Debra’s songs coming to life now. Time for tea?
(Jon & Vangelis \\ State of Independence)
Part IV: The Music of the Spheres
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 airy 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 in the warmth. 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, yet 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, almost dour. GM was done for, and the old saying was As Goes GM So Goes The Country. And after Lehman, ‘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. But not today, and Deb leaned back and closed her eyes, let the warming sun work its magic on her face, then she took a deep breath of the sea air and tried to relax. Again.
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 Obamas 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?”
“Oh, no. Sorry to bother you, but this looks like such an impossibly nice way to spend such a glorious morning, and well, I was a little envious.”
He was an older man and he looked out of place, almost like he was from another time. 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 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 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 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?”
“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 began to look him over, and almost inch by inch, not sure what he was but she knew something was wrong.
“Your pup seems most interested in something about me,” the Old Man said as Deb came back with a fresh glass 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 to study the Old Man’s aura…pale blue…yet with dark gray flecks…and she’d rarely seen that before. Because such people were usually hiding deep secrets, and now she looked into the Old Man’s eyes again. Knowing, 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 such things exist. And the 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 a miracle. You must be ready.”
“Ready? Ready for what?”
“Thank you for the juice. Remarkable.”
“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 do you…”
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 think about a 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…what do you…”
But the old man 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 sudden 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 he 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 the faintest 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 simply disappeared…just like the Old Man had…
…and Daisy had had enough; she fled down the companionway steps once again.
And Deb 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. A memory, but 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 she’d experienced for just a few hours, and by the time they’d sailed back to Papeete almost the entire episode had been wiped from her mind – and now, when she experienced memories of this period they came on as unexplained streaks of fast-passing memory, their passage causing serious confusion and even physical disorientation.
So when the image 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 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 is coming for you…”
She flung her arms around him and kissed the side of his face as she started murmuring all her unintelligible sorrows: “Oh God I’ve missed you oh how I’ve missed you oh please don’t leave me again…” and her words came as tangled gasps and sodden pleas.
They’d gone in for cinnamon rolls and salmon again and her father’s assassination was all over CNN that morning. A disgruntled producer pushed off a project and in the aftermath the man 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 lay 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 just in time, and Taggart got Deb on a seaplane to Vancouver that morning. He sailed the boat back to Seattle with Daisy Jane, and by the time he docked her the boat was a total wreck, beyond filthy. The brokerage firm 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.
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. 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 now 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 ever 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 he literally just vanished before their eyes…
“What do you ‘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…”
“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…oh, 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 talking about, Henry?”
Taggart took 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.”
“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. “It’s good to see you, kiddo. You’re looking good. Start running again?”
She nodded, but his shifting moods, the way he was changing subjects was more than a little disconcerting to her. “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.”
“I still have some clothes here?”
“Yup, still in the port bedroom.”
He nodded and then, without saying another word, he 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. When he put on his Wayfarers and the transformation was complete. He was…The Dude.
“Jesus, Henry…!” Deb said, stunned.
“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.”
The longer he’d stayed onboard the greener his aura had grown, then he had shifted into the violet and she could see his anxiety level spike as he came out of the shower, his aura magenta with green and yellow sparklers flailing about everywhere he walked. Even Daisy had seen it, because she’d stepped back from him as he came out of the head and made for the companionway. She grabbed her leash now and took Daisy topside for a quick walk along the parkway, then they made their way to the restaurant and got there when 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 owner, 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…”
“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. Shrimp on a skewer.”
“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?” she asked.
“What do you mean by where?”
“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 day 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 she could more easily keep in touch with him, and he helped her set up an Apple email account before she drove him 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 to him first and gave him a heavy tongue bath.
“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 she licked him again, because she loved him, and she hated time when he was gone because it passed so slowly.
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 oily 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.
“Oh, yes. He and Paul are still both 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 here 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 aura, 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 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 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 a pure if filmy obsidian veil, even the whites of his eyes – and she’d never experienced anything like this before. Was this a change within her, or did this new manifestation mean something new and unexpected had happened to him?
He barely acknowledged her before he sat across from Moloch, and Carol brought their flutes of perfectly chilled Dom Pérignon, and Deb 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 violet her appearance became. First her usual cobalt shifted into the red, then a lime green tinged with sputtering violet appeared – the fringes finally settling into a frantic looking silvery thing that looked like frozen-oozing 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 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 her silly dog – who also 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 honesty? He never dated, never went out with other women and never talked about the future. He was like a man who had somehow missed out on getting caught up in the usual stream of life, and now he was just drifting along by himself…
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, well before ‘the change’ happened to her. Was he just a bachelor through and through? He was certainly committed to her – but only as a friend…
“Time for lunch!” Carol said as she set out a small linen table cloth on her adjoining table, then Carol 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 nor passed him by…? 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.”
“Yeah. I’ve got a three o’clock tee time and an event at the station downtown, 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.”
“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 out 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 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 deep 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 with their arboreal combat. Then she felt something new, something everywhere, all around her.
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…she heard a breaking branch. Close. And then soft 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 they were coming for her.
And then, one of them stepped into the light and he was huge, a monster sized wolf. His eyes seemed cold and feral, and a lust for death dripped from his fangs as he came to her slowly, steadily, his eyes walls of veiled regret.
Yet his aura was palest blue, and then it hit her. This was like Henry’s aura. Pale blue and under calm control, yet this was not Henry. No, this was Death, and Death was coming for her. Now.
She looked around. And saw there was. No place. To run.
Her heart. Beating hard. She felt pressure behind her eyes. Pressure, to run. But to where?
She looked down, saw a stick. Maybe a foot long, as big around as…as her ring finger?
She reached down and picked up the stick and threw it. Past the wolf to the forest’s edge, and the wolf looked at her then looked at the stick. He turned and ran to pick up the stick, then turned and ran back to her side, and yet then he sat in front of her, his tail wagging cheerfully. She reached for the stick and the wolf’s eyes turned cold and hard again, and drool ran 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, joyfully.
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. Okay?”
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 yet 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 were 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 him or his shit. Then 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, 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 then. “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 for a group 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 57, 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 put on a gurney and 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 their heads in disgust…
“That was a classic take-down…” one of them said, and all agreed. “Someone wanted 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 that? 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?”
“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,” he father said, coming up from behind.
“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 he 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 she watched as Moloch nodded his understanding.
‘Now what?’ she said – just as the doors opened…
© 2021-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.
(Diana Krall \\ Dancing in the Dark)
(Jon & Vangelis \\ Play Within a Play)