A brief ramble through the brambles, hardly time for tea. And hopefully I’ve got the chapter numbering all sorted out now, too…
Three hundred miles from the Cape Flattery light and not a breath of air. The sea a cerulean mirror, and in early January the outside air temperature is almost sixty degrees Fahrenheit, the sea temp a frosty forty seven. Henry Taggart had plotted a northerly course, hoping to ride the east setting North Pacific current until the he could hitch a ride on the northeast setting sub-Arctic gyre, and to hopefully ride currents all the way to the entrance to Puget Sound. So far, the passage from Hilo had been under ‘bluebird’ skies, but two days ago the winds had fallen off to zero, and they were riding the current now, but only making a few knots over the ground.
The General’s Swan 65 still had plenty of fuel, but Debra’s aquaTarkus had seen a lot of generator time and she could possibly be ‘running the tanks dry’ if Henry chose to motorsail into stronger winds, if she chose to follow him. So, the night before they’d rafted up, tied the two boats together so Henry and the General could have a little strategy session — and besides, Daisy-Jane needed a good ear rubbing.
But soon enough, Henry and the General knew they had more questions on their hand than answers.
Such as: what if Ted Sorensen had a new ‘crew’ waiting for her?
And of course, Dan Wingren wouldn’t know anything about that, would he?
And would they assume Henry was taking this rag-tag convoy to Seattle? And if so, how quickly would they detect and arrange an intercept of aquaTarkus? What if Henry decided to head to Canada instead of Seattle, or up to Alaska? Or…could this adversary even try to follow them?
“Henry?” the General added, thinking out loud now. “Why don’t you stay on board aquaTarkus and take her to Vancouver, and I’ll take Debra on the Swan into Victoria. I can arrange to fly her out from there.”
“You have both forgotten something,” little Dana said next, interrupting Henry’s response.
“And what might that be…?” Henry said.
“The ship that came for Debra once before has returned to the present. They are actively looking for her, and us, now.”
“Do you know where it is?”
She closed her eyes and turned away, and she seemed to connect to the same external source she often did when Henry asked her difficult questions that required complex answers, but in a matter of seconds she came back to them. “It is near the Channel Islands off the Southern California coast. There are several US Navy jets in pursuit of the craft at this time.”
“Henry,” the General said, his face suddenly scrunched up in thought, “could you establish a link with our ship out at the base?”
“From here?” Henry asked, flabbergasted. “That’s close to seven hundred miles away, sir!”
“It’s worth a try, isn’t it?” the General added.
“I can try, but then what? Bring it out here? In front of everyone?”
“That’s the least of our worries, Henry. We’re sitting ducks out here, unless Dana wants to intervene again?”
“I don’t think they will come this far north,” Dana said.
“Why?” Henry asked.
“I sense the people in that ship are still very concerned, especially after their first encounter with us. I suspect they might not want to chance a second such event.”
“Do they have any weapons onboard their ship?” the General asked.
Again Dana turned away, and again she made her queries. “The ship is unarmed,” she eventually said, “however the crew may possess locally made weapons.”
“Can you control their ship?” Henry asked, on a hunch.
“I’m not familiar with the technology, so no, I cannot.”
“What about our ship?” the General asked. “Could you…?”
“No, I cannot.”
Henry looked at her long and hard, then he decided he had to ask just one more question: “Can you see what’s going to happen to us?”
Her eyes fluttered and she turned away again, but this time she walked down the companionway steps and disappeared.
“Well,” Henry sighed, “that answers that. She already knows the outcome and she’s not going to interfere with our decision making process.”
“So, she won’t try to stop a negative outcome? But, wait…she already has, right? When she sent that ship away off Oahu…?”
“Sir, we’re trying to guess what her agenda is, and I don’t think either one of us is smart enough to come up with the answer to that one.”
The General smiled, then he nodded his head in momentary defeat. “So, we make up our mind and hope we don’t throw snake eyes. Or…you try to summon the ship.”
“Get Miss Sorensen out of here, get her to safety.”
“Sir, I’m not sure that’s going to work, at least not in the long term. No matter what we do, or where we take her, they’re not going to stop…”
“But…who, Henry? Who’s trying to take her? And why?”
“I have to assume her father, sir. And…I would say because she has…abilities, sir.”
“So you’ve said, but as to the first point I’m not so sure that’s a fair assumption. Frankly, we can’t fight an unknown enemy — if only because we’ll always be reacting to their moves. Somehow we’ve got to get out ahead of this thing, take the initiative away from whoever we’re up against.”
“Well, the easiest thing to do right now would be to clear customs in Victoria and hole up there, right in the middle of the city. No one is likely to pull off anything with a ship like that, not in the heart of a major city. That’d be just plain nuts, sir.”
“Yeah? Or just desperate enough to try something that nutty.”
“Well,” Taggart sighed, “maybe we’d finally get acquainted with whoever, or whatever we’re up against.”
The General nodded in agreement. “Be careful what you wish for, Henry, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh, I think we’ve still got a couple aces up the sleeve, sir.”
The General nodded. “Now all we need is about fifty gallons of diesel.”
“Or a nice wind out of the south.”
As it happened, neither was in the offing.
Harry didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t even sure how he felt.
About the only sure thing was that his boy hadn’t murdered Todd Bright. Which meant the two of them had staged the murder in the fairway behind the house in Davos. And the only reason he could come up with was that somehow Lloyd had decided to cooperate with the Mossad, because after their little charade the local authorities had come and supposedly taken his passport, and right after that he had been spirited away to Tel Aviv. But then DD had advised him that there never really was an issue with his passport, so that was all a ruse.
And while all of these mental images flashed through Callahan’s mind he in effect stood there in mute shock, unsure what to say…
Yet Brendan Geddes was staring at the boys, then his fingers were dancing in the air, peeling back layers, and soon enough he walked forward and poked at the image of Lloyd Callahan…
…and the image of the boys simply disappeared…
Brendan didn’t seem a bit surprised, yet both Harry and Deborah were shocked.
“They looked so real,” Deborah sighed, “I felt like I could reach out and touch them.”
Harry was still struggling to speak. His hands were shaking, then he realized his son was gone. Again. “I saw him in a dream. He was smiling just like that?”
And then Brendan turned to face Callahan: “Tell me, when is a dream not a dream?”
“What?” Deborah asked. “What are you implying?”
“What if,” Brendan said slowly, grinning now as he spoke, “some dreams are real? What if dreams are like an open window into another dimension? And what if those dimensions are fractals, or even simple permutations of this one?”
“Are you saying,” Eisenstadt said, “that Harry saw these boys as they are in another dimension?”
Brendan beamed. “Yes!”
Then Harry spoke. “Brendan, is time another dimension?”
“YES!” Brendan cried. “And guess what, Harry? You know how to open all the windows!”
She had been hiding in the shadows all night, and she had seen it all. Every last detail, from an alien with his family visiting Callahan to this latest revelation, and now Didi Goodman had a decision tomake.
Henry Taggart had watched his orca watching little Dana for hours, and now he was wondering what was going on between them. They had been staring at one another for hours — at least it felt that way to Henry — and there had been two occasions during this communal trance when he had seen his little girl literally growing before his eyes. He had blinked in disbelief but yes, he was certain he had seen her legs grow longer during one spurt, and by what looked like a couple of inches. A few minutes later her forehead seemed to expand, and during this spurt he had leaned over to look at her; her eyes had rolled back in her head and her body had appeared almost rigid, and he had turned away – still not knowing what all this was about. He had spoken her name just then but she had either ignored him or been completely unaware of his presense, so he had retreated to the wheel and silently kept his eye on them both.
His own link to the orca was tenuous at best, but Debra’s was now so strong it too was beginning to bother him, yet nothing he had seen or experienced yet could have prepared him for the almost total connection Dana and his orca shared — and this had also begun to concern him – but now more than just a little. Had orcas always been wired this way, to communicate with humans like this, or was ‘his’ orca somehow different? If this one was different from other orcas, in what way? Physically? How so? And perhaps most importantly, why?
But…why was Dana now so deeply connected to this particular orca? Or was she limited to this one only?
Dana Richardson, on the other hand, seemed to Henry almost adrift. Lonely in the extreme and still grieving the loss of her mother in the crash of the American 777, Henry found he wanted to keep a close eye on her too, and even Sumner Bacon felt something was deeply wrong with the girl. So much so that at one point during their second day out from Hilo, Sumner advised Henry that he thought the girl might be suicidal…
…yet little Dana expressed no such concern. In fact, she seemed quite sure that the older girl was adjusting to her current reality, and that while it might take time she would, in the end, be alright.
And this ‘revelation’ happened just after little Dana and the orca broke off their little symbiotic trance-dancing marathon. Indeed, when little Dana broke off during their second night out Henry watched as his orca returned to aquaTarkus, resuming his patrol duties beside Debra.
And soon after this happened little Dana came up to him, and with a start he realized that now she was over five feet tall. He’d shaken his head in bemused disbelief when he saw that, but then she came close and spoke in hushed tones: “Daniel Wingren is in trouble. If you want to help him, you must do so soon.”
“I must…do what?”
“You must go to him. I can not bring him back without your presence there.”
“My connection to him is weak.”
“Look, I thought the whole idea was to remove him from the equation, ya know? So, why…”
“His death is unnecessary now, and it would be pointlessly cruel,” she said, studying her father’s face.
‘Is she testing me?’ he wondered — but he already knew the answer to that one. ‘Children are always testing their parents. It’s how they learn,’ he sighed. But still she merely looked at him, watched the changing expressions on his face chasing phantoms across amber waves of guilt.
“Okay,” he said. “But I’m assuming you’ll be able to bring us back. Uh…right?”
“Yes, Father,” she said — as she looked skyward.
And yes, there it was. Another blue sphere descending through the clouds, settling just over the aft deck — and then he felt a hot prickly sensation as the sphere enveloped him…
Harry Callahan had grown so used to the little pink and blue motes hovering around the ceiling that he almost never took note of them now, and all memories of his earlier encounters with the Blues and Greens had all but disappeared, so both he and Deborah Eisenstadt were blissfully unaware that Jim’s presence had been noted by one of the spheres. And when Callahan returned from his impromptu trip to the high desert he found both Deborah and Brendan waiting for him by the piano in the living room, and still he didn’t take note.
“We were watching you,” Deborah told him when he asked why they were waiting for him. “While you played Debussy and Gershwin, we were watching you both.”
Brendan was staring at him – for once – and not completely focused on problems in the ether, but then he spoke: “The way it reacted,” Brendan said, “was strange. I thought of the word hypnotic.”
“As in hypnotized?” Harry asked.
And Brendan nodded. “I think so, but not quite. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“I doubt anyone has, Brendan,” Deborah sighed, still trying to come to terms with events. “When he first appeared I thought he was going to kill us…”
“Well, he’s coming back tomorrow night,” Callahan grinned, “and he’s bringing along some friends.”
“What?” Deborah and Brendan said, in stereo.
“I think he wants to share what he experienced.”
“Why do you think it reacted the way it did, Harry?” Brendan asked…
…and Callahan had to think about that one for a minute…
“You know, maybe because all they’ve experienced of humanity is our inherent chaos, and so maybe the beautiful things we’ve created have been hidden from view.”
Brendan seemed to think about that one for a while, too. “But why would chaos be the only thing they see?”
Harry took in a deep breath, then he shook his head: “You know what, Brendan? Maybe there’s more profit in chaos than there is in beauty.”
“But that would mean that the most important thing to us is profit, wouldn’t it?” the boy asked.
“Yes, it would.”
“I was thinking, though. Would you like to play the guitar for them?”
Brendan looked stumped by that. “I still need a guitar.”
“Well, yeah, you want to look now or wait ‘til morning?”
Callahan nodded and took off for the studio, with Deborah and Brendan following along close behind – and with several blue motes dancing among the ceiling beams as they too came along. Harry flipped on the main lights in the old, original recording studio and walked over to the control room, then took Brendan to the instrument room beyond.
His eyes lit up like a kid turned loose in a candy store, but his eyes zeroed in on a Martin and he walked over to it and took it down from the stand. “Is this an OM-42?” he asked.
And Callahan nodded. “That’s right. A friend of my son, Todd Bright, used to play that one a lot and he ended up giving it to him. My boy liked the tone, but I also think he liked the way the frets feel.”
Brendan quickly checked the state of tune then launched into a breathtakingly long flamingo riff, then he dropped into a very mellow rendering of Norwegian Wood, and all the while his face was turned to the sky. Callahan thought it strange, one more time, that the boy seemed to find all he needed up there in the clouds.
His flesh seemed to be on fire. Literally — on fire. Hairy blue streamers of electricity arced off Taggart’s forearms and thighs, and each one hurt, and badly.
Then as quickly as it had come on the pain was gone, and he was standing in an arid gully. The air smelled burnt and overwhelmingly putrid, like sulphur dioxide, and as he looked around the first thing that came to mind was that he was inside a huge, shallow caldera. Great gouts of yellowish steam were venting everywhere he looked, and the sky seemed to be — on fire. Beyond the sky he could see the great comet, and it was huge and now appeared close to impact.
The next thing he noticed was something that looked very much like a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and probably because it was. The most not annoying thing about this was that the Tyrannosaur seemed to staring right at him, and it did not seem in the least amused. It also seemed hungry.
Then he heard a man — screaming. And this was out of place, to say the least.
“Hey, motherfucker!” the man shouted next. “Over here!”
And there was Daniel Wingren, about fifteen meters up a rock face — and with several small, very hungry looking dinosaurs trying to figure out a way to get to him, presumably to eat him. Taggart had to assume that Wingren had been trapped up here for about forty eight or so hours, so he was probably ready to come to terms. He sure looked that way.
Unfortunately, the Tyrannosaur did not appear either ready, or willing, for that matter, to indulge Henry’s wishes, as it was now sprinting towards Taggart.
Henry put his hands in his pockets and shook his head and, knowing it was going to hurt he stepped back inside the sphere. He didn’t consciously do anything other than look at Wingren, and the sphere drifted over to the rock face and hovered a few meters away from the totally wigged-out mercenary.
“Well?” Taggart barked. “What are you waiting for? It sure looks like that comet is going to impact in a couple of minutes, so maybe you were you planning on hanging around for the finale?”
One of the Velociraptors was scaling the wall now and was only a few meters away.
“What do I do?”
“You need to promise…no more bullshit. No more trying to fuck around with Debra. Got it?”
The Velociraptor snapped at Wingren’s ankles.
“Fuck yes I agree!”
“Okay. Hop aboard.”
Wingren hopped. The sphere did its thing. An instant later they were hovering over the Swan, then they were dumped unceremoniously on deck…
And about then Dana Richardson came up the companionway steps carrying dinner, but she stopped and wrinkled her nose. “What is that smell?” she cried.
“That would be him?” Taggart said, pointing at Wingren. “Too many beans for lunch, I reckon.”
“Gee, thanks a bunch, asshole,” Wingren sighed under his breath.
“Hey,” Taggart added, pointing at the orca swimming alongside. “Ready for another bath?”
Little Dana stared at the man for a moment, then she turned away in disgust, while Debra – still on aquaTarkus and now about fifty meters off the Swan’s port quarter – looked at Wingren’s aura and finally relaxed.
Callahan waited by the piano, sitting on the bench and watching the last light of evening fade away, and he was alone in the room now, waiting. He started playing random notes, letting his fingers find what they may in the gathering night, and he closed his eyes, drifting, and he relived the moment when bullets slammed into his knee. He drifted again, felt Fujiko rocking on top of him in the moonlight at the inn of the spires, and as quickly his father was racing across the Bay Bridge while his Looney Junes bled out with her head in his lap…and then he saw his son Lloyd, with Todd Bright sitting by his side, and they were both grinning madly — at no one in particular — and he thought they looked like something out of Alice in Wonderland. ‘Ooh, who was that?’ he thought. ‘The Cheshire cat…?’
When he opened his eyes Jim was staring at him, his eyes lost in the wonder Callahan had felt as he relived those last few moments.
“Did you see those memories?” Harry asked.
‘I did, yes. You have experienced so much grief, I wonder how you have endured?’
Callahan looked at the others in the room now; a female and what appeared to be two children were with Jim, and so Harry turned to Jim. “Is this your family?”
“It is, yes. This is my companion. Call her Becky. And these are our boys, Tom and Huck.”
“Excuse me, but I’m seeing a pattern here. I take it you’ve been reading some of our literature?”
“Yes, on the journey here.”
“You just arrived?”
“Two of your months ago. We are not allowed to leave our facility without permission.”
“What do you do here?”
“I study humans. Tell me, what was that music you were playing just now?”
“It wasn’t a song. It was more like walking through a field full of memories.”
“Ah, just so. I think I experienced that. Could you play the same music again? The music that you played last night?”
Callahan nodded, but then he turned to Jim’s youngest son, Huck, and he asked the boy to come stand beside him for a moment. “Put your hands here,” Harry said, indicating the area between the keyboard and the soundboard, “and tell me what you feel…”
And Callahan drifted back into Moonlight, the Clair de Lune, and the boy’s head snapped back as vibrations coursed through his body. He played slowly, gently, and the boy began to glow – just as his father had – and soon the other boy – Tom – came and stood beside his brother, and he too placed his hands on the piano.
Completely unexpected emotion coursed through their beings, emotion so foreign and yet so universal, feelings so pure, so uncluttered that they too began to weep, and as they made their way – together – through the closing notes the boys began to drift on unseen currents.
Undercurrents of melancholy reflection define Gershwin’s Preludes, but the Second is the most emotionally complex and now Becky came to the piano, joining her boys as Callahan took them on a hidden journey inside the transition from classical structures to the more emotive jazz-blues forms taking hold in the 1920s. He changed timing, sinking deeper into the dreamy flowing grace of a lullaby and he could feel all of Jim’s family drifting off…
…and he felt himself walking down Bourbon Street, the old red brick pavement still wet and he could hear thunder in the distance, a soft breeze, soft like a careless whisper, carrying this uneasy memory along…
…to the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth…to where he first really experienced Wagner…and he wandered through a final passage in the Liebestod…
…and then he was in the living room of the old green house near Carmel and he could hear his mother playing…playing…
…Camille Saint-Saëns, the Aquarium sequence from The Carnival of the Animals and without thinking he began playing the piece, the sudden jarring transition from Gershwin and Wagner electrifying the boys, and even Jim seemed taken aback by the changes he too experienced…
…but nothing could have prepared the boys or their mother as he flung them all into the Rhapsody in Blue, and just like their father the night before, the boys began to leave the floor, to flutter like flags in a freshening breeze. Callahan wanted them to get a sense of human exuberance, to fall under the spell of Times Square at midnight on New Year’s Eve and the sheer mass of humanity coming together to celebrate together in the middle of the night…
And just as Gershwin’s Rhapsody wound down Brendan came out with the Martin and be walked slowly through an instrumental take on the Beach Boys God Only Knows, and with that Jim drifted over and examined the instrument while he could, before he too drifted away, lost inside the many kaleidoscoping cross currents echoing around the space.
Perhaps an hour had passed when Brendan stopped playing, but by that point Jim and his family appeared completely spent. His wife and children bowed once then disappeared, leaving Jim in the room with Harry, Brendan, and Deborah.
‘I must thank you,’ Jim said, ‘but my wife wanted me to tell you how much she appreciates your willingness to share something so precious with us.’
Harry nodded. “It was our pleasure. Please tell her anytime she wants to drop by, she’s more than welcome. Your children too, of course.”
And this seemed to startle Jim, though he expressed his thanks again and then disappeared.
Dan Wingren stood on the aft swim deck with a bucket of seawater and a bottle of Palmolive dish soap, washing his hair over and over, trying to get the sulfuric stench out of his scalp – without much luck. He lathered up a loofa and started on his arms, rubbing until his skin began showing signs of serious abrasion…
“I told you it was cruel,” little Dana whispered to Henry.
And Taggart sighed. “I was kind of scary,” he sighed. “Ten more minutes and I think that comet would’ve made impact.”
“It is what you wanted,” Dana quipped.
“You’re right. It was cruel. Remind me not to do anything like that again, okay?”
“I can’t do that.”
“I can’t interfere in matters of Free Will.”
“That is not my purpose here.”
“You have a purpose?” Henry asked.
“Yes, of course. Don’t you?”
“Who, me? Of course I do. I’m the fly in the ointment, in case you didn’t know.”
“Is that another one of your jokes?”
“Do you always joke to deflect introspection?”
She nodded. “This is difficult.”
“Excellent! Say Dan? Need some sandpaper? There’s some 40 grit in the toolbox?”
“Fuck you, Taggart!”
“No thanks. I’m trying to quit.”
Dana looked at her father and sighed.
“Well, that seemed to go well,” Callahan said — to no one in particular.
“I thought so too,” Deborah added, still in a state of shock.
Brendan seemed pensive. “Those children were taller than you, Harry.”
“You gotta start somewhere, kid. And you know something? You’re pretty good on that thing.”
“It has a lovely sound,” Brendan said, looking at the Martin admiringly. “You said it was your son’s? Where is he?”
“I’m not really sure, Brendan. He’s been gone for a while, and I’m not real sure what happened, or where he went.”
“How old is he?”
“Oh, a couple years younger than you.”
“There’s a picture of him on the wall in his room, up on a stage with Bright. Does he know them?”
“Yes. He and Todd Bright were friends — for a while. Say, we need to put that guitar back on the rack,” Harry said, getting up from the piano and heading for the studio. He stopped in the kitchen for a bottle of water, then grabbed his cane and continued on, his prosthesis really chafing tonight. He made his way to the studio and flipped on the overhead lights…
And Lloyd was sitting at the piano.
And Todd Bright was standing next to him.
Both were grinning. Just like a couple of Cheshire cats.
A Close Encounter of the Gershwin Kind, but just in time for tea.
He was sitting on the end of their bed, the top of his head brushing the ceiling, and Callahan could just see the creature’s vaguely human eyes in his bedroom’s dim light. They moved suspiciously from Deborah to Callahan and back again, and all the while Callahan could feel his mind being probed.
‘How did you see your way to us?’ the creature seemed to want to know. ‘We did not know any of your kind possess such abilities.’
Callahan didn’t know how to respond, but that didn’t matter in the least.
‘Show me this thing. This piano,’ the creature said, seeing Callahan’s thoughts quite clearly…
…and not knowing what else to do, Callahan got off the bed and walked to the living room.
And this was quite impossible for the immensely tall creature, and even kneeling down his shoulders were too broad to slip sideways through the door — so he did the next best thing. He thought himself there, there by Callahan’s piano in the room over the rocks.
And the creature stared at this thing, this thing called a piano, as if he was examining something he found mildly disgusting, as a thing he might disdain — if only he knew what it was.
‘What does this thing do?’ the creature asked.
“It plays audibly structured harmonic frequencies, and more often than not these structures are designed to elucidate an emotional response.”
‘How can this be so?’
“I’m not sure I can explain the how or why, yet this is true.”
‘Then show me.’
Callahan turned to his Bösendorfer and he thought for a moment. “Do you hear in the same range as we do?” he asked.
‘For the most part, yes.’
Callahan nodded and addressed the keyboard, still thinking about the best piece to play, then he shook his head and slowly began the Clair de Lune.
The creature’s face seemed to freeze in time, lost inside the confusion of confronting emotions he had never experienced before. Callahan’s rendition was achingly slow, emotionally evocative in the extreme, and less than a minute into the piece the creature began to weep…
‘Stop. Stop this, please.’
But Callahan could not stop, because somehow the creature was willing him to continue, and Callahan could feel the creature’s desire to know merging with his own desire to share. He played to the end and slid right into Gershwin’s Second Prelude and the creature sat bolt upright with his arms extended and as if his hands were floating on all the harmonic currents flooding the room. Soon his body was swaying in one direction, his head contrapuntally in the opposite, his face upturned as if communing with the stars…
As the Prelude came to an end Callahan couldn’t help himself; he transitioned into a rousingly forceful Rhapsody in Blue and the creature seemed to vibrate for a moment, then it’s body began to glow. Soft amber tones filled the living room as the creature began to levitate off the floor, laying back and stretching out as flooding emotive structures buffeted his body.
By the time Callahan finished, both he and the creature were completely spent, and both were speechless. Callahan’s head bowed, but then he felt giant fingers on his shoulder.
‘Thank you,’ the creature said. ‘I have been here many times but never knew this side of you.’
But feeling the creature’s hand on his shoulder sparked sudden curiosity, and Callahan played the closing notes of his mother’s Fourth and he thought of the trail in the high desert –
And in an instant they were there, the two of them, on the same trail where they had met – only an hour ago.
‘You did this?’ the creature asked, clearly shocked.
‘We did not know you were capable of this yet.’
‘Are you the first?’
“I don’t know. Maybe. But more are learning.”
‘You have a name?’
“Callahan. Harry Callahan. What about you?”
‘Perhaps you should call me Jim.’
“Well Jim, that was fun.”
“Yeah, fun. Anytime you want to drop by, just let me know.”
‘May I bring others?’
The creature turned and started to walk up the trail but he stopped and turned back to face Callahan. ‘It was nice to meet you, Harry Callahan.’
“Nice to meet you too, Jim. See you tomorrow night.”
The creature nodded thoughtfully then turned and walked off into the night.
A few twists and turns, and a few new characters drop by for tea. Shall we join them?
[A Horse With No Name \\ America]
Harry showered after he finished helping DD and Deborah clean up after dinner, and all the while Didi sat with Brendan down on the rocks – talking about…things. Didi was, when all was said and done, an immensely versatile operative, a fully trained agent of the Israeli intelligence services, and as such she was a naturally gifted interrogator. Sensitive and empathetic, patient and gentle, it didn’t take her long to figure out that Brendan was little more than a tabula rasa, a blank slate, and that he really had no idea what was going on around him. In fact, she had at first grown more than a little disconcerted by the man-child’s utter cluelessness – until she recognized that the man-child was more little boy than man, and she soon realized that, on a very elemental level few could relate to, he was living inside a completely alien sphere of existence.
On one level he was still a teenager, though just barely. He had been in one intimate relationship, and he could, in a fashion, drive a car. He knew what money was, what it was used for, but he had never worked a day in his life – and she doubted if he would ever be able to. He was almost completely disconnected from the day to day requirements of daily life, from eating to taking care of basic bodily functions like going to the bathroom…
…and all because his every conscious moment was consumed by the need to solve the ever evolving mathematical dilemmas that seemed to be constantly appearing in the blue sky that was his mind. What these problems were, what they purported to solve, were seemingly of no consequence to him. Cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am. I exist so I solve. He was adrift, directionless, yet constantly in motion, and Didi resisted the temptation to dismiss him as simply insane – because there was something vital in and about his calculations. Something that everyone had missed, and she wanted to know why.
Everyone, that is, except Harry Callahan.
Callahan had seen whatever it was, he had understood what he had seen, and she was sure he was going to act on that knowledge, soon. Didi’s immediate goal, once she saw Callahan’s reaction, was to determine the boy’s state of knowledge. To put it another way, her goal was to find out if the boy was a danger, and it didn’t take her long to come to a conclusion. Brendan could as easily become one of the most dangerous people in the world, especially if someone with malign intent was to sweep him up and take charge of his “moral education” – perhaps someone or some group completely unlike Harry Callahan, she thought. A group like the Sorensen-Moloch axis, currently thought to be developing alien technology in the Andes came to mind, but she’d not been briefed on the real reach of this group.
If Callahan could keep Brendan safe while he developed his understanding of Brendan’s capabilities then she could report the situation at Sea Ranch was stable. But — she knew she needed back-up. If Sorensen’s agents were to appear with, or without, warning there was little she could do to keep the boy safe, to keep him from falling into malign hands, so the obvious conclusion she reached was simple: the need to keep him alive was less important than letting him fall into Sorensen’s hands. She’d have to kill the boy, which meant she’s probably have to kill Callahan and Eisenstadt, as well — if only to keep their knowledge from falling into the wrong hands.
So she listened to the boy. She empathized, patiently. She understood his loneliness, calmly and methodically. She helped him see the obvious things he’d missed before — how to eat an artichoke, how to cut meat with a knife and a fork — because the child, then the boy, had been neglected out of fear by parents who couldn’t be bothered to understand him.
Sitting with him down on the rocks above the sea she watched him solving riddles in the sky all while completely oblivious to the world around him, and she’d never felt more helpless and alone in her life.
Harry put on his desert clothes and laid on top of the covers, then he waited for Deborah. Once she joined him they held hands for a moment, and as a recording of the final moments of his mother’s Fourth began playing they fell into the Shift.
And in the next instant they were out under the stars in the high desert of central Nevada. Again.
Ah he’d hoped, they were standing on the same white sandy trail as before, and Eisenstadt looked to the south-southeast and pointed. “There is Orion,” she said, then she turned to the northeast. “And there is Cassiopeia, and Pegasus is overhead. There is no doubt about it, this is earth.”
“And there’s another airliner descending towards LAX,” Callahan added, drawing the obvious conclusion.
“So we are…my God, what is that noise?”
A deep low hum, almost like the sound of a vast electric transformer, filled the air – yet as suddenly the ground around them seemed to tremble – and yet the insistent hum only grew deeper and more troubling.
Then the night-scape seemed to flood with a sudden, intensely white light, just like a door had suddenly been thrown open and letting in the day, and they both turned in time to see the side of the steep canyon fall away, revealing what looked like a huge aircraft hanger carved out of the earth.
The deep hum seemed to be behind them now so they turned.
The craft was huge and utterly black — and it was moving so slowly Callahan felt he could have walked and kept pace with it. It settled smoothly in front of the opening in the canyon wall, then moved quietly inside — and a moment later the canyon wall reappeared — just as four Air Force fighters roared by overhead, one of them wagging its wings slightly before turning to the northwest and disappearing.
Callahan turned to Deborah and all he could think to say was: “Did you see that?”
She nodded. “I think so, yes.”
‘What are you doing here?’
Callahan heard the question in his mind. “Did you say that?” Deborah asked.
“No? You mean…you didn’t?” he replied.
They heard footsteps on the path — behind them — and they both turned.
Callahan gasped at the sight, and he’d never wanted his Smith & Wesson more than he did in that one shattered instant.
Henry Taggart lifted the Steiners to his eyes and he could see aquaTarkus clearly now, Debra at the wheel and Wingren up on the bow. He could also see the big male orca’s dorsal fin cutting through the water just a few feet away from Debra and he grinned, wondering what they’d done to the poor man hanging onto the headstay. His Dana, the little Dana, was standing beside him now, watching aquaTarkus one minute then turning to study her ‘father’ the next – her eyes lost in wonderwhen their eyes met.
She felt his concern for Debra — how could she not? — but she had no idea why he felt the way he did. And how could he explain such a thing to her now. How could he possibly describe what it would take for a father to kill his daughter, his own flesh and blood, as Ted Sorensen had. Then again, Taggart had never really understood what, exactly, one human being was capable of doing to another, which led him to the precipice of a dangerous conclusion: if she could indeed read his aura – and his thoughts – what good could come of trying to hide such things from her? Wasn’t hiding another form of evasion, and wasn’t evading just another way to deceive? This girl, if that was indeed what she was, could not be raised surrounded by lies and deceit. She’d have no frame of reference — for what is deceit without truth if not a well without water…?
He adjusted his course and felt the sea flowing around the rudder and as he looked at Dana he felt like he had finally stumbled upon a perfect moment, his love of the boundless sea equalled only be his feelings of awe and wonder for this creature by his side, who also claimed him as her father. ‘How stunning,’ he said to himself…
‘Why do you say that, father? Why should I not be your daughter? You made me, did you not?’
“Life is a miracle, Dana,” he said aloud, “and it makes me happy just to feel you by my side.”
She leaned into him then and wrapped an arm around his legs, and even she could feel it now. There was no need for words out here in the wind and the spray, with the heat of the sun on their necks, and even with so many dispassionate eyes beyond the sky watching their every move.
She could feel them too, of course. Feel their fear and their wonder. She could even feel the thoughts of The Others, though she did not yet understand their furious anger. She knew The Others were still very far away, but already she could feel the fear of their coming. Would she be ready for them, she wondered?
Debra watched Wingren moving around up on the bow like a caged animal, and he seemed content to stay as far away as he could from her now – though he cast a wary eye at the orca from time to time. She noted the other boat, the one with Taggart at the wheel, was getting close now, and she looked at Wingren after she checked the radar and she thought it looked like he was trying to make his mind up about something. He was pacing around the foredeck in nervous little circles and always with a hand on the forestay, but he’d suddenly stopped and was now looking up into the sky behind aquaTarkus, yet she dared not to turn and look.
Then the VHF radio came to life.
“Debra! Get below…now!” Henry cried, and so she quite naturally turned and looked…
The craft was huge and for some reason her first thought was that the thing resembled nothing so much as a giant red blood cell. A reddish-black squished oblate sphere was closing on aquaTarkus, and she instinctively understood that who – or what – was in command of the ship had her. Henry’s boat was simply too far away, and when she turned to look at Wingren he was almost by her side – only now he was grinning.
“No place to run, is there Miss Sorensen?”
She nodded. “So, this was the plan all along? Get me away from the city?”
Wingren nodded. “Too many prying eyes. Too bad about your friends, though,” he said, casting a quick glance at the Swan still several hundred yards away.
“What? What are you going to do to them?”
“Dead witnesses tell no tales, Debra.”
The Old Man heard Henry’s gasp from down in the galley; he dropped what he was doing and dashed up the companionway steps in time to see the ship descending for the Sorensen girl’s boat, yet he recognized the ship almost immediately: the ship entrusted to the team from Grumman-Martin looked almost exactly like this one, right down to the deep red color – only this ship was bigger, quite a bit bigger, he thought as he walked over to Taggart and little Dana.
“They shouldn’t be here, should they?” Dana asked.
“No. No they shouldn’t,” Henry sighed as he watched some kind of orifice opening just aft of the descending ship’s leading edge.
“Do you want me to move them, Father?”
He turned and looked at Dana, and he was surprised by the sudden hostility he saw in her eyes. “Yes,” Henry said, “but don’t hurt anyone.”
The Old Man looked at Dana then at Henry, not sure if he agreed with this course of action…because…what if this wasn’t an ARV? What if it was piloted by…aliens?
Yet in the next instant a shimmering blue sphere came down through the clouds and enveloped the other ship, and both Henry and the Old Man shuddered as the enveloping sphere shrank and shrank in size until it disappeared from view. And now the ARV was gone too.
“Where did they go, Dana?” Henry asked the little girl by his side.
“They are still here. The proper question, Father, is ‘When did they go?’”
“Okay. So…when did they go?”
“Into the past, Father. It will take them several days to return, so we should leave this place soon.”
“I see,” Taggart said as he rolled in the main and tacked to starboard, coming alongside aquaTarkus on a broad reach. “Sir,” he asked the Old Man, “who do you want to stay here, and what do you want to do with Wingren.”
“You can throw his ass overboard, for all I care,” the General snarled.
“Father, I can send the man away, but he will not be able to return.”
“He has no ship, so he will remain.”
Henry leaned over and whispered in her ear, and a moment later another blue sphere settled above aquaTarkus, then it moved down and enveloped Daniel Wingren. Seconds later he disappeared, and then the Old Man came over to Henry, still standing at the wheel.
“Henry, stay here with your girl; Ralph and I will go with Miss Sorensen. Will you head for Ketchikan?”
Henry looked at Dana before he turned and cast a glance at Debra, and then he sighed. “I think we’ll head into Vancouver, sir…”
“Okay. We’ll try to keep up with you.”
And moments later the Old Man and Ralph Richardson were onboard with Debra, on her boat, while he was left with a handful of completely inexperienced sailors on one of the most fantastically complex ocean racing sailboats in the world. “Now what do I do?” he muttered. Then he noticed little Dana was no longer by his side and he turned – only to find her leaning over the aft rail and apparently in commune with his orca. At least they were both staring at one another, and both seemed mesmerized, but beyond that he had no idea what was going on between them.
So he and Sumner Bacon set sail, then he punched-in coordinates for Puget Sound while Sumner downloaded and updated the weather. Dana Richardson did what all teenaged girls do when they feel slighted – she retreated to her stateroom and, Henry assumed, would only come out for meals. Henry’s Dana remained stationary at the aft rail, lost in a deep trance with his orca, and he eased sail enough to let aquaTarkus remain tucked in close off his port quarter.
An hour later Dana Richardson came topside, ‘probably tired of being ignored,’ Henry said to himself, but then she surprised him.
“I found some fresh chicken,” she said, “so I’m going to make a lemon-orzo chicken, if that sounds alright to you?”
“That sounds great,” Sumner chirped. “Need a hand?”
“No. I got it,” she smiled. “Gimme an hour or so.”
Henry and Sumner exchanged looks after Dana went down to the galley, and Henry nodded a little. “Maybe this will break her out of her shell,” he sighed.
Little Dana came over and sat by his side then. “She’ll be okay soon. She still doesn’t understand what happened to her mother,” she said. “If we give her time she’ll come around.”
Henry nodded. “That’s very wise,” he sighed.
“She needs to be away from her father now. He is overprotective.”
“You can see that?” Henry asked.
“Yes, of course. She is not thriving. She is withering.”
“Maybe he needs her as much as she needs him?” Sumner added.
And that seemed to give Dana reason to pause and rethink for a moment. “Are adults fragile too?” she asked.
“Oh, yes,” Sumner sighed. “And some people never grow up.”
“You mean…they remain childlike all their lives?”
Sumner nodded. “Yup.”
“How do you tell the difference between those who do and those who can’t grow naturally?”
“It’s difficult, Dana,” Henry said, “but not impossible.”
“I must think about this,” she said, returning to the rail and reestablishing contact with his orca.
And then Sumner crept over to Henry… “Just how the Hell do you tell the difference, Henry?”
“Beats the shit out of me,” Henry said with a shrug.
Callahan looked up at the creature, completely at a loss for words. It looked vaguely human – aside from its sheer height, and the disconcerting nakedness of his speckled alabaster, and very smooth skin. He looked to be over fifteen feet tall yet he was slim as a rail, and Deborah seemed completely transfixed by the size of his – reproductive equipment – which was truly massive.
‘Why are you here?’ the creature repeated.
“Well, excuse me,” Callahan said, “but why are you here?”
‘We are guests of your government,’ the creature said, but still Callahan didn’t hear the words so much as he experienced them inside his mind. ‘We did not expect you,’ the creature added, ‘and no one has told us to expect you?’
“Is that your ship?” Deborah asked, pointing at the huge craft inside the hanger.
‘You do not know?’ the creature asked, now genuinely puzzled.
“We need to leave. Now,” Eisenstadt said, and Callahan could hear several helicopters approaching from down valley — so he let go of her hand and broke contact. Within milliseconds they were back in bed, though their skin was still icy cold from the high desert air…
But then in the next instant the tall creature was there with them inside the bedroom, and he did not look at all pleased to be there.
Recently received a long note and I thought it worth sharing. Not much more that I can or should add as these word speak volumes on their own, but as they relate to two fairly common medical conditions I wanted to make sure the word got out and that you were made aware of these potential developments.
If you’ve been reading my stories for any time at all you know that a few (or more than a few) revolve around illness in general and cancer in particular. My most read story, Lift On A Wave, has been recommended reading on several prostate cancer survivors reading lists, and a few other cancer survivor organizations have taken it up from time to time, as well. I chose to write about cancer from a survivors perspective because I’ve been down that road twice so far, and I’ve lost a very special soul to breast cancer. Erica was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after I met her, so my own recent experience dealing with my wife’s breast cancer perhaps turned into a sort of benefit for us both, and I like to think I was stronger going through it a second time…stronger for her, of course. Now it turns out that the chemo agents Erica took in a clinical trial cause heart failure, and now we are dealing with the repercussions of that diagnosis. Yet…she gained ten years of solid health that she might not have ever had.
The point, if I may, is that getting old is not for wimps. Cancer is just one of the big ogres lurking in the shadows, but you really need to do everything you can to be prepared for all the many life altering changes that come your way with such a diagnosis. I write such stories to lead you to such an understanding, and I hope you don’t take the experience as pedantic or obtuse. My intentions reflect a hard fought empathy.
So, without more from me, please read through. Food for thought, I’d say.
From Wildwood55, via comment at Lit on Come Alive C1:
I’m 68. & just spent the last 2+ years in medical hell. Got Covid in Jan 2020, before anyone knew what Covid was. I thought I had a bad flu; sick for the 1st time in 25 years.
My 1st symptom the Sat morning of MLK weekend was a pain in my R throat. I went through all the classic symptoms of covid the first 7-10 days, recovered, then was dead tired for another 2 weeks, or so. In another 5-6 days, when I finally had enough energy to shave for the first time since MLK weekend, I found a lump under my R ear, about he size of a ping pong ball w-75% below the surface.
That was about the time the world had caught up w-covid, and everything had shut down. An MRI & 3-4 weeks to talk w-my doc, (she suspected a lymph node swollen from the unknown illness I had. No one, except myself suspected I had covid. I only realized it after hearing a doc describe his ordeal on BBC radio, via NPR. When he mentioned having no warning vomiting as one of the symptoms, I realized I’d contracted covid in Jan 2020.)
The MRI led to a CAT scan, which led to a PET scan & another 2 months passed in the process. The diagnosis was a nectric lymph node, surgical removal necessary. Oh, great, I thought, I get to have surgery during an effing pandemic. Little did I know, at that point.
I was referred to a head & neck surgeon. Because of covid & the shut down, check in was all consuming & hectic. It wasn’t until I was standing in front of the check in desk, waiting to hear, ‘Have a seat.’, that I looked at the sign on this, the 9th floor of Oregon’s med school clinic: Knight-OHSU Cancer Clinic.
My first thought was, ‘Good to see Phil spreading his Nike money beyond UO athletics.’ (I have a not so pleasant memory from working with mid-70’s Nike R&D.) My next immediate thought was, ‘Cancer clinic? Nobody said anything about cancer. WTF am I doing here?’
Five minutes with the surgeon explained all. I had HPV, (human papilloma virus), induced throat cancer.
‘Don’t you need to do a biopsy to be so certain?’, I queried.
“Oh, we will, next, but I see 3-5 cases per month, of men in you age group. A biopsy will be more confirmation, and necessary protocol.
“Not to worry, you’re healthy, a lifelong non-smoker, you have a 98% complete recovery rate.”, he, too confidently, assured me.
Not to worry, I think. Hell, ten minutes ago, I’m worried about surgery during a pandemic. NOW, it’s dropped on me I have cancer? I’m old enough my entire life has been, you get cancer, you die. I had paid no attention to advances in cancer treatment. I had lost family & friends to cancer, but no one close for 20+ years. I had no clue of my true potential life span or this 98% he’s talkin’.
I go to a different oncologist for a 2nd opinion. A combo DMD & MD in oncology I had consulted re: extensive jaw surgery I’d been needing, as a pre-cursor to much needed dentures. (Little did I know my soon to be discovered near future.)
Second oncologist, same conversation, almost verbatim, except the biopsy had been done, even down to 3-5 new cases per month. Holy crap, I didn’t even know HPV caused throat cancer in men, & it sounds like it’s in epidemic proportions.
Second oncologist offers me a spot in clinical trials of a new med, based on the same tech used to create the covid vaccinne. It’s the third round of trials, the doing phase, so I’m assured of getting the real thing, & not a placebo. I’m in.
Treatment is laid out: Surgery to remove my teeth, 6 weeks of experimental meds, robotic surgery to remove my R tonsil, and the lymph node, followed by radiation treatment.
Wait, what? Surgery to remove teeth? Huh? Seems, if you have radiation wwhere the jaws are involved, you can have no metal, (crowns or fillings), or your jaws will dissolve. Peachy. Gonna combine tooth removal with prior extensive jaw surgery. Time is of essence. Surgery is set for 3 weeks.
June 2020 I have tooth & jaw surgery. Just at 6 weeks, I have cancer surgery. It was my Gilligan’s Island experience: supposed to be a “3 day tour” turned into 12 days, (w-them wanting to keep me for 20 more days, until I insisted, NO.), because the ‘doctor w-training wheels’ assisting my oncology surgeon missed an insipient infection in the 6″ neck incision for 5 days, until I swelled up like a damn puffer fish, even though I’d had 3 successive days w- episodic bouts of high fever, profuse sweating, and bone rattling chills.
By the time the 2 different IV antibiotics were flowing, I was a sick puppy.
This was on top of my surgeon telling me, while still in the ICU, post-op, “Don’t do anything atenuous, & talk as little as possible for the next 3-4 days. We got VERY close to your carotid artery during removal of your tonsil. VERY close. We don’t want you to stress the fragile tissue.”
This was very casually delivered… Warning me to not sneaze, cause, heaven forbid, you might rupture your carotid artery & bleed out before your hand can readh the call button, kind of casual.
Life sure can take a quick turn, as Adrian continually points out.
Seven days post-op, I get the inly good news of 2020. No need for radiation, cancer is 100% gone, all removed during surgery. I start the climb of getting my swallowing back, rid myself of the feeding tube, and head home for post-surgical rehab.
As 2021 rapidly approaches, I begin to get an ear ache in my R ear. I have had exactly one ear ache in my life. It occured after the cancer diagnosis, but before late July, 2020, cancer surgery. Common symptom of throat cancer, I later learn.
It’s allergies, I tell myself. I normally get seasonal allergies from the fir trees I’m surrounded by. Like clockwork, every Fall & late Spring when the yellow dust covers everything.
My ear hurts cause of scar tissue I tell myself. Hell, even the docs believe me, and treat me for allergies. Doesn’t work.
As 2021 turns to Spring, PET scan is ordered, and the cancer is back. Prognosis is now 90% with radiation, 95% if chemo is added. Surgery is not an option, (too close to carotid the first time, no more tissue to spare.),
For the FIRST time, radiation, chemo & surgery are fully explained. Radiation & surgery are analagous; they are location specific. Chemo-therapy is systemic.
Why was this not explained BEFORE surgery? Seems to me, the treatment route SHOULD have been surgery & chemo, not surgery & radiation. Was the trial med supposed to replace chemo? nothing was explained, or offered, as such.
I should have seen this as a portent of things to come, but I had a serious brain injury in 2003, and make poor decisions unless I have time to mull them over. A cancer treatment protocol is not something I should decide without a week to think about. But, I got what I feel was a bum’s rush… you know, your life’s on the line, bud, gotta get right on this rapidly spreading cancer, and all that.
I decide to proceed at the same hospital where I had surgery & had the diasterous infection ordeal, among other very bad experiences. Oh, was that a mistake.
I started 7 weeks of radiation & chemo in late summer, ending in early October. To say it was a bad experience is a classic understatement. Mid treatment, i was ready to transfer back to the med school, the only issue would have been a 2 week interruption in my treatment, (not sure why, should have been easier, but the rad & chemo ttreatment mgt was a friggin’ nightmare, so why changed if I needed to escape.) Heard the saying, ‘Felt like I was being treated like a number.’?
Bingo. Right on. On spot.
The day after my last treatment, I was back at OHSU, the med school where everything began just over 20 months before. It was like night & day. Things were explained, if some in retrospect; empathy was on display, everywhere I went, vs antipathy as the prevalent emotion.
The prior expectation of post rad & chemo of ‘being tired for 6-10 months quickly went out the window 4-5 days after tratment ended. I breezed thru treatment, gained weight & got stronger. Then, on the 6th day, my body reacted. I was bed ridden for just over 4 months. Got so weak I could not get out of bed by myself. A little tired… yeah right.
Had a 12 week post treatment PET scan w- inconclusive results. Could be delayed healing, could be still existent cancer. The obvious decision I was facing was do I undergo a 2nd round of radiation/chemo. I was strong and healthy the first time, not so this time.
If it kicked my ass so bad, going in healthy & strong, what would it do going in weak & shaky? Up until 2020, I lived a life 20-30 years younger than my chronological age. I worked hard 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Retired early due to the brain injury, I was actively rebuilding my house, fabricating & building custom & retored cars, going like I was still 35 years old.
After rad & chemo, I was acting 80, not late 60’s. If I went thru chemo & radiation, again, I’d likely come out permanently an old man. Did I really want to do that, or should I say eff it, fore go further treatment, rehab from the hole I was in, and live out what I had, in better shape?
Adrian’s writing brings a lot of this to the front, for me. Such are the decisions none of us are prepared for,, or even discussed when we are ‘educated’ in our modern society. Nothing in our life’s education prepares us for the choices we are faced with; I know this for a fact, because I got all the ‘education’ our society offers. You can’t get more than Piling Higher & Deeper.
Even opting for the vaunted MD, instead doesn’t do it. They tell people of the need to make the necessary decisions, but offer no guidance in making them.
Like most people, I procrastinated, employing tried & true avoidance until another 12 weeks passed, and a PET scan was repeated, just two weeks ago. I didn’t even check the results on line. I had no ear ache, and that’s been a better indicator than anything else. Last week, I saw my new oncologist, well another doc in training wheels, actually, for test results & a eyes on scoping of my throat.
This time the docs smiled, and were happy. my throat is healing/ has healed nicely, and there is no sign of cancer in te PET, or visually. But, I’ve been told that before.
Something I wasn’t told before is the radiation damages your salivary glands to the point you have constant dry mouth & throat. Painful dry mouh, not the wimpy ‘cotton mouth’ from good weed. May never heal, either, I’m learning. I drink thin Jello, all day, all night, nothing else helps.
Oh, the 6″ neck incision I mwntioned in passing? Seems that severs the parotid nerve, which controls the parotid gland. We have two, R & L. They take up most of our cheeks, and are the main salivary juice creators. Even if my salivary glands worked, any slight change in food ph, as sensed by the tongue, causes the parotid gland to cramp due to impared nerve function.
You know that slight twinge you get when food is real sweet, or sour? imagine, instead, someone jabs you with an ice pick, about an inch below your ear. THAT is called First Bite Syndrome. No real treatment; 14% chance of full recovery.
According to American doctors, it is ‘very rare’. European doctors, not so much; the European Society of Throat Oncologists MANDATES their members make patients aware of FBS any time they perform one of 6 types of surgery. The number one cause of FBS is called a ‘Neck Dissection’.
Exactly what I had done in 2021. But hey, FBS is rare in the states, right?
But, I’m alive. Quality of life, well, that’s just an after thought, if thought of, at all. It’s the price we pay, I guess.
Don’t know how, but things really ought to change.
Thanks A.L. If nothing else, you provoke thought. You young ones, take notes…
(A bit later, a second note arrived, adding a few additional details and thoughts. AL)
The real punch line for my 2nd decade of the 21st I forgot to mention.
Turns out, in spite of every doc I posed my theory to negating it, the covid I contracted is responsible for the HPV cancer becoming active. I studied both covid and HPV cancer extensively. Covid uses RNA protein strands as the building blocks of new virus cells. When it comes to illness mutated strands, it somehow activates these diseases, sometimes many decades before they would have naturally, if they ever would have.
This explains why the incidence of rare genetic related disease, normally seen in 0.5-1% of the population has skyrocketed to 1-2% since the onset of covid. That truly if skyrocketing when you consider 2% would be a 4x’s increase if the actual rate is 0.5% Bad enough to double if it’s actually 1.0%.
There is at least a half dozen known diseases, very rare diseases, which are being ‘activated’ by covid. Still very low incidence, but then there is HPV cancer, cervical in women, throat in men. This past summer, a group of Greek docs documented the first documented case of covid, (I had it too early to test), causing a women to contract cervical cancer.
It only makes sense. People don’t get sick when cancer first strikes. There are no signs when cancer begins; it’s why people are told it’s already Stage 4, when it’s first diagnosed. When I got sick in early 2020, the FIRST symptom was a pain in my R tonsil. Then the cancer spread to a lymph node, and covid may it swell up to ping pong ball size.
The circumstantial evidence was overwhelming; the science soon followed.
Take covid seriously; keep wearing a mask, and by all means, get vaccinated, if you are not. And if you have kids, grandkids, nieces or nephews, see to it they get vaccinated for HPV. You do NOT want them ti go through what I did when they get older, even if they never get covid, they can still get cancer from HPV. And the incidence of HPV cancer IS rising.
So, here ends Wildwood55’s commentary. Experience is the greatest teacher, and I hope the lesson here is not lost on you. Take care of yourself. Don’t follow the herd, any herd. Do your due diligence, and ask questions when things aren’t clear to you.
Time passes. Time for tea? Tea for the tillerman, perhaps?
Oh, the image above? A little footnote at the end of today’s post will cover that. Fun stuff awaits, so do read on.
[Babe I’m Gonna Leave You \\ Led Zeppelin]
Debra pulled aquaTarkus over to the fuel pumps and topped off the tanks, then, while the Dude slept it off down below she ran to a nearby grocery store and stocked up on a few necessities – about fifteen hundred dollars worth of bare necessities – and she had sorted and stowed everything, and departed the harbor all on her own long before her passenger stirred. She felt proud of herself, too. Kind of like she was throwing off one skin and slipping into another.
The sun was up, the trades were filling in behind the hurricane, and she punched in Bora-Bora on the chartplotter. Twenty five hundred miles on one-seven-zero magnetic, so she opened up her copy of Ocean Passages For The World and read through the sailing directions. Then she went to section on the intertropical convergence zone and read through that just for good measure – and that didn’t sound all that fun, especially not with a stranger sleeping it off in the forward cabin. Japan was almost four thousand miles to the west and that was just too far, then she saw a little yellow Post-It not on a bookmarked page for routes to North America from the Hawaiian Islands and she saw Henry’s scribbled not there. Ketchikan, Alaska was underlined, and, after reading a few passage notes that that he’d made, she entered Ketchikan on the chart plotter and set the autopilot while she rolled out all sail. Had he, she wondered, left the note for her?
Following her morning rituals now, she doused her arms and thighs with sunscreen, then got the tops of her ears too, then on came her polarized Wayfarers and a fresh pair of Topsiders as she left Diamond Head in her wake. Then, on a hunch, she looked aft – and yes, there he was. Henry’s orca, his magnificent dorsal fin scything through her wake about fifty meters away, and then she saw he wasn’t alone this time. It looked like he’d brought the whole family along this time – and she smiled, if only because, in a small way, a part of Henry was still with her. She rapped on the hull and he came alongside for a moment and she told him it was nice to have him along.
Then she heard a stumbling ogre rumbling around below, groping his way to the head.
“What the fuck?” she heard the Dude growl as he stubbed a toe. “Now where the fuck am I…?”
She hurriedly put his wallet and passport in the chart table and waited for the inevitable.
Callahan reined him in, pulled him back, but the boy had started to enter Gershwin’s drawing room on the train so Callahan stopped playing and pulled Brendan back into the present.
“We were there!” Brendan cried. “Actually there! How did you do that!?”
Harry leaned close and whispered conspiratorially into the boy’s ear: “Not now. Let’s have some dinner first, then we can talk about it, okay?”
“Okay, Harry,” Brendan beamed, as happy now as he could ever remember feeling.
They ambled down to the patio in the rocks and The Doc was just about to turn the steaks, great big beefy two inch thick ribeyes – then Brendan took one look at the dead animals searing on the metal grate and howled in anguish.
“What’s wrong!?” The Doc howled back.
And Brendan pointed at the grill, retching at the sight of so much unnecessary agony. “Meat!” the man-child shrieked. “Look at all that dead animal flesh!”
The Doc nodded, his smile reaching from ear to ear. “Ain’t it wonderful,” he sighed.
“Don’t worry, Brendan,” DD said, coming down the steps with her salad. “I’ve got an artichoke going for you, and some avocado, too.”
The boy relaxed, though he looked uneasily at the grill – like he was watching a prisoner being led to the gallows.
“So,” Callahan said, trying to break through the uneasy silence that had just befallen DDs dinner party, “Brendan just had his first taste of Gershwin. What did you think of it, Brendan?”
“The beat is just like the train…” he replied.
“You know? It really is like a train,” The Doc said. “Funny. I’d never put that together before.”
“It’s okay on piano,” Callahan added, “but the intro just doesn’t work for me without the clarinet.”
“Clarinet?” Brendan asked. “You mean it isn’t a piano piece?”
“No, no, it was originally a piano concerto, actually for a small orchestra,” Callahan said.
“Wasn’t it Bernstein that first scored it for a full orchestra?” The Doc asked.
“Hell, I don’t know,” Harry mumbled, “but I think Brendan has some catching up to do.”
“Say, do you think you could play along on the guitar?” Harry asked. “I mean, you can play along with me, if you like.”
Brendan seemed to roll that over in his mind for a while – even as he plucked an artichoke leaf from the stalk, regarding it with curious anticipation – then he turned to Harry: “Do you have a guitar I could use?”
“I think we can find you one,” Harry grinned.
“I’d like to play again,” the man-child said, before he bit into the leaf. Two chomps was enough of that, however, so he spit the stringy mess into his napkin.
“Brendan?” Didi began, as she came down the steps and sat down beside him. “Have you had one of these before?”
With a deeply furrowed brow he shook his head and cleared his throat. “I don’t think it is cooked enough,” he whispered.
“Here, try it like this,” she said, plucking a leaf off the stalk and dipping it in drawn butter, then scraping the meat off the leaf with her front teeth. “There’s not a lot there, but I think that’s the point. You eat an artichoke slowly, trying different sauces, even trying different wines with each bight.”
“Show me again, please?”
And Didi did, exhibiting even more patience and offering encouragement when he tried his next leaf.
“That’s actually really good!” he said.
DD pushed over another sauce. “This is just good old mayonnaise with a sprinkle of cayenne on it. It’s my favorite!”
Brendan tried that one, then all the rest of DDs concoctions, then he dove into his avocado, now really into the dinner. He seemed to watch Harry and The Doc as they sliced into their steaks with a kind of grim fascination, looking at their slices of steak as each progressed from plate to mouth, then he turned to The Doc.
“May I try some, please?”
“Sure, but let me get you a fresh one off the grill.”
The Doc usually grilled a couple of filets for DD and anyone else who wanted a change, so he got one of those for Brendan and put it on a warm plate and passed it over to him.
Brendan tried to cut the steak with his fork but soon gave up on that, then he looked up, embarrassed, as he shrugged.
And once again Didi came to his rescue. “Here, let me cut it for you,” she said, slicing off a bite and letting him take it with his fork.
He regarded the meat suspiciously, then he took a quick sniff – and without any more said he popped the steak in his mouth and swallowed it as quickly as he could. Then he reached for his water and downed a glass.
“Well,” The Doc said, “what do you think?”
“Is that pepper?” Brendan asked, his eyes watering.
“Yes, salt and pepper, and a little lime-butter. Could you taste the lime?”
He nodded. “Yes. A little. It’s not what I thought it would taste like, but it’s still very strange, too. My stomach feel strange.”
“You might want to have some yogurt before bed,” Doc Watson said. “Your gut biome might start turning somersaults if you don’t.”
“What’s a somersault?” Brendan asked…
…and everyone around the table seemed to pause on hearing that question, each of them realizing that the man-child had never ever experienced any of the usual growing up things that they had…
And again Didi rode in to the rescue: “I think we need to go down to the beach tomorrow. You and I have some serious catching up to do!”
“I may have to take some time off from work tomorrow,” The Doc grinned. “I haven’t done somersaults since I was in kindergarten!”
Brendan smiled but he didn’t understand what was going on, but then he turned to Didi. “Could you show me how you cut the steak, please?”
And Harry watched Didi closely for a while, not sure if she was simply ingratiating herself to Callahan, or if she was naturally gifted with children. He studied her face just then, the very extensive – and very high quality – plastic surgery she’d obviously endured after some kind of massive trauma to her face and neck, and then he watched how she interacted with the boy. Was she trying to apologize, in her way, or was this another classic set-up, only this time with Mossad written all over the effort?
The question Callahan suddenly found himself grappling with was – did it really matter? If he wasn’t going to trust her, it didn’t matter what the motivation was. If what she was after really was some kind of cooperative sharing arrangement with the Israelis, why not just ask? Why all the subterfuge?
And it hit him, then.
If there was another group out there working along the same lines as Deborah and himself, would the Israelis automatically assume he was a free agent? Or might they want to find out if he’d been turned and was already working for this other group? Knowing the colonel that wasn’t exactly unreasonable, or implausible, was it?
No…for now he had to let this play out, at least for a while, yet there was another danger brewing now. The Kid had a gift, an innate, physical gift that allowed him to see and do things that he, Callahan, needed a piano to accomplish. And what if Didi figured that one out…? Well, the Kid would probably wind up being spirited out of the country to a secure facility in the Negev, and that’d be that. Harry was, after all, very familiar with that…
But then another errant thought slapped him, back to face the most potent danger of all. What if the Kid started playing the guitar and discovered the harmonic sequences needed to enter the Shift? The Kid was not simply immature; as far as Callahan was concerned his moral compass was a complete unknown. So now Harry had to consider how far he could go with Brendan – before his magic fingers peeled away the sky and the boy figured everything out for himself.
Debra trimmed sail then set the radar to it’s maximum range of 72 nautical miles and watched traffic resolve onscreen. Studying the various contacts one by one, she set bearing lines and guard zones for each of the possible conflicts, then she set the autopilot and went back down to the chart table…
The Dude was just sitting across from the table in the saloon, layers of dirt and grime all over his unwashed body, and she realized in an instant that the man stank. Like dirty feet…that had been in the same tennis shoes for weeks without a change or a bath. And he was still stoned. Sort of. Maybe. But she couldn’t tell if this was an act or not yet, as his aura was still a muddied mess.
She came down the companionway steps and Daisy Jane came out of her stateroom, and as soon as the pup saw the stranger she lowered her head and stepped close the hairy thing sitting across from the galley. She sniffed his legs, then his groin – and that seemed to get his attention. His eyes popped open and he looked around his (new, unknown) surroundings, then his eyes settled on Debra.
“I remember you. You have nice gazongas.”
“Thanks. Do you happen to know what planet you’re on?”
He snorted. “Man, was I out of it, or fuckin’ what?”
“You could say that. I need a name, if you don’t mind me asking.”
“Okay. Well, we’re about twenty miles northeast of Diamond Head. Think you wanna make a swim for it?”
“Dan, as in short for Daniel.”
“Okay, Dan short for Daniel. I hope you brought a change of clothes in that duffel?”
She shook her head, tried not to judge the guy too harshly…
“Look, lady, I’m tired and I’m seriously fucked up right now…”
“And let’s not forget that you need a shower. Care to use some bleach? For starters – please?”
“What’s with the attitude, man? I mean, like, I saved your life, right? And the next thing I know I’m out here and…”
“We’re headed to Ketchikan, in case you happen to be interested.”
“Hey man, like I don’t have clothes for that shit, ya know?”
“Well, I got a shower and a water-maker, and you can get started on that while I find some disinfectant to clean where you’ve been sitting. I’ll whip up some breakfast, that is assuming you can get clean enough so I can stand to be around you. There’s a clean towel on the rack, by the way.”
“Jesus, man, what side of the fuckin’ bed did you get up on this morning…?”
“I didn’t, Slick. I was up all night, trying to figure out what to do to save my ass, let alone yours, too. Now you should hit the shower. You dig?”
“Jesus H Fucking Christ,” the bearded-hairy dude said as he turned for the head, muttering something about “the rag” and “PMS” on his way down below – which delighted Debra no end. Until she knew exactly who this ‘dude’ was, she wasn’t going to take any chances, so keeping him on a short leash – for now – was the safest way to proceed.
Henry took the helm and steered along the Hilo breakwater, rounding the entrance about ten that morning. He left Sumner and Tracy to stow all the groceries while he looked at the email from Debra, and he showed the note to the Old Man…
“I’ll get right on it,” the General said, pulling out his sat phone. “Where is she now?”
“About two hours out, passing Diamond Head.”
“I don’t like it,” the Old Man said, grumbling at the sky while he looked for true south. “Man. To get this far and now this? Her old man tried to take her out?”
“That’s the obvious conclusion, sir. Problem is, it’s too obvious. Something doesn’t smell right.”
“Converge on her heading, put one of us on board.”
“I’m working on a best heading now.”
“I feel like waffles today, Hank. That sound alright?”
Henry nodded. “Yeah, sure does. Why don’t you see if you can get the spud to help.”
The Old Man nodded as he went below, and Henry sent an email to Debra outlining his latest plan…
When the Dude came back up the companionway he at least smelled a little like soap.
And – he was hungry. He hadn’t had much to eat, he grumbled, in two days. His diet these days was, he added, pretty much restricted to Doritos and Mountain Dew, and pot.
“Oh?” she smiled. “Solid food doesn’t agree with you?”
“The human fucking race doesn’t agree with me,” the dude growled. “What are these? Smells good…”
“Just fried egg sandwiches. Choice of ham or sausage patties.”
“They don’t look like they frozen kind…”
“Probably because I made them. Help yourself.”
The dude grabbed a sausage and egg sammie and launched into it like he was well and truly starving for real food, and by the time she’d taken a second bite from her’s he finished one sandwich and had started in on another.
“This is really good,” he mumbled between mouthfuls.
“Say, I couldn’t find my wallet, or my passport. Did you see them? Maybe they fell out on the floor on the way over…?”
“No, I have them.”
“You – what? You…have them? What’s up with that?”
“I need to know who you are, Dan short for Daniel. And what your story is.” She watched his eyes while he reacted, and his hands. Her gut told her something wasn’t right with this guy, that the wasted pot smoking thing was a ruse – and now his aura began shifting.
“So, what did you do? Call Magnum, PI? Have him run a background check on me?”
“Something like that,” she replied. “So, how long did you work for the FBI?”
“Twenty four years,” he said as he took another sandwich. “I retired two years ago, sailed here from Seattle. And I’ve been in that marina ever since.”
“Sounds dull,” Dan replied, looking over their wake at the receding island. “I know this probably sounds stupid to you, but I needed some dull in my life.”
“No, not stupid, but you don’t look like the type.”
“Oh, and you know my type?”
“I know miserable when I see it, so yeah, I know your type.”
“So, who was trying to take you out?”
“You tell me. Maybe it was my father, or maybe you.”
He stopped chewing and looked up at her, then he swallowed hard. “Your father? Any idea why?”
“No. Do you?”
Dan smiled. “Nice try, but your interrogation technique could use a little work.”
“Funny you should say that,” she sighed, looking at his aura and suddenly seeing his thoughts in her mind. “Who are you working for — or shouldn’t I ask?”
He looked at her looking at him, at the way she was watching things he just couldn’t see, things he had no idea he was broadcasting, and he suddenly felt uneasy. “What are you doing?” he finally asked — as the power in her eyes reached out for him.
“Tell me your name,” she said. “Your real name this time.”
“You’ve seen my passport, my driver’s license. What else do you need?”
“The truth? The truth is I was stoned out of my mind and I see some guy out on the pier with a pistol and he’s screwing on a silencer and the truth is I didn’t know what the fuck was going on…”
“No, it’s not.”
“Look, I don’t know who you think you are, but…”
“Not true. You know exactly who I am,” she sighed. “Now, the question is: who are you? But more to the point – who sent you, and why?”
Her sat-phone chirped and she picked it up and looked at the screen: “Daniel Wingren retired FBI 16 Aug 06. Has been freelancing counter-intel for both corporations and interested nations for past eighteen months. The trimaran you mention was chartered by a shell corporation two weeks ago, about the time we took off from LA. Assume hostile until proven otherwise. Adjust your course ten degrees starboard, we’re on the way.”
She put the phone down and looked at Wingren, nodding now as she watched his aura change from deception to aggression, and as he stood she pulled her Sig from the front pocket of her windbreaker.
“Sit down, Mr Wingren,” she said – stoically now.
“What is that…a P220?”
“Yup. Two Glaser Safety Slugs and five Winchester Silvertips, in case you want to want to temp the fates.”
“No, not really. I assume you know who to shoot that thing?”
“You probably don’t want to test out that hypothesis. Now, who are you working for?” she said – as she aimed the pistol at the man’s groin.
“Alright…alright…let’s dial down on the estrogen, okay…?”
“And that was exactly the wrong fucking thing to say to me, dickhead,” Debra sighed as she walked over to the rail. She knelt down and slapped the side of the hull then stood and waited.
“What was that all about?” Wingren asked…
…just as the big male orca slid alongside, rolling on it’s side and staring up at her…
“I’m only going to say this one, okay. Some people keep German Shepherds as guard dogs. I keep this orca. Now, I want you to walk over to the rail and take a good long look at him. Now, Wingren!” she barked.
Wingren walked to the rail and looked down at the orca. “Do you really expect me to believe…”
So Debra concentrated, established the link and told the orca what she needed him to do, then she sat back and waited. “Oh, you might want to lean over and watch this,” she said as the orca slid beneath the waves…
“Okay,” he said as he leaned out over the rail, “and what am I looking for?”
And just then the big male rocketed up out of the water, his left pectoral fin knocking Wingren overboard, then the orca circled around and came on the man from behind, gently grabbing him by the shoulder and taking him about twenty feet down – before releasing him.
Debra waited for the sputtering man to surface, then she told the orca to gather him up and bring him to the swim platform, and she stepped down to help roll the completely cowed former FBI agent back onboard. And soon enough Wingren was coughing and slapping the deck as he tried to reconcile recent events with his prior understanding of the world…
She tossed him a towel and thanked the orca, then – with one hand still on her Sig, she helped Wingren up into the cockpit – and his aura was subdued now, but still not yet truthful.
“Are you ready to talk now?” she asked Wingren.
“How did you do that?” he asked.
“What? You mean talk to a killer whale?”
“I used to work at Sea World. We’re very close,” she quipped, “if you know what I mean.”
But Wingren shook his head. “Sorry, but Sea World ain’t in your file, Miss Sorensen.”
“Ah, so you know my name?”
“Yeah, and I thought I knew all there was to know about you, too.”
“Apparently not, huh?” she grinned.
“Apparently not. I picked up a couple of rumors about the aura thing, but nothing about communicating with other species.”
“Oh, Mr Wingren, you don’t know the half of it. Now, who sent you? I’m assuming my father doesn’t have anything to do with it, but only because you killed that guy. On the other hand, maybe my father sent you and you killed…who knows who? So, care to tell me what’s what, or would you like to go for another swim?”
Wingren sighed, then he nodded. “Mossad. My contact is a Colonel Ben Goodman.”
“Okay. That’s the who. Now, tell me why.”
“Because the people your father is working with tried to have you killed, and we want to know why. Specifically, we don’t know why they’re afraid of you.”
“Maybe you just found out why?”
“Maybe, but my own take is that it has something to do with the baby on the bridge.”
“But then it turns out everyone with you on the boat when you left LA was gone when you docked.”
“Gee. Imagine that. So the only hole in your story, at least as far as I can tell so far, is that you knew someone was going to kill me as soon as I arrived in Honolulu. That strikes me as pretty odd, Mr. Wingren.”
“You’d have to ask Goodman about that.”
“And Goodman is Mossad. But – why is the Mossad interested in me?”
“Not you, Miss Sorensen. The baby. The baby isn’t human, and that, apparently, has scared a whole lot of people.”
“Not human? I’ve held that baby in my hands, Dan, and it sure feels human to me…”
“There’s a video, apparently, that has led some to think otherwise.”
“There, yes, but also in Washington, and Argentina.”
“Argentina? My father has been in Argentina for quite some time, but I don’t know anything about that.”
“I don’t either.”
“And you’re lying again, Mr. Wingren.”
He sighed. “Man, I’d sure hate to play poker with you…”
Debra smiled, and just then the guard zone on her radar chimed. She went to the screen and looked at the vessel’s AIS information and smiled. Henry would be with her again in just a few hours, and this time she wasn’t going to let him leave. No, not ever again.
Now…all she had to do was stay alive until he got here.
Regarding the image of the tree above; a reader who drops by the memory warehouse from time to time sent the image of the tree, which I then took into Photoshop for an overhaul, adding the sky and darkening the overall scene. Photographer Neels and wife Ria run an inn in South Africa, and they surveil the surroundings for interesting trips to take guests on; Neels shot this tree on a recent outing – as well as a few elephants in hilarious poses. If you’ve an interest in touring Kruger National Park (the largest game preserve in Africa, BTW) it seems Neels and Ria may be a great place to start. If you do, please send pictures!!! So…let’s ramble on!
Henry Taggart now faced an interesting choice, an unusual set of problems, and solely from the perspective of piloting the Swan back to the West Coast of North America there were few good options left to him now. They’d left Los Angeles in early December and now here they were – tied off in Hilo the day before Christmas Eve. The usual route back to Seattle, or to Vancouver, involved placing the North Pacific High on a routing chart and then looking at the most recent weather datums of the isobars surrounding the High. If you were foolish enough to try and skirt around the southern reaches of the high, the impudent voyager would beat into the wind for weeks – all while detouring as far south as the southern tip of Baja California – and then having to slam north against wind and current for as long as the boat, or the sailors on board, could take it. Sailing the rhumb line from Hilo to Ketchikan, Alaska would take you right into the center of the massive high pressure system that lurks around out there – and where little to no wind for weeks on end is a real possibility. Yet riding the wind around the high pressure system would carry the Swan north towards the Aleutian Island chain, necessitating a potentially life-threatening passage across the Gulf of Alaska – in January – to reach the West Coast. The best option, given current circumstances, boiled down to how far north the high pressure system would be pushed by the faltering hurricane, and for how long they could ride the low.
If — and Taggart had to assume this was a really big if — he could push the Swan along in the lee of the hurricane – for as long as it held up, anyway – he might be able to surf along in relatively warm weather more than half the way to Ketchikan. It was a ballsy move, and if the high filled-in too fast behind the hurricane they could be caught out in the middle of the North Pacific with no wind and with dwindling stocks of food and fuel. Still, again, given current circumstances — which included trying to avoid contact with Ted Sorensen while at the same time keeping little Dana in safe hands — he decided it was safer to top off the fuel and water tanks and make a quick grocery run at first light before setting out behind the hurricane.
And the odd thing? Tracy Abernathy stayed up with him as he downloaded the needed weather files and plotted the centers of both the North Pacific High and the eye of the hurricane on the huge, paper routing chart on the chart table, asking him questions as if she really wanted to understand what he was up to, and why he had come to the decision he had. And the thing is…she seemed to be putting some kind of move on him. Like she had been, well, locked up with the old man and she had found him…uninteresting, in that certain kind of way. She put her hand on the chart once and she made a little joke about something trivial then put her hand on his, and yet the thing was, to Henry, those fingers lingered a little too long to be just another innocuously incidental contact. So he had looked up and looked into her eyes and looked at his internal barometer for a second or so, and then, when she made eye contact too, something indefinable passed between them and everything that happened between them over the next three weeks was just a footnote to that moment.
She sealed the deal when she went to the fridge and produced a mastodon-sized rib-eye steak that she’d ordered for him at the steakhouse and then had wrapped up in a to-go package for him. She’d then put the foil-wrapped steak in a low oven with some butter and lime on top and then had warmed up the meat slowly.
When she finished with his meat they were both more than a little satisfied with the results…
Debra Sorensen docked aquaTarkus at the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor – just a stone’s throw from Wairkiki Beach in Honolulu. Ralph Richardson managed not to fall overboard when she pulled into the slip indicated by the Harbor Master, and yet as soon as the Vindo was tied-off, Ralph and his daughter Dana ran to grab a taxi to the airport. Now she was alone – and for the first time in weeks – with only Daisy-Jane by her side. And when she realized she would probably never see him again, she finally understood how much she was going to miss Henry Taggart, and what he’d come to mean to her. And to Daisy-Jane, who looked despondent now.
She sat in the cockpit, oblivious to the light rain still falling over the harbor, her head askew, her mouth loose while she settled into this new place, and yet she wondered how long it would take.
For her father, or some of his men, to come for her. Where would they take her? Or…would they?
A thick, billowy cloud of burning pot wafted over the boat, and she had to smile. This was, after all, Hawaii, and what did they call it? Maui-wowee? Someone nearby had to be smoking a kilo of the stuff right now, if the size of the smoke trail was any indication, and she grinned at the thought of the absurdity of her position. Alone, vulnerable and exposed, and about to suffocate in a cloud of burning weed…
‘Well, there are probably worse ways to go,’ she sighed.
Daisy came up the companionway just then, the fur around her stitched-up wounds had still not completely covered her scars, and they looked at one another for a while, both wondering what was coming next. Then Debra remembered Daisy hadn’t eaten all day so she went below to fix her dinner, grabbing a small bottle of Ensure for herself – before shaking her head and putting that little bottle of despair back in the ‘fridge.
‘I can’t go down that road again,’ she told herself, remembering her mind-numbing battles with Xanax her first autumn in Aspen, when Daisy had been a tiny little thing. ‘Maybe it’s time to try Prozac,’ she mumbled, trying to keep out of the way of all Henry Taggart’s aching echoes as she stumbled around the galley in the leftover darkness of his sudden departure…
Then Daisy Jane growled, a deep, low, mean kind of growl. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end.
And that was that, she knew. “Well, that didn’t take long,” she sighed, never feeling more alone in her life. She went to her stateroom and grabbed the Sig P220 Henry had picked out for her and then she slowly made her way to the companionway steps, waiting in the gathering darkness that just had to be the end of the line. Daisy came and sat by her feet, hoping it wouldn’t hurt so much this time.
DD and Doc Watson had everything ready to go. Steaks were in the ‘fridge, her Caesar salad was in a bowl and all set for a quick toss, and The Doc had frozen margaritas ready to roll in the blender. Harry had to smile at the love that had sprung up around this little seaside haven, the love he felt a lingering echo of the brightest passion that had flared here, once upon a time. Of all the women he’d known or thought he had loved, Cathy was the one he missed the most now, and, in a way, how could he not. This house had, if anything, sprung from her mind. It was, in a very real sense, an expression of everything she thought she’d come to know about him, and yet she’d turned that knowledge into a gift. An even more special gift that they’d been able to experience together – if only for a few years.
So…what was that old saying? About the love that burns the brightest…?
Yes. Yes it had.
And yet, he still had Liz. Elizabeth. And yet he missed her, like any father misses a child that has flown the nest. Only…she wasn’t his daughter. She was his best friend’s daughter, the dead best friend. And Cathy’s daughter. So…where was his son? Why had that relationship gone so badly astray? Were all the usual suspects to blame? Pride and anger? Or jealousy, perhaps? What he wouldn’t do now to understand.
Deborah showed Brendan to his room and helped him get settled, and Harry asked DD if Didi could stay with them for a while…
…until DD reminded Harry that the small studio up the hill had a small flat attached — and that it was currently not in use.
“Well, Hell, that ought to work out just fine,” he grumbled, still not sure he wanted Didi anywhere close to him just yet…
And DD took a measure of the moment and backtracked: “But maybe she’d better stay with us until she learns her way around…?”
“Good thinking,” Harry sighed.
“Riesling or a Cabernet tonight, Harry?” she added hastily, covering her tracks.
“Could we start with apples and cheese and a Riesling?”
“We sure can,” she smiled — as the boy came back to the living room with Deborah.
Brendan looked around the room, remembering the last time he’d been here — ‘but wasn’t that just a few days ago? And what happened to my father…?’ — then he walked over to Harry’s Bösendorfer, the piano in the mitered glass projection that seemed almost like a gull perched on one of the rocks hovering over the sea, waiting to take flight again… Yet the boy hardly seemed aware of his surroundings…
And so Harry walked over and joined Brendan.
“How are you feeling?” Callahan asked, worried by the vacant stare he watched evolving.
“What happened to my father?”
“I’m not sure, Brendan. I think he’s grown scared of…”
“Of me. Yes, I think I could feel that. But maybe this has always been inevitable, Mr. Callahan.”
“You can call me Harry, okay?”
“Harry? Yes. Okay. I will try, if I can remember.”
“Do you play the piano?” Callahan asked.
“The guitar. I have a nice guitar at school, or maybe it’s at home. But…I…”
“But what, Brendan?”
“But I don’t have a home anymore, do I, Harry?”
“Sure you do, Brendan. This is your home now, and for as long as you want to stay and call it home.”
The man-child nodded his head slowly, looking at all the permutations this new equation afforded, then – ignoring Harry’s sidelong glance – he went and sat at the piano. “Which keys are what notes?” he asked, and so Harry sat beside him and slowly played the scale, announcing each note as he played. Then Brendan asked Harry to play a few major chords, and the man-child watched, memorizing, remembering, visualizing — and then, finally, playing several chords on his own.
Next, Callahan laid out the opening moves to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, note by note, chord by chord, but after a few minutes Brendan stopped Harry.
“What is the name of this piece?” he asked.
“It’s called the Rhapsody in Blue. Have you ever heard of George Gershwin?”
“I remember it from somewhere. No, some time else.”
“Some time? What do you mean by that, Brendan?”
But the boy stopped what he was doing and began drawing problems in the air above the piano.
“What are you doing, Brendan? Can you tell me what you see?”
“I am looking for Mister Gershwin, Harry. I want to see how he came up with the numbers for this music.”
“How do you do that, Brendan?”
“Lean closer, Harry. Put your head next to mine and look…”
And so Callahan did.
And in the next instant Callahan began to follow Brendan’s fingers as they swished through the air — and it was as if the molecules pushed aside by the passage of the boy’s fingers began to vibrate, and Callahan realized he was now holding his breath, astonished as an amber-orange mist formed in the wake, and then, as numbers coalesced…
…Callahan heard something…
…like the muffled clickety-clack clickety-clack sounds from inside a distant railway passenger car…
…and then he saw Gershwin, sitting inside a railway car’s drawing room, scoring music as his body swayed to the beat of the clickety-clack clickety-clack sounds…
And then Brendan began to wilt, as if the strain of producing this series of images had physically drained his being, so Harry now had to make a decision.
And so he did.
“Brendan? Put your hand on my shoulder…I want to show you something.”
A pink mote of dust in the air above them began to vibrate wildly, while out on the rocks the Old Man watched Harry and the boy, and he too held his breath — because so much was riding on the outcome of what happened next.
Nothing moved. Not even the air around her.
She watched her human walk out into the night, so she followed.
And there was another human out there. Tall. Dressed in the same color as the night, and she recognized the thing in the other human’s hand. The metal thing that made so much noise it hurt.
Debra saw the man and froze. The gun in his hand was already up and ready. There was nothing in his eyes. No fear. No anger. No regret.
‘So, this is it?’ Debra sighed inwardly. Now she knew. Her father had abandoned her. Completely. And she would die here on this boat so far away from everything she had ever known, and now without the one person who might’ve helped her. She watched as the man screwed a silencer onto the end of his pistol’s barrel…
“Don’t hurt the dog, okay?” she asked.
But the man just brought a single finger up to his lips and gently shushed her, nodding his head as he did, then he brought the pistol up and put it right up against her forehead.
And just then Daisy Jane began to growl. Again.
She was sure now. The other human was going to hurt her human.
Now there was only one thing to do.
The man was distracted by the sound and he looked down, saw the dog’s mouth opening and he almost began to feel the crushing pressure around his scrotum as the dog made contact – but just then he felt an explosive pain in the middle of his back…
He saw the woman jump back as searingly impossible pain enveloped him, pushing everything else from his mind, but through it all he remembered the pistol in his hand. He was dying now and he knew it, yet the last instinct in this final moment of his life was to finish the job. He struggled to focus, to bring his hand up again, then he felt teeth encircle his head and the bones in his face began to…
Debra recoiled away from an explosive wound that emerged from the man’s gut – just as she felt Daisy-Jane at her knees – now lunging for the man’s groin. Then she realized that something huge, something like the spear from a Scuba diver’s speargun, had just blown through the man’s midsection, and now he was falling…overboard. So…she gave him a push, and she saw that last startled expression on his face, and in his eyes…as he fell…
…into the gaping mouth of the orca, waiting there just under the stern. The big male caught the assassin’s head in his mouth and slowly rolled away and under the water, disappearing in an instant…
“Whoa! What the fuck!” the hairy, big-footed Southern California surfer-dude said as he watched the orca pull the assassin under the inky water.
Debra turned and looked at the immense, bearded-hairy monster standing there – inside a billowing rainbow haze of ascending pot smoke. The dude’s aura was all over the place, too… Shock, surprise, a little fear too — but no malice towards…anyone. She thought the guy looked kind of like Jeff Bridges, too – and he certainly sounded just like the actor. But then again, everyone from Orange County who hung at the beach sounded just like Jeff Bridges.
And then she saw the speargun – in the dude’s hands.
“Man, are you like alright,” the dude asked, hopping off his old trimaran onto the dock. “What was up with that fucker? Did you, like, forget to pay your Exxon bill, or what?”
And Debra could see that the dude was beyond stoned. He was, she guess, already in low earth orbit and headed for Venus, but he’d just saved her life and killed a man in the process. “I’m fine, and thanks for the help,” she replied.
“Did you know that guy?”
“Well, shit, we sure fucked up his night,” the dude said, laughing a little while he bent over and looked into the water. He began to sway and looked ready to topple and fall into the water, and not knowing what else was lurking down there Debra hopped off aquaTarkus and reached out for the dude – just as he was about to crash and burn right out there on the pier – and after she steadied him up she helped him across and onto her boat. He plopped down onto a cockpit seat and when he began to lean over she propped him up against the cockpit’s hard dodger.
Debra turned on the cockpit lights and saw blood everywhere, even around Daisy-Jane’s mouth, so she put down her Sig and pulled out the wash-down hose and sprayed off all the cockpit’s many faceted nooks and crannies. Then she sprayed down Daisy and toweled her off.
The dude’s eyes were now almost completely rolled back in his head when he started singing…
“If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck, I’d swim to the bottom and drink it all up…”
“You know, I don’t think you need any whiskey right now,” she sighed as she sprayed off her own legs and feet, then she saw little bits of blood and guts all over the front of her t-shirt – so right there she peeled her shirt off and the dude approved of that, and wholeheartedly too.
“Man, you got some gorgeous knockers, you like know that, right?”
“Thanks. You do to,” she said, marveling at the size of the beer belly under the dude’s filthy polo shirt.
“Yeah? Ya think so?”
She smiled and cast a wary eye at her erstwhile savior.
“That your pistol, man?” he said, picking up the Sig.
“Yes, it sure is.”
“You a cop or something?”
“Why do you want to know that?”
“Man, the only people I know that carry Sigs are cops.”
“You know many cops?”
“Used to be one, once upon a time, anyway.”
“Really? Here in Hawaii?”
His eyes rolled again and he shook his head violently, trying to come back to the moment. “No, man, Washington, D.C. Los Federales, ya know. G-Man. Federal Bureau of Butt Fuckers,” he snarled— before he started giggling and slapping a knee.
“You retire, or get your ass fired?”
“Reeee-tired, Ma’am, with full fucking benefits, too.”
“And don’t tell me, let me guess…you’re from Newport Beach, right?”
“Balboa Island,” he giggled. “Born and bred. Say, how’d you know that?”
“Lucky guess,” Debra sighed. She looked at the dude’s boat and it was beyond help: faded fibreglass everywhere and the sails were in tatters. He’d gone out in search of the dream and landed here, smack dab in the middle of pot central, and here he was gonna stay.
Except he’d just killed a man. Someone who was going to be missed. And there were probably a half dozen security cameras around here that had recorded the whole thing, too.
“You got a passport?” she asked.
“Why? We going somewhere?” he replied.
“Yeah. We better get you away from here for a while, if you know what I mean, jelly bean.”
“Jelly bean? Hey, I like that.”
“Passport? Wallet, money? Go get ‘em. Now.”
She started the diesel and waited for him to stumble over to his boat and back, and when he came out of the clouds of smoke he was carrying a small duffel stuffed with t-shirts and underwear.
“Oh, sweet Jesus,” she muttered under her breath. “Think you can cast off the dock lines?” she asked hopefully.
“Yeah, man. Where we headed?”
“Out there,” Debra Sorensen said, pointing to a horizon suddenly very far away.
Sumner and Henry decided to walk to the steak place, and while Dana chose to ride on her father’s shoulders, she had grown so much over the last couple of hours that he was having quite a time of it. But handling her steadily increasing weight wasn’t the only problem, so when Tracy and the Old Man passed in a taxi, and as Sumner had just about decided that automobiles weren’t so bad after all, the burdens of fatherhood took on a whole new patina to Henry Taggart. After a half hour walk he was now well and truly tired.
But eating animal flesh was, however, a step too far for Dana. When Henry described what a steak was to her, and more to the point where steaks came from, she shrieked in terror and ran from the restaurant, Henry in hot pursuit. He talked her into trying the salad bar at a nearby seafood restaurant, and she seemed mollified by his sudden change of heart.
“Who told you it was bad to eat meat?” he asked her as she fumbled with her fork — yet another ‘new’ experience that evening.
“Isn’t that self-evident, Father?” she replied, the tone of her chiding retort at once admonishing and pedantic, and which Henry thought sounded an awful lot like Brendan Geddes — with a nice melange of Debra tossed on top just for good measure.
“Well, maybe, but human evolved over time to be omnivores, not herbivores. By the way, do you know the difference between those two words?”
And he watched her closely just then, because he’d had a sneaking suspicion, a hunch that just wouldn’t go away, and as he watched her formulating a response that answer seemed to fall into place.
Because she paused, almost like a computer seeking out the allotted space on a drive where certain bits of knowledge were stored, and within that pause she almost seemed closed off to the external world.
And only after a few moments did her reply take shape. “Yes, Father, I think so. A herbivore eats grasses and foliage, whereas an omnivore eats everything.”
“That’s correct. Can you tell me where you learned that information?”
“I’m not sure, Father.”
“Can you tell me if this knowledge came from outside of yourself?”
“I’m not sure, Father, but I think that may be true.”
He held up a piece of smoked salmon, then he looked her in the eye: “Would you try this for me, please?”
“What is it, Father?”
“It’s called salmon. It’s a fish that lives in the sea.”
“I cannot eat that, Father.”
“Okay. Do you like your salad?”
“Yes, very much.”
“Which things do you like the most?”
She pointed at pickled beets and asparagus spears, foods with a high mineral content, and he nodded. “Why do you ask, Father?”
“Well, when I go to the store to buy food for you to eat, now I’ll know what to buy.”
“But I don’t need to eat, Father.”
“Really? What about fluids? Do you need to drink things like water, or…milk?”
“I need complex carbohydrates.”
He looked around the table and all he had to choose from was water, orange juice, and his beer, a Budweiser in a frosty long-necked bottle. “Try the orange juice,” he said, moving the glass close to her.
She took a sip and put the glass down. “What do you call this flavor?”
“The main flavor you taste is a simple sugar we call glucose, and the molecular formula is C6H12O6. And yes, Dana, this is a complex carbohydrate. Do you know why it’s called that?”
Again the pause, again the cycling through knowledge stored…somewhere.
“Yes, because of the photosynthetic interaction of oxygen and carbon dioxide during the formation of cellulose.”
“Alright. Now try this,” he said, pouring a little Budweiser into an empty glass and pushing it across the table to her. She picked it up and took a sip, then she smiled and studied the liquid before finishing the glass.
“What is this called, Father?”
“This is called Budweiser, Dana, and Budweiser is a type of beer.”
“Is this a complex carbohydrate, Father?”
“Oh yes, it’s very complex indeed.”
“I like this, Father. Budweiser is a very good thing.”
“Yes,” he sighed, “Budweiser is a very good…thing.”
As the CAT Huey settled on the ramp Callahan slid the door open and let the fresh sea breeze roll through the stuffy cabin, then he stepped out onto the skid and turned to help Deborah down to the ground. Brendan was focused on a problem in the beyond, his fingers working through solutions as they came to him, yet Didi looked at him with something akin to reverence in her eyes. She watched until he came to a pause and then she reached out, put a hand on his shoulder.
“Can you come with me now?” Didi asked him politely, almost gently.
Brendan seemed to struggle for a moment, and Callahan had trouble understanding what the boy was going through. There were moments when the boy almost seemed ‘normal’ – but then he’d see something up there beyond the far side of the sky and he was off again. To wherever he went inside those moments, but now he watched as the boy respond to Didi, to really take note of who was reaching out to him, and this time he seemed to listen, and respond – to her.
“Right,” he said, taking her hand and stepping out of the Huey, shielding his eyes from the midday sun with an awkward salute. The rotors were still winding down, the wilting wings still making a faint whooshing sound as they acred by just overhead, and Brendan instinctively ducked a little as he followed Didi over to Harry and Deborah. After the pilot carried their luggage over he climbed back into the Huey and restarted the turbines, and Harry stood there watching as the helicopter lifted slowly from the ramp and turned to the south, towards San Francisco, and Didi could only imagine the anguish he must’ve felt. He’d been a pilot, after all, and pilots never ever stop being pilots. Pilots never stopped remembering, too — and she was the one who had taken all that from him.
She’d felt, at one point during the flight, that he really was going to open the door and toss her into the sea — and yet she understood him. In a way she even agreed with his reasoning, even with the locus of his rage, but she hoped one day he might take the leap and see what she’d been trying to do. She’d never really loved him, not really, even though she’d hooked up with one of Callahan’s pilots once, even though that had been little more than a veiled attempt to stay close to him. Even if that brief union had ultimately proven to be a disastrous mistake, she’d stayed true to him, helped secure his economic future, and she’d begun to feel something like a duty to protect him. But she watched him closely now, watched him watching Brendan, then looking at Deborah, and she kept focusing on his eyes as he swept in the scene. He was, in the end, a predator. Dangerous. Yet she had held him once, almost as a falconer holds a falcon…
But no, that too was an illusion. Callahan was a killer, true, and he always would be, but there was nothing she could do to change that. No falconer’s hood would obscure his way of seeing the world, no enticing treats would tether him to anything beyond the moment – so she would have to hold him in the moment, somehow earn his trust in order to keep him close again. She knew she had to try, and right now, or she would lose him forever. And then she saw Callahan looking at the boy again, still confused, still wary of the hidden power the boy seemed to grasp, and then, in a flash, she saw the way ahead…
‘Yes,’ she replied to the coaxing little voice inside, ‘I have to try…’
Dana climbed up on her father’s shoulders again, for the walk back to the boat, and once again she felt heavier to him. Her legs were a little longer than just an hour ago, and even her hands were taking on a more slender form. A more adult form. And Taggart found these rapid metamorphic bursts more than a little unnerving; no, they were almost inhumanly spooky.
But everyone was waiting for them as the two of them marched along Banyan Drive, heading back to Hilo’s tiny harbor. The rain had stopped completely and he wondered if the hurricane’s eye had arrived, and then he felt her in his head, roaming through his thoughts.
“The storm has passed to the east-northeast, Father,” she said. “It will be of no consequence to us now.”
He took a deep breath, tried to clear his mind — but he knew it was useless. She had full, unfettered access to anything in his mind, at any time, and he realized it was his duty – as her father, even her chosen father — to help her understand the world. In a way, he felt this very well might be the most important thing he would ever do in this life.
‘Just like any father,’ he sighed as he took in another deep breath, inhaling the heavy, storm-tossed air, taking in the flowering plants and freshly mown grass just a few yards away.
“You never wanted to be a father, did you?” she asked him — out of the blue.
“Oh, I don’t know, Spud. I think it’s more like I never expected to be a father. I never expected to run into anyone I’d fall in love with.”
“But you don’t love Debra. I can feel that, Father.”
“Can you? Well, maybe there’s a difference between knowing something is true and feeling something may be true.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I.”
“Yes you do. They chose you, Father, and they never make mistakes.”
He felt the icy grip of the unknown once again. ‘They’ must be where, or to whom, she went to find answers to the things she didn’t know — yet. And so, as he’d seen them under the sea in the lagoon at Bora-Bora, ‘They’ had to reside in the spheres he’d seen there…
“Well,” he continued, “you discovered a feeling you thought I had for Debra, but feelings are often fleet-footed things, Dana, something born of the moment — so they are often ethereal little etchings of Time that can fade away as easily as this storm.”
“How is that different from knowing?”
“Well, when you know you love somebody, I mean when you really deep down inside know that you do, that’s more than a feeling, Dana. That’s real love.”
“So real love doesn’t go away?”
“No, Honey, I don’t think that it does. In fact, I don’t think it can go away, even if we want it to.”
“So the way you feel about Mother is the kind of feeling that fades away?”
“I’m not really sure, Spud.”
“Why do you call me that?”
“Spud? Oh, it’s just something I want to share just between us, between you and me.”
“Isn’t a spud a potato?”
“Or something little that’s growing really fast. Like you.”
“How can you not be sure how you feel, Father?”
“I think it has something to do with being human, Dana. Sometimes we just have a really hard time deciding how we feel about some things. And maybe there are times when we can never really know what we feel about certain things. And sometimes things happen that change our mind for us.”
“So there are things you can never understand?”
“Yes. Maybe so.”
“What about me? Do you love me?” He shuddered to a stop and lifted her up and over his head, then he gently placed her her feet on the pavement. “Why did you do that, Daddy?”
He paused and thought about that — just as the Old Man and Tracy drove past — so Henry turned and saw Sumner jogging along to catch up to them while he thought about the best way to handle Dana’s question. Knowing full well, of course, that she was still in his mind…
“There are lots of different kinds of love, Dana. There’s the kind of love you’re talking about, the love between friends or between parents and their children. But we can also ‘love’ a photograph or a painting or a piece of music, too, and in a way it’s still a kind of love — just not the same kind of love I have for your mother, or even for you.”
“So you’re saying you love me?”
“I am, Dana, because I do. What about you? Do you love me?”
“There was a certain way of feeling I began to understand when Mother was taking care of me on the first boat, and she told me this feeling is called love.”
“That’s a part of it, yes.”
“So, love has many…parts?”
“Oh, yes,” he said — just as Sumner caught up to them. “You look seriously out of breath, Amigo,” he said to the cop. “Too much salad, perhaps?”
“I had a porterhouse about the size of Memphis,” Sumner said, stifling a magmatic belch as he grinned at Taggart. “No rabbit food for me.”
“You ate a piece of dead cow the size of a city?” Dana said, her eyes watering in fear.
“Maybe two cities,” Sumner sighed, rubbing his distended belly. “Damn, that was some good grazin’, Hank. Sorry you missed out.”
“Oh, we found a nice salad bar, didn’t we, Spud?”
“Yes, we did. I especially liked the Budweiser,” Dana added, grinning at her father.
Sumner looked at Henry, an arched left eyebrow vaulting skyward. “Budweiser, huh. And you are how old, Young Lady? Two weeks, or is it three now?”
But when Sumner realized the imbecility of his statement he seemed to pull away from the puritanical admonishments he was readying for Taggart, then he just shrugged and fell in beside the two of them as they resumed their march back to the boat.
A taxi pulled up to the little quay just as Henry and his little troupe arrived, and Tracy ran over and gave Dana Richardson a hug — before she reached out and shook Ralph’s hand.
“Who’s that, Father?” his Dana asked.
But Henry couldn’t answer that question, because he had no idea what the future held in store for him now.
Curiously enough, however, his Dana seemed very interested in the new arrivals.
On and on and a little deeper we go. Time for tea? One cup today, maybe two if you wanna go slow, [and oh, as an aside, the image above is of a fMRI from a small mammalian brain stem overlapping an image of the Andromeda galaxy. Heaven only knows why I come up with these things, but there you go. Every picture tells a story…kind of like music, for that matter…]
[Lie for a Lie \\ Mason + Fenn]
She seemed to like riding on his back, holding on with her legs and playing with his ears as he walked through the marina. Sumner Bacon followed along a step or two behind, carrying their bags from the chartered boat and trying to keep up with Henry as he jog-walked out to the Swan 65. Still, for Bacon the feeling of walking on solid ground was now almost nauseating. After two weeks at sea, Bacon was almost homesick for the feel of terra firma underfoot, yet now that it was here he felt out of step with the world…because now even the world seemed unsteady.
Not so for Henry Taggart.
Dana was still a kid but she was growing fast, and as he carried her along he resolved to spend more time with her — just in case…
The three of them — Sumner, Dana, and himself — had remained onboard the sportfisher, concealed in the forward compartment while Deborah, Callahan, the Kid and his father disembarked in Kahului. A few minutes later the boat pulled away from the quay and returned to the open sea, heading out and around the west end of the island, bound for the tiny marina in Maalaea, on the south side of the island — with Henry & company still onboard.
The General had left the Swan in Maui after the last Vic-Maui race, planning to sail out to Midway with his son — but almost predictably those plans had fallen through and the boat had been gathering barnacles at this marina for months. When Henry called the General and went over current circumstances, the Old Man had generously offered use of the Swan as part of Henry’s subterfuge, and it now appeared as if the plan might work, because so far there’d been no sign of a tail.
And there he was, as expected.
The General stood on the quay above the Swan, waiting to get them below as quickly, and as unobtrusively, as possible.
Henry put Dana down on the pier and jumped aboard, then the General took her hand and helped her aboard…
“Henry? I thought you said you were dealing with a baby?” the Old Man asked as Bacon passed their bags up to Henry.
“Are we ready to cast off the lines?” Taggart asked, evading the question.
The Old Man shrugged. “All tanks topped off and food for six weeks. We in some kind of a hurry?”
“Yessir, and we’ll need to keep an eye out for bad guys until we get well offshore.”
“Okay. I’ll handle the bow lines. You got the stern?”
“Can’t we stay just a little longer?” Sumner Bacon pleaded. “I was kinda hoping…”
“Sorry,” Taggart said as he started the diesel and cast off the lines, gently backing out of the slip while he switched the radar to standby. He zoomed out on the chartplotter and found Ketchikan,Alaska, then the green number one buoy marking the Dixon Channel Entrance, and he set that as waypoint number one as they sailed out of the marina.
Bacon and the Old Man helped Dana down to her very own stateroom while Taggart found binoculars and pulled them out of their cubby, and he scanned the marina and the few buildings in the area– and still he saw nothing unusual, no sign of a tail.
“And why would anyone follow us here?” he wondered aloud. “Who’d be crazy enough to finish up a 2,300 mile crossing and hop on another sailboat to make an additional 2,700 mile crossing?”
“I know I’m not. At least I wouldn’t if I had any say in the matter,” Bacon said as he crawled up the forward companionway, now shaking his head as he looked at the remnants of the hurricane speeding their way.
Debra had no clue. No idea who the middle aged man was, the one with, apparently, the daughter, the pair who had hopped aboard aquaTarkus. She was only too glad for the help, yet whatever happiness she might have hoped for was cut short when she learned the man had only limited sailing experience — so he was of limited use right now. But Henry had already laid in the course and the hurricane did indeed appear to be moving more to the north-northeast, so maybe they’d miss the worst of the heavy weather, and so what if she finished up the voyage without Henry. He’d been distant almost the entire trip, and the easy familiarity between them had given way to strained bits of odd silence here and there. She’d ended up spending almost the entire crossing holed up in her stateroom with Dana – but now Dana was gone too, and then all of a sudden she realized that Brendan was gone, too – so that left these two strangers with her…
“I suppose we’d better introduce ourselves,” the man said — almost apologetically. “My name is Ralph, Ralph Richardson, and this is my daughter Dana…”
“Dana?” Debra stated, though perhaps a little too quizzically.
“Yes, that’s me,” the girl said, but Debra could see the girl was hiding deep pain behind her flat brown eyes.
Debra held out her hand and Dana took it, then Deb shook Ralph’s as well. “So, you want to get me up to speed on all this, Ralph?”
Ralph was turning green and Deb recognized all the signs. “Here, take the wheel and concentrate on the horizon. Have you taken any seasick meds?”
“Nope,” Dana sighed. “I think we’re all out of stuff to throw up, anyway. It’s just been the dry heaves for the last hour or so.”
Debra hopped below and picked up a fresh box of omeprazole and a couple bottles of GatorAid, then she popped back up to the cockpit. “Here, take two of these,” she said as she handed over the bottles.
“Heartburn medication?” Ralph asked. “What gives?”
“Seasickness starts when stomach acid ramps up as a result of all the unusual motion, so cut back on stomach acid and guess what happens?”
“Really?” they both cried.
“Yup, it works. Just keep focused on the horizon while the meds get to work.” She took the wheel and resumed her course to clear Molokai, and periodically she watched them suck down the electrolytic fluids and nodded. “You’ll feel better in a half hour,” she added. They were heeled-over pretty good to starboard so she let out the main a little and fell off the wind, too, and the motion settled down some more.
“The crash in LA?” Ralph said a few minutes later. “Were you there when that happened?”
“My wife was the pilot in command.”
“What? You mean…?”
“Jeez, I’m so sorry, but how on earth did you end up here?”
The Old Man had brought along a friend, a twenty-something looking girl with long legs and wavy red hair, and Henry guessed she was the latest secret in a long line of secrets, but she was, apparently, a wizard in the galley and that was that. The Old Man could have his peccadilloes, Henry thought, as long as he wasn’t asked to lie about the matter.
But, as it happened, Tracy Abernathy was a bit more than a galley slave, or even a mistress, for that matter. She had been a graduate student interning at a “small software concern in Redmond” when she came up on the General’s radar one evening. Her area of interest was AI, and as she was an emerging superstar in the field he had arranged for their paths to cross. He’d wanted to get her together with Taggart ever since, let Henry think on the matter for a while, because the General had been wanting someone to have a crack at decoding the flight control systems of the ARV — and Abernathy might be just the one to do it.
Then Henry had gotten pulled into Debra Sorensen’s intrigues so he’d taken Tracy out to the air base and shown her around, and yes, she’d been interested. After she freaked out for a few days, anyway.
She’d been working on capitalizing an AI start up before the crash hit in October, working with a broker at Lehman named Ralph Richardson, and he’d even been out to visit a couple of times before the bottom fell out and things went to Hell. Then she heard about his wife and the crash, and she’d called him. She found out he was headed to Goldman Sachs, and she’d wondered if he was still interested in putting together a deal?
She called him when he got back to New York, and of course he was. “Could you come out to Seattle?” she asked. “There are a few people I’d like you to meet.”
“As long as I can bring my daughter. She’s having a tough time right now…”
And at about the same time Henry had called the Old Man. Henry told him all about events out on the Vincent Thomas Bridge. All about this weird baby thing. And because The General was always looking at The Big Picture he thought he saw a new pattern emerging in the chaos. He called friends who talked to friends at Goldman and suddenly Richardson was on extended leave, working on a special project for the Pentagon. He asked Tracy if she had any interest in sailing, and by the time Richardson and his daughter made it out to Seattle the rough outlines of a plan were taking shape. The General had known someone was going to have to get set up to capitalize on certain alien technologies, and while Boeing and Lockheed were well positioned to move on the technologies surrounding flight, why not start up a new venture to cover…whatever of interest came up? Like flight control systems, maybe, or even FTL drives?
Now everyone was on the Swan and Henry was working at the chartplotter; the Old Man came topsides carrying a plate loaded with fresh, hot pastrami sandwiches — Henry’s current favorite — and he sat down across from Henry and passed over half a sammie.
“Set your course for Hilo,” the Old Man said — out of the blue.
“Yup. We won’t be staying.”
“Hell, sir, there ain’t no place to stay there.” He punched in the numbers and set the autopilot to steer while he munched on his pastrami sammie.
“So,” the Old Man began. “What’s with the girl. Dana, you said?”
“Yessir. And she says I’m her father.”
That was good for an arched eyebrow. “You? Her father? Well, obviously she’s not quite human, or is she?”
“Well, she’s sure not a machine,” Henry said, his feathers ruffled a little.
“So let me get this straight…you feel something — for this…child?”
“You know, I haven’t really thought all that much about it, but yes, I suppose I do.”
“You’ve been out of the loop, Henry, so you’d better let me get you up to speed. The DoD is working overtime trying to figure out what happened out there on the bridge. There are videotapes, by the way. Classified, of course. The metal on the bridge was ionized in places. Theoretically impossible, I’m told. The EMP took out half of LA, from Oxnard to Dana Point, anyway. And a shitload of people saw that baby arrive.”
“Okay,” Henry said, now wondering where this was going.
“And you show up with a baby that looks, to my out of practice eye, to be about seven years old.”
“You forgot to mention that she’s cute as hell.”
The General slowly shook his head. “Henry? She ain’t human. Okay? You reading me?”
“Loud and clear. Who’s the red head?”
“An expert in AI, DoD cleared. I want to bring her in on The Project, let her help you decipher the ship’s computers.”
“And then I want to capitalize on what we learn.”
“I hear a discrepancy there, sir. Between the ‘I want’ and the ‘we learn.’”
“Okay. What else don’t I know?”
“Let’s just say the situation is fluid right now, Henry. The more we learn about this situation the more complicated the way forward appears.”
“Complicated? Why do I not like the way that sounds?”
“Well, it turns out there are at least two more ARV projects in the works. One in Israel, and the other in, well, a peculiar enclave in Argentina.”
“Well, you know the story. A bunch of Nazis bugged out when the Russians were closing in on Berlin, and a lot of their scientists settled in and around Bariloche. So, recently we find out there’s an advanced ARV project down there, one with peculiar ties to shadowy groups in both Europe and the U.S.”
“I’m sorry, but does Indiana Jones have anything to do with this? Or James Bond, perhaps?”
“What’s with the cop?” the Old Man asked, changing course again. “Can we talk around him?”
Henry shrugged. “He’s smart, he listens, and he has balls. And Dana likes him, for whatever that’s worth. I assume he’d be a liability if he returned to his old job.”
“Okay. So, do we take him in or do we let him swim for it. Your call, Henry.”
“Jesus, life isn’t always so black and white…”
“The Hell it isn’t. You know what’s at stake here.”
“Okay. He stays with Dana from now on. Call him a bodyguard, and make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
“Done,” the Old Man said.
“What’s with this Callahan character?” Henry asked. “Know much about him?”
“Apparently that kid, Brendan, called him. Callahan called the boy’s father.”
“Okay. So…how’d he get here?”
“He called me.”
“He called you? Like…out of the blue?”
“What am I missing here, sir?”
“He knows stuff, Henry. I don’t know how, but he does. I put people on him and then the Israelis get mad as hornets and the next thing I know is someone at State is telling us to back off. He’s got clearances higher than mine, too, so I’m keeping my hands off him for now.”
“You think he’s a part of this Israeli project you mentioned?”
“Doubtful, but who knows. He’s holed up north of San Francisco. Spends most of his time playing piano, as far as we can tell, anyway.”
“Any intel on the guy?”
“Standard package,” the Old Man said. “You wanna read it, it’s on my MacBook.”
“Not important,” Henry said, just as rolling thunder crashed overhead and lightning acred along the southern horizon. “You do know that going into Hilo will take us right into the middle of that goddamn storm, right?”
“Can’t be helped,” the Old Man sighed before he yawned. “You need a nap or anything?”
Henry thought about that for a split second, then he grinned. “Anything going on between you and the red head?”
The Old Man shook his head, then growled as he disappeared down the companionway.
“I’ll take that for a big fat no,” Taggart said, before he finished off the last of his sandwich.
“Our best guess,” Richardson said, “is that your father will be in Honolulu, either at the marina or nearby, when we get there. Your cover is you needed to get away from LA after all you’ve been through, and we’re just friends who you talked into coming with you. We’ll be heading to the airport as soon as we dock, so don’t bother with excuses, just wave and say goodbye.”
Dana Richardson came up the companionway, still looking green but no longer on the verge, and she plopped down next to her father. “There’s a cool Golden down there,” she said. “What’s her name?”
“What’s with all the scars and things?”
“She saved my life.”
The girl nodded while she put two and two together. “Would you mind if I slept with her for a while?”
“No, not at all. She’d like that.”
Dana stepped gingerly down the steps and disappeared into Debra’s cabin.
“She’s having a hard time, I take it?” Debra asked.
Ralph nodded, and he looked down a little. “She and her mom were really close. I was with Lehman when the bottom fell out so I had been going through a rough patch, then all this happened. I’m with Goldman now, but nothing’s the same.”
“My mom passed when I was seven. Cancer, so in a way I guess I understand.”
“I keep wondering if she’ll ever get over it. I guess I have my answer now, huh?”
Deb smiled. “Sometimes I think guys are wired differently, ya know? What about you? Are you keeping it together?”
“Sometimes when she’s not around I can let it go. Feels like a steamroller hit, ya know?”
“My dad came undone for a while, then he discovered work.”
“You don’t sound too bitter,” Richardson said, grinning just a little.
“I’ll never understand him, but then again I gave up trying a long time ago.”
“He doesn’t sound like the soft and cuddly type,” Richardson added. “From the little I’ve heard, anyway.”
“That’s what puppies are for, Mr. Richardson,” she sighed. “Still, sometimes what a girl really wants is for a father to step in and reassure her that things will be okay, at least that’s the way I look at it. Then again, I used to think the best father’s were the strong, silent type.”
“But not now?”
Debra shrugged. “I’d be content to know he loved me.”
“That doesn’t exactly sound good,” he said as he nodded understanding. “I hate to ask, but how far out are we?”
She looked at the chartplotter and did the math. “Call it sixty miles, maybe ten hours – unless we have to tack.”
“I won’t even ask,” Ralph sighed. “Sailing was never my thing.”
“Same with me, until I met Henry.”
“Are you two a thing?”
“Oh, once upon a time I held out hope, but no…” She leaned over and looked into the bottomless blue sea – but no, there wasn’t a thing down there now, and she hadn’t seen anything in the clouds either, so maybe they were all alone now. Finally…
“What’s that light over there,” he asked, pointing at the island of Molokai.
“Green and white beacon is an airport,” she said as she zoomed-in on the displayed chart. “That’sKalaupapa Airport, looks like cargo and limited passenger service.”
“Oh, I find distances very deceiving out here, especially close to shore.”
Richardson looked at his watch, and he seemed nervous now, then he looked over at her. “Sorry. This cloak and dagger stuff really isn’t my thing.”
“I’m curious…why are you here?”
“I saw a video of the incident on the bridge,” he began, but he stopped then and gathered his thoughts. “I guess I wanted to know what happened to Dana.”
“No, no…Dana Goodman…was my wife’s sister. She got involved with some Israeli intelligence outfit back in the day but had been working in LA for a while. At any rate, that was the woman that disappeared out there on the bridge.”
“Odd,” Debra said. “She referred to me as her mother, and Henry as her father, and we think because of something that happened to us years ago…”
“Something…of a procreative nature?”
“You could call it that, but not really in a conventional sense, at least not the time in question. So in a way it looks like this baby, the girl we’re calling Dana right now, could be the result of three sets of DNA.”
“Is that even possible?” Richardson sighed.
“It’s not possible…until it is.”
“I guess what I’m saying is would someone like that still be human?”
“Did you see her when you came across?”
“I’m not sure I saw a baby. Who was she with?”
“She was the girl with Henry, the one on his back.”
“Exactly. If she’s human, she’s not of a type we recognize as such. I just spent almost two weeks with her, and she started speaking at about a week. A couple days later she was solving problems I hadn’t seen since college.”
“Calculus, Mr. Richardson. And way over my head.”
“Fuck,” he whispered.
“You took the word right out of my mouth.”
“So…tell me about Henry Taggart…”
Henry could now just make out the light at the end of the breakwater, but Radio Bay was lost in the torrential downpour now pounding on the canvas bimini over his head. The deerskin cover on the wheel was saturated with cold water and now it felt squishy in his hands; Sumner was sitting with him, trimming the staysail constantly as raging gusts tore across Hilo Bay.
The Old Man was down below with Dana, and apparently it was Tracy Abernathy’s turn to get seasick — as she was nowhere to be seen. Heard, however, was another matter entirely — if the convulsive retching sounds coming from the aft head were any kind of indication of the action down there.
“You know,” Sumner sighed, “I think I’d kill to spend about an hour on nice, firm land.”
“This has been a real trial by fire for you,” Henry said as he wrestled the wheel over a ten foot roller. “On the other hand, you couldn’t ask to do it on a better boat.”
“I didn’t ask to do anything, Taggart.”
“I need a fucking t-bone steak.”
“And lobster tails,” Henry added with a sigh.
“That doesn’t sound half bad.”
Henry looked at his watch. “Ya know? We might just make it in time.”
“There’s a decent steak place at the Hilo Hawaiian.”
Henry laughed — just as Tracy Abernathy came up the companionway steps. “What did I miss?” she asked.
But Henry just shook his head. “How you feeling?”
“Like death warmed over,” she groaned. “On the other hand, I probably lost a few pounds.”
Sumner grinned. “Why is it that skinny people seem to have no problem losing weight?”
“You think I’m skinny?” she said, flashing a coy little smile.
“Pardon my French, but I think you’re gorgeous,” Sumner blurted, but then he seemed to realize what he’d just said and Taggart thought it looked like the cop now wanted to vaporize, to disappear and get away from this unforced error.
Tracy, for her part, seemed to take it in stride. She was indeed a very good looking girl and she thought of herself as such. Sizing her up on the fly like this wasn’t his thing, but Henry looked at her reaction and felt she wasn’t in the least bit insecure — either about her looks or her accomplishments. And he liked that. “Well, we should be docking in about an hour,” Henry said quickly, covering for Sumner as best he could, “so if you feel like grabbing a bite feel free to come along.”
“Seems like the winds are less now,” she said, looking first around the boat and then at Hilo, now just ahead.
“We’re in the island’s wind-shadow now. It’s dropped about ten knots so far.”
“So, that’s Hilo?” she asked, as she came up to the helm, her attention going right to the chartplotter. She seemed to intuit which buttons did what, even where obscure functions were buried in nested sub-menus, and when she noted Henry’s dismay she keyed him in. “I read the instruction manual when I wasn’t barfing,” she sighed.
“You were reading? Down below?” he asked.
“Geesh, that’s the perfect way to get seasick.”
She grinned at that. “Well, it worked.”
“Here. Take the wheel, stare at that white tower on the end of the breakwater.” It was funny, he thought, how quickly seasickness vanished once you focused on a distant object. “Hey Sumner, could you check on Dana and the Old Man, tell him we’ll be docking soon…?”
Henry pulled out his paper chart and reread the notes he’d scribbled there a few hours ago, and he told Tracy to turn left to 112 degrees magnetic once they passed the end of the long breakwater.
“I don’t see a marina,” she stated as she peered through the rain.
“There isn’t one. Just a few spaces to tie-off for an hour or two.”
“Why are we coming here?”
“You don’t know?” Henry asked.
“Well, the Old Man didn’t tell me squat. I just go where he tells me to go, if you know what I mean, jelly-bean.”
She chuckled at that. “So, you’re working on the ARV project?”
Henry looked away, not knowing if this was some kind of security test or something else designed to check on his integrity, so he ignored the question, then decided to go forward and start setting out the dock lines. When he came aft again everyone, including Dana, was in the cockpit, only now Dana looked to be about ten years old and the sight really struck him this time around. He passed them by and went to the aft lazarette and pulled out a pile of salt-encrusted dock lines, so he hosed them down with fresh water and set them out before returning to the wheel…
“Hello, Daddy,” Dana said to him, a quizzical look in her eyes.
“Hi, Spud. How’re you feeling?”
“Good.” And then the little girl did something that caught Henry completely off guard: she came over and gave him a hug.
So he picked her up and brought her face to his, and he kissed her on the forehead then held her close, and there was something naturally satisfying about holding this copy of himself so close — even if he really didn’t understand what she was.
“Why did you do that,” she whispered.
“Because you’re my Dana and I love you,” he whispered right back in her ear.
Yet the way her arms went around his neck said it all. Love was hard wired into his little girl after all, and he marveled once again how good her skin felt on his, and when he pulled away a moment later he was surprised how intensely connected he felt to the girl. ‘Is this what fatherhood feels like?’ he asked himself.
And then he felt her reply — inside his mind. ‘Oh yes, of course! Isn’t this wonderful?’
‘You can hear me?’ he asked — as he quickly put her down.
‘Yes, and I can feel what you feel…’
She was, he realized in the next instant, just the next logical step up from Debra — with her ability to ‘see’ — and he was suddenly, and completely, unnerved…
‘What is it, Father? What’s wrong?’
But it was too late. He had pulled away from her now, as suddenly frightened of her as he had been around Debra, only now he felt quite sure there would be no way to keep anything from the little girl…
…and he was right. He could see the confusion and disappointment in his daughter’s eyes, the infinite pain written all over her face, and he couldn’t help himself. He picked her up again and held her close. ‘This is all too new to me,’ he told her, ‘so don’t feel unwanted or unloved when I react to new things.’
‘Okay, Daddy,’ he felt her say, ‘I’ll try, but please don’t be afraid of me…’
Callahan led the way up the Jetway and into the main terminal, then he led Brendan’s father to his flight down to LA. And, interestingly enough, Callahan felt the whole experience kind of surreal, like the boy’s father was formally abdicating the role of parent — and father — as he turned away and boarded the United shuttle. Even Brendan seemed devoid of any emotion in that moment, and Callahan felt like the boy’s father had never really been there for him. Deborah Eisenstadt followed along, holding the boy’s hand through the terminal all the way to the check-in kiosk for Callahan Air, and they walked right out to the apron and boarded the silver and red Bell 412.
“Keep the door open a minute,” Harry told the pilot…and a minute later Didi Goodman walked out onto the ramp, and Harry helped her up and into a seat.
“Where are we headed?” the pilot asked.
“Sea Ranch,” he replied, then he turned to Didi. “And you?”
“That works for me,” she said, looking up and smiling as she buckled in.
Harry sat beside Didi after he helped secure the main door, then he turned to her. “Do you have a place to stay?”
“Yes,” she said, her voice suddenly faraway, her affect flat.
“You want to tell me what’s going on?”
She pantomimed headphones and Harry reached for a pair of pale green Clark headphones and set the intercom to private as the helicopter took off. After she slipped her phones on she shot him a thumb’s up.
“Okay,” Callahan said. “You’ve got about 50 minutes, so start talking.”
“You probably never noticed, but Avi Rosenthal’s house was wired. Audio and video. The afternoon when von Karajan visited your mother, when she played the closing bars of the Fourth, all that was captured. On video, Harry.”
Callahan was too stunned to speak, but his eyes must’ve given away what he was feeling…
“Harry, when she played the closing bars, she apparently accessed some kind of harmonic gateway, and this gateway appeared in the video. We’ve — well, I know you’re going to be angry now — but we’ve had video surveillance running both at your house in Sea Ranch and at the place in Davos, so we’ve been keeping tabs on your experiments with Dr. Eisenstadt…”
Callahan’s hands started trembling as the rage started building…
“…but even so, we think you are on the wrong path. You’ve missed something. But so have we. And so we are at a standstill with our project…”
“Your own project?” Callahan growled.
“Yes. As soon as we saw the video feed. As soon as we understood what was happening.”
“And…what was happening?”
“Have you heard of a Schwarzwald wormhole?”
“Schwarzwald? As in…”
Didi nodded. “Yes. Your mother was building on Einstein’s field equations, and she was, apparently, working on a way to induce wormhole formation through harmonic restructuring of sub-atomic particles. Now, before you ask me what that means, all I can say is I do not pretend to understand what progress has been made so far, only that the wormhole forms and within milliseconds it collapses in on itself.”
“And you think that’s what Eisenstadt and I have been up to?”
Didi shrugged. “This is the opinion of those who have been studying your progress.”
“You do of course understand that right now I want to kill you?”
Didi nodded. “Of course. I’ve been asked to reestablish contact with you. So that a truce, perhaps, can be arranged between us? A working relationship reestablished?”
“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” Callahan snarled. “How about I open this door,” he said, pointing to the Golden Gate Bridge now about two thousand feet below, “and give you your first flying lesson.”
“Again, I think I understand.”
“You shot me, right? I mean, this shiny stainless steel gift came from you, did it not?”
She nodded. “Sharon, the PM, wanted you dead, Harry. I got the assignment because I persuaded the team that only I could get close enough to you to get a clean shot.”
“He understood my objective, Harry. I had his tacit approval.”
“So, it was either my life or my leg? Is that what you’re telling me?”
“And let me guess…I’m supposed to be grateful to you…”
“They very nearly sanctioned me, Harry, for what I did. I convinced them that with you out of the picture you would no longer be a threat to the project.”
“And then, what? They’ve run into a dead end and now they want my help?”
Again she nodded. “And let me be clear, Harry. If I return empty handed it may become very difficult for both my father and myself.”
“Oh, that’s a nice touch, Didi. Throw in a little guilt with your pitch…I gotta hand it to you…you’ve thought this through, haven’t you?”
“Well, you almost have the whole picture, Harry.”
“Oh? So, what am I missing now?”
“If you refuse,” she said, her voice once again dull and flat, “it is my understanding that you will be terminated. Whether you like it or not, Harry, we are in this thing together.”
Going to hit the ground running with a bunch of short sections this week, so grab a Coke and have a quick one. Oh, the video below goes into the background of the song, might be of interest to some of you:
[Dawning is the Day \\ Moody Blues]
Callahan knew they were being tailed; he could feel it — he felt something almost like a tingling on the back of his neck, something he hadn’t experienced in years, yet a feeling he recognized right away. The sensation started as soon as they docked in Kahului and continued during the short taxi ride through town to the airport, and even as they made their way through the small terminal and boarded the 757 for the flight back to SFO, he found he wanted to turn and look over his shoulder. Once onboard he asked Brendan’s father if he could sit with the boy after take-off, then he joined Eisenstadt while the cabin crew got the passengers ready for departure, yet he watched people boarding to see who might look his way, or in any way like a threat.
“Do you feel it too?” Debra asked as he buckled in and settled in his seat.
“Yeah, ever since we docked.” He looked at Brendan across the aisle and the boy was kind of smiling as he looked up and through the overhead bins, almost like he was entranced by something only he could see up there beyond the aircraft’s outer skin, and the sight actually puzzled – and even revolted – Callahan. It was like the kid was tuned-in to an entirely different universe, one Callahan would never be able to see or experience, but he just couldn’t tell yet if the things the kid was experiencing were real, or the delusions of a runaway mind.
“What’s with him?” Eisenstadt added, nodding at Brendan. “He seems more agitated now than he did on the boat.”
As they looked on, Brendan lifted a hand and the began using his fingers to work out a problem on a blackboard only he could see, and even one of the flight attendants looked at the kid and rolled her eyes. Brendan’s father leaned over and looked at Callahan, his eyes full of questions he was still too afraid to ask, and that bothered Harry. From the time he had called the boy’s father to the trip on the boat, Harry felt like the man really wanted nothing at all to do with his son.
Callahan leaned across the aisle and whispered in the kid’s ear: “What is it? What do you see?”
“Twenty-six A,” Brendan replied in a low, sidelong whisper.
So Callahan leaned back in his seat and nodded. Whoever was following them was in seat 26A. ‘Okay…so what now?’ Harry asked himself. ‘Oh, right, I call DD…like I always do, and we get a tail on our tail…’ So, with that decided, Callahan stood and put his carry on in the overhead bin, chancing a quick glance back to the huge economy section — but the cabin was packed now and there was no way to tell row numbers from up in First.
But then, just as Callahan took his seat again the kid leaned close – and all he said was “Mossad.”
Once the 757 leveled off Callahan walked back to the economy section and when he saw that row 26 on the left side was vacant – save for a middle aged woman next to the window – he went and sat down next to her, landing hard in the middle seat as the aircraft lurched. The woman was wearing a scarf and huge sunglasses, but Callahan could see the woman had been seriously burned on her face and neck – then she pulled her glasses down and turned to him.
“Hello, Harry,” Didi Goodman said.
“Jesus, Didi, what the hell happened to you?” he sighed. He could see the results of reconstructive surgery — both on her face and in her eyes – and she seemed more than a little self-conscious at this point.
But she just shrugged. “How’ve you been?”
Callahan shrugged right back at her. “Okay. What are you doing here? I mean, I assume this isn’t a coincidental meet?”
“You’ve been attracting a lot of attention, Harry. Some bad actors, I think you could say, and we thought you might need some help.”
“Anyone I need to know about?”
She smiled evasively, but then she threw in another shrug — just for good measure. “This isn’t the time, or the place,” she said.
“People on this plane, I take it?”
And she nodded, carefully, slowly.
He shrugged too, because he wasn’t about to give up any information, especially as she still hadn’t mentioned the baby — yet.
“How’s your father,” he asked — reluctantly — not really wanting to open that can of worms, but she wasn’t leaving him a lot of room for casual chit-chat, either.
“Frail. He’s had two heart attacks, and he spends a lot of time at home.”
“Oh, he’ll never retire, Harry. He’s put all his eggs in your basket.” Callahan must’ve thought that was an odd thing to say, at least that’s what she saw on his face. “Can you have a helo pick us up at the gate?” she asked.
“I need to get off-grid now, but I’ll need to take Brendan with me. You’ll also need to get some additional security around your house.”
“Well, sorry, but I guess I’ve blown whatever cover you had,” he sighed.
“Oh, they know I know they’re following me.”
“I don’t think they were counting on Taggart heading straight to Seattle, however.”
“Taggart?” he said, smiling.
“You’re going to play like you don’t know him?”
Callahan shook his head. “Someone I should know about?”
“I’d assume so, yes, but they really want the boy.”
“Oh? Why? I mean, he’s a bit of a geek, if you get my drift…?”
“Not many people can see the things he can, Harry. He’s actually rather important, as these things go.”
“That’s kind of hard to believe.”
“Well, believe this: if they can’t get to him they’ll take him out.” He stopped and thought about that for a moment, then he started to get up — but Didi stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Harry, could I ask you something?”
He sat again and sighed, then nodded slowly.
“You haven’t asked about Ida. I assume you will never forgive us?”
“Oh, yes, you could say that.”
“We were trying to protect you, Harry. I know you’ll never believe me when I say that, but it’s the truth.”
He wanted to ask her if she knew who’d shot him, but then he thought better of it. Knowing, in this case, might be more painful than not knowing, so he let that question go — for now — and nodded. “Okay, you say so,” he said dismissively, then he stood abruptly and walked away, forward all the way to the head. He suddenly felt dirty as he stepped inside, so he did his business and washed his hands, then he looked down at his stainless steel leg and tried not to let his hate for her hate boil over — because he knew then that she’d shot him.
Shaking with rage too long repressed, when he got back to his seat he took the phone out of the seat back and dialed the Cathouse, then, while he waited for DD he asked himself — again — why hadn’t she asked about the baby? Was it possible she didn’t know? And…would Taggart’s plan actually work — or would the whole thing blow up in all their faces?
‘And why does she want the kid?’
Callahan simply didn’t know enough — only that he was groping in the dark, lost.
‘Why is the kid so important? What can he see up there with his fingers in the sky?’