felt heavy and she was soon asleep…

…and in a turbulent dream…

She was walking in deep woods, a heavy forested world thick with tall pines waving like seaweed caught inside a wuthering tidal flow. She heard knocking in the clouds and looked up, saw wavering pines jousting in an unseen tournament, the sky alive and in some kind of arboreal combat. Then she felt them…

Wolf. A wolf.

No…wolves. A pack of them. Closing in. On. Me.

She turned and looked into the trees but it was too dark to see much of anything there. Then…a breaking branch. Close. And footsteps, coming closer. Another crack! Another splitting twig.

She swung around and now she could see their eyes. Greenish gold, shifting orbs adrift in the twilight. Then more, many more. Like stars adrift in the forest, yet coming to her.

And then, one of them steps into the light and he is huge, a monster sized wolf. His eyes are cold and feral, and a lust for death drips from his fangs as he comes slowly, steadily for her.

Yet his aura is palest blue, and then it hits her. This is Henry’s aura. Pale blue and under calm control, yet this is not Henry. No, this is Death, and Death is coming for her. Now.

She looked around. And saw there was. No place. To run.

Her heart is. Beating hard. She feels pressure behind her eyes. Pressure, to run.

She looks down, sees a stick. Maybe a foot long, as big around as…as her ring finger?

She reaches down and picks up the stick and throws it. Past the wolf to the forest’s edge, and the wolf looks at her then looks at the stick. He turns and runs to pick up the stick, then turns and runs to her side, then he sits in front of her, his tail wagging cheerfully. She reaches for the stick and the wolf’s eyes turn cold and hard again, and drool runs down his canines.

“Would you put the stick down for me, please,” she cooed…

…and the wolf put the stick down, looking now at her expectantly.

She threw the stick and he ran for it again, and when he came back to her she could tell he was hers now. He loved her, he would do anything for her – until the end of time…

“Debra?” she heard Carol say from someplace for away. From someplace outside this forest. “Debra, we’re getting ready to land. We need to get you belted in and ready.”

She blinked hard and felt a harsh dryness in her mouth, the dryness of fear, and when she looked out over the wing she saw a million gold spheres looking down on her from inside a wall of passing dark clouds…and light from just one of the spheres was pulsing…at her…as they passed.

+++++

“Yeah, we’ll be playin’ in the new stadium next year,” she heard someone say, and she looked around at the almost shellshocked crowd gathered below the owner’s box. It seemed like everyone inside Texas Stadium, whether up here or down in the stands, was hoping for some kind of miracle. First the crash of ’08 – as everyone was calling it now – then that Obama won the election. 

“What’s next? What could possibly be worse than Barack Fuckin’ Obama?” she gleaned from another conversation.

Bourbon was flowing freely up here, and half the men were talking about the size of their private jets while the other half was going on and on about Obama. Like W hadn’t inherited a surplus and then piled up debt like a drunken sailor on leave in Bangkok, one of them said…but that man was from San Francisco so he was fuckin’ crazy anyway so don’t listen to his shit. Another said Jimmy Carter had started us down the road to perdition when he’d instituted wage and price controls, but then the crazy Californian had said that, no, actually, Nixon had instituted those types of controls controls and that Ford had added to the program, calling it “WIN” – for Whip Inflation Now in the run-up to the ’76 election, and the Texans turned and walked away from “that radical fuckin’ know it all.”

Then the radical fuckin’ know it all had walked over to Deb. “Excuse me,” he said, “but aren’t you Debra Sorensen?”

“Me? That’s the rumor,” she sighed, because his aura was silver green and he looked overloaded with greed.

“Peter Teal. We were at Harvard Westlake together.”

She smiled. “Well how bout that. Peter? How you doing?”

“I heard you were working for Eagle. What’s with that, anyway?”

“It’s a paycheck, I suppose.”

“Man, I never thought you’d be desperate enough to work at a place like that.”

“Desperate? What do you mean?”

“Man, that’s Fascist Central, in case you haven’t heard. Moloch is bad news.”

She turned and looked at her father and Moloch talking to one of the Cowboy’s coaches, and no one looked happy. “Fascist Central? I hadn’t heard that one.”

“Oh? Well, maybe you ought to get out more. Your dad and Moloch are gathering up every right wing pundit in the country. Word is, they’ve got plans. Big plans.”

“Peter, I’m not following you.”

“Well, we ain’t exactly in the place for a conversation like this, if you know what I mean. Maybe we could get together for lunch next week?”

“Yeah. Maybe. What are you doing here?”

“My dad is a big investor in the team so we get invited to most of the games. I got the call this time.”

“The call? You’re not into football?”

He shook his head. “No way. It’s a big fuckin’ diversion. Feed ‘em Bar-B-Que and Budweiser and keep ‘em plugged into football and you’ll keep ‘em fat dumb and happy…”

She chuckled at that, if only because she hadn’t heard that one since she was a senior at Harvard Westlake. 

“What? You don’t agree?”

She shrugged. “It’s probably better than sitting in the basement watching porn.”

Now he laughed. “I’ll drink to that!” he said, hoisting his glass to her Pellegrino. “You drinking water?” he scoffed.

“I don’t do well with liquor,” she replied.

“Yeah, well, I’m in Texas so I’m doing Dr. Pepper.”

“Ah. I prefer Coke.”

“You say potato…”

“So let’s call the whole thing off,” she sang, and smiling now – because she finally had someone to talk to.

“Say, I remember hearing you went out with Bill Taylor when he was at ‘SC. Was that a thing?”

She nodded. “Yup. He’s good people, too.”

“Never met him. Helluva linebacker, though. I hear they’re going to extend his contract two more years.”

“Oh? I hadn’t heard that one.”

“Big bucks, too. Pro Bowl last two years, leading the league in sacks for the third year in a row. He’s going to be Hall of Fame material if he gets into another Super Bowl.”

“He’s a nice guy,” she said, just as the Forty Niners ran out onto the field. Loud choruses of boos filled the stadium as the “out of town” players gathered by their bench, and Debra searched through their ranks, looking for number 56, and yes, there he was. Helmet off, talking to one of the coaches as the Cowboys came out of their tunnel and thundered onto the field. Cannons fired and blue-streamers filled the smoke-filled air and then the ever popular Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders bounced and jiggled their way around the sidelines, whipping the crowd into a fever-pitched frenzy of beer-fueled lust. Players head-butted and slapped each others shoulder pads as team captains walked out to the center of the field for the coin toss.

And William Taylor was out there. He called the toss and the Forty Niners won.

And that was probably the highlight of their day.

Nothing went right for the Niners as the Cowboys and Tony Romo picked their defense apart and then halfway into the third quarter the Cowboys center blind-sided William Taylor from the left, while their left tackle clipped Taylor from the right. Something had to give and that something was Taylor’s right knee; he went down hard and didn’t even try to get up. He lay face down on the Astro-Turf pounding the ground with his fists while the team’s physicians ran out onto the field.

And then the blood-lust subsided for a while. The crowd grew increasingly quiet – until an ambulance drove out onto the field – and then a sudden stillness fell over the stadium. Taylor was lifted into the ambulance and Deb watched as it took off for parts unknown; she turned just in time to watch her father and Moloch shake hands…and she wondered what that was all about.

Then she remembered Moloch had just recently gone out of his way to get her team of reporters to look into shady orthopedic groups pumping painkillers to NFL greats…and was that merely a coincidence? She could count on one hand the number of times he’d given her an assignment like that, but a couple of weeks before this game? And why had her father insisted she come today? He’d never done anything even remotely like this before. And…what was that handshake all about?

Deb Sorensen wasn’t a reporter but she’d developed a nose for a good story and she smelled one now. She walked over to Peter Teal, who just then was standing with the owner and some of his investors, and all were shaking heads in disgust…

“That was a classic take-down…” one of them said, and all agreed. “Someone sure wants Taylor out of the game…”

And when Deb felt an icy fist grab her throat she turned and watched her father and Moloch moving through the room, their viral auras filling the air like coiled snakes seeking release. Was her father really capable of something like this? But…why? What would he gain from taking Bill out of the game? And was that why he’d been talking to one of the Cowboy’s coaches before the game?

When she turned around Peter was studying her face, and while he seemed genuinely concerned he also seemed a little confused. “Deb? What’s going on?”

“What?”

“You. Something is going on, and I think you know what it is…”

“Do you happen to know what hospital they’ll take him to? I want to go see him…”

“That’s not a good idea,” her father said, coming up from behind.

“But I…”

“Will be with me when we head over to Love Field, and I’d like to beat the crowd so we’ll be leaving now.”

His aura was a sleek black thing now, well fed and satiated yet full of latent evil.

She looked at Peter. “Call me next week,” she whispered in his ear as she leaned in to hug him, at the time slipping a business card into his right hand. “It was so nice to see you again, Pete. Good luck with that deal.”

She turned and joined her father as Moloch came over to join them. They made their way to an elevator that would take them to a private underground parking garage, and when the elevator doors closed behind them her father turned to her.

“Who was that?” he asked.

“Pete Teal. He was in my class at Harvard Westlake. Funny, I hadn’t seen him in ages, at least since graduation – and there he was…”

“Oh,” her father said, apparently satisfied. For now, anyway.

“He mentioned meeting for lunch sometime,” she added.

“Good,” he replied, as he turned quietly to Moloch; words unseen and unheard passed between them, and Moloch nodded understanding.

Chapter 14.6

Basin F, Marina del Rey, Los Angeles, California   28 November 2008

Debra Sorensen parked her Land Rover and set the brake, but before she shut down the engine she checked her email inbox on the iPhone and answered a quick text from Henry.

“I’m home for the weekend,” she replied.

“You doing okay?” he wrote.

“Yeah. Think so, but I hear William won’t walk for a while. Other news on that front, but it can wait.”

“You still working on that sports medicine story?”

“Yeah. Intense. Big money involved.”

“Be careful.”

“Trying to be.”

“Where are you?”

“Parking lot, marina.”

“Call me when you get tucked in?”

“Okay.”

“Bye.”

“K”

She shut down the car and locked the door behind her before she started on the short trek out the pier to the boat, but a thick fog was rolling in and the night air was uncomfortably chilly. She zipped-up her parka and felt for the reassuring comfort of the little Kimber in her messenger bag, and the presence of that icy cold steel was now suddenly more than a passing comfort. Today, she knew, more than ever.

One of her teams had been tailed yesterday after they’d asked some uncomfortable questions at the so-called pain clinic in Thousand Oaks, and if whoever was behind the clinic had been trying to send them a message…well…it had been received loud and clear. So today she’d set up her teams to covertly surveil the facility, watching who came and went while looking for anything out of the ordinary. They’d had to resort to this because they’d come up empty so far, yet the word on the street they’d heard so far was that the clinic was nothing less than a regional hub for illegal narcotics distribution, and that the Sinaloa Cartel was fronting the operation. And what if it was true, that a cartel operation was somehow tied to professional football in some way…? 

Well, that was very big money indeed and such people would protect their interests, wouldn’t they. Especially if a cartel was involved.

She entered her code and walked through the security gate and then down the metal ramp to the concrete pier, her boat shoes making a little thump-thumping sound as she descended, then she started the two hundred foot walk out to aquaTarkus. There were only a handful of liveaboards allowed in the marina nowadays, and there was only one other liveaboard on this pier – and that old Cal 46 was dark inside so she checked her watch. Ten fifteen. That fit, so no big deal…

She made it out to the boat but stopped dead in her tracks because…

…the companionway door had been kicked in…

She pulled out her phone and texted Henry, told him what she’d just found.

“Call 911 and wait for them up at the car,” he replied.

Then she saw Daisy Jane. She was on her side on the cockpit sole, and she lay there in fog-borne stillness, now quite motionless. 

So she climbed aboard and ran to check on her…

And someone reached up from the companionway and pulled her down the steps. She just caught a glimpse of two men dressed all in black before one of them knocked her to the floor. She felt dizziness then a white fog fall over the world…

…then pain. She was laid out on the cabin sole and someone was inside her, and she realized someone was sodomizing her, and viciously, violently so. The unseen man had forced her down and he was raping her with practiced ease. With one arm twisted and pinned just above the small of her back, she winced from the pain as he hammered away at her like a pile driver, and because this was an animal act it was meant to intimidate. To make a point…and so she refused to play the part.

She heard a siren in the distance and then the second man said something to her rapist, but she didn’t recognize the language. Eastern European, maybe Russian, but she couldn’t concentrate because of the pain. The second man cursed the rapist and took off up the companionway steps, then the rapist stood to leave…

…and that was when Daisy Jane chose her moment to strike.

She vaulted across the pilot house and caught the attacker by the neck and the man screamed and whirled around, trying to fight off the dog’s furious assault. He succeeded in prying her loose but the damage to his neck was massive and as he tried to staunch the flow of pulsing blood from his neck Debra pulled the Kimber from her purse and activated the laser sight, illuminating her attacker’s crotch and firing once before she aimed at the center of his chest and fired again.

The other man leaned in the companionway and fired at Debra and she felt the impact as she wheeled around and lit up the gunman’s face with her laser. She fired again and he went down in a crashing thud, sliding down the companionway steps face first and coming to rest in a bloody heap by her side. Daisy came to her and licked her face, and Deb could feel matted blood on her left side.

“Sit down, girl. We’ll get help soon. The police are almost here.”

She found her phone and punched Henry’s icon.

“They were waiting for me,” she gasped. “They got us, Henry. Both of us,” she gasped, but it was hard to breathe now, and suddenly she felt very cold. She never knew she’d dropped the phone, nor was she aware of the even more horrible things lurking in the shadows…

Los Angeles, California                                                9 December 2008

Henry Taggart helped Debra out of her hospital robe and into her clothes, mindful of the healing wound near her right clavicle. She was still very sore, and she would be for months, but she was also emotionally intact and, really, that was perhaps the most important thing. And oddly enough, she was more angry than he’d expected. She’d failed to arm the alarm system – “because it’s such a hassle!” – and yes, she should have never boarded until the police came.

The second assailant, the shooter in her case, had used a stolen .22 caliber revolver, and if the little bullet had been just a half inch higher it would have hit her subclavian artery – and that would have been the end of her, period. As it happened, as the bullet expanded and tore through the apical segment of her right lung, lead fragments tore through nerves and several minor vessels, but the absence of damage to the major vessels prevented her from bleeding out. Responding officers had summoned paramedics and units from the nearby station had arrived in time to administer blood expanders and stabilize her for transport. The dying dog had been taken by one of the officers to a veterinary emergency facility.

The first officer on the scene had picked up the iPhone on the cabin sole and discovered someone was still on the line. The officer filled the person in on what he’d found and took down the subjects name and other personal information before he powered off the device. Detectives arrived. Someone recognized her name and called the studio. The studio’s head of security, a soft-spoken type named John Luders, came out to the scene, then he called Ted Sorensen, who – at the time – was apparently in Argentina looking at large properties with an estate agent.

“What’s her condition?” Ted asked.

“Unknown at this time, sir,” Luders replied.

“Find out and get back to me as soon as you hear anything.”

Detectives were still on the scene when Henry Taggart arrived, and he learned where Debra and Daisy-lane had been taken. A detective handed Henry his card and got his contact information while he filled him in on what he knew – so far, anyway. And, oddly enough, because he knew Debra was in good hands, Henry went straight to the veterinary hospital.

Daisy had been stabilized but nothing much had been done for her since…because no one knew who would be paying for treatment! Taggart very nearly killed the attending vet, and within minutes a vast team of veterinarians went to work, but the prognosis was not good.

Henry drove Deb’s Defender up to the UCLA Medical Center where he learned she was still in surgery, and while her condition was listed as ‘Critical’ he was soon advised she was out of surgery and on her way up to the ICU. He had just gone to find coffee when a stranger came up to him.

“You Taggart?” a beefy looking thick-necked man snarled.

“That depends?”

“Yes or no will do for now, jackass.”

“And who are you?” Henry said, grinning now.

“Sam Fucking Spade, asshole. I’m Mr. Sorensen’s head of security.”

“Is that a fact…?”

“Yeah, that’s a fact.”

“Got a card? Any I.D. that says something to that effect?”

“Listen, butthead, you need to stay away. Got it? Stay the fuck away from her.”

And then Taggart threw his coffee in the thug’s face, dropped him with a savage punch to the larynx; people scattered and security was summoned. Taggart knelt and fished through the man’s pockets but he found no wallet, no I.D., just a wad of cash in a money clip along with some car keys. He pulled out his iPhone and called the detective just as a gaggle of hospital security types lumbered onto the scene, panting hard after a vigorous hundred step dash, and with pencils drawn they demanded that Taggart put his hand over his head…

“The Studio head of security is a man named Luders. I have his card,” the detective said.

“Describe him.”

“Male, white, about fifty. Six feet and about one fifty, max. Think he had hazel eyes, but don’t quote me on that.”

“Okay, this guy looks like the Michelin Tire Man, about forty, five eight and I’ll be nice and just say he has a weight problem,” Taggart said. “And he I.D.ed himself as Sorensen’s head of security, not the studio’s…”

“Got it. Good call. Can you hang there. I can get there in about twenty minutes.”

“Will do. And bring handcuffs,” Henry said, looking at the security team and rolling his eyes. “I don’t think these clowns could screw in a lightbulb with looking at the instructions first.”

“Okay. I’ll bring donuts.”

“Ah. Good thinking.”

+++++

“We’ll get his prints downtown. If he has a record we’ll know who he is by morning,” Detective Gilbert Gonzales said.

Taggart nodded.

“So, how long have you known Miss Sorensen?”

“Twelve years, more or less.”

“And you live in Seattle.”

Henry chuckled. “More or less. I seem to get calls to work everywhere these days.”

“So, what do you know about all this?”

“Only that she’s been working on a story about some kind of narcotics operation out in the Valley. Thousand Oaks, maybe. Distribution, cartels, the usual suspects.”

When Gonzales heard the word ‘cartels’ his ears perked up a little. “The guys on the boat, both of them have pretty crude looking tattoos. I’m not sure, but the text looks like Russian, something like that.”

“Russians? Here? I thought they mainly work the New York area…”

Gonzales shook his head. “I wish. Lots of former commando types work as mercenary enforcers for the cartels out here. You know, guns for hire, that kind of thing. The cartels pay well and there’s a steady source of work for these guys.”

“Deb just started on this project last Monday. Seems like a pretty fast response.”

“Henry, I’m homicide, you know what I mean? This case is going to go to the FBI and probably Interpol, but from what you’re telling me the DEA will get in on the action, too. As for our guys? Man, we could have an undercover op in place and we’d never hear about it until after the dust settles.”

“What about a protective detail for her while she’s here?”

“No problem. What about you? You gonna stick around?”

“Yeah. I gotta get the boat cleaned up, fix some woodwork.”

“Maybe I’ll drop by? See how you’re hol