Corcovado 7

Waco GC main CCV

corcovado | quiet nights of quiet stars

chapter 7

 

“What’s this?” Elizabeth said, taking the rifle from the range instructor.

“It’s a modified Model 70.”

“But…what’s it…”

“It’s a sniper rifle. And since you had the best overall score on the range, the chief wants to see how well you handle this.”

“Now?”

“Yes,” the instructor said, and not a little sarcastically, “now. Maybe while the sun’s still out?”

“Yessir,” she said, taking the rifle. It was at least twice the weight of the M16 she’d used on the rifle portion of her three weeks at the FBI Academy’s range, where she had “aced” all three parts of the program: pistol, rifle and shotgun. When she’d taken a first on Hogan’s Alley the range superintendent took note and asked to see her overall scores, then he’d called Washington. Shooters like her, he knew from decades of experience, only came along once in a blue moon.

She took the weapon, opened the bolt and checked the chamber, saw it was clear. “What’s it chambered for, sir?”

“.308, but you’ll be using a hot load this morning, and…it kicks like a mule,” he added, grinning at her – watching her reaction.

“Yessir.” Her voice was full of confidence and that unsettled her instructor.

“Need a coat?” he asked. “It’s cool out this morning.”

“I’m good, sir.”

He liked her. Hell, he thought, everyone liked her. PMA, Positive Mental Attitude – and she had it in spades. Never complained, always calm, even out in the swamps when a water moccasin swam by; and she was a real team player – an empath, to boot. He was hoping she’d do good out here, he’d told himself as they walked along, if only because he might get to spend more time with her down in Georgia.

‘Yeah,’ he sighed inwardly, ‘I like her – a little too much…’

They walked from the armorers shack over to the main range, and she noted the Chief was already out there – standing with several men she’d never seen before – and one man was dressed in black BDUs, his eyes hidden behind dark glasses. They all had binoculars either in hand or around their necks, and they were all staring at her.

“Here,” the instructor said as he held out a plain white box. She counted twenty hand-loads inside, and they were pristine, the tips some sort of deep red-colored plastic-like material. “Take five,” her instructor added.

“Position, sir?”

“Prone. Use sandbags or the bipod. Your choice.”

“Yessir.” She looked downrange, saw one target set-up at 500-yard mark, then turned and felt the wind on her face. She made a few adjustments on the rifle’s scope then loaded the weapon, still looking around, still checking her surroundings – just like her grandfather had shown her all those years ago. She finished loading the cartridges, looked around one more time, then gently laid the weapon down before she knelt behind the sandbags.

Her first shot missed dead-center by a quarter-inch, and the man in the black BDUs nodded – as he grinned. Her next two rounds were centered, her shots so well-placed after that she was only making one hole a little larger.

“Okay, I’ve seen enough,” the man in the BDUs said to the Assistant Director of Operations. “When can I have her.”

“She graduates on the third.”

“What’s her class rank so far?”

“First. By a wide margin.”

“What does she want to do?”

“New York. She been on the trafficking program for years.”

“Anyone talk to her about this yet?”

“No, she’s all yours.”

“Gee, thanks. I think,” ‘Zeke’ Cromwell said. “Now?”

“Might as well get it over with. One way or another, she goes to Georgia with you – but try to let her think it was her choice.”

Cromwell looked at the woman as she stood. No self-satisfied grin – and she was looking right at him. Like she understood he was the only person out there who recognized what she had just done.

Maybe because he was.

He’d only seen shooting like this a few times in his career. As head of the Bureau’s Tactical Rifle Squad, he was in charge of training all the Bureau’s so-called snipers, only now they were down to a bare minimum – with very little in the pipeline. They needed fresh talent, and her kind didn’t show up all that often.

He walked over to her, took the weapon from her hand and looked downrange through the scope.

“Fair shooting,” Cromwell said. “Ever use this weapon before?”

“No, sir.”

“Uh-huh. Let’s take a walk,” he said, slinging the rifle.

+++++

He was sweating – profusely – holding himself up on the bars under each hand, letting the prosthetic take all his weight – again. He felt his knee give out and caught himself before he fell – again – then he cursed – again.

“Your nerves are raw, Jim. It’ll be a few more weeks, so you’re just going to have to tough it out.”

The first time he’d said “Easy for you to say,” his therapist, a second Gulf War vet, and a double amputee had lifted up his pant legs and shown him exactly what he was up against. He’d nodded his resolve that day and been pushing ever since. Every time he rolled from his room at the VA down to the PT facility he got another lesson in resolve, in the brute determination needed to beat this kind of self-pity, this type of mind-raping depression.

After a week of this Ted showed up, back from Boston for a long weekend, only this time he had a girl with him when he walked in his room.

“Dad?” Ted said, knocking on the door. “You up?”

He was still sweating, still trying not to cry from the pain. “Paco! You made it! And who’s this?”

“Dad, this is Susan. Susan, Dad…I mean, Jim.”

She was a little shy, he could tell that much, but she was a looker. Bright brown hair, deep brown eyes – kind eyes, he saw. An Empath. He held out his hand and he watched her come and take it. “Nice to meet you,” he said.

She nodded. “You to. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Nothing good, I hope,” he said, smiling. “Take a seat, both of you.”

“Dad, you need some water?”

He nodded his head. “This ain’t the Ritz, Paco, that much is for sure,” he sighed, still smiling, as Ted poured the glass of ice water.

“How’s it going so far?” Susan asked.

“I don’t know. No frame of reference, I guess.”

“Mind if I take a look?” she asked, and he looked at her, then at Ted – who only shrugged.

“And why would you want to do that?” he asked.

“I did my undergrad in PT, I’m a first year.”

“A first year?”

“Med school.”

“I’m curious,” he said. “Are you two friends, or is this a business call?”

“I love your son, and I think he loves me. I hope that answers your question.”

“We met last year, Dad, before all this went down. Things have kind of taken off since I got back.”

“I see. Well, what do you want to look at?”

“The incision, sir,” she said as she rolled up his pajama leg. She looked it over, palpated the area then nodded. “Some adhesions, and I think I feel a staple.”

“A staple?” he said, feeling a deep well of anger suddenly erupting.

“Mind of I go talk to the floor nurse?” Susan said.

“No, not at all.” He watched the girl walk out of the room then turned and looked at his son. “What’s this all about, Ted?”

“She was kind of the resident genius with a lot of the pre-meds last year. She was helping me with the M-CATs.”

“Oh? How’d you do?”

“520s. I think I have a shot, anyway. If I don’t get in first try I think I’ll try that flight school out in Phoenix.”

“Good. If you do well Ben will get you an interview.”

Ted nodded. “What do you think of her?”

“Hell, Paco, I just met her…?”

“You always told me first impressions are the most important.”

“Yeah, I did, didn’t I?”

“So?”

“Compassion and empathy. That’s what I see.”

Ted smiled. “That’s Susan, to a ‘T’.”

“Is this serious?”

“I wanted to talk to you about that…” but he stopped when Susan and an intern walked into the room.

“Okay, show me what you felt,” the intern said.

He held up his stump and Susan palpated the area again. “Here,” she said. “There’s already some tissue encapsulation, and it feels warm to me.”

The intern felt his stump and nodded his head. “It’s a wonder no one’s caught this…” he sighed. “Okay, off to X-ray,” the intern said as he walked from the room.

His temperature was 101, and climbing.

+++++

She stepped off the train in White River Junction, saw James and Jimmy standing by the old red brick station – then her boy rushed up to her, wrapped his arms around her legs and she bent over, picked him up and help him close.

“Oh…Jimmy-boy,” she whispered. “Oh, how I’ve missed you…”

Her husband was soon beside them, looking at her as she’d expected he would…a little bemused, more than a little wary. She’d written him before the Bureau had whisked her off to Georgia, before two months of what amounted to an abbreviated Special Forces sniper school. This was an unexpected new direction, she’d written him. Unexpected, in so many ways.

James felt a twinge of regret as he read her letter, wondered if he’d finally lost her.

Now she had a week off, one whole week off before she had to return to D.C.

They drove up to St Johnsbury as an early winter’s snow began falling, and she held on to her son, holding him close, missing the happy innocence in his eyes more than anything else…

James had insisted, when told of her assignment, that they would never tell Jimmy about all this. It would warp his view of who and what his mother was, he’d told his wife, and she had agreed – in the moment seeing into her husband’s ambivalence about the assignment. She had been recruited with one purpose in mind: to help infiltrate Chinese gangs on the Lower East Side in order to disrupt the flow of slaves, usually women, into the country. After years on the state task force, after years of threats and intimidation, she’d known she had to either quit – or take it to the next level. When she thought of all the woman in the pipeline, like the hundreds of half-starved, completely terrified women she’d interviewed over the years, she knew she couldn’t turn back. So, she’d gone to Quantico.

And now, this unexpected new journey.

After dinner that night she’d stayed up with Jimmy, telling him about Washington, D.C. and all the sights she’d take him to see when it got warmer, and she’d seen echoes of her own innocence in his eyes. She’d seen firsthand how lucky they were, her family – and all the other innocent, wide-eyed families in the United States. How lucky they were not to have children swept up in the same dragnets as the girls she’d encountered along the way – broken lives waiting to be hauled off to some foreign country and sold off as slaves. When she’d learned what these women were forced to do…

Hatred was not too strong a word, yet at one point she realized she was beginning to hate humanity. Cartels in Asia and Eastern Europe rounded up these women, shipped them to willing parties all over the world, wherever there was enough money to sustain trade in human flesh –

And now, Hoover and Dulles had agreed…the US was going on the offensive. A concerted effort was being made to identify the ringleaders of these cartels – globally – and if they couldn’t be compromised or taken into custody, they would be eliminated.

And when, after her recruitment, she’d learned about the program, she’d had no problem signing on. Enough was enough, she told herself, and James, too. All this misery had to end, one way or another, because if drugs kept coming into the country…

Well, everyone from Eisenhower down knew everything would be lost. The girls, she knew, were just the means to an end. Opium and heroin were the end, and in every way possible the dam had broken, and product was flooding in.

+++++

He came out of his latest surgery feeling more defeated than ever before, and he resumed his battles in physical therapy ward with lingering resentment boiling over. He had lost more than seventy pounds since the summer before, and his face was a gaunt, faded mask, a gray caricature of the man he used to know. And now, after a month of more hellish agony, to cap it all off it was Thanksgiving week, that All-American orgy of gluttonous over-consumption, and Ted was bringing Susan to Altair, again.

Because he was going home today, too. To Altair, for the first time since he’d left Desolation Sound.

His bags packed, his prosthetic on, his canes at the ready – just in case – he was still not ready when Ted and Susan knocked on the door. His son looked worried when he came into the little room, so he looked at her. She looked a little too resplendent in a rosy-cheeked way – like she was pregnant, he thought – suddenly, and as he looked into her guileless eyes he wondered. That would explain the look of baffled misery in his son’s eyes, wouldn’t it?

And then a third face slipped into the room…that red-headed doctor from Canada, the family doc that had come out to the boat…who had become such a huge part of his life in the months since.

‘Why is she here?’ he wondered, as his eyes went from the physician’s to his son, and back. ‘Ah…collusion…’

“Dad?” Ted asked when he saw his father’s reaction. “You okay?”

“Hey, doc,” he said, smiling at Brigit, then nodding to his son.

“Hi there,” the physician said. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Ah, no, but to what, then, do I owe the pleasure of all this company?”

“I asked her to come, Dad,” Ted said. “Didn’t want anyone to feel left out.”

“Left out?” he asked, his face a blank.

“You know…the odd man out…three’s a crowd…that kind of thing?”

“Ah.”

“You ready to go?” Brigit asked, moving protectively to his side.

“As I’ll ever be,” he said as he forced himself up, taking almost all his weight on his right arm – with his left on the bed-rail. He put his wait forward and winced, then grabbed his son’s shoulder. “Lead on…” he panted, “just not too fast.”

“You got it, Pops,” Ted whispered. “Susan, could you grab his duffel?”

He didn’t hear a reply, only the searing wave of lava running up his right thigh into his back – then he saw a nurse out in the hall, with a wheelchair – and he sighed as another wave, this time of relief, rolled over him. He put his hands out and almost fell into the chair, and he felt his hands shaking, perspiration running down his forehead as helping hands gripped him, helped him settle in the chair.

There was Brigit’s old Toyota Land Cruiser waiting out front and more helping hands lifted him up, and he saw Brigit take the wheel and drive through the U-W campus on the way to the lake. She knew, he saw, the way – and when she turned into the marina parking lot he knew she’d been here before. ‘How odd,’ he thought. ‘How much have I missed…?’

And then…

There were friends waiting by the gate, friends from Delta, and he felt a surge of gratitude as he looked at the wall of familiar faces. More hands took hold, familiar hands, and he fell back and let them carry him to another wheel chair, and he tried to hide his embarrassment but knew it wasn’t really necessary. Not with this bunch. Not now – not ever, he told himself. Down the ramp, through the gate, then there she was: Altair. Her hull still brightly gleaming, freshly polished navy blue. He saw more people on deck, too.

Then, the moment of truth, the thing he’d been practicing a week for. The steps – from the dock to the deck. He looked at them like he might a coiled mass of rattlers, then he looked down at his legs.

Okay. Let’s do it.

Someone held out a cane and he took it, pushed himself upright – then he reached out and took hold of a lifeline in one hand, the cane in the other – and he walked to the steps, never taking the first tread out of his sight. He lifted his thigh and pulled on the lifeline as he pushed off with the cane, then his left foot followed and he steadied himself.

Two more, he whispered from someplace deep inside. He pulled again, lifted his stump again as he pushed off with the left hand – and he was up one more.

One more to go, he sighed.

One more pull, one more push, then he was over the bulwarks, spinning to sit on the coachroof – aghast at the searing pain and almost out of breath.

And once…he thought he saw Melissa out there too, maybe wiping away a tear…but when he looked again only a memory remained.

+++++

It was a little after midnight when she went into Jimmy’s room…to check on him. Something had woken her. A noise, something out of place – and then she saw flashlights on the snow outside his window. Using what cover she could, she made her way to the window…

And saw half a dozen state troopers outside, hunched over, looking at foot-prints in the snow. Flashlights down the street, more police.

She went to her son’s bed and checked his forehead, and when he sighed she backed out quietly out of the room, put her shoes on and slipped downstairs to the front door. Two troopers were already there, waiting for her.

She looked at one of the men. Black suit, Bureau all over his face, and she nodded.

“Two men, a neighbor saw them and called it in,” the agent said.

“Dressed?”

“All white. Winter camo. Over their faces, too.”

“Armed?”

One of the troopers said, nodding. “Yes, Ma’am. Both of them.”

Her stomach knotted as the implications washed over the scene. Blown already, but how was that even possible…? Unless…

“Any tire tracks?”

“Possible set, about two blocks over. And the local PD had a suspicious vehicle call on a tan Impala with New York plates earlier this evening.”

“That fits,” she said, nodding. “So, they called you?”

“Yes, Ma’am. We let D.C. know, too. There’s a lead on the vehicle. Possibly seen west of Woodstock, maybe headed for Rutland.”

“On Route 4? Jesus, could we be that lucky?”

“We’ve got both exits covered.”

“We need witnesses,” she said. “Try and take ‘em alive.”

The trooper nodded, but the agent’s face was a mask.

“Okay, what else happened? What are you not telling me?”

“An assistant AG was up in Burlington, she was run down by a car about five hours ago. A tan Ford, maybe a Fairlane.”

“Find the car?”

“Yes, Ma’am. Abandoned,” the trooper said, “up by the Canadian border, near Richford, I think.”

“Prints?”

The trooper shook his head. “Torched. A body in the trunk.”

“Female?”

“Yes, Ma’am, working for NYPD, wearing a wire. That Assistant AG was running her case, had come up for a meet.”

“Pickering? Was it Stephanie Pickering?”

“Yes,” the agent said. “You know her?”

“For a few years, yes…”

“Liz?”

She heard James at the door and turned, saw him standing in the doorway. “I’ll be back up in a minute,” she said.

“Yeah? Want me to put on coffee?”

“Could you?” she said, smiling.

“Yup.” She heard his sigh, then the door closed, gently. She turned back to the agent.

“Word is, Ma’am, that Mr Hoover is involved now. We’re supposed to keep you under surveillance.”

She nodded. “Tell your men coffee will be ready in a couple minutes. Back door.”

“Thank you, Ma’am,” the trooper said.

+++++

Altair was all quiet now, all his friends gone. Ted had gone below a half hour ago, though Susan had waited for him a few minutes more. He sat in the darkness, sitting on the cockpit seat at the wheel – wondering if he would ever have any control over his life again, and he felt weird now, not at all tired. “I should be sleepy,” he said to the night…

Then he felt movement and looked forward, saw Brigit Sullivan up on the bow looking down into the black water, and he wondered what she’d seen. An otter, perhaps? A harbor seal?

Then she looked aft, saw him sitting in the cockpit – alone.

And she stood, came back to him.

“Busy night,” she said as she climbed over the tall coaming and settled-in next to him. “Did you ever think you had so many friends?”

“Never.”

A lot of people love you, Jim. You’re a lucky man.”

He looked at the remains of his leg and smiled at life’s little ironies. “Ah, is that what I am? Lucky?”

She leaned into him, put her head on his shoulder – daring him to push her away – but he put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. He relaxed for the first time all evening, and he smiled when the realization hit him.

“What are you going to do now?” she asked, her voice quivering a little.

“I’ve called about having Altair moved to Destin. I could commute to Atlanta from there, I suppose.”

“Is that what you want to do?” She felt him shrug and looked up at him.

“What about you?” he asked.

“What about me?”

“What do you want?”

“To be with you.”

And there it was. Three words – out of the night and into his heart. The three words he’d been hoping to hear for weeks.

“Have you found out anything on the immigration front?”

“I’m a physician. It won’t be a problem.”

“What about Florida?”

“I’m more concerned about you working again.”

“Oh?”

“What about loading up Altair, just slipping free of all this.”

“You mean, like, just sail away?”

“Yes.”

He sighed – and he felt her snuggle into his thoughts. “Would that interest you?”

“Me? Maybe so. I’ve done the medicine thing for twenty years. I could use a break, I think. What about you?”

“I don’t think I’m ready to call it quits just yet. I guess I love what I do too much to just walk away now.”

“Flying?”

“Yeah.”

“Will it be the same? Training, I mean?”

“I don’t know.”

“So…Florida? Commute to Atlanta?”

“It feels right. Teaching, I mean. Maybe for a few years, then I can take full retirement.”

“I know. One of your chums explained it all to me. It would make a big difference, wouldn’t it?”

He nodded. “I’d at least be financially comfortable that way. Not have to worry about keeping Altair. If I cut loose now, it could be an issue in ten years. I’m also not sure this is the best time to leave Ted on his own, too.”

“Oh, Susan has him wrapped around her little finger.”

“I know. That’s what bothers me.”

“How so.”

“He’s had too many unanswered questions about to do something like this, so suddenly.”

“That other girl…Tracy, was it? What was that all about.”

“Just a stray we picked up by the side of the road,” he said as he thought of Vancouver, his voice barely a sigh.

“What?”

“She was just one of those mistakes we make,” he said, thinking about her asking to see his pilot’s license, about a poor, frantic girl running away in the night, looking to take charge, somehow, while she still could.

“Do you know what happened to her?”

He nodded. “Yup. She’d been picked up, a teenager on the street in Sydney. Sold off to someone in New Orleans, I think.”

“Sold off? You mean…?”

“Trafficked. A slave. She broke free, was running from them when…”

“Them?”

“Apparently Chinese traffickers. They run drugs through girls like her for a while, then sell them off to their dealers, as human playthings – I guess. At least that’s the story I’ve been told. Anyway, most of ‘em end up dead after a few years.”

“So I’ve heard. Is that what Melissa does?”

“I don’t know what that woman does, Brigit. She’s a mystery.”

“Do you like her?”

“Like her?” he sighed. “I’m terrified of her.”

“Terrified?”

“Yup. Because I don’t know what her back game is. Because nothing’s what it appears to be where she’s concerned. And I don’t know what her relationship is to me.”

+++++

The Bureau shut down the Hong Kong operation before it ever started. Somehow the operation had been penetrated, maybe a weak link in the New York office, and now at least one federal prosecutor was dead, and now Pickering. And several informants, too. And the thinking was that professionals had been called in to take out her.

It was time, her supervisors told her, to move her family.

“Where?” she asked her supervisors.

“What about your husband’s father? Doesn’t he have a farm out West? Somewhere, like in New Mexico?

She thought of the old man, thought of him and that ranch of his, that ranch – and all those goddamn airplanes…

(c) 2018 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com || fiction, as always

Corcovado VI

Corcovado 6 im

Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars

VI

He heard voices again, voices far away – as if on the far side of a scream.

The snake was there – by his ankle – coiling up to strike, again. Then – out of the corner of his eye – he saw a large cat…a leopard? – and he was groping for his sidearm in the dark with his right hand when the snake struck – again. He felt searing pain on top of his hand but managed to hold onto the Colt as he pulled it free; he shot the snake – then squeezed-off several rounds at the cat, striking it at least once in the gut…

Then he felt a new pain, something much deeper now, and this time throughout his right leg. Unreal thirst, too, and in his mind’s eye he thought he saw a helicopter, heard rotors beating the night, then there were men all around, lifting him, carrying him…into the night.

And he opened his eyes, saw he was in a hospital room.

He looked out a window across the room, saw Vancouver’s skyline on the far side of the glass and he wondered what’d happened. How had he…?

“My leg,” he said aloud. “They came back for me.”

But…where was Ted? And that woman? Where were they?

The lights were off but there was a bank of instruments lighting the little room, the various screens taking stock of the ebbs and flows of his life…and he saw a call button on a rail by his head. He reached for it, winced in pain as something flared in his leg, but he grabbed the cold plastic and pushed – as he gasped for breath. Nothing…and he pushed the button again, and again.

Then…he heard running, people running towards his room, and voices. Voices, faraway, as if from a dream.

Two women burst in and looked at him, then one turned and ran from the room.

She ran fast, he thought. Too fast.

“You’re awake,” the remaining girl said – as she came to the side of the bed.

“So it would appear. Mind telling me where I am, perhaps what I’m doing here?”

“We’ve just gone to get Doctor Sutton. She’s been wanting to talk to you.”

“Oh, she has? So, where ‘we’ are is a state secret, I take it?”

“Oh, heavens,” the girl said, thrusting a probe of some kind in his mouth. “Under the tongue, now. And no, we’re at Vancouver General. You’ve been here a while.”

“Define for me,” he mumbled, “if you please, what ‘a while?’ means.”

“We’ll let Doctor Sutton do just that…and as soon as she gets here I must go and call your son.”

“Ted? Is he here?”

“Heavens no. He hasn’t been here in weeks.”

“Weeks?” But he saw she was ignoring him now, busily writing away on an inch-thick file bound to an aluminum clipboard, one of those fat aluminum jobs, then the door opened again and a harried-looking middle-aged woman slouched into the room – though her eyes brightened a bit when she saw him.

“Ah, you’re awake! Wonderful!”

“That seems to be the consensus opinion, yes.”

“Pardon?”

“That I am, in fact, awake. And that seems to be all anyone will tell me, too.”

“Ah. Well, yes. I wanted to talk to you about that.”

“I’m glad.”

“Are you always so sarcastic?”

“Only when the situation warrants,” he added.

“Ah. Well, yes, well, you see…”

“Doc? Straight talk would be much appreciated right about now.”

“Ah. Yes, I see. Well, that bug you carried home from Iraq has turned into a super-antibiotic resistant little critter, and, well, gangrene set in before the antibiotic cocktail we devised could take hold. The good news is that the cocktail worked; the bad news is that you’ve lost your right leg, just above the knee.”

“And how long have I been here?”

“Not quite six weeks.”

“Your son has been here night and day almost all that time, and he’s only just gone back to Seattle. He’s on his way up, as we speak, and you’ve had people from your work here too.”

“Work?”

“Some pilots from Delta; a few corporate types. Insurance, benefits, those kinds of things.”

He looked at the foot of the bed, saw his left foot sticking up – then the vague contours of a shadow where his life used to be, and he swallowed hard as cold implications swept through the room on an ill wind.

“We’ll want to get you started on physical therapy, now that you’re up and about…”

“Up and about?”

“Ah, yes. Well…”

“The whole bedside manner thing, Doc? You need to work on that.”

“Ah, yes, well, you see, I’ve never been much of a people person.”

“Really?”

“No, not ever, as a matter of fact.”

“Pity.”

“Ah, look, might I have someone from psychiatry drop by…”

“Why? Do I sound mentally ill?”

“No, I just thought that, well, ah, you know, you might like someone to talk to.”

“At five hundred an hour? Gee, no thanks. I think I’ll pass on that.”

“You forget, we have nationalized medicine here.”

“For American-nationals? Really? How nice.”

“Oh quite, I forgot.”

“Well, doc, thanks for hacking my leg off. Appreciate it, really, I do. Now, if you don’t mind, I think I’d like to get out of here.”

When Ted arrived, perhaps five hours later, he seemed relieved to see his father again…and tried to set him straight.

“Was it that bad?” he asked as he looked his son in the eye.

“You have no idea. Docs from everywhere, and I mean as far away as London, were called to consult on this. For about three days they told me you weren’t going to make it, then your leg turned black. I mean black. Started at the foot and streaks started shooting up your leg…”

“What about the VA? Did you call Schultz, in Seattle?”

“Oh, yeah. He came up, too. Stayed two days, and Delta sent some guy out from Columbia Presbyterian.”

He shook his head, felt a little ashamed of his outburst at Sutton.

“I think she understands, Dad.”

“Who?”

“Dr. Sutton. Everyone here knows all about you. Everyone busted there ass, Dad. You got to believe that.”

He nodded, said he understood – but he didn’t, not really. “When do you go back to school?”

“I’m taking the semester off, Dad. You’re going to need a hand for the next few months…”

“Where’s Altair?

“Back in her slip…on the lake. A bunch of us, a girl from Whaletown, Melissa, we all brought her down. Not a scratch, Dad. You’d’ve been proud.”

“Melissa?”

“The woman, from the bakery?”

“Oh, yes. How is she?” he added, barely remembering her.

“Back in Atlanta, but I just called her. She told me to tell you she’ll try to come up this weekend.”

He shook his head, tried to make sense of this new world – his new life. “Ted? What am I going to do?”

And his son sat there in the silence, thunderstruck. His father had never once spoken to him like this, asked him something so – consequential.

“What do you mean, Dad?”

“What am I going to do now? With my life?”

“I don’t know, Dad? What are the options?” – and then he had watched in dismay as his father looked down at the foot of his bed, at the emptiness waiting there, staring back like an accusation.

“Someone told me that people from corporate came by. Any idea what that was about?”

“Some friends, I think, but a few people from Atlanta, too. They talked with your docs, and that’s about all I know on that front.”

He shook his head – as if trying to clear away the cobwebs – then looked up at his boy. “You said the boat is back in Seattle? How’d that go?”

“Melissa and I – and that doc from Whaletown – we brought it down. Took three days, but it was a breeze. No problems at all.”

“What doc?”

“Oh, yeah. When you passed out…”

“I passed out?”

“Fever. Yup. We got on the radio and called it in; the Canadian Coast Guard called a doc in Whaletown, and she came out to the General Store. I picked her up and carried her out to the boat. She’s the one who called for the medevac…”

“A medevac? What? A helicopter?”

“No, a float-plane. Single engine, turbine.”

“Jeez, my insurance company must be going nuts.”

“Apparently that’s all been taken care of. Your corporate people got on to the VA and they’re all coordinating with Blue Cross.”

“That’ll be the day,” he sighed, and they both laughed, then he realized it still felt good to laugh. “Wait a minute…you said Melissa and that doc? What happened to Tracy?”

“Long story, Dad, and I think Melissa might be the one to explain all that.”

“Melissa? Why?”

And Ted looked away. “Things weren’t what we thought, Dad.”

“What does ‘what we thought?’ mean, Paco?”

“She…Melissa…didn’t just show up. She’d been following Tracy, for weeks.”

“Following?” he said, his thoughts reeling.

“Tracy had been, I don’t know…how to say this. Trafficked? Is that the right word?”

“Trafficked? What do you mean, trafficked?”

“She’d been abducted, Dad, years ago, moved around a lot by whoever ‘owned’ her. From Sydney to Singapore, then Hong Kong, and – finally – to Vancouver, last year. Melissa works on some kind of task force, law enforcement. FBI, Interpol, those kinds of things. Anyway, she couldn’t tell me much more than the basics. Someone identified Tracy a few months ago and law enforcement moved in, began tailing her. I think they’re trying to home in on the people chasing her…”

“Chasing her?”

“Yeah, well, when she came with us she was making a break for it, I guess you could say.”

“Jesus, Ted. Is anyone tailing us now?”

And Ted laughed again. “I think we’re covered on that end, Dad. I’m a cooperating witness, under protection.”

“Sweet Jesus,” he sighed, not at all happy now. “This Melissa…is that even her name?”

Ted shrugged. “As far as I know…”

“Right,” he said, looking at his son and for the first time realizing just how clueless he was. How clueless they both were. “And she’s, what…coming back up soon?”

“Maybe this weekend.”

“I can’t wait. Man, she was laying it on pretty thick…”

“Dad…she likes you. I mean…I think she really likes you.”

“Swell.”

“She, like, cried for an hour after you came out of surgery,” Ted said, looking at his leg, “and she didn’t leave your side, like, for a week. ‘Til Mom came up, anyway.”

“Your mother came up? Oh, swell…that’s just fucking great.”

“She still cares, Dad.”

“What turnip truck did you fall out of, son…?”

“What?”

“Never mind,” he sighed, again, only this time it lasted forever. “So, your mother shows up and Melissa beats feet?”

“Yup. That’s about the size of it.”

“By any chance, did you remember my phone?”

“Oh, yeah,” Ted said, digging around in his coat pocket. “All charged-up, too,” he added, putting the phone and its charging cords on the little rolling table over his lap.

He turned it on, looked at his phone’s message queue and groaned. Over fifty voicemails. More than five hundred unanswered emails. Dozens of text strings. “Dear God…” he whispered, suddenly feeling the task of sorting through all this noise was, at best, a Sisyphean effort.

“Bad?” Ted asked.

“I can handle it,” he said, his voice now strong, full of command, and he looked up at Ted again. “What about you. School. When does it start?”

“Next week, but I…”

“No, you should make plans to head back there, today. You need to finish up; you’ve got big decisions to make.”

“I’ve made them, Father.”

His left eyebrow arched on hearing ‘Father’ – and in that challenging tone of voice. “Indeed. Anything you’d like to share with me?”

“I’m going to seminary.”

“I see. What pushed you back? The Tracy thing?”

“Everything happens for a reason, Dad. Tracy, you – all this was just a reminder…I need to get back on the path that’s been laid out for me.”

“I see. Well then, you’re happy with the decision?”

“Yessir – content would be the word I’d choose.”

“Good…well then, best get on the phone, get your classes lined up, then make plans to head back.”

“But Dad…how will you…”

“I’ll manage, son. You’ve got to tend to your own life…not look after me.”

“No, sir. I’ve already made plans to stay here, help you get settled, and that’s what I intend to do.”

He looked at his boy, at his chest all puffed up, and he tried not to laugh. “All right, Paco. We’ll take it one step at a time…how about that?”

There came a knock on the door and a woman’s face appeared.

“Safe to come in, Ted?”

“Yeah, sure Doc…Dad? This is Doc Sullivan, from Whaletown. She’s the doc who came out to the boat…”

The woman came in the room, and while he looked her over he tried his best not to smile. She was short, red-haired and milk-complected, with a broad mask of deep freckles under her green eyes – and she was wearing blue Birkenstocks, too – his least favorite footwear in the world. She was cute, though, and he liked the look of her.

“I was in town and heard you were up and around…” she said, walking bedside. “How are you doing?”

“Me? Swell. How ‘bout you?”

She seemed taken aback by his nonchalance, and felt a little on-guard. “Anyone talked to you about what comes next?”

“Next? No, not really.”

“Oh? Well, I guess…”

“I guess I should thank you,” he said, trying to put her at ease. “I was apparently out when we met?”

She laughed a little. “Yes, I sorry. My name is Brigit Sullivan.”

He looked at her left hand…‘No rings,’ he said to himself as he held out his right hand.

“Jim. Nice to meet you, Brigit,” then he added: “So, I hear you’re a sailor?”

“Not much of one, really, but I didn’t think two people could handle that boat alone, all the way back to Seattle. So I volunteered,” Sullivan said, grinning.

“How’d you like her?”

“Her? Oh, you mean Altair? Oh, I loved her, very much indeed.”

“Your accent…Irish?”

“Yes. I came here to go to school. I decided to stay for a while.”

“A while?”

“Yes, well, its been ten years…so I guess the best-laid plans…”

“I see. Yes, funny how fast the landscape can change.”

She smiled, looked into his eyes. Yes, full of doubt right now, but that was only natural. His entire life upended, all his plans… “So, what are you thinking you’ll do when you get out of here?”

“I don’t know yet, Brigit. Any ideas?”

“Get a peg-leg and head for the Caribbean?”

“Ah. I never saw myself as the pirate-type, ya know?”

She smiled at him and he melted inside – just a little – then he realized he was staring at her – and she wasn’t turning away. No, she was meeting his gaze head-on.

“I talked a bit with your people from Delta, and the VA. Rehab will be no problem, and it seems they want you to think seriously about the training slot in Atlanta.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, I hope you don’t mind, but one of them gave me a card and I’ve called. Someone is supposed to be up tomorrow to talk to you about all that.”

“Who? The VA?”

“No, Delta.”

He looked away, out the window…but all he could see was what was left of his right leg…and his lips scrunched-up into a loose frown. “Training,” he whispered as he recoiled from the thought. Hours and hours in a simulator, teaching kids – kids with all their whole lives ahead of them.

And his was behind now; with whatever might be left receding fast.

Then he felt her hand on his, rubbing away his fear. “It’s not, you know,” he heard her say.

“What?”

“Your life. It’s not over.”

“What makes you say that?”

“It’s all over your face, in your eyes. But you’re wrong, Jim. It’s going to be a fight, but you’re just opening the book to a new chapter.”

“Ah, I see. That’s how it is, eh?”

“I suppose it can be, yes. The other option, I assume, is to simply fall away, fall into a black hole…what you might call the pits of despair.”

“Never been my thing.”

“I think I knew that, but it’s nice to hear you say so, anyway. Oh yes, your VA people classify this as the direct result of your original injuries, by the way. As far as coverage…” but she saw he’d tuned her out and was, in fact, falling over in the bed. Then – he was gone…and people were running again…

+++++

He woke in in the middle of a strange night, woke to the steady hum of machines pumping medicines into his veins, of other machines listening to fading electric currents arcing through his body. He listened to the beep-beep-beep of one and turned to look at it, and saw what he assumed was something like his beating heart – only something wasn’t right. Another registered O-SATS, another PULS, and yet another RESP – and as all of them registered something in the positive range he assumed that he was still alive…yet even so the thought rolled around in his mind for a while. Then he was aware of people dancing all around him, chanting strange things into the night…

“Gimme 5cc epinephrine,” one voice sang.

Then another cried – “Get the central line ready!”

Then he saw his mother standing by his bedside, and she was looking down at him, smiling gently.

“Hi, Mom,” he said, gently.

“Hello, Jimmy,” she said, and while he took comfort in her presence, something about her being in the room troubled him. “Oh yes,” another voice, this one as familiar, said, “your mother’s been dead for…oh, how many years? Is it five now?”

He turned to this second voice, his mind reeling: “Dad? Is that you?”

And they were both by his bed now, looking down at him, and they were smiling now, odd, gentle smiles – like smiles he’d never seen on their faces before.

“Hello, James,” his father said.

“Why are you here?”

“You asked,” his mother said, “so we came.”

“I asked?”

“You’re dying now, Jimmie,” his father said. “It’s alright. Don’t be afraid.”

“Dying? Me? Now?”

“Yes.”

“But…I’m not ready.”

And his father looked at him again, only now he smiled. “Okay. So? Go back to them.”

“Go back?”

“Yes, of course. Go back.”

“You have more to do, Jimmie,” his mother said, still holding his hand.

“I smell…gingerbread,” he said. “Are you baking?”

And she smiled again. “Yes. For you.”

“You’re not making this any easier, are you?”

“We’ll be here when you’re ready, son,” his father said.

“Be careful, and don’t forget the shadows,” his mother added – then she was gone.

“Dad?”

“Yes, son?”

“What’s happening to me?”

“It’s not you, James. It’s your boy. Be careful.”

“What?”

But then his father was gone, too.

“Ted?” he cried. “Ted!”

“I’m here, Dad! I’m here, we’re all here!”

He felt for his parents in the darkness, felt their smiles, then he reached up, reached up to the warmth of their light.

+++++

The shades had been drawn the night before, before he went to sleep, but now he remembered asking the night nurse to open them; he wanted to watch the dawn, he told her, slatting through all this thick, late-summer foliage. Now, the walls of his room were a riot of crisscrossed shadows, no direction clear, no way to tell where the sun was.

He heard the door open, saw Ted sticking his head in the room. “You up?” his son asked.

“Yeah. A few hours now.”

“Still can’t sleep?”

He bunched his lips, shook his head.

“Your parents?”

He shrugged.

“You know, Dad, it’s not the strangest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Yes it is. And it’s different when you hear it coming from someone else. If it ever happens to you, you’ll know what I mean…”

“I can only imagine. What did Sullivan call it? A near death experience?”

“Oxygen deprivation, by any other name, I think.”

“That’s one worldview,” Ted added, grinning. “You want to hear something even weirder?”

“Fire away.”

“When the air ambulance thing showed up…”

“I think they’re called airplanes, Ted.”

“Yeah. It was called a Kodiak.”

“Oh? Nice plane. Sorry I missed the ride.”

Ted shook his head, then plowed on ahead. “Anyway, I sat up front. We talked, the pilot and I, and I told him about you.”

“Oh?”

“It was the first time I’ve ever been interested in it.”

“It?”

“Flying.”

“Oh? What was interesting to you?”

“The methodical certainty of it. Do this, do that – and if you do everything just right you make it. If you don’t…”

“You screw the pooch.”

“Yeah, that’s it. I’ve heard you say that a million times before yet I don’t think I ever really understood until just then. Anyway, I found it kind of interesting.”

“What does ‘interesting’ mean?”

“I’ve been looking at flight schools.”

He looked at his son, nodded his head slowly. “I see.”

“What do you think?”

“I think you being in the room while I tried to die really fucked with your head.”

And they both laughed.

“Feels good to laugh, doesn’t it?” his son said.

“You have no idea. What time does that flight from Atlanta get in?”

Ted looked at his phone. “She’s due in at ten.”

“You picking her up?”

“Yup.”

“Where’s she staying?”

“The Four Seasons.”

He nodded his head, looked out the window.

“So? What do you think?”

“About?”

“Flight school.”

“If that’s what you want to do.”

“Well, Dad, actually…I’m asking for some advice.”

“And you know how I feel about that.”

“Yeah, I know. ‘You’re smart enough to make your own decisions.’ I hear you, Dad, but right now it kind of feels a little like a cop-out.”

“Does it?”

“Yeah, it does.”

And he heard the same teen-aged insolence, the same wall of sarcasm he’d always heard whenever he’d tried to give his son any kind of advice. “Well,” he said, taking a deep breath, “let’s see if I’ve got this straight. You want to be a priest since you were knee-high to a grasshopper, then you get to BC and all of a sudden its medicine. You bounce around back and forth between those two for three years then you take a ride in an airplane and all of sudden you want to be a pilot? Have I about nailed the contours here?”

Ted looked down at the floor.

“Now, you tell me,” he continued. “This whole God thing seems to have been a driving force your whole life, so what do you think he wants you to do?”

“That’s not how it works, Dad.”

“Oh? There’s a checklist for that too, is there?”

“No, I think He leads us to choices, then he sits back and watches, waits to see what we’ll do.”

“And then what? He doesn’t interfere?”

“Yeah, Dad. Just like you.”

“What?”

“Just like you, Dad. Don’t you get it?”

“No, obviously not.”

“That’s all I’ve ever wanted, Dad. To be just like you.”

“But you wanted to be a priest? I’m confused…”

“I was too, until I talked with Melissa about it.”

“Melissa? What did she have to say?”

“Nope, and you know what, Dad? I’m not going to interfere.”

“Interfere? With what?”

“Jesus, you are one thick-headed son-of-a-bitch.”

“What the devil are you going on about, Ted?”

“Melissa and Brigit, you idiot.”

“What about them?”

Ted shook his head – then looked at his phone. “I think I’m going to head out to the airport now.”

“It’s seven o’clock.”

“Yeah, how ‘bout that.”

“Bring me what you have on flight schools. I’ll look it over.”

“Yeah, I’ll do that. Thanks, Dad.”

But the door closed before he could say another word.

+++++

He wasn’t quite sure why, but he barely remembered Melissa those first few minutes after she walked into his room – and that made this ‘reunion’ all the more strange.

She had, apparently, made some kind of connection to him that day. That much was clear.

As the morning passed he remembered more of their time talking in the cockpit, the blustery winds, dodging timbers that had broken free of their rafts, even fragments of her shooting the inlet…then everything was gone – like the rest of the day – it had all been wiped clean.

But the most disconcerting thing of all? He hadn’t recognized her when she walked in the room – not at all. She was a complete stranger…

But when she first came in the room…?

She had dashed to his bed and wrapped herself around him, and all he had felt was a vast chasm of annoyance opening between them. Her hair, dry and scratchy, crushed against his face and as waves of perfume hit he’d felt waves of panicky suffocation settle over the room. She had grabbed his face and kissed his forehead – and then she must have seen the confusion in his eyes. She pulled back looked into his eyes and a veil of tears crossed between them.

“Do you know who I am?”

He had turned away a little; a fraction of a gaze passed between them and he knew he had answered her question as best he could. She regrouped a little, took the seat Ted had pulled up for her, then Ted left the room.

“Ted tells me the two of you…no, there were three of you, right? Three of you moved Altair back to Seattle.”

“Yes, that’s right. Brigit – Doctor Sullivan – was with us.”

“I should thank you for all that. I’m not sure Ted would’ve been up to it by himself.”

“Really? I got the impression after an hour or so he hardly needed us at all. He couldn’t sleep, you see, so he stood behind the wheel, steering hour after hour. We stopped in Friday Harbor and he told us about the trips you used to take out there, to the islands, and only then did he go to sleep.”

“I guess we never really know what our kids will remember, do we?”

She looked away. “We never had kids.”

“I’m sorry. I never knew that much about…”

“Let’s not go there, okay, Jim?”

“Sure.”

“Anyway, you’ve set up Altair to handle anything, haven’t you? She handles like a dream.”

He turned to her, his little ship, and in his mind’s eye he saw her then. For the first time…since…resplendent under a full set of canvas, biting into the wind – like a wild thing set free.

“I have no idea what I’ll do with her now.”

She was looking at him as he spoke, looking at banked embers of uncertainty eating away at his soul, and she nodded her head just so.

“Yes, I don’t suppose you have much choice now.”

His eyes lost focus for a moment – and Altair faded from sight.

“What do you mean?”

“Only that you’ll need to get fitted for a peg-leg, and soon.”

“Oh. That. Look, it wasn’t funny the first time I heard…”

“Listen, I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve talked with a few friends at Delta and your moving down there, moving to DATC. Whenever you’re ready.

“Who’d you talk to?”

“Ben Chambers.” He had looked at her then, his eyes full of molten fury – and she’d looked away lest she go up in flames with him. “I’m sorry,” she said a moment later. “I shouldn’t have.”

“Why?”

“Why…what?”

“Why would anyone want me now. I can’t get out of bed, I can’t even take a shit without calling a fucking nurse…”

“This is the hard part, Jim, the worst of it. We can all pull together, Ted and I – and you. We can help you get there.”

“Look…I don’t even know you,” he said through gritted teeth, his voice a venomous hiss, “but you’re talking to me like you’re my wife. You’re going to have to forgive me, but what the Hell is going on here?”

She sat up, looked him in the eye. “It’s funny, yes, but Jim, I feel like God brought us together. I’m here now, for you, because I think this is all part of His plan.”

“Do you really?” he said, his voice full of sarcasm.

She nodded – and he found the certainty in her eyes revolting. Revolting, and yet almost fascinating, at the same time. “I don’t believe in coincidence, Jim.”

“And all that crap about being at the inn, being compelled to join us for breakfast? That you’d been…”

“I know, I know,” this strange woman said, “but the truth of it is even stranger.”

“Oh? There’s some truth in this story? Oh my goodness, I can hardly wait.”

She smiled, her eyes wide now, wide and clear. “We lost Tracy in Vancouver. We’d had no trace of her, for almost a week…”

“Time-out. Who’s ‘we’?”

“I’m with a joint Federal/Interpol task force on human trafficking.”

“So…you’re a cop?”

She shook her head. “You could say that. I’m with the FBI, been working with local jurisdictions in and around New Orleans for years…”

“On human trafficking,” he said, his voice now full of urgent anger.

She saw the look in his eye, the change that came over him. “Yes…why?”

“My mom was a social worker, in Vermont, after the war. She was pulled into working on human trafficking cases when she was young.”

“And she couldn’t shake it, could she?”

He turned away.

“It’s a calling, Jim. There are so many girls, and so few of us give a damn.”

“I know.”

“Yes, I imagine you do. Did she stay in social work?”

“No, not really. She started working for the state AGs office sometime in the early fifties, then was offered some kind of job in Washington. All I know is she turned it down, and she quit a little later. She never talked about what she did much after that.”

Melissa nodded. “I know, part of the pattern.”

“Pattern?”

“She was in Vermont, right?”

“Yup, where we – where I grew up.”

“Chinese, through Montreal and Quebec. An almost constant stream of girls come in through Vermont. Taken to New York City first, to the restaurants around the city, worked as indentured servants – unless they’re pretty. Then they’re sold off as domestics – until they’re no longer pretty, that is.”

“Domestics?”

“Free pussy, Jim. At parties and other – events. Then they’re disposed of.”

“What does that mean? Killed?”

“Most of the time, yes. Unless new buyers can be found, but often it depends on how much the girl knows, and that depends on what her ‘master’ was into. It’s usually drugs, and these days that usually means heroin.”

“Where does Tracy fit into all this?”

“We got onto her while we were trailing some cartel people, down in San Antonio but moving product to New Orleans. She made a break for it, made it to Colorado but she, well, her addiction was too powerful. She fell in with a lawyer, in Aspen, and to make a long story short she ran into someone who knew somebody who knew people in that cartel, and when someone told the lawyer he ratted her. By that point, we knew if we could get our hands on her we might get her to talk, but she was off again, gone before we could get to her. We lost her until she crossed into Canada, and by that time Interpol was involved. She kept slipping in and out of our radar but we had her – or at least we thought we had her. And that’s when you two showed up.”

“And you got her, told her to leave?”

“We got her, period.”

“She’s in –”

“Protective custody…yes. Witness Protection.”

“What does Ted know about all this?”

“Next to nothing.”

“So, I assume you think the cartels will take no interest in me? Or my son?”

“Doubtful. But then again, I won’t be far away.”

He looked at her then, feeling a little like a tethered goat. “I see,” he said.

“I doubt that, Jim.”

“So, what’s all this hooey about God bringing us together, and no coincidences. Is that part of your ruse, too?”

“No, not at all. That’s how I found Tracy, in Vancouver. Through this feeling I had.” She looked at him hard for a moment, then she cleared her throat. “Could I tell you something, something sort of private.”

“Oh, I can’t wait.”

She nodded her head. “Alright, Jim. Three days ago – when you threw that clot and went into arrest – I saw something.”

“Something? Like what kind of something?”

“I saw your parents – talking to you.”

Icy claws grabbed his throat and he struggled to take a breath…

“I heard what your father said to you.”

“Oh?” he said, his eyes burning now.

“It’s not you, Jim. It’s your boy.”

Then he was crying openly, his lips quivering, his eyes twitching as he tried to come to terms with her words…

“I know why I’m here now, Jim. I’m here to open the gate between you and your son.”

She was lost just then, like she had faded into another plane of existence, then she shook herself back to the present.

“I’m think I’m here to make sure that happens. After that, my purpose here is over.”

“Over?” he said, trying to breathe. “What do you – mean – by that…?”

And the woman shrugged. “I have no idea, Jim. But I think that’s what your mother was trying to tell me.”

He struggled under the weight of her words, fought to come to terms with the implications of the timing. “Could you see her? My mother, I mean?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know, Jim. All I have left is the impression of someone’s eyes, but I never saw anyone, not in the usual sense of seeing.”

“You’re not, like, a schizophrenic, are you?”

“I don’t think so,” she began, giggling, “but, does menopause count?”

And he laughed too, then his eyes turned cold and hard. “Open the gate? Did he really say that?”

“I think so. Why?”

“I was thinking, just now, right when you said that, about the gate in our backyard. We had a little dog when I was growing up, and that gate was the only thing that kept him in the yard. I think I left it open once and he got out, ran into the street and a car hit him. Keeping the gate closed became kind of a metaphor in our family, something about the necessity of protecting the things we love.”

“Yes, but what about being overprotective?”

“Is there such a thing as being too protective where our kids are concerned?”

“Sure there is,” she sighed. “Nobody can grow when they’re being smothered…”

“I don’t smother Ted,” he countered, perhaps a little too defensively. “If anything, I think I’m too distant…”

“But don’t you see, that’s a kind of control too, Jim. When a child needs guidance, wants advice, and you stand back – well, in a way you’re reinforcing a child’s needfulness. Parents need to give advice freely, I think, and kids need to know they can come to you with anything, at anytime, for help…”

“What else did you two talk about?”

“That being true to yourself is the best way to be true to God…”

+++++

She read through the letter one more time, then called the head of her department in Burlington, Vermont.

“Mike, I got another one.”

“What’s this one say, Liz?” asked Mike Bennett, a retired federal judge who had recently been assigned to coordinate state and federal law enforcement activities along the Canadian border.

“Sounds kind of like ‘back-off or else’ to me.”

“Did this one come to your house?”

“Yessir.”

“Well, goddamn. What does Jerry think?”

“He’s not sure, wanted me to run this by you first.”

“Well, if it’s Hip-Sing, or one of the other Triads, we’ll have to take it seriously…”

“Jerry says there’s no way we can be sure. There’s that new group in the Village, the Ghost Dragons…”

“Bad people…bad news if it’s them.”

“Yessir. Well, we’re stepping on a lot of toes, disrupting a lot of ongoing operations up here. Even so, it’s out of character for them to attack one of us like this…”

“Yeah…going after families…that’s something new alright. Is that what Jerry thinks.”

“Well, I’m the only one to receive something like this at home. Everyone else has gotten them at the office in Burlington.”

“What does your husband have to say about this?”

“He’s more worried about Jimmie than anything else.”

“What about the Florida thing. Will that work?”

“I doubt it, sir. It would be just a matter of days, maybe a week, before they’d track us down.”

“Well, what do you want to do?”

“Change tactics again. Lure them in, take a few of them out, watch them, see how they regroup.”

“Then what?”

“I don’t think I can keep at this much longer, Mike. Not with them potentially targeting my family.”

“Sorry about the dog. What did you tell your boy?”

“That someone left the gate open.”

“Damn. Well, the reality is simple enough, Elizabeth. We don’t have even one of these groups penetrated, so we have no idea what their real strength is. If they’re targeting you, or your family, we have no option other than to move you, get you out of there.”

“There’s another option, sir. I publicly resign.”

“And give in to their threats? But, even so…we could never be sure, could we? They could decide to make an example of you. That’s what…”

“Yessir, I know. That’s what they do to cop families over there.”

“Do you have any reason to think they wouldn’t do that to you, or to your family?”

“It would be a first, sir.”

“There’s always a first, Liz. You want to try that one on for size?”

“What about surveillance?”

“Keep you under surveillance, 24/7?” her boss asked.

“It might do the job, sir. What bothers me most is simply giving in so fast.”

“Listen…you know the drill, how it is now. No one in the White House cares about these Chinese gangs, not Eisenhower, not Nixon…not even Dulles…”

“Because they’re ‘running girls.’ Yessir, I know, but there’s tons of heroin moving in with these girls. That’s how they’ve done it, sir, and for centuries. First, they start with girls, then they move opium and heroin in with them. Drug use grows exponentially and when the real gangs move-in, the operations compromising politicians begin.”

“Preaching to the converted, Liz.”

“I know, sir. Sorry. It’s just frustrating – like watching a slow-motion train wreck.”

“Well, what do you want to do?”

“I hate to do this, sir, but I think I’m leaving this one to you.”

She heard him sigh, then a moment later: “I’d like your resignation on my desk tomorrow. I’ll have the office prepare a statement, get it out to the newspapers.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

“You’ll start with the next class at the academy. That’ll be August. Take some time off, get some rest, and be ready to get back to work next year.”

“Yessir.”

+++++

“Next?” An old man asked, opening a file folder.

“Melissa Goodway,” one of the other men in the office said. “Divorced, six years ago. Finished her J.D. five years ago.” His name was Jesse James – a name that had given him nothing but trouble ever since his Academy days.

“Where? I don’t see it here…”

“Georgetown.”

“Okay. DAs office, I take it?”

“Yessir.”

“Fulton, or DeKalb.”

“Fulton, sir. One year, then she was snatched up by a joint task force, DEA, and FBI. SAC Atlanta recommended she go to the Academy, sir.”

“What got her into this?”

“Raped, sophomore year, Vanderbilt.”

“Shit. That’s a lot of baggage, Ken.”

“Her interview went well, sir, and her psych profile is rock solid.”

The old man flipped through the pages in the folder, then looked up at the other men in the room. “Anyone have any objections?” He looked around the room, made eye contact with all nine of them. “Come on, speak now – or forever hold your peace.”

“Does she have enough experience for this,” one of the others said. “She’ll be on her own for weeks at a time.”

“She knows what she signed up for,” James said.

“No one knows what they’ve signed up ‘til they’re up to the neck in alligators,” the old man said.

“Especially in New Orleans,” one of the others said, to murmurs of assent around the room.

“Who interviewed her?” the old man asked, flipping through the file again.

“Pat did the prelim, I did the follow-up. His write-up is on the next to last page, sir.”

The old man read the notes for a while, flipped to a few cross-referenced pages then tossed the file on the desk. “When can she be ready to go?”

“It’ll take a few days to get their documentation in order, another week to get them placed in Macao.”

“So, we need a week?”

“Yessir.”

“That’s cutting it pretty damn close, Jesse.”

“Yes, sir, it is. And the longer we sit here debating the merits of the operation, the worse it gets, sir.”

“Alright. Fuller and this Norton from Treasury go to Hong Kong, our Goodway goes to Macao. Any objections?”

No one spoke as the Old Man assayed the room one last time. He shook his head then signed the documents approving the largest sting on foreign soil the Bureau had attempted in fifteen years. No one had to remind him the last time the Bureau tried something like this, two agents died.

(c) 2017 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com

Sunday in the Sun + 17 December 17

Sunday in the Sun 17 Dec

It’s becoming difficult not to look at events in the United States over the last two years as a kind of autophagia, but over the last two weeks, the impression has been almost overwhelming – and the need to turn and look away in disgust has become as overwhelming. Decent men everywhere, if there is indeed still such a thing, have looked on in August, self-righteous horror as, like falling dominoes, the mighty have fallen – yet the timing of all this strikes me as a little odd, a little too opportune. Then the spectre of a candidate for the United States Senate refusing to concede defeat after a special election, surrounded by his legions of the evangelical faithful, telling his acolytes that the country is being engulfed in a morass of moral relativism – all the while denying he’s been up to his elbows in fourteen-year-old girls. I’m tellin’ ya…you can’t make this stuff up, and it would almost be funny if it wasn’t so surreal.

Our president, our fearless leader, now denying he ever made those comments about “grabbing pussy” – even as audio tapes and witnesses call out the lie of his words. We have, as president, a pathological liar – and yet there isn’t a Republican out there who will stand up to the man. One or two will issue veiled references of his incapacity to lead – then shrink away into the night, and so this red-headed autophagic monster just gets bigger, eats his way into the body politic with each new impulse on Twitter, leaving our most sacred traditions as nothing more than a waiting smorgasbord for his pathological delight. And yet, we stand by in mute disbelief as he shits the remains of all that we once held dear all over the White House lawn, and then calls it snow.

This Republican Bonfire of the Vanities is burning down the house, and all the rest of us stand idly by, simple collateral damage. The tax cut bill, a scam that will benefit corporations and billionaires, is a setup, a pretext to gut social safety nets enacted during the New Deal, so now Republicans dance with glee in the aisles – after they cash their checks and get set to retire – while Democrats slink away into the night, still clueless after all these years.

The Democrats are deep into their own autophagic rituals now, too. After eight years of W the United States would have elected someone, anyone other than a Republican, and so they anointed the one man who would alienate the vast majority of white men in this country. When his time behind the curtain was up, and after much hand-wringing, they came up with the second person most likely to alienate white men, aka Hillary, and then after her shellacking conclaves of Democrats could be heard asking “why did we lose the white vote?” You can hear refrains of “we’ve got to win back the alienated white vote” as Democrats gather at the temple of inclusiveness and put forth yet another platform dedicated to the proposition that the transgendered among us need to be able to go to the bathroom wherever they want. I mean, hey, it’s not like we have serious socio-economic dislocation going on, with legislatively sanctioned structural inequality overturning seventy years of progress after each new Republican bill sails through Congress – unopposed. No, Democrats are asleep at the switch one more time, proving once and for all time they are no longer a party to be reckoned with, ready to be consigned to the ashbin of history. Just another people who failed to live up to their ideals, let alone our ideas.

There’s this decent Democrat, Uncle Joe Biden, who just might have been able to pull it off. Get the party back in the hunt, so to speak…but no, he’s already been shown the door. There are women waiting in the wings, waiting for their turn under the lights now. Cultivating their angst, tearing down what’s left of us, watching with smiles, and tears, waiting for the checks to roll in. Maybe after eight years of Trump, we’ll be ready for that ride again, but somehow I doubt it.

Dolomites

I love this image. Read about it here.

Sunday in the Sun + 3 December 2017

sunday in the sun 12 3 17

Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. (Isaiah 10:1-4)

A tax cut bill referred to by the majority of the people in this country as a scam to benefit billionaires.

A tax cut bill that will curtail abortion rights.

A tax bill that will make drastic cuts to health care programs for both seniors and children, and one notable provision will make expensive chemotherapy agents unaffordable for most seniors again. It’s worth noting that Senator John McCain, who is currently receiving such chemotherapy, is voting for the bill.

Lobbyists are crafting the bill behind closed doors, sending copies to senators only hours before they are scheduled to vote on the almost 500-page act.

This is the fate of democracy once it falls into the hands of the billionaire class. Congressmen and women can be purchased like whores on the street, purchased to do their master’s bidding, and those entrusted to protect the lives and liberty of those they would pretend to represent have now turned on their constituents in one of the most brazen betrayals in history.

And all this aided and abetted by a “news” organization – Fox News – started by a malicious foreigner and funded by billionaires for almost thirty years.

They have purchased the death of representative democracy in America.

May we rest in peace.

the hand that feeds him

 

Corcovado V

Corcovado 5

Corcovado + Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars

Chapter V

He heard voices again, voices far away – as if on the far side of a dream. Scratchy voices lost in time, voices full of concern – and then he knew where he was.

Again.

The low tree-line in the distance, that same low, rocky escarpment – and the village beyond. Spreading fires lighting up the marsh as he falls from the sky, Tiger 509 tumbling through the swamp like a paper cup tossed from a passing car, gouts of fire erupting on the surface of the black swamp below his leg. The pain excruciating now, like something inside him is on fire. He knows if he looks down, looks at the onrushing earth inside the mottled red shadows under his boots he’ll see jagged shards of metal jutting from his leg…and there will be blood.

Then, he feels something on his forehead, something like a washcloth, cool and damp, and the muffled sounds of people talking again – far away – like voices in another room – and he wonders how this could possibly be – because he feels like he’s being pushed away from this life and, suddenly, those voices didn’t matter anymore.

++

“When did this happen? The first time, I mean?” the physician asked.

“It was in the early nineties, I think, after he came back from Iraq,” Ted said, looking back at the discarded memories of his childhood – like looking through the pages of a book that contained nothing but painful images. “His leg was pretty messed up, some kind of bacteria got into the wound, like in the space between the skin and the muscle, and it spread. My mom told me he nearly lost his right leg after they got him to Germany. But whatever it is, it’s come back several times since…two or three times that I can remember.”

“When was the last time?”

“Oh, I guess…maybe…three years ago. He went to the VA hospital in Seattle that time, I think, for some kind of special injections.”

“And it keeps coming back?” Melissa asked, clearly now concerned.

“It’s probably triggering some sort of autoimmune disorder at this point,” the physician said, shrugging as she looked around the boat. “You said he lives aboard? How long?”

“Not that long. Maybe nine months…not quite a year, anyway.”

“Humid down here, but I don’t see any signs of mold or mildew,” she sighed, as if talking to herself. “Well, whatever, with a temperature of 103 we’re going to have to get him back to a big hospital. I’ll call it in, have an air ambulance land outside the entrance. They can taxi right up to the boat, load him up right here. I think he should be taken straight to Vancouver, by the way. Be less paperwork than going to the US that way.”

“What about the boat?” Ted asked.

“Well, you’ll need to stay with him on the trip down; is there anyone who can remain aboard and keep an eye on things?”

“I can,” Melissa said, her voice now steady and calm – then, as she looked at Tracy there was an implied command in her voice.

“I guess I can, too,” Tracy added – though her voice was brimming with reluctance.

Ted turned, looked at Melissa, yet he could now see Tracy had been shaken by this unexpected turn of events – but that Melissa seemed steady as a rock. “I’ll go,” he said, “and get him checked-in, then I’ll turn around as fast as I can and come right back. Unless he’s released by then. I think we should try to take the boat back to Seattle…”

“The, what…the three of us?” Melissa asked, her voice full of alarm. “Do you think that’s…that he’d want you to do that?”

“What are the options?” Ted asked.

The physician chimed-in then: “There’s the town-dock, over in Whaletown. I know the Harbor Master, I could talk him into keeping an eye on her for a few weeks.”

Ted looked at the doctor, then at Melissa. “I don’t think so. This is my father’s home – and I’m not about to leave it sitting out here, unattended…”

“Well, think it over,” the doctor said, her voice a distant sigh. “If you could run me ashore now, I’ll call for an air ambulance, then we can send a nurse out to help you load him on the airplane. She’ll fly in with you to the hospital.”

Ted nodded and looked at his unconscious father again, then went topsides and helped the physician into the Zodiac. They motored off across the little cove to the store by the inlet, and he was back in a half hour – but Melissa was waiting for him on the swim platform, her arms crossed protectively across her breast, and he thought she was glowering at the world.

“Not quite what you signed up for, is it?” Ted said to her stony, fiercely expressionless eyes.

“Oh, it’s not that. I feel afraid, and yet I don’t really know why…”

“Afraid? Why…of what?”

“I don’t know, Ted. It’s hard to put my finger on it, ya know? But I feel a connection. It was, I don’t know why – or even how to say this – ” she said, suddenly almost gulping for air. “But I’ve felt a connection with your father since I saw him this morning…yet…”

“Yet? Just what are you trying to say?”

“I’ve felt drawn to this place for days…felt as if something, or someone, was pushing me to go to that bakery this morning, and when I saw your boat pull up to the dock, saw your father walking around down there I just knew I’d been summoned here, for a reason.”

“Summoned?” he said – warily.

“Yes. Like God wanted me to be here for some reason. Does that make any sense at all to you?”

He nodded his head as his stomach turned, then looked at the companionway hatch. “The plane should be here within an hour.”

“You should go pack some things, for both of you – just in case.”

He nodded, then turned and went below…but he stopped first – and stared at the sky for a moment, lost in the feeling that something was terribly wrong.

+

The girls, all of them save one, were slaves. It was as simple as that.

And Elizabeth, being a rather quiet, even a staid product of far-upstate Vermont, found herself ill-prepared for what came next, to handle the information that came out of these forgotten girls. She found that one or two offered to translate, though one girl, in particular, seemed to be quite fluent. This girl was well-dressed, haughty and indifferent, and Elizabeth figured this girl was on the inside of the operation, part of the inner family, and soon she had this girl sequestered from the others. Then, once she talked with one of the girls willing to interpret, she began her interviews with the girls – one by one…

They were bound for New York City, they said, and most of them already had “owners” lined up, though a few of the younger ones, she soon learned, were more like speculative ventures. Young virgins, for the most part, these girls would show up “to work at restaurants on the East Side” one day, but they would be snatched up within hours by their owners, destined to work as “housekeepers” – though, she learned, these as yet unattached waifs rarely did anything but housework. No, these girls were part of a steady stream of children being imported into the US, allegedly to work as domestics, but the truth of their existence, Elizabeth soon understood, was as part of a far darker world. All would work in the sex trade, either as domestic sex slaves or as “actresses” in brutally sadistic S&M films. One of the girls she talked with had a friend who had reportedly been killed – for the film, such as it was, was all about killing very young virgins. Or so this girl said.

+

Ted heard an aircraft overhead and went topsides to look for it; he saw the ungainly looking beast through the trees that lined the cove, and he watched as it flared and settled on the water. Then, with a wary eye, he looked on as it taxied through the inlet and he found himself wondering, for perhaps the first time in his life, what it was like to fly. To be a pilot. To do the things his father had done.

‘That’s odd,’ he thought as he watched the beast approach. ‘I’ve been surrounded by pilots and aircraft my whole life, yet never once have I…’

“Is that the plane?” he heard Tracy ask, and so, biting his tongue, he turned to her and nodded his head. “What took them so long?” she asked, and again, he fought back the urge to lash out at her inanity and simply shrugged.

He watched the aircraft pass a few anchored boats, their owners now very curious indeed and staring at the floats as it passed. As the beast drew near he saw the doctor was onboard and, oddly enough, she waved at him, and smiled. He waved away his fear and tried to meet her smile, then he thought about Melissa – and about the things she’d told him down below.

Drawn to his father. By God. Never had an interest in Canada, nor even heard of Desolation Sound, but for weeks she had felt a need to be here – today. Her description of seeing his father on the fuel dock had rattled him, too. He looked god-like, she said, wreathed in an aura of golden flame, and she said she knew right then that her destiny waited now, waited for a decision. She had been waiting for him all her life.

He’d tried to measure her words against his own experience of God – and he’d come up short. God didn’t do things like this, did He?

Or did He?

Or…was her being here really nothing more or less than chance, a mere coincidence. A simple statistical anomaly, a chain of unrelated events leading to a new outcome, like intricate lines of dominoes set to fall along predictable paths, only – interrupted by an earthquake. Destin. Sailboats. Her ex-husband, a pilot with Delta who had known his father. How many coincidences must there be, he sighed as these varied images came to mind, before things just didn’t add up any longer?

The pilot maneuvered his aircraft through the water in a tight arc, swinging the loading doors right up to Altair’s lifelines, and he grabbed hold and held the plane’s elevators off the shrouds while the pilot hopped out onto a float and secured the aircraft’s floats to Altair. After his father was lifted aboard the aircraft he grabbed their duffels and hopped aboard, but then, before he went further he turned and looked at Melissa.

Her eyes were full of tears, yet he felt strength in them, too.

‘So many contradictory impulses,’ he said, if only to himself, then he smiled at her – as the pilot let slip the lines and pushed his airplane away from Altair’s navy blue hull.

“You’ll need to sit up front with me,” the pilot said. “No room aft, I’m afraid.”

“Right.” He looked at Melissa after he clambered up into the tiny cockpit, looked at her – standing on his father’s home – as the airplane taxied out the inlet into open water. He looked down at Altair after they took off and circled the cove, lost inside all the implications of her last words to him.

“He’s in God’s hands now, Ted. Have faith in Him.”

Then, quite suddenly, he knew just what it was she’d experienced – and where his future lay.

+

She’d never imagined worlds like this existed. That one’s life could be so utterly, so wantonly castrated of meaning, of purpose, of even the simplest joy. It was as if these women, these girls really, had been wiped clean from the book of life. Erased, in silence, and no one would bear witness to their suffering save the warped souls who would torment them on their way through this life. These girls, all of them unwanted in their homeland and lucky even to be alive, had been cast adrift soon after birth, only to be raised almost as domestic animals, kept alive for their potential worth once they reached a certain age. Kept alive for men in America and Europe – so they could be consumed again and again, out of sight, out of mind.

After Elizabeth finished her first dozen interviews she went to talk with the haughtily indifferent girl she suspected of being on the inside. She had no name, she said, and her silence implied she had no existence.

“Where are you from?” asked Elizabeth.

No answer, only an insipid, almost vapid shrug.

“You should answer me, you know? If you don’t, well, you simply go to jail until you do.”

Again, the quietly defiant shrug.

“You think your people in New York will come for you?”

A slight smirk, a quick, sidelong glance of the eye.

“That maybe they’ll get you out so you won’t have to talk to me?”

“You don’t know what you’re dealing with,” the girl said, her English clear and perfect.

“Oh? Enlighten me?”

“Let me go now and you may yet live. Keep me and you’ll be dead by nightfall.”

“Oh? And who do you think will pull that off?”

The insolence on the girl’s face was almost too much for Elizabeth, but she looked into the girl’s eyes, tried to feel her way inside this lost soul, yet she found nothing there – only a darkening void.

“So, you take these girls down to the Village? They already have masters, is that it?”

“And you are dead.”

“No, Mai Ling, I am very much alive and, actually, I have your Passport. The FBI is en route, as is a representative of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. And, as you are in a world of trouble I thought I’d give you an opportunity to tell me what you know before the, uh, well, the professionals start in on you…”

A rattled veneer now, a sudden, tectonic shift deep within the girl’s magmatic core.

“The truck driver? Your brother? You do know he’s dead, don’t you? Are you sure you don’t want to talk to me before the FBI gets here? You do realize the danger you are in, don’t you? Your family? What they’ll do to you now that we have these girls?”

Deeper cracks in her veneer, sudden tremors passing across her face like shadows of clouds.

“Your family in Queens? And in Kowloon? All that in jeopardy now. Unless you talk. I can help, you know?”

“You?” the girl cried, the word full of mocking scorn. “You have no idea what you’ve stumbled on, do you? This is just the tip of the iceberg…”

“Really? And what if you’re just a frightened little girl, a girl afraid of the dark.”

They talked for hours after that – while two detectives from the Vermont State Police took notes.

+

Melissa sat in Altair’s cockpit after Ted left, looking past the bow to the trees that lined the cove, but she appeared lost now. Lost and vulnerable. All she could see in her mind’s eye was the spreading disease within his leg. Black streaks, like lightning gone terribly wrong, and hot to the touch. She’d never seen anything like it but she knew it was evil, that something was coiled up inside of him waiting to strike, and she was afraid because she knew he was going to die. So much was riding on him now – and he was going to die. And now, suddenly, she felt quite helpless to stop this runaway train.

Then she heard Tracy coming up the companionway ladder and she tensed.

“Think you could run me across to the store?” Tracy asked.

“Sure, but there’s no bus service over there. Only seaplanes. Kind of expensive, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh,” the girl said, lost now, and not a little confused.

“So. Who are you running from?”

“Excuse me?”

“Running? Who from? Daddy? A boyfriend? Who?”

The girl turned away, shrugged.

“And? What happens if they find you?”

Tracy shrugged again, then sighed – as really, there was no point in lying now. “I guess they kill me.”

“You know their distribution network, I assume?”

Again the girl nodded, only now she turned and looked at Melissa. “How’d you know?”

“Oh, I’ve met you before. Not you, but girls like you. Caught in the trap, nowhere to turn, no place to run.”

“Dime a dozen, huh?”

“Something like that. Do you want to go home?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did he abuse you?”

She nodded her head a little, a barely perceived, mouselike little motion, almost a denial, yet not quite.

“What about your mum?”

“She was always too afraid.”

“I know, but there’s no need to blame her, you know? Caught in the same trap, I guess.”

“You too?” Tracy asked.

And Melissa shrugged. “Not really, but yeah, I know where you’re coming from.”

“Do you?”

“I’ve helped a few girls in your shoes.”

“Oh, have you?” Tracy said, but there was a layer of scorn in her voice that hung over them both.

“I’d like to think so, yes.”

“Yes, I rather imagine you might like that. Who are you running from, by the way? Boyfriend, or husband?”

“Not that simple, Tracy.”

“It never is, luv. Until it is.”

“When was the last time you thought you were made? Before this week, I mean.”

“About a year ago, in San Francisco. The people running me are tied to the cartels now.”

“No way out in California, is there?”

“No. I always thought I could hide there, but…”

“There’s always someone coming around the next corner, isn’t there?”

“That’s right. Always.”

“Did you tell Ted this part?”

“No, course not. I knew someone was on to me last week like, knew it was time to move again…”

“And along comes Ted.”

“And Jim,” Tracy added.

“Ah, so it’s him that interested you?”

“Until you fuckin’ came along, yeah.”

“Funny how things turn out, isn’t it?”

“Do you know how to sail this thing?”

“Sort of, but not really,” Melissa lied, suddenly realizing she was in imminent mortal danger. “The systems on this boat are…well, I have no idea how to run a boat this complex.”

The girl looked towards the seaplane base across the way. “I wonder where they fly to?”

“Up and down the coast, small fishing towns for the most part. Think you could hide out someplace like that?”

“Maybe. Got any cash?”

“A few hundred. I could buy your ticket, though. Give you what I’ve got on hand.”

That seemed to make up the girl’s mind. “Let me get my kit, then. I want to be out of here before dark.”

“Did you see someone this morning?”

She nodded her head. “Maybe. At that bakery. Someone I remember from Vancouver.”

Melissa thought about that now. Someone looking for Tracy here – if that was really her name – out here on the sound. And now they knew she was on this boat.

Would she be safe out here by herself, she wondered? And, when would Ted be back?

She was in the Zodiac, waiting, when Tracy came up with her duffel, and they rode across the cove in silence. She tied up at the cove and walked up to the store and bought her a ticket to Campbell River, gave her a few hundred dollars then hurried back to the inflatable before the girl changed her mind.

She tied-off on a cleat and climbed up to the aft deck, then went below to her duffel and pulled out an Inmarsat phone and flipped it on. She entered the encryption key and waited for the green light, then dialed a one-time number and waited for the connection.

“Go,” she heard the man’s voice on the other end.

“She’s on the evening flight from Squirrel Cove to Campbell River. Says she’s spotted someone on her tail, but I didn’t see anyone.”

“Your next move?”

“Stay here, for a few days, at least,” then she explained why.

 

(c) 2017 | adrian leverkuhn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com

fiction, all of it…

Sunday in the Sun + 19 November 2017

Sunday 1117

There have been notable changes in the trajectories of all our lives the past few weeks, and these days it feels, at times, as if there is no light at the end of this particular tunnel. Truth, and indeed, goodness, have been confronted by a recurrent and quite monstrous evil – an evil whose name we thought had been banished from the record of human experience.

And…we were so very, very wrong.

This evil goes by many names, but the most cogent among them is Ethical Relativism. Here’s an easily digestible form of the term, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Moral relativism may be any of several philosophical positions concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different people and cultures. Descriptive moral relativism holds only that some people do in fact disagree about what is moral; meta-ethical moral relativism holds that in such disagreements, nobody is objectively right or wrong; and normative moral relativism holds that because nobody is right or wrong, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when we disagree about the morality of it. Not all descriptive relativists adopt meta-ethical relativism, and moreover, not all meta-ethical relativists adopt normative relativism.

An even shorter version of the concept might read something like this: Morality is in the eye of the beholder. Ethical Relativism allows, by way of example, the herding of Jews into cattle-cars for a one-way journey to Polish ovens, or for religious fanatics to commandeer airliners and fly them into skyscrapers. There is no truth, only a truth sanctioned by the group. There is not one God, there is only the God that delivers benefits to adherents of the group. God is not universal…God belongs to this group, to the exclusive benefit of the group.

Yet nowhere have we seen more damage done to the American construct of Civilization than through the recent actions of our very own, very Godly Republican Party. This group of scoundrels has trashed almost two-hundred-fifty years of our forefathers’ hard work – and in only twelve long months, too – yet they’re dashing headlong into the next, terminal phase of their experiment even as you read this. Enraptured by a spurious – and convenient – religious certitude, and bolstered with the most efficient propaganda network man has yet seen, American Republicans seem bent on establishing a global theocratic oligarchy, a global ‘Christian’ oligarchic theocracy, and if the experiment seems doomed to fail, well, why not just push the button? The Bible seems to validate their conspiracies, too, so ‘Full Speed Ahead,’ Mitch! Let’s get this job done before the false veneers of our democracy are stripped away and, well, our gerrymandered constituents grab their pitchforks and come a-callin’ for us in the night…

Or, put another way: “Let’s get this swindle over and done with before the veneers of democracy are stripped away and we’re exposed for what we really are!” As in, whores getting down on their knees to service their corporate-oligarchic masters…? Our gleefully cheerful Republican theocrats seem to have done just this, or most of them have, anyway, by crawling into bed with two of the most dangerously repulsive liars of the 21st century – Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin – and most have done so unapologetically and without a second thought.

They are traitors, by the way, obstructing and betraying our ideals at every turn, and those who stand with these traitors are complicit in one of the grandest betrayals since Brutus slipped a knife in Caesar’s breast.

Bro love

A few of Trump’s recent comments, and the complete absence of any response from Republican leadership, would have, and perhaps only a few years ago, brought thunderous denouncements from Mitch McConnell & Co – assuming, that is, the president was a black man with an awkward sounding name. Take, for instance:

– Trump added that he thinks Putin “is very insulted by” the (ongoing Russia) scandal – if there’s one thing the American president should be concerned about, it’s Vladimir Putin’s feelings – and that “people will die” as a result of the controversy.

– “People don’t realize, Russia has been very, very heavily sanctioned,” Trump added. “They were sanctioned at a very high level. And that took place very recently. It’s now time to get back to healing a world that is shattered and broken.”

So, after telling the news entourage “along for the ride” to Asia that Trump had no plans to meet with Prince Vlad, the White House announced (on the flight home, one assumes) that Trump and Putin met at least seven times (that they’re willing to own up to, anyway), and the takeaway from these conversations, according to Trump, is that if we don’t ditch the sanctions against Russia, well, then, PEOPLE WILL DIE?

After these men (Vladimir Putin and his intelligence services) plundered the very fabric of our democracy? That they continue, unapologetically, to undermine western democratic institutions everywhere and in any way they can?

“People will die?” Who, exactly, is going to die? Was Trump simply threatening us, his citizens, or did Prince Vlad threaten Trump? Does shit only roll in one direction in this farce? Like: just what the Hell does Putin “have on Trump?” Why are Republicans in our Congress allowing this to go down? Who, then, is paying-off who?

The greater question, to my mind, anyway, is why isn’t the mainstream media all over this one? Are we so intent on our own self-destruction that every news cycle can now only be dominated by more revelations that yet another Hollywood sleazebag has used his “position of authority” to grope another “hapless” actress’s ass? Is that what we’ve been reduced to now? Rome burns and we ask for another match and more gasoline?

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It seems like, since the 1950s anyway, religious charlatans have dominated political discourse in this country. Seeking to obliterate the very notion of “separation of church and state” enshrined in our constitution, they’ve fought for decades to get their tax-exempt status unshackled from being able to carry out political activity. Well, their Faustian Bargain with Trump has finally come through for them. Included in the Republican tax bill is language that will let churches once again engage in unrestricted political campaigning on behalf of a chosen (ahem, cough-cough) candidate or party.

That this supposed tax-relief bill just passed the House of Representatives is all the proof one might need that one political party no longer has the slightest interest in doing the right thing “for the people.” Embedded in this law are attacks on every social safety net enacted since FDR, from Social Security to Medicare and Medicaid, to tax deductions used by the middle class to ease the burdens of home ownership. And all the while the state propaganda organ (aka Fox News) keeps cheerleading how this bill will help the poor, beleaguered middle class in America.

Someone a bit less cynical than I might find these perplexing ironies amusing.

Then we find that one more in a long line of religious politicians, this one a fine, upstanding man, is about to be elected by the Good, God-fearing Volk down in Alabama, and by golly – he’s a pedophile-predator, too. Banned, apparently, from local malls for his behavior, this lawyer has been stalking teenaged-girls since he was in his thirties, and while normally this kind of activity might be enough to get you labeled a habitual child-predator and land you on a national criminal watch list, not so in Alabama, apparently. Oh, let’s not forget, this lawyer was, at the time, a prosecutor working in the local District Attorney’s office. As in, an officer of the court, who’s sworn duty it has been to uphold the laws of this country.

And – his activities were quite well known to people in the DAs office?

As in – this fellow was acting as if he was not only above the law, his cronies backed his play.

And…just what does that tell you about the state of play in this country?

And, again, not to mince words here, this lawless hypocrite had chosen not to uphold lawful orders from the United States Supreme Court. He had been dismissed as a state Supreme Court justice – for disobeying the law. And now the good, law-abiding Republican Volk down in ‘Bama have seen fit to nominate this man as the champion of their party because – why?

Well, because he’s a good ole God-fearin’ Christian, that’s why. Because his life’s ambition is to turn the clock back to a kinder, gentler time, a time when there was one church in this country and not too many brown-skinned people making such a ruckus. He wants all of us to take a trip back in time to that golden age, too. You remember, that time when you could African-Americans “nigger” and no one thought that odd in the least. You could make them “uppity niggers” sit in the back of the bus, too, or make ’em use separate water fountains and restrooms, and guess what? It didn’t matter, did it? Boys didn’t dress like little girls back then, did they? Inter-racial marriage? Nope, not happenin’ in this religious fantasyland…and now it’s time to put a stop to all this nonsense.

It brings to mind a political slogan heard ’round those parts almost two hundred years ago. It went something like: “Ship them niggers back!” – which is how the country of Liberia was created, and why the capital of that country – Monrovia – came to be named after President James Monroe. It’s also kind of funny to consider that Hitler once considered something called the Madagascar Plan, where it was envisioned all the Jews in Europe would be rounded up and forcibly resettled to the Island of Madagascar. Funnier still that you take into account the Liberian resettlement, like the Madagascar Plan, was called off due to the exorbitant cost of the plan. In other words, Hitler & Co found it more economical to slaughter six million Jews than to load them on ships and transport them to an island off the east African coast, while those in America kicked the can down the road a few more years – and we all know how that turned out, don’t we?

There’s a narrative in this country that goes something like this: The US Civil War happened because The South would not abolish slavery.

Well, yes – and no.

It was not about abolishing slavery (which, again, is the popular, sanitized narrative, and which is what you probably learned if you read the sanitized textbooks that pass for History in this country). Better that you did not learn, for instance, that northern merchants feared the south would gain a competitive advantage by continuing to use slave labor, and that Lincoln was pressed by these same northern merchants to end the South’s advantage by reintroducing slavery in the north. The American Civil War was fought not because of altruistic moral reasons, but in rather more stark terms, due more to a cold calculation of economic “reality,” to wit: reintroducing slavery would displace white workers.

Uh…sound familiar?

Oh, before I forget, let’s talk about the Second Amendment for a moment. You know, the one about a well-regulated militia and the right to keep an unlimited supply of M16s and AK47s locked away in your basement – just in case you decide you’d like to go shoot a few hundred people at a nearby country-western music festival? Read the Federalist Papers someday when you have a moment, where the intent of this amendment is discussed in some detail. Seems our founders were much more concerned about a slave rebellion taking place so they envisioned the need to have lots of (white?) guys with guns hanging around in case all those ‘uppity niggers’ got it into their heads that they might like something, well, something like freedom.

Like many such things, Republicans have, since the 1980s, waged a war against History. It’s far easier to distort History than it is to come to terms with it, to understand it – to learn from History. But, then again, Republicans have their Bible and that appears to be all the History these Volk really need. Forget, for a moment, that this Bible is a long-form narrative chiefly of the Historical Fiction genre, and that it was authored by cloistered monks bent on preserving the nefarious worldly powers of their various political institutions (er, ahem, churches). Take the Bible literally if you must, but adhere to it strictly. If you do, if you take The Christ’s admonishments to treat the poor fairly and with justice, to love them as you would love yourself, then there is no way in Hell you could even consider being a Republican.

The term Republican evangelical Christian is pure oxymoron, and this person is, it seems to me, a power-crazed being steeped in hypocrisy – a hypocrisy meant to achieve its own political ends – while imposing its belief system on every living being on this earth. He is, in every way imaginable, little different than the eleven men who, not so long ago, commandeered airliners and flew them into skyscrapers.

Because, I might add, morality is in the eye of the beholder.